by Geron Kees

© 2020 Geron Kees All rights reserved.

This is a work of fiction. All characters, situations, and places are imaginary. No real people were harmed in the creation of this presentation. Please observe the laws of your jurisdiction with regards to reading this material.

Regular-foot - The stance with which most skaters use their skateboards, with their left foot forward and their dominant, right foot to the rear.

Goofy-foot --- The stance used by a small percentage of skaters, who place their right foot forward and their left foot to the rear of the board.

"What's your name, kid?"

"Jason Beribow. But my friends call me Goofy-foot."

"Oh, yeah? I think I heard about you. The picture taker, right?"

Jason beamed. "That's me."

The man nodded, and pointed down at Jason's flame-printed socks and Converses. "Like the look." But then his smile changed to a thoughtful frown. "Goofy-foot, huh? I never could get the hang of that, myself. I gotta lead my board with my left foot or I get into trouble." He laughed. "You don't?"

"Not when you're a natural." Jason held up his left hand and flexed his fingers. "I was born a lefty. So it's right foot forward for me."

"Oh, I gotcha." The older guy's eyes turned to Jason's board, where it stood against the front of the wire grille in the pirated shopping cart. "You didn't skate in?"

"Uh uh. I'm shooting today. Didn't want to risk my camera if I had to bail."

The other frowned, and gazed anew at the Nikon sitting in the cart's infant seat. "You do skate, though, right? Not just take pictures?"

Jason looked around the skatepark, and smiled. "I do some of both."

That was true enough. Although Jason had been into cameras long before he'd discovered boards, it seemed his days now were consumed by both pastimes. The one went very well with the other, and his passion for photography had been stoked by the sights and sounds of the skatepark, the action of which could be both amazing to watch and a challenge to catch with the lens.

Mantanza was a flow park, a combination of bowl park and street plaza. It was mostly concrete, a well-sculpted mix of bowls, ramps, stairs, railings, and benches, laid out to keep a skater moving and require a minimum of push. The drabness of the concrete was offset by the colorful garb of the skaters that used the place, and a rather wonderful contrast existed between the base tones of the backgrounds and the often vivid colors worn by the participants. It made for some striking photography.

Jason casually eyeballed his company. This older guy was a Regulator, an unofficial monitor, part of a group of adult skaters that donated some of their free time to help keep the park safe for others. Jason had decided long ago that it was a labor of love for this group, who found mentoring the mostly younger users of the place almost as fun and challenging as running the courses themselves. But they were a volunteer group, and had no real authority to tell anyone what to do. Suggestions were welcome, but Jason didn't feel bound by any of them. There were a few of these Regulators that could be bossy, and had to be reminded now and then that they were just skaters here in the park like everyone else.

Jason had never seen this one before. This Regulator's dark hair was curly and a little wild looking, and he was wearing a brown t-shirt that said 'Pop Shuvit' on the front in big red letters. He had a mustache, and a soul patch beneath, and his tanned face was stretched by a perpetual grin that made the skin crinkle warmly around his eyes. His jeans were rubbed hard in spots with road rash, a status symbol of sorts around here, but which he was wearing like it didn't matter. Road rash at least demonstrated that you were doing and not posing; but then, most everybody here was doing something. For the older skaters, it was simply a badge of experience.

"That's cool." The man's knees bent and his arms went out as he struck a ludicrous pose. "Maybe you can catch me grabbing some air sometime." His grin widened perceptibly. "I'm Anthony, by the way."

Jason nodded. "Cool. I see you birding, I'll try to get it."

"Great." Anthony waved a hand around at the concrete runs, and then patted his chest. "I'm new here, and I just didn't know you, is all. Wondered about the shopping cart." He laughed. "Don't let it roll off the deck. You might cause a crash."

"I'll be careful."

The man nodded, and turned to go. "Nice to meet you, Goofy-foot. Have fun!"

Jason grinned after the man as he strode away.

Well, that wasn't so bad. Jason had been a little worried when the man had called for him to wait. Most of the Regulators were good dudes, but he'd seen a couple of them go off on bystanders who got in the way watching. Every sport drew an audience, but some people just didn't understand about staying in the stands. But this guy had just been curious about Jason and the cart, and wanted to make sure he understood to be safe with it on the course. Jason smiled at that. He had no intention of being a jaywalker in the road here.

He let his eyes roam slowly about the bowls and ramps. It was a pretty summer Saturday afternoon, and the skatepark was pulsing with energy. Skaters of every description and every level of experience were wheeling about in a rush for speed, offering up a mixture of collected grace and control with less able stiffness and arm-waving. Yet despite the turnout, the park was hardly full, and people seemed to be watching out for others. No one was on the ground at the moment, and there had been no serious crashes since he'd been there.

Once again Jason was amazed at the things the human body could learn to do, and do well. That people could actually balance on a small, narrow length of deck running on tiny polyurethane wheels, while it raced up and down concrete curves, over ramps, and ground along railings and benches, was simply amazing. It was exciting to watch, and really fun to photograph.

Especially when cute guys were doing it. That was just one perk of photographing skaters: it gave a guy a nice collection of pretty faces. He had come to know the regulars here, and they him. Most guys liked to have their pictures taken while skating. It made them proud, in a way, and Jason always printed copies for them at no charge. It was a great way for both sides to build a nice collection of pictures to admire.

There were a lot of regulars here today. Zulu was off to one side, almost lazily arcing back and forth on the large half-pipe, his face covered with a grin. Two other regulars, Tip and Rocket, were standing atop their boards nearby, watching him and grinning. Rocket's eyes dropped every now and then to the watch on his wrist, as if timing how long Zulu could maintain his apparently lazy roll.

It was harder than it looked, and Jason knew that for a fact. He'd bailed more than once on the half-pipe, his momentum falling off at just the wrong moment to reach the safety of the upper deck. Some skaters seemed to just know how to judge their momentum perfectly, and when to add to it to ensure the next climb made it to the top. Jason still had occasional trouble reading the signals his motion was sending to him. He was a lot better now than when he'd first started skating, but had no illusions at all that he'd ever be among the best.

