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A NineStar Press Publication

www.ninestarpress.com

Kevin Corrigan and Me

Copyright © 2017 Jere' M. Fishback

Cover Art by Natasha Snow ©Copyright 2017

Edited by: Jason Bradley

Published in 2017 by NineStar Press, New Mexico, USA.


This is a work of fiction. All characters, places and events are from the author’s imagination and should not be confused with fact. Any resemblance to persons, living or dead, events or places is purely coincidental.


All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced in any material form, whether by printing, photocopying, scanning or otherwise without the written permission of the publisher, NineStar Press, LLC.


Warning

This book contains sexual content, which may only be suitable for mature readers.

Kevin Corrigan and Me

Jere' M. Fishback

Table of Contents

Chapter One

Chapter Two

Chapter Three

Chapter Four

Chapter Five

Chapter Six

Chapter Seven

Chapter Eight

Chapter Nine

Chapter Ten

Chapter Eleven

Chapter Twelve

Chapter Thirteen

Chapter Fourteen

Chapter Fifteen

Chapter Sixteen

Chapter Seventeen

Chapter Eighteen

Chapter Nineteen

Chapter Twenty

Chapter Twenty-One

Chapter Twenty-Two

Chapter Twenty-Three

Chapter Twenty-Four

About the Author

Chapter One

Kevin Corrigan died two days ago, on a Thursday, at the age of sixty-five. I know this only because I saw his obituary in this morning’s Tampa Bay Times. The obit provided limited information: date of birth, date of death, and Kevin’s place of residence, Madeira Beach. It also said Kevin had no known survivors, but that isn’t really true because I’m still alive and I am very much Kevin’s survivor.

My name is Jesse Lockhart. I grew up in the Jungle area of west St. Petersburg, Florida, in a cinder-block home with a fireplace, casement windows, a weed-and-dirt yard, no air-conditioning, and an ineffective furnace. My parents divorced when I was six years old and my father disappeared shortly after that, so he wasn’t a factor in my life. I lived with my mother and younger sister, Lisa.

Kevin was an only child who lived next door to me with his Boston Irish parents. He was a year older than me, and between my parents’ divorce and the time I reached the age of eleven, Kevin became my primary masculine influence.

I worshipped him.

Always half a head taller than me, Kevin was lanky, with curly blond hair and a riot of freckles dancing across his turned-up nose. His blue eyes twinkled, and he was athletic in a way I would never be. He had a cocky attitude; he wasn’t intimidated by anything or anybody, not snarling dogs, rattlesnakes, teenagers, or any type of authority figure: cops, umpires, or the nuns that taught at his Catholic primary school.

Okay, he wasn’t the sharpest when it came to his schoolwork. I was mostly a straight-A student while Kevin scraped by with Cs, and every time report cards issued, his mom compared mine to his. Then she’d say to Kevin, “Why can’t you be more like Jesse?”

But Kevin wasn’t meant for school and textbooks; he wasn’t designed to perform academic tasks. His world was the palmetto and pine forest near our homes, the baseball diamonds in our part of town, a tree house he built for himself, and the streets and alleys of our suburban neighborhood.

It seems hard for me to believe now, but when I was eight and Kevin nine, he and I often rode a city bus, unaccompanied by an adult, from the Jungle all the way to downtown St. Petersburg, a ten-mile journey, just to see a matinee at the Florida Theater. Afterward, we’d visit a magic shop called Sone’s, a quirky place run by a Japanese couple where we bought stupid things to bring home: fake plastic puke, a whoopee cushion, and cigarette loads I snuck into my mom’s Viceroys; they exploded with a bang shortly after she lit up. Once we bought a tin of itching powder, which I think was simply shredded fiberglass, and then on the bus ride home, Kevin surreptitiously sprinkled some of the powder down the backs of two women’s sundresses, causing the women to writhe and scratch while we giggled and jabbed each other in the ribs.

Kevin’s home life was a mess. His father, Colonel Frank Corrigan, was a wheelchair-bound WWII veteran who’d sustained spinal damage in the Pacific theater. He was in constant pain, and this caused him to be cranky and out of sorts. He puffed on Hav-A-Tampa cigars jammed into a holder he’d fashioned from a coat hanger because his fingers didn’t work very well. He drove a black Cadillac with the accelerator and brakes operated by calipers attached to the steering wheel. He was always yelling at Kevin for one thing or another in a barking tone I could hear a block away. His favorite epithet was, “I’m gonna kill that kid, Margaret.”

Margaret was Kevin’s mother, the Corrigan household martyr who endured Kevin’s mischievous behavior and her husband’s unceasing demands. A bulky woman with auburn hair and a narrow, thin-lipped mouth, she bathed the Colonel, helped him in and out of bed, got him dressed, and cooked the family meals. She washed clothes in an old-fashioned ringer-style washtub, then hung them to dry on a clothesline in the Corrigans’ backyard. She always seemed tired and dispirited to me. I rarely heard her laugh, and I often wondered whether the Colonel and Margaret had once enjoyed a happy marriage, back when the Colonel was healthy and Kevin wasn’t part of their lives.

The Corrigans’ social life revolved around the Madeira Beach Moose Lodge, the VFW, and St. Jude Catholic Church. Every Sunday they piled into their Cadillac to attend Mass with the Colonel’s wheelchair loaded into the trunk by his wife. Once I went with them; I was curious to see how a Catholic service might differ from those at my Methodist church. Much to my surprise, the St. Jude Mass was conducted in Latin; I couldn’t understand a word the priest said. Money was collected from parishioners through use of a metal basket attached to a telescoping aluminum pole operated by an usher. The day I was there, Kevin pretended to put money in the basket, but instead he stole a dollar when his folks weren’t watching, then stuffed it into his pocket after giving me a wink. I felt appalled by his behavior, but of course I didn’t snitch; I wouldn’t have dreamt of it.

