We get home at one o’clock. Scott is asleep when his head hits the pillow. I lay there thinking about Tina. We have so many things to talk about, if we’re really getting serious. Not able to sleep, I sit in my window, enjoying the cool breeze. I whistle, but my ghost whistler must be asleep. I feel Scott’s hand on my shoulder.
“I miss you when you’re not in bed.”
“Just sitting here, enjoying my life.”
He slides into my arms, leaning against my chest, the breeze keeping us cool. We must’ve fallen asleep there, as he is soon leading me back to bed.
The alarm goes off way too soon, but we make it to practice. Neither of us is up for working hard on our repeats. Soon, Lydia is beating both of us.
“What’s wrong with you guys today?” she asks.
“We were in South Beach past midnight, hanging out with Tim’s New York friends,” Scott responds.
“You were partying?”
“Just hanging out by Nathan’s with friends and dancing by their hotel pool. We learned the Hustle and the Bump,” I tell her.
“Man, you guys have all the fun.”
Coach overhears us and says he’ll ‘bump’ us if we don’t pick it up. We finally make it through workout. All the girls now know about our escapade. They won’t let us go until we give a complete description of everyone and everything. Lydia looks hurt when Scott talks about Tina and me. Later, I tell him he talks too much. We ride home and take a long nap. Afternoon workout goes better, but Coach makes it obvious we’re on his shit list. As we get our bikes, Lydia runs over and announces she’s coming with us.
“How do you know we’re going?”
“Because I know you guys. I’m coming, too.”
There’s no denying her. Scott’s glad, knowing he won’t feel left out. I’m not sure I want to have two girls interested in me at once.
Lydia is blonde and blue-eyed, tall and slender. Her hair, bleached by the chlorine, is as fine as angel’s hair. Pete and the guys all drop dead when they see her. Of course, they aren’t at a loss for words. She’s unaccustomed to all the male attention. When she seems flustered, Scott takes matters into his own hands. He puts an arm around her, making it obvious that she’s already taken. Tina is amused and comes over to stake her claim on me. The other girls feel betrayed that Scott is bringing an outsider into the group. Pete senses an advantage here and stakes his own claim. Soon everyone has paired up. We’re all dancing by the hotel pool. Scott and I still have our Georgia money, so we order Cokes for everyone. It’s a cool party. Tina and I walk along the beach, sensing it’s better to get me away from Lydia and Scott. We walk hand in hand, watching the moon duck in and out of the thunderheads. We sit on the cement breakwater and start to make out. When I put my hand under her top, she gets scared and pulls away. I take her hand and rub it over my nipples, which quickly get hard.
“Guys do that, too?”
“Sure. Do you think we’re that different?”
“It sure seems like guys are the opposite of girls.”
“I think we’re the same. We just need to come together.”
“…’right now, over me’…”
We laughed at the Beatles song, ‘
“See,” I say, “we all share the same things, even though you’re a girl and I’m a guy. You’re Spanish. I’m white. You’re Northern. I’m Southern.”
“You’re rich. I’m poor.”
“It’s not that different. We both want the same things, to go to college and have control over our lives.”
“Yeah, but if I do that, I’ll leave my friends behind. It’s just expected of you and all your friends.”
“But you can do it, if you want. My point is that it’s natural and normal for us to be alike. Only when we choose to be opposite are we different.”
“Pretty philosophical, just to feel me up.”
We start kissing again. We don’t get far before Scott and Lydia find us. We all sit on the breakwater, talking and enjoying ourselves before going back to the pool party.
The next morning Lydia is also lagging with us from exhaustion. Coach is all over us, once he finds out we were up late again. With midday naps we recover for afternoon workout. Coach comes down on us and lays down the law – no more staying out late. I call Pete and explain. Scott asks his mom about having a pool party Saturday afternoon and evening for our new friends. I relay the invitation, and ask to speak with Tina. She understands about not partying every night. We make it out to South Beach on Thursday and Friday afternoons, but night-time is definitely more romantic.