There was good, and there was best, but even the elite crowd messed up. Skating was something you got better at the longer you did it; but nature had not provided humans with wheels, and mixing people with boards was always a marriage that carried some risk. Even the top skaters misjudged and planted their butts or their faces every now and then, and while Jason hated to see anyone get hurt, it was heartening for those lower on the totem pole to know that even the gods of the game were fallible.

Jason had been skating for a couple of years, and considered himself average good. He had stopped wearing knee pads all the time now, opting instead for work jeans with reinforced knees. He didn't wear a helmet so much anymore, either, despite the warnings from his mother that one good slam of his head into the concrete could turn his brain into a marshmallow. Those confrontations had slacked off some now that Jason had been skating in just his ball cap for some months without a concussion or a fractured skull; but that his mom still worried about him was more than a little bit clear.

His dad usually stood by quietly during these occasional instructional mother-son arguments until they were over, and then would pat Jason on the shoulder and grin good-naturedly. "We'll still love you even if you become a brainless marshmallow, Jason. You just have fun, you hear?"

Oddly enough, it was his dad's kidding that'd had more effect than his mom's worried dialogs. A guy expected his mom to worry about stuff he did, and to give him a hard time about the things she thought were dangerous. But the way his dad talked, like it was just something that was inevitably going to happen, was some serious food for thought. No one wanted their brain to be a marshmallow, right?

Jason had considered it all, and then gone back to wearing a helmet whenever he was doing anything more risky than just meandering around on his board. He had developed a lot of respect for gravity and the unforgiving hardness of concrete, and come to understand that his own body had limitations of agility and balance that just might not be on a par with that of some other skaters. Not everyone was gifted with the same physical talents. Some of these guys did stunts on their boards that just seemed stupid crazy to Jason, and he had decided early on that he was not skating to compete or to be the best, but because it was fun and it brought him together with friends that wanted to have fun, too.

But that didn't stop him from admiring the daredevils like Zulu or Captain Fakie, who got so stoked that they went all out at everything they did. Jason had gotten some shots of those guys in action that had seriously raised his own status around here as a picture taker able to capture movement. Most of the guys here enjoyed being the focus of his lens, and Jason had become proud of his ability to catch people in some truly awesome moments.

And proud of his collection of faces, too. There were some amazingly cute guys in the world, and Jason loved to capture their faces. His collection ranged from intense moments of fierce concentration to relaxed interludes full of smiles and beautiful laughter. Average moments, amazing moments, moments that could never be duplicated again. And every shade of emotion, from delight and excitement to fear and stunned surprise. Racing about the world like a daredevil on wheels brought out things in the human face that the normal moments of life just couldn't provide. Jason had covered the walls of his bedroom with faces, most still attached to the action shots that were really the reason for the photos to begin with. His mother and father often admired his work, his dad especially in awe of some of the crazy stuff skaters did on their boards. No one ever suspected that it was the faces that Jason loved the most: beautiful, animated, and oh so personal. Close enough to kiss, if he had a mind to do such a thing.

And sometimes he did. He often felt the need to touch someone, and be touched in return. Sometimes it was hard being alone.

But as long as he had other things to compensate for the loneliness he carried within himself, he was able to stay reasonably happy with each day. So far, he had been okay with just looking. But that it was going to get old someday was a fact of which he had already become aware.

Jason was friendly with the few gay guys that skated here at the park, and had even captured a few rare moments with them. They were all older than he was by three or four years, and they had boyfriends, and they sometimes let that show when one of them did something particularly spectacular on his board, and the reward was a hug and a kiss from another. Jason was envious of those moments, and the few he had captured with his camera had gone into a special scrapbook that he kept under his bed. Every now and then, when he was feeling especially alone, he would get out that scrap book, look at the photos, and smile.

Someday, that will be me.

Someone whizzed by fairly close, snapping him out of his mental wanderings. He turned to look, and caught Kat smiling over her shoulder at him. He waved, and as her gaze snapped back to where she was going she tossed a hand up and waggled her fingers at him, causing him to grin. A moment later she dipped into a bowl and curved off to the left, and was gone.

Kat was a little bit crazy. And funny, and kind of sweet. He liked her, and had more than once wished she was a guy.

Jason pushed the shopping cart over to a light pole, then took the cable bike lock from under his board and used it to secure the cart to the pole. A loose shopping cart was almost as attractive to 'borrowers' as was a loose bicycle. The fact that Jason had 'borrowed' the cart himself from the parking lot of the local Food 4 Less didn't mean he would stand by and let it suffer a similar fate with another concrete pirate.

He grabbed his board and his camera, looped the strap of the Nikon about his neck, and looked both ways before crossing the course to a good spot to watch the action. From here he could see the run of the bowls, if not down into the big one, as well as across the near end of the street plaza course. And still see Zulu patiently arcing up and down on the half-pipe. Jason grinned. So much action, so many places to look.

So many faces.

Kat came up behind him again and whizzed past, and called out something in passing, but Jason didn't catch what she said. Probably that she'd stop and talk when it came time to take a break. She was obviously taking the short route around the bowls and back, and not going after the whole course.

He smiled. They'd become friends, and he had taken his share of shots of her in action, too. She was good on a board, better than he was, and the pictures of her he'd mixed liberally among the others on his bedroom wall demonstrated that he was not only interested in photographing guys.

Two more people shot past him, and then he heard the sound of wheels again, but somehow deeper and more grating this time. Again someone went by him from behind, but going slower than Kat had been. Jason laughed as the giant figure hooted and flipped him the bird in passing, and then laughed again as Truck waved his arms a moment in alarm to hold onto his balance. For a second the large boy teetered in a near wobble...and then regained his stability just in time to dip into the bowl ahead.