Kevin was a natural athlete; he could play any sport—baseball, basketball, or football—with agility and grace. But he couldn’t get along with other players; he constantly got into scraps with members of opposing teams, or even with his own teammates. He had a way of needling guys with sarcastic remarks about their lack of athletic prowess or even their looks. (“Is that your nose or are you eating a banana?”) In fact, he seemed incapable of forming true friendships with anyone other than me.

For reasons I didn’t understand at the time, Kevin was drawn to me just as I was drawn to him. He never teased or threatened or taunted me like he did other boys in the neighborhood. He never called me an insulting nickname. I was by nature a gentle boy who lacked self-confidence in the masculine world, so I never tried emulating Kevin’s miscreant behaviors on my own, but I loved serving as his sidekick and sycophant. I relished my role as abettor.

Many of our neighbors had citrus trees in their backyards: oranges, tangerines, and grapefruits. One night, at Kevin’s suggestion, we snuck into the neighbors’ properties to fill two paper grocery sacks full of grapefruits larger than softballs. Across the street from my house, a huge live oak grew in the right-of-way. One of the oak’s limbs stretched across the road like an arm reaching for a box of crackers in the cupboard. Toting our sacks of grapefruits, Kevin and I scaled the tree and perched ourselves on the limb overlooking the road. When a car passed beneath us, Kevin or I dropped a grapefruit on the car’s windshield, which always scared the bejeezus out of the car’s occupants. Women screamed and brakes squealed. Men cursed. But of course no one could see us up there in the darkness.

Every Halloween Kevin and I dressed as hobos. We scavenged the neighborhood, collecting candy in our pillowcases while pulling the occasional prank. My favorite was one where Kevin scooped up a pile of dog turds using a Sabal palm boot as a shovel. He dropped the turds on someone’s doorstep, soaked them in lighter fluid, and set them on fire. Then he rang the unsuspecting homeowner’s doorbell. The result, of course, was never in doubt. The surprised resident stomped the fire out with his shoe, only to belatedly discover what sort of material flamed. Kevin and I hid in a nearby bush, watching and chuckling so hard I think I might have peed in my pants.

Kevin liked to spy on people at night, on weekends or during summers when we could stay out until nine or ten. We peeped on women undressing, on an old guy who picked his nose and ate the boogers, on a pair of men who slow-danced together in their underwear to Johnny Mathis records, on a high school boy who often pleasured himself while leafing through a girlie magazine. I, of course, had never seen such things before. Kevin’s spying opened up a whole new world for me, one I knew I would never discuss with my mom or sister or anyone else. How could I possibly?

I remember one summer when the Colonel traded in his Cadillac for a two-toned, cinnamon-and-cream Rambler station wagon. The Corrigans took a month-long cross-country trip in the Rambler, all the way to California, where Kevin sent me a postcard from Disneyland. He sent me another from the Alamo in San Antonio. Both were places I’d always dreamed of visiting, but figured I’d never see. That was a miserable month for me. I felt jealous of Kevin’s travels and as lonely as I’d ever been in my young life. I think I was nine then. Of course there were other boys in the neighborhood and I did my best to pass the time with them, but it wasn’t the same as being with Kevin. I longed for the day the Corrigans would return.

The Corrigans’ house stood north of ours. Kevin’s bedroom was at the southwest corner, while my bedroom was at the northwest corner of our house, so Kevin and I always slept about twenty feet apart. If we’d wanted to, we could have tossed a football back and forth between our bedroom windows. But I never spent the night with Kevin and he never spent the night with me because Kevin was a chronic bed-wetter. His mother kept a fitted rubber sheet on his mattress at all times, and this went on for as long as Kevin lived next door. I didn’t know anything about the reasons behind bed-wetting, but even then I suspected it was caused by emotional distress of one sort or another, probably linked to his poor school grades, his father’s withering tirades, and the Colonel’s very obvious disability that surely must have embarrassed Kevin. But I always kept his bed-wetting problem to myself; I never even mentioned it to my mother or sister. I figured I owed it to Kevin to keep his habit a secret from the rest of the world.

When Kevin and I were boys, Catholics were not supposed to eat meat of any sort on Fridays: no beef, chicken, or pork. So every Friday Mrs. Corrigan prepared a dinner featuring Mrs. Paul’s fish sticks. These were tasteless little rectangles of processed and frozen cod you heated up on a cookie sheet, and Kevin detested them.

“They taste like cardboard,” he told me, “even when I cover them with tartar sauce.”

At our house, my mom prepared a fried chicken dinner every Friday—the tasty meal was a ritual—and every Friday Kevin would sneak over to our house to dine on fried chicken, unbeknownst to his parents. Of course, my mom knew what was up, but she never told Kevin’s parents he violated God’s law every Friday night. She let him gnaw on wings and legs with abandon because Mom was that way. Within reason, she believed in giving kids the freedom to do whatever they chose.

The summer before my sixth-grade year, I was nearly eleven and Kevin was already twelve. He was almost as tall as my mom at that point—he’d put some muscle onto his frame as well—and I remember very clearly an incident involving Kevin, a truly cathartic experience for me. I had just finished my breakfast and brushed my teeth, and I walked over to the Corrigans’ house to see what Kevin was up to. Their garage door was open, and I heard someone rattling about inside, so I walked into the garage’s shadowy interior where I found Kevin rummaging through the contents of a cardboard box. He wore nothing but a flimsy pair of briefs that clung to his buttocks and displayed a randy bulge in front.

Kevin might as well have been naked.

Right away my mouth grew sticky and my knees wobbled. I lived with two females—I had never seen another boy in his underwear—and the sight of Kevin’s lean physique captivated me in a strange way I hadn’t felt before. There in the garage, I thought Kevin was the most beautiful thing I’d ever seen. I felt so stunned I couldn’t speak. I just clenched and unclenched my fingers at my hips while I kept my gaze focused on Kevin.

