We got home at one o’clock. Scott was asleep when his head hit the pillow. I lay there thinking about Tina. We had so many things to talk about, if we were really getting serious. Not able to sleep, I went and sat in my window, enjoying the cool breeze. I whistled, but my ghost whistler must have been asleep. I felt Scott’s hand on my shoulder.
“I miss you when you’re not in bed.”
“Just sitting here, enjoying my life.”
He slid into my arms, leaning against my chest, the breeze keeping us cool. We must’ve fallen asleep there, as he was soon leading me back to bed.
The alarm went off too soon, but we made it to practice. Neither of us was up for working hard on our repeats. Soon, Lydia was beating both of us.
“What’s wrong with you guys today?” she asked.
“We were in South Beach past midnight, hanging out with Tim’s New York friends,” Scott answered.
“You were partying?”
“Just hanging out by Nathan’s and dancing by their hotel pool. We learned the Hustle and the Bump,” I told her.
“Man, you guys have all the fun.”
Coach overheard us and said he’d ‘bump’ us if we didn’t pick it up. We finally made it through workout. All the girls now knew about our escapade. They wouldn’t let us go until we had given a complete description of everyone and everything. Lydia looked hurt when Scott talked about Tina and me. Later, I told him he talked too much. We rode home and took a long nap. Afternoon workout went better, but Coach made it obvious we were on his shit list. As we got our bikes, Lydia ran over and announced she was coming with us.
“How do you know we’re going?”
“Because I know you guys. I’m coming, too.”
There was no denying her. Scott was glad, knowing he wouldn’t feel left out. I wasn’t sure I wanted to have two girls interested in me at once.
Lydia was blonde and blue-eyed, tall and slender. Her hair, bleached by the chlorine, was as fine as angel’s hair. I knew that Pete and the guys were going to drop dead when they saw her. Of course, they would not be at a loss for words. She was unaccustomed to all that male attention. When she seemed flustered, Scott took matters into his own hands. He put his arm around her, making it obvious that she was already taken. Tina was amused and came over to stake her claim on me. The other girls felt betrayed that Scott had brought an outsider into the group. Pete sensed an advantage here and staked his own claim. Soon everyone was paired up. We were all dancing by the hotel pool. Scott and I still had our Georgia money, so we ordered Cokes for everyone. It was a cool party. Tina and I walked alone on the beach, sensing it was better to get me away from Lydia and Scott. We walked hand in hand, watching the moon duck in and out of the thunderheads. We sat on the cement breakwater and started to make out. When I put my hand under her top, she got scared and pulled away. I took her hand and rubbed it over my nipples, which suddenly got 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 reference.
“See,” I said, “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 have to 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 is 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 started kissing again. Wedidn’t get far before Scott and Lydia found us. We all sat on the breakwater, talking and enjoying ourselves before going back to the pool party.
The next morning Lydia was also lagging with us from exhaustion. Coach was all over us, once he found out we’d been up late. With midday naps we recovered for afternoon workout. Coach came down and laid down the law – no more staying out late. I called Pete and explained. Scott had spoken with his mom about having a pool party Saturday afternoon and evening for our new friends. I relayed the invitation, then asked to speak with Tina. She understood about not partying every night. We did make it out to South Beach on Thursday and Friday afternoons, but night-time was definitely more romantic.
On Saturday, Mr. Watt drove us over to South Beach to pick up everyone. There were twelve kids, mostly guys, so it was crowded. When we walked into the house, there was a big banner that read, ‘HAPPY 16th BIRTHDAY, TIM!’
It’s not my birthday until tomorrow,” I groused, realizing I hadn’t given it a thought before.
“Well, this is your party, so don’t complain,” Stu said, giving me a gift.
Most of the swim team kids were there, including the coaches.
“Thanks, Mom,” I said, giving Mrs. Watt a hug and kiss.
Lydia took the group of New Yorkers around and introduced everyone. When she came to Zeus and his brothers, they all started speaking Spanish together. They all came from San Juan, although different neighborhoods. Even Coach Diaz was speaking Spanish, although with a Mexican accent. Then we went out on the pool deck. Any awkwardness disappeared when we started playing music; the ice was broken. Everyone danced to the 50s and 60s oldies, doing the Twist, Hully Gully, Mashed Potato, Wahtusi, Shake, and especially the Swim.
I got Pete to tune in the local Salsa radio station. It was the latin kids’ turn to show off dance moves. Tina and I did the Hustle, while Lydia and Scott did the Bump.
