The Gulf Between Us
by Rick Beck
There were no leftovers the night Ivan and I finally went to my house for dinner, after the great raft trip. Mama noticed that I'd turned a strange color of orange on my way to tanning after being burnt to the bone. She wasn't more than a little suspicious about my new color.
Mama saved a big container of spaghetti, a dozen cheese sandwiches ready to grill, and a container of bean soup. It was great food to make up for the missed meals.
The nice part about rafting, it ate up time. We were closing in on the day Boris said he'd come. We weren't going to wait around for him. He was coming from Tampa and there was no telling what time he'd get started.
If he didn't come soon it would be time for school to start.
I couldn't imagine being without Ivan. By the second summer of my Florida life, he filled my days and he filled my dreams. I felt like I was where I belonged. I couldn't imagine ever needing another friend. I'd never find one as cool as Ivan.
Being at Ivan's was the best way to be. Not having a schedule or marking time was growing on me. The summer was over in a little more than a month and we intended to make the most of the time that was left.
We dared to take the raft out, but we didn't get out of sight of land. It didn't scare me. It taught us a valuable lesson. We had fun while being vigilant. We could be adventurous while keeping an eye on our beach.
We located the current that carried us too far and we avoided it.
Looking back on the summer I was fifteen, there was something about Boris the first time I saw him. His smile told you he knew something you wanted him to tell you. His charm was smooth and practiced. These things didn't strike me as authentic. They weren't standard issue for seventeen year old boys. My brothers had all been seventeen by then and none were nearly as polished as Boris.
Boris dressed in a way that made him look like a man. He sounded like a man. I knew he boxed and once I examined his face, I saw the scars to prove it, but Boris didn't look tough to me. He dressed to look good. His hair was perfectly styled. He worked at looking good.
Working on the boat gave me a rough edge as I rushed toward manhood. I was independent in most respects, even if I was expected to report in to my parents. My hair style was long and more blond every day. I wouldn't call myself muscular, but my body took shape while pulling the heavy fishing nets on the Vilnius Two that summer.
Boris was tan. Not the all over tan Ivan and I had. He was more golden, but I could see where a small bathing suit covered the essentials. There was just enough bathing suit to leave you wondering, but he didn't bring it with him.
He wasn't what I expected but I didn't know what to expect. The brothers were accustomed to each other. Boris was new to me. Ivan spoke of their competition and their activities, but he didn't tell me that when I looked at Boris, I'd be seeing him. It seemed like an important omission to me. I wasn't prepared to see Ivan's duplicate?
What had Ivan told him about me?
We knew Boris wouldn't come early. He had to get up, get ready, and drive several hours. We went about our daily business. We swam out to the logjam to lie in the sun. It was peaceful and was all that hot for August.
"The seals haven't been here in a while," I said. "I wonder where they go."
"Seals aren't native to Florida," Ivan told me. "A Barnum & Bailey circus train derailed ten or twelve miles up river. A car with the seals and two African lions split open. The animals escaped. The furor over the cats being loose got all the attention. We're talking man eaters here. I suspect they ate out of the trainer's hand. They were circus animals. They stayed free for nearly a week."
"Good for them," I said, feeling a kinship with the wild cats.
"Pop Pop woke up one morning a week or so later and the seals were out here barking. They'd laid claim to the logs. He thought all living creatures deserved to be free. When no one came for the seals, they were free."
"What a great story," I said, liking his grandfather more all the time, but I only knew him through Ivan's stories.
"I don't know where they go, when they aren't here," Ivan said. "I suppose they've found other places where the fishing is good after twenty years."
We dove into the pleasant green water, swimming back to the beach. We needed to reinforce our earlier nourishment.
Boris stood as we burst into the kitchen. He'd been sitting at the kitchen table. They embraced. Seeing them together had me seeing double. I didn't need to wonder why girls liked Boris. They were drawn to Ivan, but so were boys, and me of course. Boris may have been even more handsome than Ivan.
They hugged, kissed, hugged, and kissed again. Seeing Ivan kiss his father threw me for a minute. Ivan kissing Boris, and Boris looking like he did, was an entirely different deal. I wasn't much of a kisser but they made it look like fun.
Boris had on a baby blue tapered polo shirt with tailored brown slacks and penny loafers. They fit him like a fine pair of gloves fit your hand. His mama didn't shop at Sears.
I stood with a chair in front of me. The only style I had was the style in my smile. Letting Boris see me naked before we were introduced seemed like a major breach in etiquette.
"Boris, this is my good friend, Clay. Clay, this is my brother."
I did not pucker up.
