My dad phones to set up visitation, as he calls it, for the week-end. He hasn’t seen me in a while, so I figure something is up in their divorce case. It makes me uneasy, but I’ve been on a good roll lately. Mom has reverted back to her oblivious state, after perking up with Scott around. She ignores his semi-permanent residence in our household. We try to keep a low profile. We are low maintenance kids, cooking our own breakfasts, doing laundry, and eating the dinners that she has made earlier. Scott brings clothes from his own house. His mom drives him and Stu to Ransom after morning practice. He keeps his bike at the pool or at our house in the evenings for riding to morning practice. Mom lives in her own world. I fail to notice how isolated she is.
Sitting in Denny’s we eat big breakfasts without saying much. Dad saw me in the Miami Herald’s photo of Scott’s victory, so we talk about swim team. Maybe he feels he needs to approve of my activities, so I assure him it is fine. Then he asks me how Mom is doing, a question I evade. He bluntly asks if I think she needs ‘help.’ I deflected it by saying she is lonely and feels betrayed. He gets defensive, saying he only wants what was best for her. I know there is something he is covering up, so I ask when I’m going to meet his new girlfriend.
“How do you know I’m living with someone else?”
I grin. “I would, if I were you. It’s obvious, Dad. You never invite me over to your new place. I don’t even have the phone number. I’m happy for you.”
“I thought you’d be angry.”
“Mom would be, but not me. I like it here. I hope you do too.”
“Well, that’s what I’m worried about, son. Your mom wants to leave Miami.”
“What? Dad! I can’t leave here. Do you know how hard I work, just to have friends? It’s not like in the military where everyone gets along. Can’t you talk her out of it?” All of a sudden, the divorce affects me. ‘It’s not fair. My life will be ruined by this.”
“That’s what happens when families break up.”
“Let me live with you, then.”
I see that this idea takes him by surprise.
“Don’t you think your mother needs you?”
Tears are dripping off my lashes. “I think she needs you a lot more.”
“Well, let me think about it.”
“Dad, we can work this out, but you’ve got to be more open with me. Am I going to meet your girlfriend?”
“You certainly are getting assertive.”
“What else can I do?”
We set up a meeting for next weekend.
I ride my bike home. Mom was actually baking cinnamon rolls for Scott and Stu while they watch Scooby Doo. She seems anxious about the meeting. I tell her it’s a bunch of crap, which brings back her old confusion. Stu hasn’t seen our room, so we all go up before we get ready to ride bikes. He asks if he can stay over some time, but I’m preoccupied by the visitation. I vaguely tell him to ask Scott. He looks at me with a hurt expression.
“What’s wrong, Tim? You’re acting weird.”
“I’ll tell both of you once we get out of here.”
We plan to go to Crandon Park on Key Biscayne. Mom has even packed lunch. It makes me pissed she is acting so maternal. I have to let out the anger and energy that has built up, riding like a mad man. Scott and Stu fall back. I wait at the Rickenbacker Causeway. They tell me they aren’t going further until I tell them what’s wrong.
“Dad told me Mom is going to move away once they get their divorce.”
“What!” they both exclaim. Stu reaches over and grabs my hand, just looking at me.
“You can live with us,” he says.
“Thanks, but I hope to convince my dad to let me live with him.”
Scott keeps staring at me. He feels betrayed, but I don’t know why.
“I hate it that they make these decisions without even asking me. At least Dad admits he has a girlfriend.”
“He told you that?”
“I told him I had figured it out already. I get to meet her next weekend. It’s like trying out a new mom.”
“Man, I hope our folks never get divorced,” Stu says.
Scott keeps quiet. He’s regressing back to his old ways. Finally he says, “Do you want me to move home?”
“What’s wrong with you? Now I need you the most.”
His face breaks into a grin.
“I’m here for you,” and he hugs me.
Stu looks at us and grabs us both. “We’re just a little family.”
We all laugh, and then feel foolish.
“Come on. Let’s go swimming.”
Crandon Park has a coral reef, full of tropical fish. With swim goggles on, we can really see all the fish. Stu is a cut-up, chasing schools of fish with a goofy grin on his face. Scott finds a lobster hole. While I thrust a stick into the hole, he catches the lobster scooting out its back door. He sneaks up on Stu pretending to attack him with the lobster. Florida lobsters were not as scary as the New England ones since they have no claws. Anyway it is out of season, and we let it go. After hours of swimming, we get out to eat lunch. We can’t stop shivering. We’re experiencing hypothermia. Even though the air and water temperatures are in the 90s, we sit there wrapped in towels trying to warm up. Lying in the sun helps but also burns. By the time we get back to Kendall, we are pink and exhausted. Mrs. Watt insists I stay for dinner. It is so comfortable to be part of a real family. They are happy Scott is back. I fall asleep watching TV, waking up in the morning in bed with Scott. I can’t remember how I got there. I’m too old to be carried, but it makes me feel like a little kid again. These maudlin feelings curdle when I think about what is happening to my family. When Scott wakes up, we start horsing around, which brings Stu into the bed for the action.