There was just no way someone the size of Truck Leoni should be on a board. The boy was sixteen like Jason, but was plainly a case of over-development. Truck was six-foot four and two hundred-twenty pounds, and even with the heavy duty board he'd gotten for himself it often looked like it was sagging in the middle. Truck was neither graceful nor agile for his size, and only a fierce act of will had kept him learning to skate when everyone else said he was destined to fail. Truck had a tendency to wild displays of arm waving as he fought for balance, and several people had smilingly told Jason they'd seen a bird or two knocked out of the sky in passing. But that Truck was a skater there was no doubt. He loved the sport just as much as anyone else, and his determination to roll when nature had obviously made plans for him to walk had earned the respect of every skater at Mantanza.

More motion caught Jason's eye as someone waved from the near end of the plaza course. A lean figure in matching blue shorts and tank top became airborne and ground along a bench to drop back to the concrete at the other end, then carved a long arc across the intervening course that ended in a slide-stop nearby. The newcomer popped his board into the air, caught it by the end with a hand, and started across the concrete towards Jason, waving with the other hand.

"Goof! What's up?"

Jason sighed. Being called goof was a much less flattering shortening of his nick, but Jason knew that Snark actually used it in a friendly way with him. The other boy was an expert at being not-so-polite when the situation called for it, but his openness with Jason had eventually won him over. Snark was good on a board, and Jason had more than a few great shots of the other boy making like a legend. One day, Snark could even be great, if life didn't get hold of him first and take him off his wheels.

"Hey, Snark. Just lookin' around right now. Where's the action?"

The other boy came closer and grinned, and Jason sighed inwardly at that. Snark, whose name was Damian Stone in the world, had one gorgeous smile. Beautiful, in fact.

The other boy had been wearing a ball cap reversed on his head, but now he pulled it off and turned it bill-forward to shade his eyes from the sun. "Everywhere. Nowhere. I don't know. I was watchin' out for me, not everyone else." He laughed. "But Truck's here, someplace. He's about as easy to miss as that iceberg going past that ship in that old Leo DiCaprio movie. Um..."

"Titanic," Jason supplied, grinning and shaking his head.

"Whatever. He's here. Saw Kat, too, though she just flashed her claws at me. Haven't talked to her yet." Snark waved a hand around as if to take in the entire park. "Lotta regulars here. Some strange faces, too." He shrugged. "Pretty normal Saturday, really." He pointed at the Nikon strapped around Jason's neck. "Want me to pose for you?"

Without waiting for an answer, Snark dropped his board, stepped on the back and popped the nose, and spun it around in a circle, his left foot controlling the elevation. The board did a complete three-sixty and stopped, and Snark extended his arms and grinned. "Ta da!"

Jason was unimpressed. "Even I can do that."

Snark just waggled his fingertips, his grin widening. Jason sighed, lifted the Nikon, and took a quick pic of the other boy. The smile alone made it worth the effort.

"There you go. It's nice to be noticed." Snark popped the board and caught it again, then came closer. "Kat's coming up behind you."

Jason turned, then danced out of the way as the girl slid to a halt mere inches from where he'd been standing.

"I wasn't going to hit you," she said immediately. She shook her head admonishingly, her short, dark hair flipping about about beneath the rim of her helmet. "Give me some credit."

"Can't blame a guy for being careful," Snark called, flashing his grin again. "Even a girl piling into you could hurt."

"You just startled me," Jason said slowly.

Kat flashed a smile at Jason, and then grimaced at Snark. "I've never piled into anybody, thank you."

Snark was unabashed. "Shit happens."

Jason stepped back between them. "So where's the action, Kat?"

The girl pulled off her helmet and ran a hand through her hair. "Most of the crew are here today. There's some newbies I don't know, too." She nodded to herself. "They look pretty good."

Jason perked up at that. "Yeah? Where are they?"

The girl sighed, and gave him a small, hopeful smile. "You could always take some pictures of me, first."

"Yes, I could. To add to the hundred other ones I already have." Jason smiled sweetly at her. "You're here every day, Kat. You know I like new blood, especially if they're just visiting. Where are they?"

One of Kat's eyebrows climbed skyward, and she looked over at Snark. "I see where I stand."

"Hell, I could've told you that," Snark returned. "Goof wants new shots, not the same old stuff."

Kat glared at the idea of being called the same old stuff, but nodded. "Last time I saw them, they were down at the far end of the plaza, running the low rails."

Jason patted the Nikon at his chest, and turned in the indicated direction. "Then that's where I'm heading."

"I'll go with you," Snark decided, dropping his board and putting one foot on the deck. "If Kat says these guy's are good, I want to see."

Kat blinked at that, and then squinted at Snark, who just smiled.

Jason looked both ways, picked up his board, and started across the concrete. There were walkways in between the elements of the course, and a narrow footbridge across the largest bowl, giving access to the far end of the course without actually having to walk in the busy areas. You still needed to look before crossing the flat parts of the course, but usually a skater approaching was pretty hard to miss.

"You're welcome!" Kat called, sounding a little disgusted. Jason glanced back as she put her helmet on; and then in a moment she was past them and dropping into the bowl again. He sighed. He hadn't meant to snub her, but sometimes her insistence that he pay attention to her was a little annoying.

Snark rolled along next to Jason as he walked. "She likes you, dude," the other boy said.

"I like her, too." Jason knew what Snark meant, but didn't really want to have a conversation about it. Kat's interest was hardly new, and Jason had gotten used to the little word games the girl played with him about it.

"Gonna give her a shot?"

"I haven't really thought about it," Jason returned, vaguely.

"You should. You could do a lot worse."

Jason looked over at the other boy, surprised at his admittance that Kat was anything but annoying. Snark had been giving her a hard time from day one, though it was always with a smile, which Jason, at least, knew meant that Snark was actually being friendly. But Kat was often irritated by the gentle barbs, and the two traded mildly caustic quips these days as readily as two boxers traded blows.

But to hear Snark actually complimenting Kat...