When he finally noticed me standing there, Kevin gazed at me with his eyes narrowed and his forehead crinkled, as if to say, “What are you looking at?”

It was then, of course, I realized something about myself that I’d never before suspected: I felt a physical attraction to Kevin; I wanted to touch him in ways that weren’t allowed in the world we dwelt in, and the realization that I harbored these urges frightened me out of my wits. I didn’t know what to do or say, so I turned on my heel and ran back to my house as quickly as I could. I went to my room and closed the door behind me. Then, after I sat on my bed, I rocked back and forth while wagging my knees and cracking my knuckles. My stomach roiled and my heart thumped. Between my legs, I felt a stiffening as I recalled exactly what I’d seen in the Corrigans’ garage. My viewing of an almost nude Kevin had seared his sex appeal into my brain, and I was never quite the same guy after that morning. There in my bedroom, I knew I was somehow different than other boys, and though I couldn’t yet articulate how I was different, I was certainly on my way to finding out. Neither Kevin nor I ever mentioned the incident in the garage after it happened. In fact I suspect Kevin had no idea what it had meant to me or how that moment had altered my view of myself.

But I knew.

About halfway through that summer, something even more earth-shattering occurred: the Corrigans decided to move out of their house next to mine and into a newly built three-bedroom home in the community of Largo, Florida, in central Pinellas County. The new home was probably ten miles from the Jungle, but it might as well have been a thousand, and when Kevin told me of the impending move, I felt as though a trap door had opened up beneath me. Kevin and I were fishing on the Jungle Prada Pier when he broke the news, and he didn’t seem the least bit sad about the move. The new home, he said, had a screened-in swimming pool, plus it was much larger and far more modern than his present home.

There on the pier I wanted to cry, but of course I didn’t let myself, not until I got home from fishing. I can remember going to my room that afternoon and closing the door. I lay on my bed and wept like I never had before. My shoulders shook and my lungs pumped while I soaked my pillow in tears. I felt like someone was ripping my guts out of my body, one handful at a time.

There would be no more Kevin: no more peeping, no more clandestine chicken-eating on Friday nights, no more Halloweens with Kevin, and no more bus rides into the city. It was all over, just like that, and I felt betrayed and cheated. It seemed so unfair. What was wrong with the house the Corrigans already owned? And why wasn’t Kevin sad about leaving me behind? Did I mean so little to him? Did he not have the same feelings for me that I felt for him?

Oh, I told myself, he’s not like me, is he?

The move seemed to happen overnight, and then a For Sale sign from a real estate office went up in the Corrigans’ front yard. For days afterward, I walked around my home like a zombie. I’d gaze out my bedroom window at Kevin’s old bedroom window and wonder what Kevin was doing just then. Had he found a new sidekick to replace me in his new neighborhood?

My mom took me to visit the Corrigans a time or two, shortly after they moved. Their new house stood on a treeless lot surrounded by other homes that pretty much looked the same: one-story structures with stucco-over-cinder-block walls, aluminum-framed awning windows, and two-car garages. The whole neighborhood was built on a bulldozed orange grove. To me the Corrigans’ new house seemed cold and lifeless with its large rooms and terrazzo floors. I swam in the pool with Kevin during those visits—there were two, I believe—but I didn’t enjoy myself. I think I instinctively knew that the sooner I put Kevin out of my life, the better off I’d be because Kevin’s temporary presence pained me more than I could say.

I had to move on.

A few years passed, during which we moved from the Jungle to a cottage on Treasure Island, a beach community a few miles away. The Gulf of Mexico wasn’t more than one hundred yards from our front door, and this opened up a whole new world for me. I could spend hours at the beach. I could fish at the John’s Pass Bridge or go pool-hopping in the numerous motels that lined the shore.

Kevin, of course, made no attempt to stay in touch with me. We received a Christmas card each year from the Corrigans, and that was about it. Kevin, I assumed, had forgotten about me and I had pretty much forgotten him, but then something unexpected happened to change all that.

Chapter Two

Days after my ninth-grade school year ended—it was the last summer I didn’t work full-time—Kevin’s mom phoned mine to ask a favor. Mrs. Corrigan was scheduled for heavy-duty surgery requiring ten weeks of convalescence. She would place the Colonel in a nursing home during that period, but she didn’t know what to do with Kevin. Was it possible Kevin could live with us? If so, Kevin’s mom said, the Corrigans would give my mom a check to cover the extra food and incidentals Kevin would consume during his stay.

When Mom raised the question with me, I wasn’t sure what to say. My first thought was, I wonder if he’s still a bed-wetter, but that wasn’t my main concern. I didn’t really know Kevin any longer. What was he like now? If I said yes, then I’d share my bedroom with Kevin and likely spend every day with him during his ten-week stay. What if we didn’t get along?

Still…

Despite the abrupt ending of our friendship and Kevin’s lack of communication over the past three years, I still felt a sense of loyalty to him. If I said no, I would hurt his feelings. And I wanted to help Mrs. Corrigan with her dilemma. She’d always been kind to me. Shouldn’t I do something to help her?

So I told my mom, “Sure, it’s fine. Kevin can share my room with me,” and a week later, Kevin arrived with his things: clothes, shoes, a fishing rod, and a tackle box. Mrs. Corrigan brought Kevin to our house in the Rambler station wagon, which wasn’t quite as shiny as it had been when they’d driven it to California. She looked pale and she’d lost a good deal of weight since I’d last seen her.

Kevin had changed as well. In fact, he didn’t look the same at all, save for his wavy blond hair, twinkly blue eyes, and freckled nose. When he exited the Rambler, my heart skipped a beat. He was taller than his mother now. His shoulders were broad, his limbs sinewy. His calves and the tops of his feet were dusted with golden fuzz, and his voice had a rasp to it when he greeted my mom, my sister, and me with a smile that showed off his big teeth. His cheekbones were craggy, his chin square, and I immediately knew that the boy who’d shared life with me in the Jungle was gone. Kevin was well on his way toward manhood.