While eating breakfast, Stu said, “See, Tim, you can live with us, once your mom moves.”
His mom overhears us, “Your mom is moving?”
“Yeah, Mrs. Watt. The divorce is going through soon. She wants to leave Miami. Dad told me yesterday. I hope he’ll let me stay with him. I like it here.”
She comes over and hugs me. I’m embarrassed but it’s nice. It is hard to believe that two weeks ago I was banned from there. Scott puts his foot around my calf. I feel loved.
That afternoon, we ride our bikes around South Dade, picking up all the other kids, eventually a gang of a dozen. When we stop at Coach Earl’s house, he pulls a case of Coke out of the refrigerator, saying he knew we’d be by.
I ask, “Coach, how come you always know what we’re going to do?”
He laughs, “Everyone’s been a kid once. I just haven’t forgotten. That’s why they pay me the big bucks.”
We ride Stu home, where he makes a scene because we won’t let him stay over at my house, or ‘our’ house according to Scott.
“You don’t want to have to sleep on the floor.”
“I’ll just sleep with you guys.”
We look at each other, “No Way!”
Then we half-hug him, half-mug him into the house.
“Well, you’re part of the family now,” Scott pronounces, as we ride to Coral Gables.
“I’ve always felt that way. Your mom just made it official.”
“If you want me to stay away while you work out your family problems, I understand.”
I stop riding. “You don’t get it. I need you more than ever.”
He just grins. “Thanks, man.”
That night, as we sit doing a little homework for once, Mom walks into the room.
“Hi, Mom,” we both say. It throws her off her guard.
“I mean, Mrs. Castle,” Scott corrects himself.
“That’s fine, Scott. In fact, it’s nice.
Turning to me, “Dad says you don’t want to leave Miami.”
“I’m so glad we’re talking about it. You never said you want to leave.”
“I feel your father can explain these things better.”
“You both promised my life wouldn’t change. Then Dad tells me I have to move. I just want to stay here.”
“We should have talked with you about it. I don’t know what to do about you.”
She is locked in her little world. I feel like attacking her defenses but know I shouldn’t.
“If you need to talk, I’m here,” she concludes.
I get up and hug her, which makes her uncomfortable. After she leaves, Scott scoots over and leans into me while we continue to study. My concentration is shot. After a bit, I get up and sit in my window. Scott follows me, too attentively.
“You okay?” he asks.
“Sure. I just can’t concentrate. I love sitting here, watching the thunderheads over the Bay. I never told you about my friend who rolled off the roof in a rain storm. I thought he’d been knocked out, but he was just faking it.”
I describe running down to ‘rescue’ Pete. It seems to inspire Scott.
“Let’s do something. We can surprise Lydia.”
We ride to her house, throwing rocks at her window on the first floor, to get her to let us climb in.
“What are you guys doing? It’s eleven o’clock.”
“It’s Saturday night. Do you know where your kids are?”
“We’ve come to haunt you.”
“You guys are too crazy.”
“Tim’s dad told him he has to move,” Scott spills the beans.
“What? That’s totally unfair.”
“I agree. Can I move in here?”
“You can stay at Scott’s, can’t you?”
“Sure, make me an orphan, alone in a cruel world.” My puppy dog eyes don’t faze her.
“That’s not fair.”
“Don’t worry. I think my dad will let me stay with him. He finally admitted he’s got a girlfriend.”
This is gossip right up her alley.
“Is she younger than him?”
I forgot how important gossip is for girls.
“She’s eighteen,” I lie.
“Oh, my God. She’s practically our age. I’ve heard about that happening.”
“Maybe I’ll get to have three-ways with my dad.”
“Watch out, Lydia, Tim’s dad will be putting moves on you.”
“Yuck.” Than she hits Scott in the chest. We break up laughing. Then her dad knocks on the door.
“Is someone in there with you, Lydia.”
“No, Dad, I’m just on the phone.”
“It’s too late for that. Hang up.”
“Yes, Dad,” then under her breath, “what a drag.”
