My dad called to set up visitation, as he called it, for the week-end. He hadn’t seen me in a while, so I figured something was up in their divorce case. It made me uneasy, but I had been on a good roll lately. Mom had reverted back to her oblivious state, after perking up with Scott around. She ignored his semi-permanent residence in our household, and we tried to keep a low profile. We were low maintenance kids, cooking our own breakfasts, doing laundry, and eating dinners after practice that she had made earlier. Scott brought clothes from his own house. His mom drove him and Stu to Gulliver after morning practice. He kept his bike at the pool or my/our house in the evenings for riding to morning practice. Mom lived in her own world. I failed to notice how isolated she was.
Sitting in Denny’s we ate big breakfasts without saying much. Dad had seen me in the Miami Herald’s photo of Scott’s victory, so we talked about swim team. Maybe he felt that he needed to approve of my activities, so I assured him it was fine. Then he asked me how Mom was doing, a question I evaded. He bluntly asked if I thought she needed ‘help.’ I deflected it by saying she was lonely and feeling betrayed. He got defensive, saying he only wanted what was best for her. I knew there was something he was covering up, so I asked when I was going to meet his new girlfriend.
“How did you know I was living with someone else?”
I grinned. “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 and 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’ve worked, 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 affected 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 saw that this idea took him by surprise.
“Don’t you think your mother needs you?”
Tears were 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 next weekend.
I rode my bike home. Mom was actually baking cinnamon rolls for Scott and Stu while they watched Scooby Doo. She seemed anxious about the meeting. I told her it was a bunch of crap, which brought back her old confusion. Stu hadn’t seen our room, so we all went up before we got ready to ride bikes. He asked if he could stay over some time, but I was preoccupied by the visitation. I vaguely told him to ask Scott. He looked 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 had planned to go to Crandon Park on Key Biscayne. Mom had even packed lunch. It made me pissed she was acting so maternal. I had to let out the anger and energy that had built up, riding like a mad man. Scott and Stu fell back. I waited at the Rickenbacker Causeway. They told me they weren’t going further until I told them what was wrong.
“Dad told me Mom is going to move away once they get their divorce.”
“What!” they both exclaimed. Stu reached over and grabbed my hand, just looking at me.
“You can live with us,” he said.
“Thanks, but I hope to convince my dad to let me live with him.”
Scott kept staring at me. He felt betrayed, but I didn’t know why.
“I hate it that they make these decisions without even asking me. At least Dad admitted 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 said.
Scott kept quiet. He was regressing back to his old ways. Finally he said, “Do you want me to move home?”
“What’s wrong with you? Now I need you the most.”
His face broke into a grin.
“I’m here for you,” and he hugged me.
Stu looked at us and grabbed us both. “We’re just a little family.”
We all laughed, and then felt foolish.
“Come on. Let’s go swimming.”
Crandon State Beach has a coral reef, full of tropical fish. With swim goggles on, we could really see all the fish. Stu was a cut-up, chasing schools of fish with a goofy grin on his face. Scott found a lobster hole. While I stuck a stick into the hole, he caught the lobster scooting out its back door. He sneaked up on Stu pretending to attack him with the lobster. The Florida lobsters were not as scary as the New England ones since they have no claws. Anyway it was out of season, and we let it go. After hours of swimming, we got out to eat lunch. We couldn’t stop shivering. We were experiencing hypothermia. Even though the air and water temperatures were in the 90s, we sat there wrapped in towels trying to warm up. Lying in the sun helped but also burned. By the time we got back to Kendall, we were pink and exhausted. Their mom insisted I stay for dinner. It was so comfortable to be part of a real family. They were happy Scott was back. I fell asleep watching TV and woke up in the morning in bed with Scott. I didn’t remember how I got to bed. I was too old to be carried, but it made me feel like a little kid again. These maudlin feelings curdled when I thought about what was happening to my family. When Scott woke up, we started horsing around, which brought 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 overheard 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 came over and hugged me, which was embarrassing but nice. It was hard to believe that two weeks ago I had been banned from there. Scott put his foot around my calf. I felt loved.