When he greeted me, we didn’t shake hands. Instead Kevin hugged me and mussed my hair, and for the first time that summer, I smelled his skin. His body odor reminded me of the scent of wet pine needles. I, of course, hugged Kevin back. I threw my arms around his slender waist and squeezed.

Right there, in our sandy front yard, with the Rambler’s engine ticking and afternoon sunlight reflecting off the car’s chrome bumpers, all the distance between me and Kevin and all the resentment I’d felt toward him since he’d moved from the Jungle disappeared like a puff of smoke from a campfire. Kevin was there, holding me. I was holding him and everything was okay.

After the hug, Kevin looked me up and down. Then he said, “What’ve you been eating? You’re as tall as me now.”

During my ninth-grade year, I’d shot up nearly four inches. Now I was three inches shy of six feet, and I’d put a bit of muscle onto my frame as well. Light brown hair grew on my calves and other places, and peach fuzz dusted my upper lip. I was on my way to manhood too.

Mrs. Corrigan wagged a finger at Kevin while warning him of dire consequences should he misbehave in the coming weeks. Then she drove away with her muffler growling. I helped Kevin take his belongings to my room, all except the fishing pole and tackle box. Those went into our garage. Kevin stored his socks and underwear in a bureau drawer I’d cleared out for him; the rest of his clothes, along with his shoes, went into my closet. After I told him which bed was his, he sat on it with his forearms resting on his knees and his hands hanging.

“So,” he said while his gaze traveled about the room, “what’s a guy do for fun around here?”

I explained about the beach, fishing at the bridge, pool-hopping at Treasure Island’s multitude of motels, and a mini-golf course within walking distance. “And there’s a pinball machine at the Surf Motel,” I added. “The cabana boy showed me how to play it for free by sticking the end of a coat hanger in the coin slot; it works every time.”

“Any chicks in the neighborhood?” Kevin asked.

My mood plunged at his question, and I didn’t know how to answer him because girls didn’t interest me. “Maybe one or two,” I answered, “but I don’t know them.”

Kevin nodded. Then he asked, “Do we have time to visit the beach before dinner?”

I glanced at the clock on top of my bureau. “Sure, ’cause we won’t eat till six thirty.”

I closed the bedroom door, and Kevin and I changed into our swim trunks. After three years of showering with my classmates in PE, I’d lost all sense of modesty and I guess Kevin had as well, since neither of us seemed uncomfortable about getting naked in front of the other guy. I’ll admit I stole a few glances at Kevin’s private areas when he dropped his briefs to his ankles, and what I saw made my mouth grow sticky. The thought we’d sleep in the same room for ten weeks had my pulse racing.

As always, the cries of seabirds and the Gulf’s briny scent stirred my senses when we strolled toward the shore with our bare feet squeaking in the powdery sand. Overhead, the sun burned like a yellow coin in a cloudless sky. We both waded into the Gulf’s warm and placid water till we were up to our waists in liquid, and then Kevin pointed westward to a sandbar that had risen above the waterline, about a quarter-mile out.

“Is that always there?” he asked.

I nodded. “It’s up several hours at a time, whenever the tide’s low.”

“Let’s pay a visit,” Kevin said, and then we swam out there, both of us doing our personal versions of the front crawl. The water we swam in wasn’t deep at all; we could have walked to the sandbar with our heads above water if we’d wanted to. But at our ages, we had boundless energy and preferred to swim. I wasn’t even tired when we reached the sandbar, the crest of which was maybe two feet above the water surrounding it. When we crossed to the west side of the sandbar, Kevin whistled. Then he pointed to a wave maybe three feet high, rolling toward the bar. The wave’s face was glassy and sunlight glistened in its curling lip.

“Do you get that kind of wave out here often?” he asked.

I bobbed my chin while I ran my fingers through my damp hair. “It’s like a machine pumps them out. Sometimes I come out here to body surf. You can do it for hours if you want.”

“Ever ride a surfboard?” Kevin asked.

I shook my head.

Kevin rubbed his chin with a knuckle while he kept his gaze fixed on another incoming wave, this one identical to the last. “I have a board at home, a Gordon & Smith. Think your mom would take us to my place so we could bring it here?”

“Sure,” I said. “She wouldn’t mind.”

Kevin turned his gaze to me. Then he looked me over from my forehead to my feet, as though I were an item he pondered buying in a store. “I can teach you to ride,” he said. “It’s not easy—it takes practice—but you’re built like a surfer. You’ll pick it up fast, I think.”

I felt heat in my cheeks when Kevin’s gaze traveled over me a second time. Then I swung my gaze to the Gulf. I tried to imagine myself gliding across the face of a wave like the surfers in California I’d seen on TV. Could I possibly do it?



My mom was a good cook, and for Kevin’s first dinner at our house, she breaded and fried fresh shrimp from a seafood market, accompanied by tartar sauce, french fries, and a tossed salad with Italian dressing. Our dining table was actually a Formica-clad door supported by four cast-iron legs. One of the longer sides of the table abutted the sill of our front windows. I sat at one short side of the table while my mom sat at the other. Kevin and Lisa occupied the two seats facing the windows. A nice breeze swept through the room while we dined and Kevin answered my mom’s questions about his school.

Kevin attended Bishop Keating High School, a Catholic institution located only a short distance from our old Jungle neighborhood, and although the school’s principal was a priest, most of the faculty members were laypeople.

“No more nuns in their penguin outfits,” Kevin told us.

The conversation turned to sports. “I played safety on the JV football squad last year,” Kevin said. “I’ll try out for varsity this fall.”

A vision of Kevin dashing across the gridiron in a helmet, shoulder pads, and cleated shoes entered my mind’s eye, and just like always, I felt a twinge of jealousy. Why wasn’t I gifted with athletic prowess? Would I always be an observer at sporting events instead of a participant?