On Saturday, Mr. Watt drives to South Beach to pick up everyone. There are twelve kids, mostly guys, so it’s crowded in the Watt’s station wagon. When we walk into the house, there was a big banner that reads, ‘HAPPY 16th BIRTHDAY, TIM!’
It’s not my birthday until tomorrow,” I grouse, realizing I haven’t given it a thought.
“Well, this is your party, so don’t complain,” Stu says, giving me a birthday card.
Most of the swim team kids are there, including the coaches.
“Thanks, Mom,” I say, giving Mrs. Watt a hug and kiss.
Lydia takes the group of New Yorkers around and introduces everyone. When she comes to Zeus and his brothers, they start speaking Spanish together. They all come from San Juan, although different neighborhoods. Even Coach Diaz is speaking Spanish, although with a Mexican accent. Then we go out on the pool deck. Any awkwardness disappears when we start playing music; the ice is broken. Everyone dances to the 50s and 60s oldies, doing the Twist,
Hully Gully, Mashed Potato, Wahtusi, Shake, and especially the Swim.
I get Pete to tune in to the local Salsa radio station. It’s the latin kids’ turn to show off dance moves. Tina and I do the Hustle, while Lydia and Scott do the Bump.
It takes Stu all of a minute to learn how to ‘Bump’ one of the team girls his age into the pool. The Latin kids change into the swim suits that are provided. Soon it’s a big pool party. The guys are so shy about wearing Speedos, we laugh at them. At first they insist they wear their underwear under the suits. Pete is hilariously bizarre with the nylon suit pulled up over his boxers. He flees back into the house to everyone’s jeers. I have to convince him that no one will laugh at him in a Speedo, which all the swim team kids are wearing. ‘Seus whispers something in his ear, and he relents. I ask ‘Seus what he said. He shrugs and replies it’s all about manhood. Tina looks great in one of Lydia’s suits. After this excitement, everyone relaxes and has fun. Mrs. Watt baked the biggest cake ever, with my name on it. I’m glad no one brought presents. Stu’s card says how much I helped him and that he’ll always remember me. I hug him, then throw him in the pool. Mr. Watt cooks hamburgers until everyone is stuffed. There’s more dancing until people start to leave at ten. Mr. Watt gives everyone ten minutes to say goodbye. Tina looks at me, realizing our week is almost over. We go to a dark corner of the patio and kiss furiously. She rubs my nipples, which means I can do the same. I don’t know what to say, except to keep kissing her. As we french kiss, she leans into me and is racked by shudders. I know she’s orgasmic from pushing against my stiff dick. As we walk out, Stu points at the bulge in my jeans. I hush him from saying anything. He laughs. All the way back to South Beach, Tina’s collapses against me. I figure it’s her first orgasm with anyone. I feel strange, as I’m not satisfied, except in the sense that she’s satisfied. We barely say goodbye. It’s like ripping apart pieces of paper that are stuck together. On the drive back, I’m dreamily space out, when I notice Scott and Lydia both staring at me.
“He’s in love,” Lydia says.
“Or else, he’s had a lobotomy.”
“So, tell us what’s it like, lover boy.”
“Sorry. I spaced out a little.”
“Com’n. I’m not going to see her for a long time, maybe never.”
“Oh, so romantic. Will he travel hundreds of miles to see his true love? Will she be faithful to him?” Lydia piles it on.
They kid me some more. I’m not listening. Mr. Watt convinces Scott and me to stay at their house that night. I go to sleep in Stu’s bed but wake up next to Scott, with Stu at the foot of the bed. I shake Scott and tell him we have to go back to South Beach, for a final goodbye. We arrive just as everyone is packed and ready to go. Pete takes me to Tina’s hotel. She won’t let me hug her in front of her family but gives me a long letter.
“I knew you’d come to see us off.”
‘I couldn’t let you just leave. There’s so many things to say. All our feelings came out, but now, all that’s left is loneliness. I will miss you so much.”
“Don’t. We’ve just gotten started. It’s youth’s bittersweet dilemma.”