That afternoon, we rode our bikes around South Dade, picking up all the other kids, eventually a gang of a dozen. When we stopped at Coach Earl’s house, he pulled a case of Coke out of the refrigerator, saying he knew we’d be by.
I asked, “Coach, how come you always know what we’re going to do?”
He laughed, “Everyone’s been a kid once. I haven’t forgotten. That’s why they pay me the big bucks.”
We rode Stu home, where he made a scene because we wouldn’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 looked at each other, “No Way!”
Then we half-hugged him, half-mugged him into the house.
“Well, you’re part of the family now,” Scott pronounced, as we rode 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 stopped riding. “You don’t get it. I need you more than ever.”
He just grinned. “Thanks, man.”
That night, as we sat doing a little homework for once, Mom walked into the room.
“Hi, Mom,” we both said. It threw her off her guard.
“I mean, Mrs. Castle,” Scott corrected himself.
“That’s fine, Scott. In fact, it was nice.
Turning to me, “Dad said you don’t want to leave Miami.”
“I’m so glad we’re talking about it. You had never said you wanted to leave.”
“I felt your father could explain better.”
“You both promised my life wouldn’t change, and then Dad tells me I have to move. I just want to stay here.”
“We should have talked with you about it. I didn’t know what to do about you.”
She was locked in her little world. I felt like attacking her defenses but knew I shouldn’t.
“If you need to talk, I’m here,” she concluded.
I got up and hugged her, but it made her uncomfortable. After she left, Scott scooted over and leaned into me while we continued to study. My concentration was shot. After a bit, I got up and sat in my window. Scott followed me, too attentively.
“You okay?” he asked.
“Sure. I just couldn’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 described running down to ‘rescue’ Pete. It seemed to inspire Scott.
“Let’s do something. We can surprise Lydia.”
We rode to her house, throwing rocks at her window, 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 spilled the beans.
“What? That’s totally not fair.”
“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.” But my puppy dog eyes didn’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 was gossip right up her alley.
“Is she younger than him?”
I had forgotten how important gossip is for girls.
“She’s eighteen,” I lied.
“Oh, my God. She’s practically your 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.” And, she hit Scott in the chest, and we broke up laughing. Then her dad knocked 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 said, “And mine even barred Tim from my house.”
“That was your fault, fool.”
“Oh, yeah. I’d forgotten.”
It seemed long ago.
“Scott’s mom said I could live with them. They seem pretty cool, except for Scott.”
We kept giggling and laughing, but left shortly. As we rode home, we kept punching each other’s arms. It was understood that sneaking into girls’ bedrooms was a new phase in our maturity. At Monday’s practice, several girls asked if we had done it. Lydia just couldn’t stop gossiping, even if it was about herself. That night it was Lydia who came to our window, fair turnabout. Dad had installed a rope ladder for an emergency fire escape. We made her climb up, calling her Lydia of the Jungle. She completely checked out our room.
“Boys are so gross,” she noted, 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 had her sit in the bay view window. Then we heard the whistle that had echoed on other nights. I whistled back, which was returned, but then was silent.
“Who’s that?” she asked.
“We don’t know. Maybe a ghost.”
“You guys. Where’s Scott’s room?”
Without thinking, he answered, “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 looked betrayed.
“I just had a wild summer. Maybe we’ll all have one this year.”
“No way.” “Why not,” they spoke over each other.
“This is too much. If you guys are sleeping together, then I think you’re both gay.”
Scott presented 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 gave me a big hug. I turned red this time.
“I think Lydia’s staying over,” Scott chuckled.
“You’re a pervert, Scott,” she shot back. “But Tim’s a hero.”
Now Scott got red, but that was 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 climbed down the rope ladder and rode home with her. She gave both of us a kiss, warning us to save ourselves for someone nice, like her.