He stared at the other boy anew, and suddenly grinned. "You like her."

Snark frowned. "Sure. She's okay."

Jason shook his head. "No. I mean, you like her."

Snark curled a lip at him. "Yeah, right." But for a moment the other boy's defenses dropped, and Jason caught the barest glimpse of something that was going on inside. Something vulnerable. His urge to kid Snark further immediately died, and Jason just shrugged. "I don't want a girlfriend right now. I like my freedom."

Snark nodded, but dropped his eyes to the ground. "Yeah. Me, too."

They crossed the course and wound their way along one of the narrow pathways while people zipped by on either side of them, and then crossed the bridge over the big bowl in the center of the park, and could then see the other end. Sure enough, among the people there was a group of four guys running one of the low rails in a line, one after the other, and even from where they were Jason could note the smoothness and timing of the group action.

"This might be interesting," he decided aloud, smiling and briefly shading his eyes with one hand. He pulled up the Nikon on its strap and checked its readiness. It was hard to tell how big these guys were from so far off yet, but they certainly looked like they could be in his own age group. New faces!

"Wonder why they're here?"

"Something different," Snark suggested, pushing himself into a roll as Jason started forward again. "You get tired of the same old shit."

Jason laughed at that. "You don't. I don't, either. A rail's a rail, man. There's long ones and short ones and low ones and high ones."

"And fat ones and thin ones," Snark added quickly, smiling.

Jason grinned at the joke. "Uh huh. But it's not like you're gonna find that much variation, you know?"

"Yeah. know how it is. Sometimes you need a change of scenery."

"Maybe." Jason surveyed the park with no small degree of satisfaction. Mantanza was one of the best skateparks in the city, hard to beat for having so many different experiences all in one place. "Maybe this is an upgrade from where they've been skating."

Snark shrugged. "We could always ask them."

The new group was working on a low rail just now, circling it at speed. One would approach the end of the rail, launch an ollie to become airborne, grind the trucks of his board along the rail, and come off the other end and hit the concrete again. He would then push off to regain some speed, and circle around towards the back of the line even as the next guy was coming onto the rail. They had spaced themselves well and were keeping up a continuous circular motion, which looked pretty impressive when viewed from afar.

An ollie was a basic move, a way to get the board airborne. A lot of tricks depended on knowing how to do this one, and Jason had struggled with learning it himself. That was how he had met Snark in the first place. The other boy had seen Jason trying to catch some air, and had stopped to watch.

"You're standing on the rear of the board," he'd finally said. "You need to pop it, not stop it. You'll never get air that way."

And then he had showed Jason how to do the little leap that started it all, and to use his rear foot by swiveling the ankle downward to pop the rear of the board instead of standing on it. At the same time, you had to drag the front foot forward to control the rise of the nose and level the board out beneath your feet as you got air. After just a few minutes of tutoring, Jason had managed his first true ollie. It was funny how friendships could be born from the littlest of things.

Jason had been amazed at how easy the move was once he was shown how to do it properly, and with plenty of practice it had become second nature to him. That's what this new group seemed to be doing now, reinforcing body learning by repetition. The more you did any move, the more natural it started to feel to you. Motion for a skater had to be learned, and a lot of what guys did here at the park were just exercises to improve their feel for what they already could do.

"That's a smooth move, with four of them doing that," Jason decided. He set his board down and put a foot on it, then lifted the camera, zoomed in a little, and took a series of pictures of the new guys as they ground down the length of the pipe. Then he triggered the full-motion capture of his camera, and recorded two complete rotations of the distant circle of skaters. He'd put a new memory card in the camera before leaving that house that day, and had plenty of available storage.

"I wanna get closer," he said then, lowering the camera. "Maybe we can talk them into doing something else."

"Get 'em to show off a little, huh?" Snark laughed. "You got that camera shit bad, Goof."

Jason smiled at that, but just nodded and pushed off, moving his board forward. He heard Snark sigh, and then the sound of his board as he followed along. They crossed to another walk, and soon stood across the main course lane from the group running the rail. There was a bench there, and Jason climbed atop it so that he had a good view over the heads of the skaters passing by.

Yeah, these newbies were guys Jason's age. Or close enough that it didn't matter. He watched the faces as they went buy, and didn't recognize a single one. But --

One face turned to look at him as the boy ground down the length of the rail, and white teeth flashed briefly in the sun. Jason took an involuntary breath of surprise at the force with which that face registered with his eyes. Wow.

He couldn't tell if it was a smile or a grimace. But the moment seemed to hang in the air before Jason, as if his own eyes had taken a snapshot. The guy had sun-golden skin, straight black hair that spilled from beneath a red ball cap turned backwards, and wore small, rectangular mirror lenses over his eyes. For just a second longer, the white teeth flashed in the afternoon sun...and then the guy was past them. But the image of his slender frame drawn down in a slight crouch, and his tanned arms held almost casually and motionlessly at his sides, conveyed a grace and control that could not be missed. The guy had exuded a calm poise as he balanced effortlessly on the rail, in marked contrast to the skater that followed him, his arms in gentle motion as he corrected the slight changes in his balance.

Jason's eyes followed the skater who had smiled or grimaced, watched as he circled around and closed on the last guy in line just as that one ollied onto the rail. Automatically, Jason lifted the camera and pointed the lens at the graceful boy, and held down the shutter button to take a continuous series of pictures even as the guy caught his own ollie and once again glided down the rail as if moving on a sheet of glass.

"Pretty good," Snark said beside him. "That one guy's got balance out the ass. Great moves."

Jason nodded, trying to hold the camera steady. The skater came off the end of the rail, but this time, instead of carving around behind the rail and staying in line, he flashed a look both ways on the course, and then made a sharp turn in their direction, crossed the course way, and arrived on their side in hardly a moment. Jason was stunned by the speed of the move, and only released the shutter button and dropped the camera down as the newcomer ground to a stop five feet away from them.

The boy whipped off his mirrored lenses and stared at them. "What the hell do you think you're doing?"

