The next two days were so idyllic it's hard to describe them. The peace of just hanging out on the beach, going in and out of the water, putting on the aloe at night if we got a little too much sun or too little sunscreen somewhere. Bry and I were getting a nice bit of color, and I felt more comfortable with him than ever, which was also strange, because I thought I was completely comfortable before. I guess he was right, though, that he'd never asked about my dating or whatever, but had discussed his like it was normal. I'd never really volunteered stuff, but maybe it was because inside I felt like other people wouldn't be interested anyway in gay dating. Dating. Not even close, but okay, we'd go with it for the moment.
Jim and Kim were disappearing from time to time, sometimes to the room, but other times they'd go to some art thing nearby or for a drive or whatever things couples do besides having sex. Me and Bry were turning into beach bums, alternating between stretching out on flat chairs to warm in the summer sun and floating in the ocean being buffeted by the currents.
That changed the third day when the teens we'd seen late the first day needed extra players for some beach game with a ball, and they asked us to join. I was paired up with the abs guy, who was nice enough but didn't offer a name. Soon it became clear, though, that this was a set up for the girl, Shana, to get to know Bry. They were going into town the next day and planned to check out the town beach near the end of the main drag, among other things, and asked him to join.
Bry said we'd be glad to. I tried to back out politely, but it was set, and the next day the four of us took the bus into the main town rather than walking the five miles to get there. Mr. Abs, actually named Mike, disappeared almost right away. I lingered in shops and told Bry and Shana I'd catch up, as I needed to find a gift for my mom. I know, lamest reason ever, but you do these things for your best friend.
I spent some time wandering from shop to shop and found my mom a funny tote bag – it had all kinds of cartoon boobs on the side and said no matter which you were, you were perfect. She likes to make cracks about sagging boobs, so I thought she'd find it funny. I stopped and got an iced coffee and wandered down to the long dock that housed all the tourist boats – things like sailing tours, whale watching and stuff like that. Rather than walking down the dock, I headed down the fine sand toward the water and sat down on the beach.
I took my phone out to record the water as it lapped the edge of the beach and discovered I'd missed a call from my mom. I called her back.
“I figured you might still be sleeping,” she said by way of a greeting.
“Nah, just didn't hear the phone,” I replied. “I'm in town. Just got you a little gift, and I went to sit by the water and drink a coffee when I saw you'd called.”
“Are you having any fun? Please say yes. I've been beating myself up about telling you to go,” she admitted.
I chuckled. “I'm having a great time. I've seen Bry's mom, but his dad only once – I have no idea if he's staying in the room or what. Some girl is on Bry's tail, so we're in town while they're walking around. I split off to shop in my own.”
“So...are you being a wingman, or is he dumping you for some tail?”
“I'm being a good wingman, but I think he's got this, so I just gave them some space.”
“Ah. Summer flings. How's the beach? They still going to that cottage?”
I filled my mom in on the last few days, and she was verbally jealous about my meal the first night. She asked if it was weird sharing a room with Jim and his girlfriend, and then she had to ask about how things were between me and Bry. I told her how we'd actually cleared some stuff up and while I wouldn't say I was totally over him, I felt like I was in a healthy place about my feelings for him. The fact he was so mature about the whole thing made it easier, but then when it came to some stuff, Bry was very black and white.
I was suddenly interrupted by a dog running past me, spraying an older woman with sand and making her awkwardly move to one side to avoid the dog. With a turn the dog was headed back toward me, tongue hanging out. I thought the dog would go around me, spraying me with sand as well, but it took a shortcut over my lap and I bobbled the phone.
“Sandy! Come here, you,” a voice scolded the dog, who seemed not to care in the least.
I laughed a little and told my mom a dog just ran me over and I'd call her back. Sandy the dog wiggled her butt and danced around me. That's when disaster struck, and my iced coffee got knocked over and spilled into the sand.
“Ah, shit!” I groaned.
“Oh, damn. Sorry! Sandy, come here.”
I glanced up at the dog's owner, then back down to pick up my cup and lid from the beach.
“Eh. It was only coffee,” I said, though I wasn't thrilled with how much it had cost, given that it was now being soaked into the sand.
“I can get you another one,” he offered.
“That's okay,” I said, looking up. He had dark black hair and cinnamon kissed skin, something that looked more like heritage rather than time in the sun. He had brown eyes and a sheepish smile.
“Nah, really. It's expensive, and you're being nice about my dog running down the beach wildly, knocking over cups and stepping on cute guys,” he said with a grin.