Then, she does hug me, furtively watching the family reaction. The cab is there. They have to go. I rush with Pete back to his hotel, where his family is anxiously waiting. He isn’t at all shy about hugging me goodbye.
“You are totally cool, Huerto. Call us up.”
Then he quickly hugs Scott and is gone.
“That was quick,” Scott notes.
“You mean the goodbyes or the week?”
I look at the deserted hotel lobby, then turning around, “Let’s get a hotdog.”
We go to Nathan’s. Sitting in the window, we watch the random street action.
“Do you feel so different from the New Yorkers?” I ask Scott.
“Kinda. They have different lives in store for them. At our ages, everyone’s pretty much the same. I like that they want to have as much fun as possible, like there’s no tomorrow.”
“Now it’s tomorrow.”
“No. Tomorrow is practice. Coach is sure to make us pay for partying all week.”
“Coach don’t forget.”
“Incorrect grammatical usage.”
“It still means we’re gonna get our butts kicked.”
We laugh and get ready to ride our bikes home. Across from Nathan’s I see the same pimp from last year. He’s talking to a girl our age.
“Look at that girl, Scott. The guy’s she’s with is a pimp. He tried to get me to work for him last year.”
We watch the pimp leave her by herself.
“Com’n, Scott. Let’s go talk to her.”
We walk over and say, “Hi.” She seems pleased we’re talking with her.
“You workin’ for that guy?”
“What’s it to ya?”
“He tried to get me to work last year.”
“So? I know he has boys, too.”
“I just want to ask you, do you feel trapped?”
“It’s just a job, kid. It pays the rent.”
“Are you a runaway? Does he treat you okay?”
“It’s none of your damn business how I run my life.”
“It’s just that we’re probably the same age and a lot alike. I was almost you last year. I guess I’m checking out what might have been.”
“Well, whadda ya wanna know?”
‘Just how doing this has changed you?”
“You mean, do I still play with my Barbie?”
“You always this sarcastic?”
“Why ya judgin’ me? I ain’t done nothin’ to you.”
“Sorry. I just want to check it out.”
“Well, get ur punk ass outta here. If Chuck catches you, ya might not get away. He’s got his ways.”
“See ya,” we both say, getting away.
We go back into Nathan’s and watch as Chuck returns in a cab and leaves with her.
“Whew. She’s a tough cookie,” Scott observes.
“I think it’s covering up her fear. I wish we’d been able to get her to open up.”
“I just wanted to see if she’s like us.”
“Even if she’s friendly, what can you do for her? You think she can go back to being normal?”
“After having sex for money with so many people?”
I think about it, remembering all the weird things I’ve done.
“There’s something to be said about being tough, what you learn on the streets.”
“I think I’ll live at home for now,” Scott concludes.
“You haven’t noticed, Scott, but you already moved out.”
“Well, I’m not on the streets.”
”I think the closer we get to the street, the tougher we have to be.”
“Hard, that’s what she is.”
“The price of being tough.”
After riding back from South Beach, we decide to spend the day at the Watts in Kendall. It’s hot and muggy, but the pool keeps us cool. About three o’clock, Mrs. Watt calls me to the phone. It’s my dad. He wants me home, without Scott. Since it’s my birthday, I think they want to do something for me. I tell Scott what’s up. He says he’ll go to Lydia’s and meet me at home later. We bike to Coral Gables together, chatting about practice and nothing special. He waves goodbye as I turn into the driveway, winking and smiling at me. I walk into the living room and ease myself onto the couch.
“Hi, Dad. What’s up?” I casually ask, confidently expecting his birthday greeting. Maybe I’ll get a car.
“Yes, son. I appreciate your coming home. I’ve meant to have this talk with you before now, but after getting the telephone bill, it’s more urgent. Do you have any idea how much it costs for your long distance calls?”
Not your typical birthday wishes.
“Gee, Dad. I didn’t think it was out of control. I called Pete and Tina a couple of times in New York.”
“Do you know how much it costs for you to be on that swim team? You don’t bring any money into this family.”