It took Stu all of a minute to learn how to ‘Bump’ one of the team girls his age into the pool. The Latin kids changed into swim suits that were provided. Soon it was a big pool party. The guys were so shy about wearing Speedos, we had to laugh at them. At first they insisted they wear their underwear under the suits. Pete was hilariously bizarre with the nylon suit pulled up over his boxers. He fled back into the house at everyone’s jeers. I had to convince him that no one would laugh at him in a Speedo, which all the swim team kids were wearing. Zeus whispered in his ear, and he relented. I asked Zeus what he had said. He shrugged and replied it was about manhood. Tina looked great in one of Lydia’s suits. After this excitement, everyone relaxed and had fun. Mrs. Watt had baked the biggest cake ever, with my name on it. I was glad no one brought presents. Stu gave me a card which said how much I helped him and that he’d always remember me. I hugged him, and then threw him in the pool. Mr. Watt cooked hamburgers until everyone was stuffed. There was more dancing until people started to leave at ten. Mr. Watt gave everyone ten minutes to say goodbye. Tina looked at me, realizing our week was almost over. We went to a dark corner of the patio and kissed furiously. She rubbed my nipples, which meant I could do the same. I didn’t know what to say, except to keep kissing her deeply. As we french kissed, she leaned into me and was racked by shudders. I knew she was orgasmic from pushing against my stiff dick. As we walked out, Stu pointed at the bulge in my jeans. I hushed him from saying anything. He laughed. All the way back to South Beach, Tina was collapsed against me. I figured it was her first orgasm with anyone. I felt strange, as I hadn’t been satisfied, except in the sense that she was satisfied. We barely said goodbye. It was like ripping pieces of paper apart that had been stuck together. On the drive back, I was dreamily spaced out, when I noticed Scott and Lydia were both staring at me.
“He’s in love,” Lydia said.
“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, it’s so romantic. Will he travel hundreds of miles to see his true love? Will she be faithful to him?”
They kidded me some more. I wasn’t listening. Mr. Watt convinced Scott and me to stay at their house that night. I was to sleep in Stu’s bed but woke up next to Scott, with Stu at the foot of the bed. I woke Scott and told him we had to go back to South Beach, for a final goodbye. We arrived just as everyone was packed and ready to go. Pete took me to Tina’s hotel. She wouldn’t let me hug her in front of her family but gave me a long letter.
“I knew you’d come to see us leave.”
‘I couldn’t let you just leave. There are 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 taste.”
Then, she did hug me, furtively watching the family reaction. The cab was there. They had to go. I rushed with Pete back to his hotel, where his family was anxiously waiting. He wasn’t at all shy about hugging me goodbye.
“You are totally cool, Huerto. Call us up.”
Then he quickly hugged Scott and was gone.
“That was quick,” Scott noted.
“You mean the goodbyes or the week?”
I looked at the deserted hotel lobby, then turning around, “Let’s get a hotdog.”
We went to Nathan’s. Sitting in the window, we watched the aimless street action.
“Do you feel so different from them, the New Yorkers?” I asked Scott.
“Kinda. They have different lives in store for them, but 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 whipped.”
We laughed and got ready to ride our bikes home. Across from Nathan’s I saw the same pimp from last year. He was talking at 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 watched the pimp leave her by herself.
“Com’n, Scott. Let’s talk to her.”
We walked over and said, “Hi.” She seemed pleased we were 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 the same age and probably 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 been 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 said, getting away.
We went back into Nathan’s and watched as Chuck returned in a cab and left with her.
“Whew. She was a tough cookie,” Scott observed.
“I think it was covering up her fear. I wish we’d been able to get her to open up.”
“I just wanted to see if she was like us.”
“Even if she was friendly, what could you have done for her? You think she can go back to being normal?”
“After having sex for money with so many people?”
I thought about it, thinking about all the weird things I had 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 concluded.
“You may not have 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’ve got to be.”
“Hard, that’s what she is.”
“The price of being tough.”
After riding back from South Beach, we decided to spend the day at the Watts in Kendall. It was hot and muggy, but the pool kept us cool. About three o’clock, Mrs. Watt called me to the phone. It was my dad. He wanted me home, without Scott. Since it was my birthday, I thought they wanted to do something for me. I told Scott what was up. He said he’d go to Lydia’s and meet me at home later. We biked to Coral Gables together, chatting about practice and nothing special. He waved goodbye as I turned into the driveway, winking and smiling at me. I walked into the living room and eased myself onto the couch.