“Oh, ah,” I blushed and smiled. “So. You train your dog to help get you dates or something?”
“Trying. Her success rate depends a lot on if you let me replace your coffee?” he asked, raising an eyebrow and smiling.
I looked down at Sandy, who was giving me a doggy grin. “Well, who could say no to that face?”
“Right? That's why I recruited her. That, and my grandparents said I need to walk her for them,” he said and clipped the leash to Sandy's collar. “We're still working on commands, though.” He grinned. “Claudio Gutierrez.”
“Rion McMahon,” I replied.
He turned slowly as I fell in beside him, and we walked back up the beach toward the coffee stand. “How long are you visiting?” he asked.
“Three weeks,” I replied. “You?”
“Townie,” he replied.
“Oh,” I said as my mind finally settled into some semblance of having a thought process. “So, dog helps you with summer flings.”
“Well, how much help she is is debatable, but she can help me meet people, sure. Not all guys are thrilled with finding out my dog ran them over because I think they're cute, even if they turn out to be gay.”
I grunted and smiled a little. “Yeah. I guess it's kind of questionable tactics.”
“Gives me lots of stories to tell,” he said with a grin as we arrived at the counter. I gave them my order, and he placed one as well, then asked me to hold Sandy's leash while he held his phone over the payment reader. He took the leash back, and we had our drinks lightning fast before we walked over to a nearby bench and sat down.
“So, please, tell me you're gay and single,” he said, then sipping his drink.
“If I were, how many would that bring your total successful pulls with Sandy?” I asked.
He made a show of thinking, moving a finger in the air and muttering carry the two before smiling at me and saying, “Two.”
I raised an eyebrow. “How long have you been doing this?”
“Just this summer. Sandy's a slow learner,” he said, grinning. It was hard not to smile back. I mean, kind of a cliché, but also kind of a meet-cute. “So?”
I sipped from my drink before nodding. “Gay, single.”
“Yes,” he said in a stage whisper, pumping his fist, and then pretended to organize himself. “I mean, yeah, cool. Me too.”
I laughed. “Are you always so bold?”
“Eh. I come from a large, loud family. If you don't ask, you don't get,” he said, with a winning smile. “So where are you staying? In town?”
“No, little spot just outside town, right on the beach.”
“There's a lot of those. This town gets to be so jammed with people in the summer, it's almost unbearable. The town beach gets overloaded with people when the places in town get booked up, so you're actually pretty lucky to be outside of town and get a slice of beach to yourself, more or less.”
“It is really cool,” I agreed. “I love the beach and the water.”
“How far away do you live?”
“A few hours. I usually don't pay attention, but I had to drive myself this time,” I said.
“Cars are something you don't need in town,” he replied. “Have you ridden the scooters they rent in town? They are so slick,” he said with a grin.
“Um, no. Where do you get them?”
“Come on. Let me bring Sandy home, and we'll go exploring,” he said with some enthusiasm. Feeling pretty good, I fell in beside him, and we continued to talk about the town and general subjects until we got to a small clapboard house, where he ran in and put the dog inside, then he hopped down the small front steps and led me to a side street off the main drag, where a vendor had electric scooters for rent.
“Andy, got a couple scooters available?” Claudio asked.
“Pick your color,” a guy who must be Andy replied. Claudio took out his phone to pay, but I stepped between him and Andy with my wallet.
“My turn,” I told him. Minutes later I was flying beside him, wind whipping around us as we went down side streets, past slow moving or stopped cars, and finally down towards the sandy stretch that ran out into the distance, disappearing into the ocean. We sped along the edge of the wooden boards laid into the sand until it ran out, then we were bouncing over clumps of scrub grass in the small dunes until we reached a sparsely populated section of beach. It was hidden from the main town beach, but really it was probably too far for most people to want to walk.
Claudio dropped his scooter on its side, and I followed suit. “Aren't those a blast?” he asked with a big smile.
“Yeah, totally. I love the wind in my hair,” I replied.
He kicked his sandals off by his scooter and held his hand out to me. “Come on.”
Feeling like I was starring in a romance novel, I copied him and took his hand. He pulled me down to the edge of the beach, water rushing forward and falling back. We stood on the wet sand, the water swirling around our ankles.
“So, uh, you bring all your hookups here?” I asked.
He chuckled. “Don't get the wrong idea, Mr. McMahon. Sure, I've had a few summer flings – and they can be nice, but they end. You have some regrets, sometimes. You wish people were around longer and that you got to know them.” He turned his head to look at me more directly. “But so far, we seem to get on pretty good. I'm having fun. My Tio Martin tells me you never know what you can win if you never gamble, and for some reason I thought you looked like someone I should gamble on. Hey, I might get three weeks with you. That's not nothing, eh?”