“I thought you supported my swimming. If I do well enough, I can get a college scholarship. It’s not like I’m playing. Practice is hard work.”
“Well, we think you should learn the value of hard work by getting a paying job.”
I can’t believe him. Who was this ‘we’ he’s talking about, not the two of us? The hand of Susan is becoming evident.
“Dad, I can’t swim if I have to work. You have no idea how much I put into swimming, the sacrifice. All you see is a photo in the paper. You think all I do is goof off? You can’t afford to pay swim team dues?”
“We decided you will pay for your swimming and phone bills. A part-time job will be good for you.”
“How can you say we decided? I didn’t have any say in it. If you want me to like Susan, this is a crummy way to start.”
“It wasn’t just her idea. You need to start being more responsible. You’re almost sixteen.”
“In case you’ve forgotten, I am sixteen…. today’s my birthday.”
He looks momentarily confused, as I’ve broken his train of thought. Then he regains his resolve.
“Well, all the more reason for you to be more grown up.”
“So this is my birthday wish – Grow up?”
“We’ll get you something. You just need to take more responsibility for yourself.”
I want to throw it back at him. He’s the one who ran away for half a year, abandoning my mother for a girlfriend. I bite my tongue to keep control.
“Thanks, Dad. I know you have my best interests at heart. Just let me finish out the summer with the team. Once I’m back at school, I’ll see about getting a job.”
“No. There’s still two months before then. You’re on notice that you will pay your own bills from now on.”
“As a matter of fact, there is. We’re not happy that your friend lives here.”
“You want him to pay rent?”
“That’s enough of your smart mouth, young man.”
“Well, what do you want? His family took me on vacation for two weeks. They want us to live there. They even gave me a birthday party last night. They treat me more like a son than you do.”
“Enough of that. There’ll be no more talk about moving out. And as long as you’re under my roof, you’re under my rules.”
I stare at him and feel his resolve. But what does he really feel? I see how little I know my own dad. I also suspect this is Susan’s doing. I know to go along to get along. Time’s on my side.
I get up, excuse myself, and go to my room. Alone, I sit in the window and look blankly into the growing dusk. Thinking about all that was said and wondering what I did wrong, I resign myself to the belief that it isn’t me who’s screwing up. Dad and Susan have their life together, from which I’m excluded. I doubt they want to be more involved with me. I’m just baggage from Dad’s old life. I sit there for over an hour, getting over feeling sorry for myself. I’ve come down from the good spirits at the Watts’ party. Suddenly I wonder where Scott is. Maybe he’s waiting at Lydia’s until I let him know to come home. It’s nine o’clock already. I get my bike and ride to her house. Leaving my bike next to Scott’s, I walk behind the house and approach her window. I expect to hear them talking. I’m stopped in my tracks by the heavy breathing and Scott’s moans. Jesus, he’s fucking her. I stand there several minutes, hoping it’s a joke they’re playing knowing I’ve arrived. Finally I get up the nerve to look in the window. There’s Scott’s little white butt going up and down with Lydia’s legs wrapped around him. They’re fucking like rabbits. An emotional charge hits me in the gut. I walk away quickly, get on my bike, and ride around aimlessly. I keep thinking it’s normal and what did I expect. But my heart is in a vise. I should be happy for them. I feel ready to cry. I can’t get a grip on myself, but riding keeps me from going over the edge.
As I ride down Riviera, I hear the same whistle I attributed to the ghost in my backyard. Stopping, I whistle back – woo wee wooh. The giggling noises I’ve heard before are all around me. I’m next to the Library. I remember the night we saw faces up in the big banyan tree there. I look up at several faces and legs in the branches.
“Hey, jock-head,” a girl taunts me.
“Hey, long hairs,” I answer back.
They all laugh.
“We wondered when you’d look up.”
“I thought the Library was haunted.”
“Haunted by stoners. You get high?”
“Not for a long time. You guys sit up there and smoke dope every night?”
“We get high at Robby’s. Then float through the city like we’re the Lost Boys in Peter Pan.”