He sounded annoyed, and Jason blinked at him. "Huh?"

"I asked you what you were doing."

But Jason's eyes had been captured, and he was too busy looking to answer. Up close, the other guy was even more stunning, more captivating to look at. With his glasses off, his large brown eyes were sharp and clear, and full of a lively intelligence. His hair where it stuck out from beneath his cap was damp with sweat, and tiny wet tracks were visible on his suntanned cheeks. Jason was suddenly aware of the nearness of the other, and of the lithe energy that filled the body beneath the white tank top and green shorts.

In that moment Jason's brain froze, and he didn't know what to say. "Uh--"

Snark, still down on the pavement next to Jason, made an amused sound at the sudden silence, and then reached over and patted Jason's thigh. "We're just watching. You guys look pretty good."

The other boy's eyes narrowed, and he pointed at Jason. "Doesn't he talk?"

Jason felt stupid then. He took a deep breath, and stepped down from the bench. "I can talk."

A look of irritation crossed the skater's face, and his gaze returned to tag Jason's. "What are you doing?"

"Taking pictures."

The other shook his head. "Not of me. I don't like it. You need to stop right now."

"It's a public place," Snark said then, suddenly sounding less friendly. "Goof is our official picture taker here. Get over it."

Jason licked his lips then, and nodded slowly. He had never had anyone object to having their picture taken, and he had gotten used to the idea that no one ever would. But on some level, he felt it was a person's right to not have that done if they didn't want it done. That he might be in the wrong here was a new idea for him.

"I'm sorry. I won't take any more."

"Damn right, you won't," the graceful boy returned, an eyebrow shooting upwards to accent his demand.

Snark gave out an amazed laugh. "Hey, screw that," he said then, letting out his wild side. He gave Jason's shoulder a slight push. "You belong here, and these dudes are just visiting. They don't like it, they can leave." He leaned forward then and stuck out his jaw. "This is our park, dude. And our rules."

The other three visiting skaters had seen that something was happening, and now they crossed the course and came to a stop beside their friend.

"Everything cool, Ray?" one asked.

Jason's eyes circled the group. All the boys had black hair and golden skin, just like the guy standing before them. But their appeal wasn't even in the same league. They were just guys. Nice to look at, but the world was full of nice guys just to look at.

This Ray was somehow special. Jason watched the other boy's face, enthralled at how it moved along with the thoughts and words coming from behind it. Beautiful.

Ray had turned his gaze back to Snark. "I wasn't talking to you."

"It sounded like a general threat," Snark tossed back. "So I'm in, if that's what you want."

Jason immediately held up a hand. "Stop!"

Everyone's eyes came to him. "This is stupid," Jason continued, turning to Snark. "I won't take any more pictures of these guys, okay?"

Snark actually looked angry now. Jason had seen the boy's temper before, but it usually came across in a milder form. Not this time. Snark stepped off his board and popped it up, and grabbed it in both hands as if he meant to brain someone with it. "These guys have no right to tell us what to do."

Jason's jaw dropped. "What's the matter with you? He just doesn't want his picture taken."

"That's not the point. He could have just asked you not to do it. Instead he rolled over here and tried to lean on us. I say fuck that shit."

Jason stared at his friend.

"What?" Snark asked, glaring back. "Nobody's coming in here from some other neighborhood and ordering us around!"

Jason opened his mouth to say something... to say anything. People were sailing by on their boards, some turning their heads to look at the confrontation, but most oblivious to it, their focus on the course ahead. Again there was the feeling that time slowed. Jason examined the face of the guy before him, just beautiful, even limned as it was now with anger. There was an energy there that suggested some force deep and hidden, but powerful beyond all meaning. Something that appealed to Jason like nothing he had quite seen before.

He was aware of a sudden tensing of the group of boys before him, and then the sound of approaching wheels registered in his ears. Truck Leoni appeared, and dragged a large shoe on the concrete to kill his motion. For once his timing was perfect. The board stopped and the big boy stepped off it in one fluid motion, and stood beside Snark, his meaty hands on his hips. "Trouble? I could see you guys waving your arms at each other from across the park."

The four visitors had taken a single group step back as Truck had come off his board, and now they watched him uncertainly, plainly in some awe at his size. Truck was used to being a foot taller than everyone else, and just smiled.

"We don't want no trouble," one of the other visitors said quietly. "We're just here to skate. Ray? Come on, man."

Ray's eyes went from Snark to Jason to Truck, plainly showing he didn't like what he was seeing. Jason felt a peculiar disappointment at that appraisal, almost as if the other had cursed him, or even hit him. It was painful somehow, and he felt a sudden urge to apologize to the other boy.

But Ray beat him to speaking. "Yeah, maybe." He glared at Snark again. "Like you said, it's a public park." Then he turned to look at his friends. "Come on, guys. Let's get back."

Jason felt himself dismissed, as if Ray's interest in talking to him had been turned off with a switch. The four visitors crossed the course again, and rolled down to the farthest rail from where Jason and his friends were standing, and then formed up and went back to their timed group run.

"What was that about?" Truck asked. "You okay, Goof?"

Jason turned to look at Snark. "You almost started a fight with them."

Snark's eyes got big. "Me! It was that guy there that tried to lean on you. On us. I was just helping."


Jason briefly closed his eyes. Inside, the disappointment seemed to be growing. He let his eyelids rise, and stared over at where Ray and the others had gone back to practice. They had resumed their circular motion, taking the rail one by one. Jason watched a moment, and could see the four casting them wary glances as they moved along.

Truck reached across Snark and gave Jason a small pat on the back. "You okay?"

"Yeah. I'm okay." But his interest in shooting pictures had wandered away. "Think I'll head home."

Snark looked pained. "You just got here."

"Yeah. But I just don't feel like taking more pictures."

The other boy made an upset sound. "Look, I'm sorry I went off. But that guy had no business bossing you...bossing us around."