“Don’t worry,” we assured her.
When we got back, Scott started laughing.
“What’s up?” I asked.
“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’d have lied 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 wished he’d stopped before the question. It was like asking if I wanted to stop being a kid. You can’t stop growing up, just delay it. I realized I was getting a hard-on. No question that I wanted him.
“Scott, we’re foolish 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 want so much 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 started to cry. When he put his arm around me, I was crying and laughing simultaneously. We went to bed and slept with him holding me.
In the morning, Scott said he hated going to separate schools and promised to transfer to Gables next year. Warning bells went off, reminding me of my first feelings for Joey. We rode silently to practice. Workout cleansed my doubting brain. Coach was not letting up on us, even though we were on break from competition. We would start long course training once school was finished. I had other problems. Everything depended on how well my meeting with Dad’s s new girlfriend went. I could move in with Scott but doubted it would work. Lydia was extra playful that morning. She had been talking with the other girls about my family problems, because several offered encouragement: team spirit, I guessed. The hard workout swept these worries temporarily away.
The week went by quickly as I kept to a busy routine. Scott asked to go with me on Saturday, but it wouldn’t help. When I got to Denny’s, Dad was 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 chatted inanities. I was on my best behavior, keeping my elbows at my side and hands in my lap. Susan was about my Dad’s age and seemed a lot like Mom. She deferred completely to him, even letting him order her food. She also worked at Teledyne, where they had met. He seemed happy, and once over his initial nervousness, we had a pleasant meal. In order to give them time to discuss me, I excused myself to go to the bathroom. Looking in the mirror, I could only see how wrong my hair was (too long by Dad’s standard) and how under dressed I was. But when I returned they were 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, but if you promise to keep trying hard, we’ll make it happen.”
“Thanks, Dad and Susan. I’ll be a 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 moved over and hugged him for the first time since I was little. I felt his embarrassment but was too happy to care. I stood up and shook his hand, said goodbye to Susan, then raced home on my bike, running up to my room. I realized Scott was playing the stereo too loudly. When I opened the door, there were twenty kids inside, and the noise instantly stopped. They looked 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 cheered. Lydia kissed me. Scott jumped up and down, while hitting me on the back. Stu ran around, talking to no one in particular. Greg, the team’s one long hair, kept repeating, “Far out. Far out.”
Everyone quieted down when Mom walked in the room.
“What’s all the racket about?”
I couldn’t say it was because I didn’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 left, somebody started singing, “Ding dong the witch is dead…ding dong the wicked witch is dead.”
It made me feel sorry for her, but she didn’t really get it.
We ended up going to the Haines’ house and dancing to Mrs. Haines’ record collection. I started 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 got up and stunned us with an unaccompanied version of ‘Wild Thing.’
So Scott and I did our doo wop version of ‘Blue Moon.’
It was a great impromptu party. The Haines family was another great swim team family.
That night Scott and I were sitting in the window, saying how great everything was. I told him Susan (How come every girlfriend is named Susan?) was nice, when a dark cloud came over his face.
“Shoot,” he said. “I haven’t even thought about North Carolina.”
“What about North Carolina?”
“I always go there with my family when school lets out.”
“So? It’s only a vacation.”
His hurt look reminded me that any separation was unbearable for him.
“Maybe I can go, too?”
“Yeah. That’s great,” he excitedly lit up, “you’ll like it up there. It’s cooler than here. I mean the temperature. All the hillbillies will drive you crazy. This’ll be great.”
When I asked Mom about going with Scott’s family, she deferred to Dad since I soon would be living with him. I finally had his phone number, but when I called he felt it wasn’t a great idea. They had planned to do the move in June, so he wanted me to spend the time with Mom. I couldn’t argue after he’d made the move work for my benefit. Scott was really disappointed, but I knew he’d get over it. Stu seemed the most upset. He wanted to be with us full-time. I chalked it up to my new popularity