I put my bike down and climb into the tree. It’s easy to climb, with many branches spreading out from the main trunk, starting about six feet off the ground. It’s similar but better than Disney World’s Swiss Family Robinson Treehouse. They all start to move from branch to branch, letting me chase them, staying far enough ahead to make it a game. Finally they’re at the far edge of a group of limbs, thirty feet off the ground. I have them cornered, until the skinniest one, with down-the-back dirty blond hair jumps to the next tree. I hold my breath as the five others follow him, just able to hold onto the branches to which they’ve just jumped.
“Hah,” the blond ringleader taunts me.
I look down, which convinces me they’ve won.
“Never look down,” he calls to me. “Now you’ll never jump.”
That is all it takes. I launch myself out and leap the five feet to the next tree. I grab the approaching limb with both arms and legs, scrambling to catch hold. I slide downward until, in a sickening crack, the branch snaps and I’m falling straight down, scraping along passing limbs. Just as I’m about to fall into space, two of the kids grab me, swinging me over to the more substantial limb that holds them. The broken limb remains caught in my interlocked arms and legs. I clutch both my rescuers and their branch.
“Bad branch,” I excoriate the broken limb and throw it away. “Thanks. I thought I was a goner.”
Everyone laughs, then we all slide down to the trunk, settling into comfortable branch joints. They watch me with amusement, as I find my spot.
“You’re crazed to jump, man. I told you not to look down.”
“Who is this jock-head, man? He owes us his life.”
“You better teach him to fly, Robby, before he kills hisself.”
“I’m Tim,” I tentatively answer to no one in particular.
“He’s okay,” the ringleader announces. “He lives in the block behind my house, with his jock-head boyfriend. Come over here, kid, or Tim, or whatever. Let me teach you to fly.”
Hesitantly, I slide over to Robby, sitting next to him, while he pulls a joint from behind his ear. Looking at his long hair, I know I’ve seen him before. I whistle, which startles him. Then he whistles back.
“You’re the ghost in my backyard.”
“Pleased to meet ya, hope you know my name, ‘cause puzzlin’ you is the nature of my game.”
I responded, “Let me please introduce myself, I’m a man of wealth and taste.”
The other four finish with, “Woo woo, woo woo.”
He holds out his hand. I shake it, hippie style, with my fingers up. We laugh. Then he falls backwards off the branch, causing me to lose my balance. He rolls to the next branch, grabbing me before I fall.
“You gotta learn to fly, man,” as he lights he joint, takes a hit, and then sticks it in my mouth. I take a deep drag and cough instantly.
“That shit’s strong.”
“Colombian Gold, man. Here, get another hit, not so much this time.”
I take another big hit and am only able to hold it in for a few seconds before coughing. He’s smiling right in my face, widely spaced blue eyes all crinkled from laughing at me. He sticks the joint into my lips. Finally I take a hit I can hold. Everyone else is complaining about us bogarting the joint. Rob passes it along. I lean back into the crook of the tree we’re sharing. Then I look down at the ground. Thirty feet seemed like three hundred. I push back into the tree for security.
“I told you not to look down. Now we’ll be stuck here for at least thirty minutes. You spinning?”
“Naw, but don’t suggest it. I haven’t been high since last summer.”
I space out to the extent that their voices come from a long distance.
“Is he really a fag, Robby?”
“Oh yeah. I seen them going at it all the time. And it ain’t like you and Dave, just acting like girls together.”
“That’s a lie, asshole,” they quickly retort.
I’m floating away while they go over my sex life.
“Robby’s a peeping tom,” the other blond kid tells me.
I come back from la-la land, “So this is what you guys do, get high, climb through the trees, spy on your neighbors, and rag on each other’s sex lives?”
“Yeah, man, ain’t it cool?”
We all laugh. The smallest roach comes around to me. Since it’s out, I’m about to flick it away. Robby grabs it.
“Waste not, want not, man.”
He takes a roach clip off his belt, lighting the roach, which he hands to me to finish. Taking another joint from behind his ear, he lights it and passes it in the other direction.