Jason simply looked at him. "He just didn't want his picture taken."

Snark nodded vigorously. "Then he could have said so without being an asshole about it."

Jason just nodded, having gotten a completely different take on what had happened than Snark obviously had. Ray had been standing up for his right not to have his picture taken. Maybe some people didn't like having a camera pointed at them. The idea was new to Jason, but he could immediately understand it. If what your body - your face - looked like, so individual and personal, didn't belong to you, what did?

At this point, he was not sure who had been wrong here. Himself, for taking pictures without asking, or Ray, for getting upset about it.

"I think I'll just go," Jason said. He reached out and laid a hand on Snark's shoulder. "It's okay, man. I know you were just looking out for me."

"I was." Snark nodded, looking upset. "Um...maybe I got a little carried away."

Jason was able to smile at that. "You weren't really gonna bust your board against that guy's head, were you?"

Snark looked down at the way he was still holding his board, and laughed. He turned it, and held it against his thigh with one hand. "Nah. I like this one."

Truck, who had been watching quietly, obviously without a clue as to what had actually happened, suddenly smiled at them. "I see my work here is done. Whatever the hell it was." He turned, deftly pulled his board forward with one foot, stepped onto it and pushed off onto the course. And immediately swayed precariously, fanned his arms alarmingly, and took off.

Snark laughed. "Nobody's better at mixing air than Truck." His eyes returned to Jason, and Jason was able to see the liking that Snark had for him there. "Sorry, Goof."

"It's okay." Jason looked around, and nodded. "I'll probably be back later. I just need to think about a few things.'

Snark nodded, but looked afraid to ask what things were on Jason's mind. "I'll walk back to the cart with you, if that's okay."

Jason laughed. "It is."

Jason retrieved his board and they headed back to where Jason had left the cart, going by the same paths through the middle of the course. When they crossed the foot bridge spanning the large bowl, Jason paused and looked down into the concrete form, watching the skaters whiz by with the same interest a bird on a branch might view a watching cat below. Motion.

It was fascinating to see. Amazing, even, given that nature had not engineered people to do the things they were doing now. He gave a little sigh, and smiled.

"What's funny?" Snark asked, smiling himself.

Jason shrugged. "I love to see people on the move like this. I love getting that with my camera."

Snark seemed instantly to understand. "Then you should." He nodded. "Don't let this throw you, Goof. The people here love having you do what you do. Everybody's walls are covered with your stuff." He smiled. "You're an institution, man."

Jason scratched the back of his head, but couldn't help feeling good at the compliment. Snark was right. He couldn't let one bad moment mess up the joy he got from his camera. He knew that the people he photographed here enjoyed the experience. That could continue. But...maybe he'd be more careful about taking the pictures of people he didn't know. Not without asking first, anyway.

"So you'll be back later?" Snark asked.

"Yeah. I think I'll drop my camera off and just come back and skate a little. I could use the break."

"Cool." Snark waved a hand around them. "I'll be here. It's Saturday, you know?" But then he looked at Jason pointedly, bit at his lip briefly, and frowned. "I'm sorry."

Jason nodded, patted Snark's arm, and moved off. He reclaimed his cart, put his board in the basket and his Nikon on the toddler seat, and pushed the cart back to the entry to the park.


Jason turned, trying to place the familiar voice. "Uh...hi, Anthony."

"You're not leaving already, are you?" This time the Regulator was on a board. He glided over effortlessly, and stopped the board with one foot. "That was a short visit."

Jason nodded. "I'll be back. I just have a few things to do."

The man posed again, grinning. "Still waiting for that picture."

Jason laughed, and stepped away from the cart, grabbing his camera. Anthony looked surprised; but then he hunched forward on his board, put on an expression of almost comical terror, and held his hands up like he was about to be smeared by a semi in the middle of the freeway. Jason took three shots, laughing, and promised to print the best one and bring it back with him.

The man looked happy with himself, and waved as he rolled off.

The afternoon was still pretty, despite the upset from earlier. Jason couldn't quite get Ray's face out of his mind, wondering how nice it might look smiling instead of pissed off. The brief argument had left an impression on him all out of proportion to what had happened. This should be something he could just chalk up to experience and shrug off. But it didn't seem to be happening.

He pushed the shopping cart along the sidewalk, almost oblivious to where he was going. There were people everywhere, but no one was paying him any mind. A shopping cart on the streets these days was hardly an unusual sight. He wasn't paying them any mind, either, his thoughts still replaying the incident at the skate park, over and over.

It hadn't been his fault. He had meant no harm. He was just taking pictures in a public place, something he had been doing all summer long. Catching the action, recording the moves. Where was the harm in that?

Yet...a small feeling of guilt assailed him now. He had been after Ray's face, not just the action. The boy was just too beautiful for Jason to ignore. Taking his picture had seemed so necessary.

But the anger in the boy he had photographed could not be ignored. It had been startling, and unexpected. And unpleasant. The moment had lasted...what? A couple of minutes? Why did it feel so large in his mind, then?

It somehow made Jason feel anxious, and he was aware he had missed an opportunity to apologize and make amends. Missed an opportunity to maybe get to know Ray a little better. To be around him, to be with him...

To be with him.

The thought was a shock. Jason shook his head, feeling a need to clear it. He stopped the cart and looked around. He was on Tampico Street, in the shopping district. This was just one way he could have taken to get home, and he hadn't even realized he'd turned down the busy roadway lined with stores on each side. Next to the sidewalk was a boardwalk laid into the concrete, that was supposed to give the place a feeling of being close to the ocean, even though that was miles away. The street had an ocean motif, and many of the stores and shops sold apparel and items one could use at the beach, or just were summery in general.

Ahead was the All-In-One, which sold lots of things. Planted on the boardwalk out front were several items of furniture, along with a large sign that advertised a sale on patio and deck items, as well as summer clothing. Jason pushed the cart along slowly, quieting his thoughts as much as he could. The feeling of displacement that had settled over him was a little alarming. It was almost as if he were walking in a dream, and that the world around him was not real. That he would wake up any second, and all of it would be gone.