Scott out of nowhere says, “And mine even barred Tim from my house.”
“That’s your fault, fool.”
“Oh, yeah. I’ve forgotten.”
It seems long ago.
“Scott’s mom says I can live with them. They seem pretty cool, except for Scott.”
We keep giggling and laughing, but leave shortly. As we ride home, we kept punching each other. It’s understood that sneaking into girls’ bedrooms is a new phase in our maturity. At Monday’s practice, several girls asks if we had done it. Lydia just can’t stop gossiping, even if it’s about herself. That night it is Lydia who comes to our window, fair turnabout. Dad installed a rope ladder for an emergency fire escape. We make her climb up, calling her Lydia of the Jungle. She completely checks out our room.
“Boys are so gross,” she notes, as I hastily put away dirty socks and tees.
“Welcome to the Pit.”
“It’s pretty cool, living in a tower with windows on all sides. It must get a breeze at night.”
I have her sit in the bay view window. Then we hear the whistle that has echoed on other nights. I whistle back, which is returned, but then is silent.
“Who’s that?” she asks.
“We don’t know. Maybe a ghost.”
“You guys. Where’s Scott’s room?”
Without thinking, he answers, “I sleep here too.”
“Oh my God, you guys are sleeping together?”
Here we go again.
“You sleep with your friends, too.”
“It’s okay for girls.”
“Well, we’re like girls. You want to sleep with us, too?”
She turned beet red, even through her tan.
“No way. You guys are gross.”
“Then why do you like to hang out with us. Maybe we’re all gross.”
“I’m sure.” Then turning to Scott, “but he told me he’s done gay things.”
“I know. It’s just something he did once. He also slept with girls.”
She looks betrayed.
“I just had a wild summer. Maybe we’ll all have one this year.”
“No way.” “Why not,” they speak over each other.
“This is too much. If you guys are sleeping together, then you’re both gay.”
Scott presents our defense. “He saved my life, literally, the night after I told you about his cousin and him.”
“Yeah, he really saved my life. We had a challenge race across the Bay at night, to prove who really was best. A boat would’ve hit me, but he pulled me out-of-the-way.”
“Oh, my God.”
“I’ve stayed here ever since. We don’t have sex, Lydia. We’re best friends.”
“I don’t care that you think we’re gay, but don’t tell anyone about the boat. It’ll get out of hand.”
“But you’re a hero.”
“If he had been hit, it would’ve been my fault. I came up with the idea to race in the Bay. It was crazy.”
“Tim, you’re so crazy,” and she gives me a big hug. I turn red this time.
“I think Lydia’s staying over,” Scott chuckles.
“You’re a pervert, Scott,” she shoots back. “But Tim’s a hero.”
Now Scott gets red, but that’s jealousy.
“For someone who hasn’t done it, Lydia, you worry about sex too much.”
“Just because you’ve done it, doesn’t make you any better.”
“Just more experienced, sweetheart.”
“Oh, you’re gross,”
“Is that your favorite word?”
“No. It describes my favorite friends.”
We all climb down the rope ladder and ride home with her. She gives both of us a kiss, warning us to save ourselves for someone nice, like her.
“Don’t worry,” we assure her.
When we got back, Scott starts laughing.
“What’s up?” I ask.
“I just think you’re so funny. Ever since we’ve been friends, you make my life so interesting. And since you became friends with Stu, he’s such a cooler kid.”
“Well, thanks, unless that means you think I’m a clown.”
“No. It’s just that you turn situations around, so they work out and we have a great time. Lydia could’ve told everyone we’re fags.”
“Maybe we are and just don’t know it.”
“Then being gay’s okay in my book.”
“It’s all how you look at it. If we care too much what everyone thinks, even Lydia, we have to lie about it. If we had done anything, then we’d hate ourselves. It’s taken me this long to accept what happened and not have to lie about it. I just know I’m fine now.”
“I don’t know about love, Tim, but I can’t stand being away from you. I like letting you handle things, like tonight. It’s so cool since I came here. Do you want to have sex with me?”
I instantly wish he stopped before that question. It’s like asking if I want to stop being a kid. You can’t stop growing up, just delay it. I realize I was getting a hard-on. No question that I want him.
“Scott, we’re fools to change anything. I can’t stop wanting to fool around, but I don’t think you’re ready for what it will mean. I won’t risk our friendship over sex. Are you disappointed?”
“I just want to make you happy.”
“You do, in so many ways, you don’t even realize. This divorce thing is tearing me up.”