“Does anyone ever catch you up here?”
“You’d never have seen us if we hadn’t made it obvious. Are you really a fag?” the dark-haired girl Mary asks.
“Ain’t no denying it, but I got a girlfriend, too.”
“So where’s your boyfriend tonight?”
I laugh, and for the first time it’s alright.
“I just caught him fucking a girl we both like.”
“Man, you guys are a trip. What’d they say when you caught ‘em?”
“They don’t know. I saw it through her window.”
“He’s just like you, Robby.”
“Shut up, you guys.”
“I was riding around aimlessly not knowing what to do and then I meet you guys. It’s also my birthday today. I’m sixteen and my dad says I havta get a job.”
“Happy birthday. Welcome to reality.”
“Ain’t it a bitch.”
“And then you die.”
It all seems laughable. I sit there looking at a whole new group of friends and just giggle away. Soon they feel restless and start crawling around the new tree. I forget my acrophobia and soon go limb to limb with them. Finally we come back to the ground where I’m amazed to find my bike where we started.
“We’re right where we started climbing?”
“You wanted to be somewhere else?” Robby asks.
I giggle. “See ya around guys.”
“Sure, jock-head,” and they all laugh.
“Happy birthday, and don’t be so gay.”
Then they laugh more.
I ride home and find it’s after midnight. Scott, the little rat, is sound asleep. I’m still stoned and don’t want to sleep. I sit in the window, enjoying the light breeze. I hear Robby’s whistle. He’s staring at me from his backyard. I whistle back. He waves and gives me the finger. I return the favor. Scott doesn’t stir. I sit for a while, until coming to the conclusion it isn’t a big deal. It’s their lives, not mine. Then I laugh when I realize how easy it is to separate myself from others while stoned. I fall instantly asleep when I get into bed.
The next morning we drag ourselves to the pool without talking. I’m confident he’ll tell me about Lydia. When he doesn’t, I figure I shouldn’t press it. I don’t really want to say what I saw. Holding secrets from each other is new to us. Lydia misses morning workout which is very unusual for her. I ask that afternoon what is up, but she plays it off, noting I don’t look so sharp myself. I don’t tell anyone about my adventures Sunday night.
The silence between us grows for several days. We both know something is wrong. No one wants to talk about it. Finally, I tell him about my conversation with my dad.
“Man, you’ve been uptight all week, so I didn’t want to bring it up,” I explain.
“Why’d you hold back from us?”
“I mean me and Lydia…all your friends.”
“I just feel something is weird. We’re more than friends, Scott.”
He reaches over to rub my hair, but as he touches me, I say, “Don’t be so gay, man.”
The surprise spreads as a blush across his face.
“You want me to move home?”
Then I touch his shoulder.
“No, Scott. If we have to deal with Dad and the wicked step-mother, we’ve got to do it together and be on the same wave length.”
But he doesn’t say anything about Lydia and him, so I’m left hanging. He finally sees the scrapes and scabs on my arms and legs, asking how it happened.
“Just climbing trees,” I don’t elaborate. I can hold back, too.
He gives me a funny look, like I’m such a kid. Then he asks if I want to ride to Lydia’s. I say I’m too beat from workout. He shrugs and is out the door. He literally runs down the stairs. Now, who is acting like a kid? I sit in my window, wondering if I’m giving up without a fight. We’ve been rivals over Lydia. Now I’ve lost. Maybe, seeing my relationship with Tina, convinced Lydia to choose Scott. We’ve all been best friends, but now I feel excluded. Scott didn’t bug me to come with him. I guess he wants to be alone with her. I’m too used to sharing everything with him. Now we’re changing. My gut hurts like it’s been punched. I try looking into the night, but my vision blurs as tears ran down my face. I think about going out riding and looking for Robby’s gang. I realize I’ll just get stoned. I hate feeling this way. Deadening my feelings is not what I need. I know I’m over-reacting. The shitty feelings are in charge. I lean back, eyes closed and tears drying on my cheeks.