When we’d finished our meal, my mom decreed Kevin and I would take on dishwashing responsibilities after dinner each night. My sister would handle breakfast and lunch dishes. Normally my sister and I divided these chores evenly, so Kevin’s participation would only lighten our loads. I was fine with the arrangement, and if Kevin minded, he didn’t let on. Minutes later, I stood at the sink with my hands in soapy water while Kevin dried glasses and put them away in the cupboard. Every so often, his hip nudged mine, and I’d feel a kind of sexual spark pass from Kevin to me.

For the tenth time since his arrival, I found myself wondering how it might feel to touch Kevin between his legs, but then I remembered how he’d asked if any “chicks” lived in my neighborhood, and I knew it wasn’t likely my desire for Kevin would ever be satisfied.

Shit.



My mom drove a convertible, a British sedan that wasn’t the most reliable of cars, but it usually got us where we needed to go, and three days after Kevin moved in with us, she took us to Kevin’s house to retrieve his surfboard.

When we reached the Corrigans’ house, the one with the swimming pool, I stayed in the car while Kevin let himself in the house with a key hidden under a flowerpot. I kept remembering the few times I’d visited Kevin there and how unhappy I felt when doing so, so I had no desire to go inside. Within moments, the automatic garage door opened with a creaking and clacking and Kevin emerged onto the driveway with his surfboard under an arm. The board was a mammoth thing, nearly nine feet long and about three inches thick, except where it thinned out at the nose and tail. It had a fiberglass finish over a foam core with a single fin in the rear and a wooden stringer running the length of the board. Sunlight reflected in the board’s glossy finish, and in the red-and-white Gordon & Smith logo near the board’s nose.

My mom lowered her convertible top, and Kevin wedged the board into the space between the driver’s seat and the rear seat. After he closed up the house, Kevin hopped into the rear seat beside the board, and we hit the road. We drew curious glances from motorists on our trip back to Treasure Island. Surfboards weren’t commonplace in Pinellas County back then because there weren’t many spots in our area with waves big enough to ride. Kevin’s board rose about four feet higher than the car’s windshield, and I suppose we must’ve looked like a shark cruising its way along Gulf Boulevard.



A week after Kevin’s arrival, the tides table ruled our lives, Kevin’s and mine. We quickly learned that the best times for catching waves at the sandbar were the three hours on either side of low tide, and since each day, low tide came about forty to sixty minutes later than it had the day before, we had to alter our daily schedule to allow ourselves maximum surfing time.

It took me two days before I finally managed to catch a wave and stand up on the board for a ride toward shore. We had been on the water nearly three hours, and the time was about eleven a.m. We took turns using the board, and now Kevin sat on the shore while I perched on the board, looking westward and waiting for the next wave to come. When it did, I lay on my stomach with my chin above the Gordon & Smith logo. I paddled furiously, chopping at the water with my cupped hands. I heard the wave’s roar behind me, then felt it lift me. After I gripped the board’s rails, I pushed myself upward into a crouch with my right foot forward. For a moment, I thought I might lose my balance, as I had so many times before. But this time, using my arms to steady myself, I managed to keep my footing. I turned the board’s nose to my left by shifting my hips and skimmed across the wave’s face.

I felt weightless, like I was flying. I felt the sun’s rays on my shoulders, heard the wind whisper in my ears. I gazed into the cloudless sky, then hollered like a banshee. I had never felt so alive or so free.

By the time I made it to shore, Kevin was on his feet, clapping his hands above his head and doing a war dance of sorts. After I walked the board onto the beach and laid it in the sand, Kevin took me in his arms and gave me a bear hug. I felt his body heat and smelled the salt crystals on his skin while he pounded my back and told me how great I’d looked riding the wave.

“You’re a natural,” he said. “What did I tell you?”

Non-athlete that I was, I found it all quite hard to believe.

I could surf?

Me?

Chapter Three

Ever since we moved to Treasure Island, I’d earned money by caring for neighbors’ yards. I mowed and edged grass, trimmed hedges, and weeded plant beds. I spread fertilizer and mulch. The money was decent, and at the time Kevin moved in with us, I probably had $150 stashed in a zippered pouch I kept under my bed.

After my first successful surfboard ride, I spent a half hour each morning scouring the classified ads in the St. Petersburg Times, searching for a used board I could buy. I quickly found one I bought for $75 from a guy in Redington Shores, a nine-foot Velzy made in California that was dinged in several places but still serviceable. Again, we drew stares on Gulf Boulevard when my mom drove me, Kevin, and my new board back to Treasure Island with the Velzy sticking up from the car like a cowlick. But I didn’t care about the staring. I was now an official member of the surfing fraternity, albeit a novice. I’d finally found a sport I could perform adequately in, and I promised myself I would dedicate the remainder of my summer to honing my wave-riding skills.

So Kevin and I spent a portion of each day at the sandbar, sometimes as long as six hours if we had enough daylight for it. When we weren’t surfing, we pool-hopped, and I remember one late afternoon when we swam in the Thunderbird Hotel’s pool, a mammoth thing surrounded by a concrete deck littered with chaises, tables, and chairs. Dozens of tourists lounged about the pool in their swimsuits. Their skins glistened with suntan lotion and their sunglasses reflected the hot sunshine pounding the pool deck.

At one point, Kevin and I rested our arms on the pool’s ledge with our bodies submerged up to our chests. Our wet hair was plastered to our skulls and beads of pool water gleamed like opals on our shoulders.

Kevin leaned to me and whispered into my ear. “See that skinny guy lying on the chaise with the yellow towel?”

I looked at the man and nodded.

“I think he’s gay,” Kevin said. “He keeps staring at me when I’m on the diving board.”

I crinkled my forehead. “What do you mean he’s gay?”