I rolled my eyes and smiled a bit at the situation. “That's kind of assuming we keep on liking hanging out. Plus I've been here most of this week.”
“What are you doing in the fall? Back to school?”
“For what? I mean what will you study?”
“Honestly? General shit. I have no idea what I want to do.”
“At least it's not being decided for you,” he said.
I grunted, thinking about how I'd applied to the same colleges Bry had. We ended up being accepted by colleges that were close, but not the same. It was true I didn't know what I wanted to do, but I was less enthusiastic to figure it out without Bry.
But then I felt a subtle squeeze on my hand, and I remembered I was standing on the beach, holding hands with someone I was beginning to think I liked. Claudio was very different from me – bold. As he said, he asked for things he wanted. Took chances. Here he is with a stranger he picked up on the beach using his dog as a way to meet.
“Any cute guys I should know about where you're staying?” he asked.
“Uh, my bestie, Bryson. There's a couple guys in other units. Bry's out with one of the girls; her brother came into town with us, but he bailed right away.”
“So...no possible competition is what I'm hearing?” he asked playfully.
I started and looked at him, then returned his smile. “I can't get over how bold you are. I just met you, like, an hour ago or something.”
“Yep. You're only here a limited time, seems like there isn't any time to waste – have to know if there's guys I might have to get rid of,” he said with a grin and burst out laughing at my expression of surprise. “Why do you look shocked? I sent my dog after you! I'm not giving up that easy!”
I laughed at him. “You didn't even know if I was gay or if you'd like me.”
“I know now,” he replied promptly.
“You just met me,” I pointed out.
“Sure, and look at me now? I'm holding your hand standing on the beach. I'm romantic as fuck,” he replied and laughed at me again.
“Okay. Maybe you are,” I said, smiling back at him. “Are you going to school in the fall?”
“Not me,” he said. “I'll be into the family business. We run a restaurant in town. Me, I'll be making food, selling food, cleaning plates from other people eating food – basically a food-centered existence.”
“You...is that what you want?”
“It's good,” he replied. “It's the family. Part of our tradition.”
“Eh, more like I'm the one in the family that challenges their idea of being traditional,” he said. “How about you? You go along with everything your parents say?”
“Hah! Well, my mom is super nosy and bossy, so it's hard to keep anything from her. Privacy isn't something I get a lot of.”
“Oh. Yeah, I kind of understand. My family is big, so we're kind of all on top of each other and in everyone's business. That can be rough and annoying.” He pulled on my hand and turned me a little toward him. “That's why I do a lot right out in the open. People are going to see anyway – except my family. They don't do touristy places.”
Okay, I wasn't exactly expecting a kiss, and I sort of wonder what it says about me that I let this relative stranger kiss me, but...damn. Good fucking kiss. Being this close, I also got a whiff of his scent, and it was all these things I couldn't identify – but he smelled really good. Like makes you hungry kind of good. There was just this swirl of physical input – the feel of the water rushing over my feet and curling around my ankles, the ocean breeze pushing past me, and the feel of his soft lips.
He broke the kiss, backing off half a step and looking at me with a bit of uncertainty.
“So, um,” I coughed, “do you always kiss on the first date?”
“Uh, was kind of spur of the moment, actually. I was feeling a vibe and decided to go with it,” he admitted, redness coloring his cheeks.
“Well...okay then,” I said, clearing my throat and trying not to grin too hard at him. “I guess if we're going to do that, maybe we should...you know, get to know each other a bit better.”
He smiled widely. “Oh definitely. We'll have to get some dinner and – oh! Oh, shit!” He pulled out his phone and looked at the screen. “I'm late for my shift! I'm in deep, deep shit! I have to go! Come on, we have to return the scooters!”
He turned and ran up the beach to slip on his sandals and get his scooter upright. Feeling a bit dazed I followed after, admiring this bold creature who kissed me on a beach. He didn't look like someone who would stand out in his shorts and tee shirt with some logo on it that I couldn't make out due to his moving around so fast. He called out to me to come on, and I slipped my shoes on. He was already halfway down the street before I got going, and then reality hit me – I didn't get his number. His Snap. Anything.
Well. I got to feel his hands and lips, but that wasn't really relevant right now, was it?