I'd checked Boris out and it was his turn to give me the once over, as my handshaking hand deserted it's new roll as family jewel protector. He didn't miss a thing, except I was too embarrassed to smile. I wanted to get back behind the chair before the swelling reached its peak.
Boris was polite, even friendly, but I'd never been introduced to someone when so much about me was revealed. His smile was dazzling. I'm sure it had something to do with my partial erection that went with our handshake.
"You look different," Ivan said, looking at Boris.
"You look the same," Boris said. "Still can't find a bathing suit you like?"
"I like this one fine. Where's, 'Oh, Boris, I want to...?'" Ivan asked in less than a flattering voice.
Boris laughed. Ivan laughed. I laughed.
"It was like having a tumor removed," Boris said. "She wouldn't leave me alone. You were there. You saw how she was. I never imagined a girl could wear me out. I was glad when she left," Boris said. "I hated ditching you for her, Ivan, but you don't know how pissy she got when I didn't give into her."
"Doesn't sound like you, Boris," Ivan said. "No girls waiting in the wings? I was certain we'd need to make room for four in the bed tonight."
"Too much of a good thing is still too much, little brother. You'll see. We timed this perfectly so I rest up a few days."
"No, I don't think I will," Ivan said. "Glad you could pull yourself away."
"I couldn't keep saying no to Dad. I owe him some time."
"You'll never meet a nice girl at this rate, Boris," Ivan said.
"No future in nice girls. You'll see. You'll be a man soon, little brother. Then you'll know what it's like trying to get enough of a good thing. You keep your options open. Most girls are more fun than Betty Sue. She was a one trick pony."
"Sex for the sake of sex doesn't sound like much fun to me. Thinking that you left here to get laid is lame. You could move back. Find some girls here," Ivan suggested. "We'd be together again. Like it was before."
That was a plan I wasn't up to date on. It took me off guard. Boris was Ivan's old best friend. It kind of left me out in the cold if he came back home.
"What girls? The chicks at school? They're nowhere, man. I like Tampa girls. I do miss the beach and all. I miss being with you, little brother, but Boris doesn't live here any more."
"I noticed that right after you left me here alone," Ivan hissed. "Did I thank you for that? I learned to go it alone once you left."
"I'm here now. Let's enjoy ourselves with your friend. We'll have fun, like old times. We'll go fishing with Dad. It's what we've got, little brother," Boris said. "And when it's time to go back to your harem, you go," Ivan said coolly. "I don't need you any more. I've got friends now. I'm doing fine without you, but you're my brother. It's good you finally came home. It's nice seeing you."
"What I wanted was elsewhere. We all grow up one day, Ivan."
I was ready to duck by the time they put away the gloves. The words all came out with a sharp edge on them. They went from hugs and kisses to open warfare over Boris leaving Ivan. It sounded ugly. I knew Ivan loved Boris. I didn't expect this to be how his homecoming went..
Boris didn't look like it bothered him. He was done explaining himself.
I hadn't been certain Ivan wasn't going to throw a punch. Brotherly love wasn't all it was cracked up to be at the Aleksa house. Just when I was waiting for a brawl, Boris moved over to Ivan and embraced him.
"I still love you, Ivan," he said to close the distance between them.
"I love you, Boris. That doesn't erase what you did to me. Love means trust and dependability. Trust means not walking out on your brother. You'll need me one day, Boris. I might not be there when you do. I might have a girl like Betty Sue hanging on me, and you know how that is?"
"I want to be here with you," Boris said, hugging Ivan once the tension was back. "We fight about this every time you come to Tampa. I'm not coming back."
All the sass went out of Ivan and he wrapped his arms around his brother. I was glad Boris did live here. I couldn't take much of this.
"I'm sorry. I can't help it," Ivan said. "I miss you. We had fun here. It wasn't easy staying here with Dad once you were gone. I couldn't leave him alone."
My appetite left through the bottom of my stomach. If Boris was here, I wouldn't be. If Boris returned to be Ivan's best friend, Ivan wouldn't need me. If Ivan was happy, I'd be happy for him, but I wouldn't be happy for me.
Boris did try to comfort his brother. Watching them left me feeling like I ate too much. I still had half a bowl of cereal.
None of my brothers would hug me to comfort me.
"You haven't been swimming yet. Race you to the water," Ivan said, moving out of Boris' grasp to dart out of the kitchen door.
Boris looked at me and shrugged. I sat with my bowl in front of me and no interest in digging up any more cereal. I was afraid to follow Ivan outside. I was kind of mystified by their battle of wills. I didn't know who won but I knew I didn't even get an honorable mention.
Ivan and I had been having a nice day. Why did he want Boris to come anyway?