Kevin looked at me like I was stupid. “It’s a nice way of saying queer.”

I looked at the man again. He didn’t seem any different from half the other men present, at least not to me. “Are you sure?” I said.

“Positive. I know a gay man when I see one.”

“How?” I asked. Already I felt both intrigued and uneasy. This was the first time Kevin had ever mentioned homosexuality to me, so we were navigating unchartered waters. Plus if Kevin could spot a gay man so easily, how long would it take him to figure my story out?

When Kevin hopped out of the pool, water sheeted off his limbs. Then he motioned me to join him. “Let’s take a walk,” he said, and I followed him to the shore, where we strolled northward, back toward my house. “I’m going to tell you something,” Kevin said while we ambled along with our arms swinging, “but you have to keep it to yourself, understand?”

I nodded.

“About six months ago, my folks went to a movie downtown, one I didn’t want to see, so they left me at the Pier a few hours.”

The Pier was a St. Petersburg landmark jutting a quarter mile into Tampa Bay. People fished there, or they patronized shops in the Pier’s three-story Mediterranean-style structure. The place was quite popular at the time; it drew huge crowds on weekends.

“I met this guy there,” Kevin said. “I was sitting on a bench, and I noticed him staring at me. After a while, he sat down beside me, and we talked. He was old, like maybe thirty.”

My scalp prickled while Kevin continued.

“After we talked a bit, he asked me if I’d ever had a blow job, and I said, ‘No, what’s that?’ And he said, ‘I want to suck your dick. We can go to my place; it’s not far from here. I’ll pay you ten dollars if you’ll let me.’”

By that point, my pulse raced and my mouth was dry.

“What did you do?” I asked.

Kevin looked at me like I was nuts. “I said no, of course, but ever since, I’ve noticed how certain men stare at me. It’s like they’re trying to imagine how I’d look with my clothes off. Do you know what I’m saying?”

I nodded, but in truth, I didn’t know, and I wondered if perhaps some men looked at me that way.



One night, about ten days into Kevin’s stay, the two of us played mini-golf at a course several blocks from my house, the kind with a windmill, a loop-de-loop, a waterfall, and a clown’s head with a mouth that opened and shut every few seconds. The weather was warm and breezy, and we both wore T-shirts, shorts, and rubber sandals. Traffic whizzed by on Gulf Boulevard while we played. The breeze stirred fronds on Sabal palms that dotted the course, and the fronds made a sound like cards being shuffled. Of course, Kevin was a better player than I; halfway through the round, he already had four strokes on me. We were at the tenth hole, getting ready to putt across a miniature version of the Brooklyn Bridge, when I pointed to a restaurant’s parking lot just across the street. I told Kevin of a prank a neighbor boy and I liked to play on the parking valets at the restaurant. The valets, I told Kevin, were arrogant pricks, older high school boys who thought they were tough.

“When they take a guest’s car keys,” I said, “they always give the guest one half of a numbered ticket. Then they slide the other half of the ticket under the car’s windshield wiper before they park the car. When a guest is ready to leave, he gives the valet the guest’s half of the ticket, and then the valet matches the number with the one on the windshield, get it?”

Kevin nodded while he gazed at the restaurant parking lot and I continued.

“Sometimes at night, my friend and I sneak over there; we hide between the cars. Then, when the valets aren’t around, we’ll switch the tickets on different cars’ windshields. We do it to six or eight cars, and then we come back over here to watch the fun. It’s total chaos.”

Kevin chuckled while I jerked a thumb toward the restaurant. “Want to give it a try when we’re finished here?”

I figured Kevin would jump at the chance. It seemed exactly the sort of prank he might have cooked up back in our Jungle days. But right after he struck his ball with his putter, he looked up at me and shook his head.

“Why cause trouble for people?” he said. “I mean, what’s it accomplishing?”

My jaw dropped at his response. What had happened to the rascally Kevin I’d known three years before?

Chapter Four

On a Friday night, my mom took my sister, Kevin, and me to a drive-in movie theater to watch an Elizabeth Taylor/Richard Burton film, Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?, a movie I neither understood nor cared to. To me, Taylor and Burton came across as a couple of drunks who detested each other and their shitty marriage. Kevin and I sat in the car’s shadowy backseat, which was a fairly tight squeeze for two long-legged teenage boys, and because I was bored, I bounced my knees and cracked my knuckles. I drummed my fingers on the windowsill beside me until my mom turned and told me to quiet down, that I was disturbing her concentration on the movie.

I rolled my eyes and rocked my head against my seat back. I stared at the car’s fabric roof while I crossed my arms at my chest. Would the movie never end? Why would anyone pay money to watch such drivel?

I can’t wait to

Kevin’s knee touched mine. We both wore shorts, and I felt the warmth of his skin. Right away, my pulse accelerated. When I looked at Kevin from the corner of my eye, his gaze was fixed on the movie screen. His expression was impassive. We shared a box of buttered popcorn, and when he passed the box to me, seconds later, I placed it in my lap. I ate a few handfuls while I savored the feel of Kevin’s skin against mine.

I wasn’t quite sure what to make of the situation in the backseat. Was Kevin making a pass at me, or was he simply trying to relax his leg? I decided to take a chance, to make a subtle move, so I rubbed my knee up and down against Kevin’s knee; I did this three times. Then I stopped and held my breath.

Seconds passed. Then Kevin rubbed me back: once, twice, three times. By the third rub, my heart hammered against my ribs and my breathing had quickened. I stole another glance at Kevin, but his gaze remained fixed on the movie screen as before. I returned my gaze to the movie as well, feeling totally confused. What was going on? Was my imagination running away with me?

It wasn’t.

Kevin seized my wrist. He lifted my hand and brought it to his crotch, where something warm and rigid bulged beneath the flimsy fabric of his shorts. My eyes bugged; I swallowed noisily and trembled like a kid in a spook house. I’m sure Kevin felt the trembling because my knee chattered against his and my hand shook between his thighs.