I took off down the street after him, but it only took him taking the first turn before I was hopelessly behind him. He knew all the direct ways around town, much like anyone who'd grown up in a neighborhood did. You knew which yards to cut through, which route had fewer lights or stop signs; it was a type of local knowledge that, unfortunately, separated us. By the time I made it back to the scooter rental stand, he'd turned his scooter in and gone running for work. All I knew was his family had a restaurant, but I had no idea where, what kind...shit!
I walked the half block down to the main drag and looked both ways before picking a bench to sit on and try to figure out just what today was all about. You couldn't make this kind of stuff up: being wingman, to being abandoned by the girl's brother, to wandering on my own, to getting picked up, to scootering around town, to getting kissed on the beach, and all while not getting much more than his name. I mean...seems a little far-fetched.
I looked around a little from my bench, hoping to see something to give me some kind of inspiration, but there was literally nothing. My phone buzzed, and I glanced down to see a text from Bry wondering where I was. I looked at the street sign and told him, and he said they were close by. A few minutes later Bry and Shana came into view, holding hands. Well, her brother wasn't all that nice, but maybe she was better? Good enough for Bry? Probably not.
“Saltwater taffy is disgusting,” Bry announced as they drew close.
“Stop. It was not,” she simpered. Ugh. No one really likes simping, do they?
“Never had it,” I replied.
“It's, like, the thing you do down on the beach,” she said.
“Besides, you know, all those other things you do down at the beach,” Bry said with a smile.
She smiled back and bumped her shoulder into his. Oh, this was bad. She was simping, and he was eating it up. Probably found it validating. I hope I'm not cleaning this train wreck up before we leave.
“We're going to take the bus back. Shana's family is going out tonight. I guess Mike caught the bus earlier – have you seen him?” Bry asked.
“Uh, no, not for a good while,” I replied. I fell in with them as we walked to the bus stop, and Bry talked about a few of the neat things they had seen in shops and some memorable people as well. Apparently there had been this comedian who did physical comedy at the same time, balancing and juggling between jokes, and they'd had a pretty good time with that.
The bus pulled up, and we boarded, them sitting together while I took a seat in front of them, but turned sideways. Shana was telling Bry about the place they were going for dinner and that her mom liked to go there every time they came, but that it was special tonight because of it being her parents' anniversary, otherwise she'd ask to bring him. I fully realized that I might sound a bit hypocritical, considering I was holding hands and kissing a stranger this afternoon, but it seemed kind of quick for meeting the parents.
The ride was short, so we headed back to our rooms, and Shana promised to message Bry that evening, and smiling, with a bounce in her step, she headed off. Bry and I got into our room, and he promptly sighed. “She never stopped talking. I mean the whole time. I don't think there is a single thing in her life she didn't tell me, and I was trying to block some of it out.”
I stared at him. “Are you serious?”
“Dude, I was dying to text and ask where you were, but I was afraid it would hurt her feelings. She's one of those, you know? I didn't want to be a jerk.”
“Maybe she was just nervous?” I offered as he pulled his shirt off and picked up his swim trunks.
“Maybe,” he said and went into the bathroom to change. I grabbed my trunks and traded spaces with him, and then we hit the beach. Bry flung himself into the water. I tried to take a slower approach, but he wasn't going to let me. After we tussled a bit and pushed each other around, we were just standing out in the water, feeling the waves buffet us about.
“So what did you do while I was getting my ear talked off?”
“Okay, so, you don't know her – why were you being so nice?” I asked. “And did you know they rent scooters in town?”
He rolled his eyes. “She was overly chatty, but I guess maybe she was nervous and trying to get to know me. I'm hoping she calms down a little.”
“Maybe if you put your dick in her mouth she won't talk so much?” I teased.
“I'm afraid she'd try and talk around it, end up chewing on my Johnson,” he said with a laugh. “I saw people riding scooters, some of them were fucking flying. You can rent them?”
“Yeah, took a ride down to the town beach, to a pretty privater area,” I said.
“Yeah?” he asked, tilting his head to one side and regarding me. “What made you do that?”
I cleared my throat. “A guy kind of picked me up down on the beach by the dock.”
“Whoa, you met someone, and you totally held out on me? What the fuck, bro? Fill me in,” he said, splashing my face. So instead we splashed around some more, trying to hit each other with seaweed and then trying to shove it in each other's swim trunks. I know, it sounds gay as hell to be reaching in those things, but it's really not. It was purely trying to gross each other out with seaweed in your crack or crevice.
Eventually that came to an end, and he pushed his hair back from his face. “So this guy. You seeing him again?”