I sat with the cereal I'd lost interest in as Boris took off his shirt. He folded it and placed it on the chair next to him. He weighed a little more than Ivan. I could see Boris was slightly larger when they hugged. His chest, shoulders, and arms were well defined. His stomach was flat. A line of bunny tracks grew below his belly button.
I'm sure my mouth was open as he slipped out of his pants, adding them and then his blue boxers to the pile of folded clothes, pulling off his socks, he put them in his shoes.
He stood facing me for at least a minute. I had the full view. The idea he was a man was confirmed by his well formed pubes and ample penis. He turned his back on me to check the folded clothes. It was the only few I hadn't had yet. I had no doubt he knew exactly what he was doing. The show was free and it was for me.
He was a lot like Ivan but there was a little more of Boris. I felt like he'd just evened the score. Neither of us had anything to hide. I watched until he was gone. I was a kid. I was curious. So sue me.
"Come on, Clay," he yelled from some distance away.
I waited to calm down before I went outside. Boris was wading into the water, moving toward Ivan. I walked to be sure I'd relaxed when I got into the water. I wasn't sure what came next but I was wading into new territory.
It didn't matter how many girlfriends he had, I shouldn't be alone with him.
Ivan and I were careful not to complicate what we felt for each other by getting in over our heads. I felt relatively innocent until the day Boris came.
What he made me feel had nothing to do with innocence. It was nothing like what I felt for Ivan. It was as confusing as it was exhilarating. Why did I feel like that about someone I didn't even know?
It scared me.
Going swimming seemed like the thing to do to cool off. I wanted to be there for Ivan. How much trouble could we get into going swimming?
Maybe I'd sleep at home tonight to let the brothers have time to themselves. We were likely to end up in bed together and turning my back on Boris wasn't in the cards. I'd make an excuse. Ivan would understand.
They were already swimming, wrestling, yelling, and having a good time trying to drown each other. Boris wasn't as quick or as agile as his brother. Ivan was like a fish in water. If Boris was, he wasn't now.
I liked seeing them play. Boris was more like a boy. That made him easier to digest. I ended up in the middle and was nearly drowned when they ganged up on me. The giggling and laughter had no relationship to the amount of the Gulf of Mexico I swallowed.
There had been a time the poor Oklahoma kid would be let up easy, because I was a flat lander, but not any longer. I was fair game and two against one was a bit much to swallow. They were having a good time.
Once Ivan let up on me, I had Boris to deal with. I ducked, slipping his grasp. I ended up with my arms around him from behind. Like the dog who chased the car, now that I had him, what did I do with him?
He used his ass to try to dislodge me and he nearly got lodged big time. I just wanted to let loose and stop the swelling. Boris was one difficult guy to let loose of. When I hesitated, he manage to turn in my arms so that we were face to face. He drove me backward.
Boris was having a great time and I knew I had my hands full. I was willing to let go but he was having none of it. He kept hugging himself against me. He rubbed his chin on my skin and kept himself glued to me.
"I give. I give," I said, thinking that might work.
Ivan stood a few feet away and took it all in. Once he'd seen enough, he came charging back into the fray, wedging himself between us to set me free of Boris' grip. He could have missed we were both totally aroused.
"He said he gave, Boris. Leave him alone. What are you trying to do?"
I withdrew to cough out of the wrestlers reach. It wasn't my idea of fun. Ivan and I played at wrestling in the water. We had a good time. We might have let it get to the point where the contact excited us, but we didn't need to conquer the world quite yet. We were fifteen and we'd already found each other. We had plenty of time to go around the world.
Boris was one serious dude. This time Boris got the best of Ivan, having the leverage he lacked in the first round. Dunking him and holding him for a second more than Ivan had held him under water. Ivan struggled against his bigger brother, who kept his weight pinning him under.
I began moved toward Boris. I was prepared to knock him off Ivan. These two scared the hell out of me. Ivan could hold his breathe forever, but forever was running out as far as I was concerned.
As I charged back for more, Ivan slipped free. I stopped rather than get between those two. Ivan coughed, more barked a couple of times. Ivan launched himself onto Boris' back, forcing his face under. Ivan grunted and struggled to get a better hold on his brother.
Boris struggled for a few minutes and then stopped. Ivan held on with no sign he was going to let Boris breath. Ivan held him tight. He had the leverage now. Boris was already under for too long. Ivan's face was contorted.
"Let him breathe Ivan," I pleaded, now charging to rescue Boris. "You're going to drown him. Let him up."
Boris still had a slight bit of struggle left, but he was trapped under Ivan.