I turned my head to look at Kevin, and this time he swung his gaze to meet mine. He gave me a wink, ever so subtly and placed his hand on mine that rested between his legs. He gave my hand a squeeze. Then he turned his gaze back to the movie. We sat like that for the duration of the film, probably forty-five minutes, and Kevin remained stiff the entire time. Of course I was stiff as well, so rigid I feared I might bust the zipper out of my shorts. But then the film ended, and after Kevin withdrew his hand from mine, I removed my hand from Kevin’s crotch before my sister or mom could see what we were up to in the backseat.

My thoughts raced during the ride home. What had it all meant? Did Kevin want me the same way I wanted him? And what, if anything, would happen next?

Back at home an hour dragged by before my mom and sister decided they would turn in. Mom extinguished lights in the living room while Kevin and I headed to my room. After I closed and locked the door, we both undressed without saying a word to each other. I tried to imagine what sort of thoughts dwelled in Kevin’s head as he slid beneath his bedcovers. I switched off the floor lamp that stood between our beds, then crawled into my bed. I lay on my back with my fingers interlaced behind my head and my elbows jutting. I listened to waves smack the nearby shore. I heard the breeze stir needles of an Australian pine outside my bedroom window. Tires hissed on asphalt when a car passed on Gulf Boulevard. After my eyes adjusted to the darkness, I turned my head to look at Kevin. He also lay on his back. One of his knees was raised beneath his covers and he rocked the knee from side to side.

Go on: say something.

“You awake?” I whispered.

Kevin turned his head to look at me. “Yeah, of course,” he said. “I’m not really sleepy at all.”

“I’m not either.”

Kevin pulled aside his covers. He swung his feet to the floor, and his knees crackled when he rose. His erection tented the pouch of his white briefs. He came to my bed and sat on the edge of the mattress, close to my chest. Already I smelled his piney scent. He stroked my cheek with a fingertip a time or two. Then he ran his fingers through my hair while my heart chugged like a locomotive climbing a hill. After Kevin reached for the edge of my covers, he lifted them.

“Can I?” he whispered.

My voice croaked when I answered. “Hop in,” I said.

What transpired during the next hour was nothing short of magical, at least for me. When our briefs came off and our bodies intertwined, I felt the heat of Kevin’s flesh, the firmness of his muscles, the softness of his lips, and the wetness of his tongue. We did things I’d never thought of doing with boys, intimate acts that felt entirely natural and right. Toward the end, when Kevin thrust inside me and his warm breath blew into my ear, I shivered with an excitement so intense I nearly screamed. And when it was over, I lay on my sweat-soaked sheet, staring up at the tongue-in-groove ceiling while Kevin snored in the other bed. Even today, whenever I smell the coconut scent of a certain skin lotion we used that night, I’ll remember my first time with Kevin as clearly as though the moment happened yesterday.

We didn’t say more than two dozen words to each other during our sex. Mostly Kevin spoke, telling me what to do or how to do it or what he planned to do to me next. But I’d never felt closer to anyone. I thought back to that summer morning in the Corrigans’ garage, when I’d first discovered my desire for Kevin’s flesh, and I could not believe how events had led Kevin and me to this. My limbs felt like jelly. I ran my fingers through my damp hair while I marveled at the memory of Kevin’s techniques, his tenderness, and also his creativity. Who knew that Kevin’s tongue twirling in my ear could make my heart sing?

And now I knew something else: a place in the world existed where I belonged. My need for another male’s touch might be deemed wrong in most quarters—I’d have to be careful who I shared those feelings with—but at least I knew I wasn’t alone.



The Surf Motel was only a few blocks from our house, and the night after our first sexual encounter, right after we’d finished doing the dinner dishes, Kevin and I strolled down Sunshine Lane, a graveled alley leading to the motel, where we’d play pinball. We passed beneath the glow from streetlamps, both of us wearing Bermuda shorts, T-shirts, and flip-flops. The evening breeze tossed Kevin’s wavy hair about while it blew my bangs into my eyes.

We had risen that morning around eight. Kevin woke first, and his stirrings in the room woke me. When I turned onto my side to watch Kevin pull his swim trunks up his legs, his gaze met mine and gave me a wink like he had in the car the night before. The wink meant something, of course. It signaled me that our sex the previous night had not been a one-time thing. It also meant that now we shared a secret and a new bond between us.

As always, we had spent several hours surfing at the sandbar. By now our days on the water had left my skin as dark as alligator hide and my normally brown hair sun-bleached to a golden hue. Kevin’s hair was almost white. His usually fair skin was now the color of creamed coffee, and his shoulders were as freckled as a robin’s egg. Neither of us had paid for a haircut since May. We looked like two boys from the movie Lord of the Flies.

There on Sunshine Lane, we both walked with our hands in our pockets, listening to traffic pass on Gulf Boulevard. Neither of us had mentioned our sex a single time that day, and I began to suspect that the taboos we’d shattered the previous night were something we would never discuss outside of my bedroom.

Maybe, I thought, guys never talk about that sort of thing. The sex just happens, but it’s not discussed.

That was when Kevin asked me a question that seemed to come out of nowhere, something having nothing to do with sex. He said, “Has your mom told you what’s wrong with my mom?”

I shook my head.

“It’s what they call cervical cancer,” he said, then pointed to his groin area. “It’s in her private parts.”

I crinkled my forehead. “Is it serious?”

Kevin nodded while he kept his gaze on the gravel before him. “She might make it, or she might not. The doctors don’t know.”

I licked my lips while I tried to process the information Kevin had just shared with me. Mrs. Corrigan has cancer? Mrs. Corrigan might die? The ideas seemed preposterous. She’d been such a large a part of my life in my early years, and she wasn’t that old, maybe forty at most.

I cleared by throat. Then I said, “What happens if…?”