But it wasn't that way at all. What he was thinking and feeling was real. Somehow, just standing close to this guy Ray, seeing his face, hearing his voice, had left a strange grip on him that refused to go away. Jason had never experienced anything like it before.

He arrived at the furniture. One item was a futon couch, with individual backrests that could be adjusted for each sitter. A sign at one end advertised the sale price, and said in large black letters, "Try me!"

Jason pushed the cart to the other end of the couch and parked it, and bent down and pushed a hand down on the cushion. It was soft and inviting. He took off his ball cap, shaded his eyes with one hand and looked up into the blue sky. Such a pretty day to feel so out of sorts.

He turned and lowered himself onto the cushion, and leaned back on his arms, closed his eyes, and momentarily tilted his face up towards the sun. It was warm, comfortable, reassuring. Real.

He tilted his face forward to shade it again, and opened his eyes.

What had happened to him, back there at the skate park? How could a couple of minutes arguing with someone he'd never laid eyes upon before today leave him feeling weird? And why had it left him feeling so sad, as if he'd lost something important?

Again he saw Ray's face inside his head. There was something striking about it, something he just couldn't name. It made him want to lean closer, and

Jason took a breath, and closed his eyes, imagining kissing that face. A tingle ran throughout his body, and a familiar sensation stirred between his legs. And then, quite suddenly, he knew exactly what was wrong with him, just what it was that he was feeling.

I got the hots for this guy!

He laughed, and shook his head. Shit! How did that happen, in just two minute's time?

But the more he thought about it, the more he realized it was true. Now he realized he had checked out Ray pretty closely, even going as far as to imagine what might be beneath his clothing. That he had done that so quickly without really understanding what he was doing was the big surprise. He was always imagining what one or another of the guys he photographed might have under his clothes, but it was like a game he played with himself. He'd imagined Snark naked more than once, and been thrilled with the results. He'd developed a crush on Snark after first meeting him, until he'd realized nothing could come of it. And Zulu, and Tip - even Captain Fakie, who had a kind of round, pudgy face that didn't really appeal to him, but who also had a killer smile and bright blue eyes that always seemed to be laughing.

Jason loved guys, and was always looking. Always dreaming. His picture collection made him happy, and he often used them for the occasional fantasy to make his wank sessions more interesting. His pictures gave him a life he could not live for real, and he loved each one of those beautiful faces. He'd had crushes on a lot of them, momentary dreams of something more than just a photograph. But in the end, reality had prevailed. He liked these guys. They were people he knew, guys he found appealing and sexy, and guys he'd become friendly with in the last several years.

But none of them belonged to him, none of these guys were his.

This thing with Ray, was this something different? All his previous crushes had developed slowly and ended quickly. This was the first time where some part of his brain had immediately looked at someone he didn't even know as if that person was a potential...a potential...lover. Someone to be close to. Someone more than a picture on the wall.

The thought was scary, actually. And it was confusing as hell. He didn't even know this guy Ray. How could he feel the way he did about him?

What he needed was to see Ray again. He had to know if this was some real feeling he had, or just more confusing shit that his nuts occasionally tossed his way. He knew his nuts played games with him, often demanding attention like something important was up, but then just laying down and relaxing again once he'd jerked his dick. Nuts were unreliable indicators of attraction because they responded to most cute guys in some way or another. Brains were better indicators of how much he liked someone, but up until now he'd never gotten any signals like these.

"Crap," he whispered. This was just what he needed to happen now! And the summer had been going so nicely!

How the hell was he supposed to see Ray again, when he didn't even know him? Didn't know where he had come from, or where he lived? It was impossible!

And then he had a thought, and turned to look at the Nikon, where it sat in the toddler seat of the shopping cart. He'd taken pictures! Lots of pictures, of the four visitors doing their organized exercises on the low rail. He'd zoomed in, and even gotten some close ones.

He had pictures of Ray.

Jason jumped to his feet, donned his ball cap again, and then grabbed the handlebar of the shopping cart and turned it back to the sidewalk. And then he was off, weaving in and out of the clumps of people on the sidewalk, who smiled at him in passing. Who smiled at the boy with the big grin on his face, and wondered what it was that had him looking so enchanted.

Jason's parents wouldn't be home from work for some hours yet. He usually started dinner for the family because he was there, but it wasn't an assigned job, and whoever got home first - his mom or his dad - would start the evening meal if Jason wasn't there to do it. More often than not he was, feeling it a small contribution to family life, and one that greatly eased the strain on his parents, who were almost always tired when they got in.

Jason's older brother, Matthew, attended UCLA, and shared a small place near the campus with like five other people. Housing wasn't cheap anywhere in the city, and Matthew worked as an undergrad teaching assistant to one of the professors at the school to pay his part. He still drove home now and then, mostly on weekends, just to 'get a free meal and not have to sleep standing up'. But Jason knew how much Matthew loved his family, and that he missed the closeness that only home could bring.

It had been Matthew that had gotten Jason interested in computers and photography, and they got along better than a lot of brothers did, despite the five-year difference in their ages. Jason looked up to Matthew, and missed having his older brother around to confide in. Matthew knew that Jason was gay, and so Jason suspected that his parents knew it, too. But no one ever brought it up, and his parents treated him just as they always had, and he was more than aware that they loved him, and would support whichever direction in life he chose to take. That other families were not as close as his own, he knew. That he was fortunate to have what he had, he treasured.

Dinner was still five hours away, more than enough time to see what his camera had captured and then get back to the park for a little skating. Jason parked the shopping cart in the one-car garage behind the house, removed his board and his camera, and locked the door again. His parents left both cars in the drive when they were home, because the little garage was mostly full of other things, stuff no one wanted in the house, but which were just too good to be tossed. A surprising number of people on his street were in similar circumstances, if the number of cars in the driveways was anything to go on.