"Ivan!" I yelled, closing in so I could knock him off his brother's back.
Ivan looked at me. He saw the panic on my face. He let Boris breath. I felt like I was drowning.
"You two play too rough," I said disapprovingly to Ivan. "Leave me out of it. You're crazy around Boris."
I heard Boris barking up water this time.
"We're playing, little brother. What's wrong with you?"
"It wasn't playing when you were on top," Ivan reminded him in an unfriendly voice.
Ivan looked at Boris and then he looked at me with fury in his eyes. He began wading toward the house. He turned and went backwards as he watched Boris move over beside me.
"Okay, truce. I was bad. You got me back. Why go in already, Ivan?" Boris inquired.
His eyes were on me and then Boris. He looked calm now. He was backing up, moving away from us. I didn't know who this Ivan was.
"That's for leaving me alone, big brother," he taunted. "Just so you know, I'd drown your ass if you weren't my brother. You want to remember that, big brother."
Ivan turned his back on us, walking out of the water, heading for the house.
Boris came toward me, still spitting out the gulf. He watched Ivan leave.
"You started this," I yelped. "Why did you come here? We were fine until you showed up. I've never seen him like this. He scared me," I said, giving Boris all the blame. "I should have let him drown you."
Boris stopped coming toward me. He smiled and shrugged like he knew he was a jerk but there wasn't much he could do about it.
"Sorry," Boris said after a minute. "He's always had a temper. I didn't know he'd react that way. It's not about you, Clay. Sorry you ended up in the middle."
"I'm not in the middle of nothing. I'm with Ivan," I informed him.
Boris followed Ivan with his eyes. He looked sorry. I wasn't sure about his sincerity in the matter. Boris broke something the two of them had. I didn't think it could be repaired. Boris grew up too soon. He'd be grown up for a long time. His time as a boy was done, even if he came back to play like a boy played. I liked Boris and I hated what he made me feel.
I stood with my back to Boris, watching Ivan climb the stairs into the kitchen.
Coming up behind me, Boris picked me up like I was weightless. He was strong. His muscles tightened around me. We were locked together with his body tight against me.
The fear came back. What did he want from me? I feared him and yet his hold on me was thrilling. I remembered how repulsive Purdy was with his green teeth, and how thrilled I was to have him hold me against his naked body, telling me the sexual things he had planned for me. This was the same kind of thrill.
Feeling him grind against my backside, I wiggle and wriggled to escape his grasp. I was dizzy with some kind of flesh to flesh intoxication. He had my arms trapped under his. I kicked my legs and forced my weight up toward his shoulders. I wanted to get away from him. I wanted him to hold on to me.
"Let go," I screamed, not being able to think of anything else. "I'm no girl. Get your dick away from my ass."
"What?" he said, dropping me like a hot rock. "We're playing."
I sprang up to face him in the knee deep water.
"I don't play that game. Who do you think you are," I yelled at him and he looked genuinely confused.
His body was still close enough for me to feel him.
"You're too serious when you play," I said. "Save it for your girlfriend."
"Sorry, I guess it isn't my day."
"No, I don't think it is. You should have stayed in Tampa," I snapped, still upset by Ivan losing control of himself and now I was doing the same thing.
That's when I realized the truth about Boris and me. Boris knew plenty about me. He smiled at me. I wanted to slug him.
He wasn't so much as slightly aroused and mine was standing straight up. How did being excited become mixed up with so much anger?
I turned my back and then I had to turn back around. I didn't trust him. There was no where to hide from the truth. He was still smiling. He was amused by my dilemma. I'd made a fool out of myself.
Was I crazy? Being crazy was a possibility. I always felt a little off kilter. Ivan was the most in control person I knew. Maybe we were all crazy? Boris didn't seem to react to being at the center of the trouble. How could he not know?
"You think he's pissed off at me?" he asked. "Or did we just get out of hand?"
"I think maybe," I said incredulous. "You tried to drown each other. You were his best friend. You left him alone. What kind of friend does that?"
"You don't know anything, Clay. I know everything about him."
It was cruel but he'd made me mad. Wanting to touch him made me mad. Wanting him to touch me made me really mad. He was too cocky.
He eased closer to me without aggression. I watched him closely.
"I appreciate that you stay with him. You're all he talks about at home, you know. 'Clay is funny. Clay is cool. Clay and I do everything together.' I'm a little jealous of you. I was a bit afraid to meet you," Boris said. "I'm glad you turned out to be cool. I wasn't trying to upset you. I feel like I know you. Let's be friends. Ivan's going to get over this and we'll be fine in a little while."