“You seeing Shana?” I countered.
He shrugged. “Probably. She was nice, just chatty. If she stays chatty, that could be a deal breaker. How did you get picked up by this guy? Was he our age?” I broke down and told him all the details, and he made fun of me for kissing a stranger, but laughed when I told him how Claudio had run off saying he was late for work. “Classic, Rion! How could you not get some contact info?”
“I was busy having fun,” I said, grinning while trying to defend myself.
“Okay, so, how do we find this guy? Latin name, right? Try looking that up for Google in town?”
I widened my eyes. “He took me to his house to drop his dog off! Holy shit, I know where he lives!”
“Seriously? All that, and you finally remember that little nugget?”
We splashed some more and then dragged ourselves up to the beach and stretched out on deck chairs. As much as I was enjoying the trip now, I was curious about why I hadn't seen his father much.
“So...where's your dad been?”
“Huh?” he asked, grunting.
“Your dad. I have barely seen him. I mean, I'm not complaining, but....”
“Oh. I told you things are shit between my parents right now; what he did to you was just the latest thing. He's been getting weirder and getting into shit that doesn't make much sense. I mean, at first he sort of sounded like there was a chance, and I was talking with Jim about things he'd say about Jewish people running the whole financial industry and how corporations were controlling everything. Some of it seems legit – look at how these business do all these unethical things, get caught, and if the government does anything, it turns out to be barely nothing. Like all the cash a company makes on whatever shady thing they did, they still keep and have to give this little slice to the government as a punishment. The government goes around telling people the system worked, and you get the idea – the system is crooked.”
“Yeah, good government is hard. Especially with the corporations being able to spend unlimited money – seems like they win and people lose.”
“Exactly. But then, like I said, he'd tell us Jewish people run the whole financial end of things, and Jim and I would look at each other and then look at the number of actual Jewish people there are, how many CEOs aren't Jewish, and the idea starts to fall apart. The thing is, you tell my dad that, and he squirrels around it more than a preacher when you ask about childhood cancer and where that fits into a benevolent god’s plan.”
“Oh. I don't talk to your dad much, so...had no clue.”
“Yeah, I try not to talk to him too much, either. He's convinced we're all going to see he was right all along. Now I don't really know any Jewish people that I can think of, so him saying weird shit was more...not really real. Like, no one for it to affect, right? I don't think he knows any Jewish people, either.”
“Yeah. I mean, still shitty of him, but yeah, I see what you're saying.”
“So then he starts in on trans and gay people, and I noped the fuck out. I mean, I've said some shit before I'm not proud of. Legit, someone should have punched me sometimes. But now that I know better, and I know someone who is gay, and they are none of the things he tries to say they are? It just...makes you realize how nearly everything that comes out of his mouth is words someone else said, and he just believes it. Or repeats it. Not sure how much he actually believes, but he's happy enough to say it and not look too far into how bat shit it might be.”
“Damn,” I said softly. “That must suck so hard. He used to be a nice guy.”
Bry shrugged. “Maybe I'm putting a lot of shit aside I shouldn't, but I don't have time for him right now. I might not ever. I have college to get done, then start that whole job for the rest of my life thing. I have to find someone to share all that life stuff with besides you, because we're not fucking in this lifetime.”
I grinned. “It's great birth control – no accidents.”
“That's another thing. If I have kids, I don't want them around shit like that. Who has time for all that hating? He talks about it like he gets paid for saying that shit.” He shook his head. “I don't know. But to answer your question, he's been going into town to some seaside bar. Mom's been down there to make sure he's okay, but they aren't getting on too well.”
“Must be hard for your mom. Married him, so she loves him, but seeing what's happening to him.”
“I can't know what's in her head,” Bry said quietly. “Better subject: when we going to find this stranger you kissed on the beach?”
I chuckled. “He kissed me, but I wasn't complaining!”
We ended up having pizza and sitting out by the fire pit again. The guy who wasn't Mike was out with his family again. He was nice to look at, and he seemed really close with his family, getting them to play paddle ball games and stuff with him. He didn't seem too interested in just chilling, so I figured we wouldn't have been a good fit, even if he was pretty cute. I mean, if you can't chill at the beach, where can you?
It was raining pretty hard the next day, and we ended up going away from town to a mall about forty-five minutes away to see a movie. We had dinner in the food court and wandered inside the building before going home and watching more TV 'cause of the heavy weather. We left the screen closed and watched lightning strikes hitting the ocean, and I was deeply breathing that sea air as it swirled through our room.
I wondered what Claudio was doing.