Instead of having sex with him, I start to cry. When he puts his arm around me, I’m crying and laughing simultaneously. We go to bed and sleep with him holding me.
In the morning, Scott said he hates going to separate schools and promises to transfer to Gables next year. Warning bells go off, reminding me of my first feelings for Joey. We ride silently to practice. Workout cleanses my doubting brain. Coach is not letting up on us, even though we’re on break from competition. We start long course training once school finishes. I have other problems. Everything depends on how well my meeting with Dad’s new girlfriend goes. I can move in with Scott but doubt it will work. Lydia is extra playful that morning. She talked with the other girls about my family problems, because several offer encouragement: team spirit, I guess. The hard workout temporarily sweeps away these worries.
The week goes by quickly as I keep to a busy routine. Scott asks to go with me on Saturday, but it won’t help. When I get to Denny’s, Dad is sitting with his new girlfriend.
“Susan, meet my son, Tim, the star swimmer.”
“Pleased to meet you, ma’am.”
“Oh, how polite.”
Before ordering, we chat inanely. I’m on my best behavior, keeping my elbows at my side and hands in my lap. Susan is about my Dad’s age and seems a lot like Mom. She defers completely to him, even lets him order her food. She also works at Teledyne, where they met. He seems happy. Once over the initial nervousness, we have a pleasant meal. In order to give them time to discuss me, I excuse myself to go to the bathroom. Looking in the mirror, I can only see how wrong my hair was (too long by Dad’s standards) and how under-dressed I am. But when I return they are all smiles.
“Tim, Susan and I discussed you living with us once your mother moves. We think it’ll work. To be honest, I’ve never seen you so polite. If you promise to keep trying hard, we’ll make it happen.”
“Thanks, Dad and Susan. I’ll be the perfect son.”
“Also, since we’ll need more space for you, I’ll work it out with your mother to keep the house after she leaves. You won’t have to move.”
I move over and hug him for the first time since I was little. I feel his embarrassment but am too happy to care. I stand up and shake his hand, say goodbye to Susan, then race home on my bike, running up to my room. I realize Scott is playing the stereo too loudly. When I open the door, there are twenty kids inside, and the noise instantly stops. They all look at me.
“I get to stay. And, my dad’s going to take over the house, so I don’t even have to move.”
Everyone cheers. Lydia kisses me. Scott jumps up and down, while hitting me on the back. Stu runs around, talking to no one in particular. Greg, the team’s one long hair, keeps repeating, “Far out. Far out.”
Everyone quiets down when Mom walks into the room.
“What’s all the racket about?”
I can’t say it’s because I don’t have to move with her.
“Hi, Mom. We’re just celebrating the end of school.”
“Okay, just don’t bother the neighbors.”
When she leaves, somebody starts singing, “Ding dong the witch is dead…ding dong the wicked witch is dead.”
Songwriters: E HARBURG, E.Y. HARBURG, HAROLD ARLEN
© Sony/ATV Music Publishing LLC
It makes me feel sorry for her. She doesn’t really get it.
We end up going to the Haines’ house and dancing to Mrs. Haines’ record collection. I start by lip-synching to ‘South Street’, while pointing at Greg, “Where do all the hippies meet?..South Street, South Street, the hippest street in town.”
Songwriters: DAVID APPELL / KAL MANN
South Street lyrics © Royalty Network, SPIRIT MUSIC GROUP
Greg gets up and stuns us with an unaccompanied version of ‘Wild Thing.’
So Scott and I do our doo wop version of ‘Blue Moon.’
It was a great impromptu party. The Haines family is another great swim team family.
That night Scott and I are sitting in the window, saying how great everything is. I tell him Susan (How come every girlfriend is named Susan?) is nice, when a dark cloud comes over his face.
“Shoot,” he says. “I haven’t even thought about North Carolina.”
“What about North Carolina?”
“My family always goes there when school lets out.”
“So? It’s only a vacation.”
His hurt look reminds me that any separation is unbearable for him.
“Maybe I can go, too?”
“Yeah. That’s great,” he excitedly lights up, “you’ll like it up there. It’s cooler than here. I mean the temperature. All the hillbillies will drive you crazy. It’ll be great.”
When I ask Mom about going with Scott’s family, she defers to Dad since I soon will be living with him. I finally have his phone number. Unfortunately, when I call, he feels it isn’t a great idea. They plan to do the move in June, so he wants me to spend the time with Mom. I can’t argue after he’s making the move for my benefit. Scott is really disappointed, but I know he’ll get over it. Stu seems the most upset. He wants to be with us full-time. I chalk it up to my new popularity.