When I looked at Boris, he was just another kid who wished he hadn't done what he did. I remembered the kisses, the hugs, knowing I could never do that with Ivan made me jealous of Boris. They were brothers and they were practically making out. I didn't have enough courage to kiss Ivan.
I was less than comfortable on the beach behind Ivan's house.
"What do you have to be jealous about?" I asked, looking at him. "I'm a kid. I'm Ivan's friend. That's all."
There was the queasiness in my stomach again. What was wrong with me?
"You're a good friend. He needs you. I just want to thank you for that. This is why I don't come here, Clay. He gets angry when he comes to Tampa. I knew coming here would set him off."
"I better go see if he's OK. I've never seen him like this," I said.
I was afraid now. I was afraid for Ivan.
"Give him a few minutes. He'll cool off. He doesn't stay mad for long. It's best to give him space when he's mad."
"Leave him alone?" I asked in an unfriendly way. "Like you left him?"
"You're his friend, Clay. I'm his brother," Boris said. "Let him cool off. He's angry with me, not you. Don't get in the middle. You won't like it if you do."
"Yeah, well, I won't leave him," I insisted.
He took my insults without calling me a little twit. I was going to do what I thought was best in spite of his warning. Why should I trust Boris?
I was the first one through the kitchen door. Boris wasn't far behind. There was a bowl with maybe three Sugar Crisp in it and the rest of them were all over the table, the floor, and under my bare feet.
What was this? What was going on?
"I'll get a broom. It's how he blows off steam," Boris said as I stood with my mouth wide open, trying to get my brain to figure this out.
"You knew he'd do this?" I asked, reprocessing his warning.
"You're his friend for what, a year? I'm his brother. You think you know, Ivan, but you don't know Ivan like I know him. It's my fault, Clay. I set him off. He will get over it."
I heard Ivan on the stairs before he appeared. A loud crunch came from under his foot once he stepped onto the kitchen floor. He grabbed the broom out of Boris' hand. Boris backed up. Ivan got the dust pan and began cleaning up the cereal angrily sweeping it.
Ivan sat the empty Sugar Crisp box on the table with authority. He threw the polo shirt and slacks at his brother, grabbing them off the floor as he swept.
"They're expensive, Ivan," Boris said, shaking the Sugar Crisp out of them.
"Why not take your ass and your expensive clothes back to Tampa where you belong? This seemed like a good idea, but it wasn't, Boris. Go back where you belong. I don't need you here. I don't want you here."
My mouth was open again.
"Can't. Promised Dad I'd go fishing with him. I'll stay for that. You can either pretend we're brothers or continue make a horses ass out of yourself. That's up to you," Boris said. "It's your friend you're showing off for."
Ivan turned to where I stood like a dufus. He took a second to consider me through tight narrow eyes.
"Go home, Clay. This is none of your business. Go home," he barked like the seals on the logjam.
I was stunned. I'd never been hit so hard as Ivan hit me that day. It took the wind out of me. I couldn't move. I couldn't breathe. I couldn't take my eyes off of him. I wasn't sure it was Ivan. Did they have a third brother? Were they playing games with me? Why would Ivan talk to me that way?
"I just.... I only...," I said, unable to gather my senses.
"Go home now, Clay," Ivan ordered.
"He's mad at me, not you, Clay. He'll be fine in a little while," Boris said. "But you need to go home. Let him cool off."
"I don't need you to tell my friend anything. Go home, Clay."
It stung no less the last time as it did the first. What had I done?
I backed up until I felt the door against my back. I turned and left. I felt disoriented and confused. What happened?
"Fishing tomorrow, Clay," Boris yelled. "My father is expecting you."
I went to the side of the house to retrieve my cutoffs. I left them hanging near the concrete slab after returning from the last fishing trip. I wondered if there would be a next fishing trip.
I wondered a lot of things.
Ivan and I were fine. Then we weren't.
I'd finally jettisoned the cutoffs, not because I had some great desire to join the nudists, but because I hated the way they hung on me when they got wet. They were uncomfortable.
By this time they barely contained the parts they were there to hide. I had to be careful not to lose them. If my hips hadn't grown, there was no way they'd stay up. I had to get Mama to fix me another pair and take in the waist.
Taking them off after coming in off the Vilnius Two, I put them on when we went fishing again or for trips to my house.
I took my time shaking them out in case something had crawled into them as they hung there. I took my time putting them on. I kept looking at the corner of the house. I expected Ivan to come running out to get me and apologies for being a butt-head.
Once on, I took my time moving down the beach. I knew Ivan was going to have a change of heart and come after me. I was his best friend after all.
He'd come after me before I reached my house, so I walked really slow.
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