“Hi, Dad. What’s up?” I casually asked, confidently expecting his birthday greetings. Maybe I’d 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 could 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 couldn’t believe him. Who was this ‘we’ he was talking about, not the two of us. The hand of Susan was 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 act like all I do is goof off. I don’t believe 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 discipline 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.”
He looked momentarily confused, as if I had broken his train of thought. Then he regained 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 wanted to throw it back at him. He was the one who ran away for half a year, abandoning my mother for a girlfriend. I bit 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 stared at him and felt his resolve. But what did he really feel? I saw how little I knew my own dad. I also suspected this was Susan’s doing. I knew to go along to get along. Time was on my side.
“Okay, Dad. I’m not arguing or defying you. Please let Scott continue to stay here. I promise we’ll not cause any trouble for Susan or you.”
“We’ll have to see, Tim.”
I got up, excused myself and went to my room. Alone, I sat in the window and looked blankly into the growing dusk. Thinking about all that had been said and looking for what I had done wrong, I resigned myself to the belief that it wasn’t I who was screwing up. Dad and Susan had their life together, from which I was excluded. I doubted they wanted to be more involved with me. I was just baggage from Dad’s old life. I sat there for over an hour, getting over feeling sorry for myself. It was a come down from the good spirits at the Watts’ party. Suddenly I wondered where Scott was. Maybe he had figured he should wait at Lydia’s until I let him know to come home. It was nine o’clock already. I got my bike and rode to her house. Leaving the bike next to Scott’s, I walked behind the house and approached her window. I expected to hear them talking. I was stopped in my tracks by the heavy breathing and Scott’s moans. Jesus, he was doing her. I stood there several minutes, thinking it was a joke they were playing knowing I had arrived. Finally I got up the nerve to look in the window. There was Scott’s little white butt going up and down with Lydia’s legs wrapped around him. They were fucking like rabbits. An emotional charge hit me in the gut. I walked away quickly, got on my bike, and rode around aimlessly. I kept saying it was normal and what did I expect. But my heart was in a vise. I should be happy for them. I felt ready to cry. I couldn’t get a grip on myself, but riding kept me from going over the edge.
As I rode down Riviera, I heard the same whistle I had attributed to the ghost in my backyard. Stopping, I whistled back – woo wee wooh. The giggling noises I had heard before were all around me. I was next to the Library. I remembered the night we saw faces up in the big banyan tree there. I looked up at several faces and legs in the branches.
“Hey, jock-head,” a girl taunted me.
“Hey, long hairs,” I answered back.
They all laughed.
“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 climbed into the tree. It was easy to climb, with many branches spreading out from the main trunk, starting about six feet off the ground. It was similar but better than Disney World’s Swiss Family Robinson Treehouse. They all started to move from branch to branch, letting me chase them, staying far enough ahead to make it a game. Finally they were at the far end of a group of limbs, thirty feet off the ground. I had them cornered, until the smallest one, with down-the-back dirty blond hair jumped to the next tree. I held my breath as the five others followed him, several just able to hold onto the branches to which they had just jumped.
“Hah,” the blond ringleader taunted.
I looked down, which convinced me they had won.
“Never look down,” he called to me. “Now you’ll never jump.”
That was all it took. I launched myself out and leaped the five feet to the next tree. I grabbed the approaching limb with both arms and legs, scrambling to catch hold. I slid downward until, in a sickening crack, the branch snapped and I was falling straight down, scraping along passing limbs. Just as I was about to fall into space, two of the kids grabbed me, swinging me over to the more substantial limb that held them. The broken limb remained caught in my interlocked arms and legs. I grabbed both my rescuers and their branch.
“Bad branch,” I excoriated the broken limb and threw it away. “Thanks. I thought I was a goner.”
Everyone laughed, then we all slid down to the trunk, settling into comfortable branch joints. They watched me with amusement, as I found a spot.
“You were 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 answered to no one in particular.
“He’s okay,” the ringleader announced. “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 slid over to Rob, sitting next to him, while he pulled a joint from behind his ear. Looking at his long hair, I knew I’d seen him before. I whistled, which startled him, then he whistled 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 finished with, “Woo woo, woo woo.”
He held out his hand. I shook it, hippie style, with my fingers up. We laughed, then he fell backwards off the branch, causing me to lose my balance. He rolled to the next branch, grabbing me before I fell.
“You gotta learn to fly, man,” as he lit he joint, took a hit, and then stuck it in my mouth. I took a deep drag and coughed instantly.