We kept on walking while Kevin talked.

“My dad couldn’t take care of me on his own,” Kevin said, “and I couldn’t take care of him either. He’d go to a nursing home, I guess. I have an aunt in Boston—she’s my mom’s sister—and probably I’d go up there to live with her.”

A weekly television series aired at that time, a cop show that took place in Boston. I’d watched a few episodes, and all I could remember was how cold things seemed up there. People wore overcoats and scarves, and the men wore wool fedora hats. Everyone spoke with those curious accents where they said “cah” instead of “car” and “bah” instead of “bar,” and nobody, it seemed, had a yard in Boston. They lived in row houses with aluminum siding or in red brick apartment buildings with nary a shrub or architectural feature. I tried to imagine Kevin living in such a place, and I couldn’t. He loved the outdoors; he was made for a warm-weather climate. Up in the frozen North, he’d probably wither like a corn stalk after harvest. And if Kevin moved to Boston, I’d probably never see him again, would I?

I tried to imagine myself in Kevin’s position.

He’s probably scared as hell, and who wouldn’t be?

Chapter Five

A full moon cast a silver rhombus onto my bedroom floor while I lay with my cheek resting on Kevin’s chest. I listened to his heartbeat, to his soft breathing. Our sex had been a sweaty affair and my hair was damp. Kevin wrapped a few wet strands around his finger while he answered the question I’d just asked him.

“There’s a guy in my neighborhood; he’s a little older than me, a high school senior. Sometimes we do this when his folks aren’t home. He taught me everything I know.”

I rearranged my legs, but I kept my head on Kevin’s chest. “Are you gay?” I asked.

He cleared his throat, then said, “I don’t know, but maybe.”

Do you think I’m gay?”

Kevin chuckled.

“What’s so funny?” I said.

Kevin rubbed his knuckle against the crown of my head. “You enjoy this; I can tell. It’s like surfing: something you were meant to do.”

Long after Kevin returned to his bed, I lay in mine, staring at the ceiling and thinking about what Kevin had told me: that our sex was something I was meant to do. I knew he was right, of course, but how would my peculiar needs affect my future?



Two weeks had passed since Kevin’s arrival, and already we’d fallen into a routine of sorts. Surfing, of course, consumed much of our daylight hours. Whenever we wore out our arm and shoulder muscles, we returned to my house, where we rinsed off in our outdoor shower room before changing into dry clothes.

Most nights, after doing the dinner dishes, we took a long walk on the deserted beach. The breeze would ruffle our hair while our bare feet squeaked in the wet sand. Phosphorous in the Gulf’s water glowed whenever a wave broke on the shore. We talked about school or Kevin’s PAL baseball performances that spring. Or sometimes Kevin spoke of his father’s declining health; it seemed the Colonel spent more time at the VA hospital than he did at home.

One particular night, we walked toward the Sea Castle Motel for an evening pool swim. We talked about the mischief we’d gotten into as kids in the Jungle, and I reminded Kevin of the dog turds he’d ignited on someone’s doorstep.

“It was funny as hell,” I said, “but you seem different now than you were back then. What’s happened?”

Kevin grimaced while he rocked his head to one side. “Last year, I got into major trouble at school, once for fighting, another time for ice-picking a teacher’s tire. My principal said I had to get counseling or he’d expel me, so now I see this lady. We talk about stuff: my family and all.”

“Do you like it?”

Kevin shrugged. “It’s all right, I guess. The lady thinks I suffer from what she calls ‘low self-esteem.’ It makes me angry, she says, and then I take it out on people around me. So I’m trying to work on that.”

I nodded because what he’d just said didn’t surprise me at all. “Do you have any friends?” I asked.

Kevin shook his head. “You know me; I’ve always been a loner. In fact, you’re the only real friend I’ve ever had.”

I pondered Kevin’s last remark, then asked him a question that had dogged me for the past three years. “How come you never called or came to see me after you moved to Largo?”

Kevin took a few moments before he answered.

“I hated not seeing you, but what could I do about it? I figured we’d both be better off if we didn’t stay in touch; it only would have made things worse if we had. But now that I’m here…”

“What?”

He stopped walking and so did I. Kevin worked his jaw from side to side while he looked at me. “I wish I could stay at your house forever,” he said. “It’s a real home, not like the place I live. There’s no yelling and no sickness, plus spending time with you feels just right.”

A sense of astonishment washed over me. Kevin, I then believed, had just told me in his own way that he loved me; that he always had, and that our separation had pained him just as much as it had me. Kevin’s revelation was what I’d always hoped to hear from him but never expected, and now that he’d said it I was pretty sure a major barrier between us had fallen. I wanted to take Kevin into my arms, right there in the moonlight, so I could tell him I loved him too. And I might have done just that, but then Kevin pointed toward the Sea Castle Motel.

“Come on,” he said. “That pool is waiting for us.”



My mom took Kevin and me to visit Mrs. Corrigan in the city’s Catholic hospital, where many of the nurses were also nuns, and I even saw a Franciscan priest in his brown habit with a rope for a belt, and leather sandals. The hospital’s hallways smelled of disinfectant, and I remember the whole place seeming very…quiet. People spoke in whispers.

Mrs. Corrigan looked pale and gaunt; her jowls sagged and her lips seemed thinner than ever before. But she smiled when she saw Kevin and me, and we both gave her a hug. She lay in a bed with her upper body raised and her lower body covered by a sheet and a thin blanket. She shared her room with another patient, a gray-haired woman with a cannula stuck in her nose who slept the entire time we were there. A water pitcher, a drinking glass, a Bible, and a rosary rested on Mrs. Corrigan’s Formica-topped nightstand.

When Mrs. Corrigan talked, her voice sounded reedy. “The doctors say my operation was a success,” she told my mom. “They removed the entire tumor—it wasn’t that large—and it doesn’t seem to have spread elsewhere.”


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