“That shit’s strong.”
“Colombian Gold, man. Here, get another hit, not so much this time.”
I took a big hit again, and was only able to hold it in for a few seconds before coughing. He was smiling right in my face, widely spaced blue eyes all crinkled from laughing at me. He stuck the joint into my lips, and finally I took a hit I could hold. Everyone else was complaining about bogarting the joint. Rob passed it along. I leaned back into the crook of the tree we were sharing. Then I looked down at the ground. Thirty feet seemed like three hundred. I pushed 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 spaced out to the extent that their voices came from a long distance.
“Is he really a fag, Robby?”
“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 retorted.
I was floating away while they went over my sex life.
“Robby’s a peeping tom,” the other blond kid said.
I came 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 laughed,. The smallest roach came around to me. Since it was out, I was about to flick it away. Robby grabbed it.
“Waste not, want not, man.”
He took a roach clip off his belt, lighting the roach, which he had me finish. Then taking another joint from behind his ear, he lit it and passed it in the other direction.
“Does anyone ever catch you up here?”
“You’d never see us if we hadn’t made it obvious. Are you really a fag?” the dark-haired girl Mary asked.
“Ain’t no denying it, but I got a girlfriend, too.”
“So where’s your boyfriend tonight?”
I laughed, and for the first time it was 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 aimless not knowing what to do when I met 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 seemed laughable. I sat there looking at a whole new group of friends and just giggled away. Soon they felt restless and started crawling around the new tree. I forgot my acrophobia and was soon going limb to limb with them. Finally we came back to the ground where I was amazed to find my bike where we had started.
“We’re right where we started?”
“You wanted to be somewhere else?” Rob asked.
“See ya around guys.”
“Sure, jock-head,” and they all laughed.
“Happy birthday, and don’t be so gay.”
Then they laughed more.
I rode home and found it was after midnight. Scott, the little rat, was sound asleep. I was still stoned and didn’t want to sleep. I sat in the window, enjoying the light breeze. I heard Robby’s whistle. He was staring at me from his backyard. I whistled back. He waved and gave me the finger. I returned the favor. Scott didn’t stir. I sat for a while, until coming to the conclusion it wasn’t a big thing. It was their lives, not mine. Then I laughed when I realized how easy it was to separate myself from others while stoned. I fell instantly asleep when I got into bed.
The next morning we dragged ourselves to practice without talking. I was sure he’d tell me about Lydia. When he didn’t, I figured I wouldn’t press him. I didn’t really want to say what I’d seen. Holding secrets from each other was new to us. Lydia missed morning workout which was very unusual for her. I asked that afternoon what was up, but she played it off, noting I didn’t look so sharp myself. I didn’t tell anyone about my adventures Sunday night.
The silence between us grew for several days. We both knew something was wrong. No one wanted to talk about it. Finally, I told him about my conversation with my dad.
“Man, you’ve been uptight all week, so I didn’t want to bring it up,” I said.
“Why’d you hold back from us?”
“I mean me and Lydia…all your friends.”
“I just felt something was weird. We’re more than friends, Scott.”
He reached over to rub my hair, but as he touched me, I said, “Don’t be so gay, man.”
The surprise spread as a blush across his face.
“You want me to move home?”
Then I touched his shoulder.
“No, Scott. If we have to deal with my dad and the wicked step-mother, we’ve got to do it together – be on the same wave length.”
But he didn’t say anything about Lydia and him, so I was left hanging. He finally saw the scrapes and scabs on my arms and legs, asking how that happened.
“Just climbing trees,” I didn’t elaborate. I could hold back, too.
He gave me a funny look, like I was such a kid. Then he asked if I wanted to ride to Lydia’s. I said I was too beat from workout. He shrugged and was out the door. He literally ran down the stairs. Who was acting like a kid now? I sat in my window, wondering if I was giving up without a fight. We’d been rivals over Lydia. Now I had lost. Maybe, seeing my relationship with Tina, had convinced Lydia to choose Scott. We’d all been best friends, but now I felt excluded. Scott hadn’t bugged me to come with him. I guessed he wanted to be alone with her. I was too used to sharing everything with him. Now we were changing. My gut hurt like I’d been punched. I tried looking into the night, but my vision blurred as tears ran down my face. I thought about going out riding and looking for Robby’s gang. I realized I’d just get stoned. I hated feeling this way, but deadening my feelings was not what I needed. I knew I was over-reacting. The shitty feelings were in charge. I was leaning back, eyes closed and tears drying on my cheeks.