He let himself into the house and set his board by the door, and went straight to his room, opening the Nikon along the way and removing the SD card that held the images he had taken. He'd left his computer on, and it woke up as he sat before it and slid the memory card into the SD slot on the front. In a moment he had accessed the files, and was using the picture viewer to look at them in sequence.

The first were distance shots he'd taken of the four visitors as they circled the low rail. He ran through them quickly to where he had zoomed in, and could actually see their faces now. He'd come back to that in a moment. He looked at the full motion video, and found some really nice shots of Ray that he thought he could extract stills from.

But then, at the end, came the sequence of fast stills he'd taken of Ray's last grind down the rail, where at the end he had turned towards Jason and Snark and come straight at them. Jason had apparently held the shutter button down until Ray had crossed right to them, and he was stunned to see a close up shot of the other boy's face.

Was that a smile?

But then, as he neared Jason and Snark, the maybe-smile slid away and was replaced with something else. What? Not the grim determination that Jason remembered from the end of their conversation, but something else totally.

He stared at the picture, then enlarged it until it filled the twenty-four inch monitor he'd inherited from his brother. He took a breath then, as Ray's features leaped out at him. Jason advanced the series, watched as Ray whipped off his sunglasses and his eyes became visible, and...

He let his breath sigh out softly. Oh. The other boy was beautiful. His face was a prefect blend of geometries, overlaid with golden skin that didn't have a contrary mark anywhere to be seen, his tawny eyes filled with a sharp and ready intelligence. His lips had just the right sets of curves that Jason loved, and his chin was square, not too strong, not too weak, with the tiniest of clefts in the middle. Perfect.

Jason just sat and stared for the longest time. He closed his eyes, could still see Ray's face. Then he opened his eyes, and drank in the image once again. Soon he knew he would be able to see this face no matter where he was, or what he was doing. That he wanted to be able to see this face, he knew.

Finally, he gave another little sigh, marked this particular picture file, and went ahead through the rest to the end of the sequence. At the very end there did appear to be some irritation in Ray's face. But was it anger, like he remembered? It didn't look that way. That had come later, after Snark had put his two cents into the fray.

Jason returned to the picture that had most captured his imagination and printed it to his photo printer. Then, remembering his promise to Anthony, he searched through the rest of the pictures until he found the three he'd taken of the Regulator, picked the funniest one, and printed it out, too. Anthony really did look like he thought he was about to be mowed down by a huge truck, or maybe even a tank. This was the sort of face one wore when a hospital bed was looming in the future...but only in cartoon land. It was endearing and cute, and Jason decided that the older guy had a sweet streak of humor in there somewhere that would certainly be nice to know better.

He shut down the picture viewer on his computer, and pulled the SD card and put it back into the camera. Then he took the picture of Ray to his bed. Getting down on one knee, he reached beneath and withdrew his scrapbook, and opened the cover, and tucked the photo inside. He would want to look at it again later.

He took the picture of Anthony and put it carefully into the back pocket of his jeans, collected his white ball cap, and headed out again, picking up his board at the door.

He'd been in the house for a good part of an hour. It was past two now, and that meant he had maybe three and a half hours before he'd need to return to start dinner. That was more than enough time to get a little movement in.

For just a second he remembered his helmet. But...he didn't plan to get crazy, just cruise a little and relax. Easy stuff. Hardly more daring then the trip back to the park would be. He'd be careful.

He walked out to the street, dropped his board and stepped onto it in one move, and pushed off.

The trip back to the park was quicker, because he was riding instead of walking. It occurred to him on the way that maybe Ray and his friends would still be there. The thought excited him, and he pushed things a little getting back.

When he arrived back at the park, it was to find Snark and Kat sitting on the bench together just inside the entry. The real wooden bench, designed for people to sit on, that is. They were talking, and not with their usual heat. They seemed surprised to see him when he rolled up and sat down next to Kat.

"Well, well, you two look pretty happy."

He was surprised to see both their faces redden, and Snark look contrite. "Oh, hi. You did come back."

"I said I would." Jason looked from one friend to the other. "What did I miss?"

"Well..." Snark looked pained. "Kat wondered why you left. I was just telling her what happened with those guys down at the rails, and she was just telling me what a dick I was."

Kat's eyes filled with humor. "I don't think I used that particular word."

Snark made a face. "It sounds better than asshole."

"It's all anatomy," Jason pointed out, trying not to laugh.

Snark sighed. "Yeah."

Kat allowed herself a smile. "The point is, he's sorry. Say you're sorry, Snark."

The other boy winced. "I already told him I was sorry I went off."

"Uh huh. But saying it in front of witnesses is good for the soul."

Snark made a positively evil face, but nodded. "I'm sorry I went off, Goof." He looked at Kat. "In front of witnesses."

Jason grinned. "And I already said it was okay." He looked across the park, but couldn't see the other end of the plaza course. "Are they still here?"

"No." Snark shook his head. "They left about fifteen minutes ago."

A feeling of disappointment came over Jason, and it must have showed.

Kat raised her eyebrows just a bit. "Did you want to see them again?"

Jason felt a momentary embarrassment as he looked for a reason. "Well...maybe. I just didn't want to leave, bad blood between us."

Snark shrugged. "If it makes you feel better, Truck said one of them asked who you were."

Jason's jaw dropped. "Really?"

Kat frowned, eying him. "Is there something more here than we know about?"

Jason blinked, and shook his head. "Not that I know of."

"It was the one that talked to us, apparently," Snark added. "Um...I think one of the others called him 'Ray'."

Jason felt a small shiver, but didn't know if it was fear or delight. "Well...what did Truck say?"

"Just that your name was Goofy-foot, and you were the picture guy here. It's okay. Truck was cool about it."

Jason nodded, but somehow was feeling a sense of secret satisfaction. Now he and Ray knew each other's names. Well, more or less.

Kat was watching him suspiciously now. "You didn't know this guy before today, did you?"


"You just look like you're not saying something."

Jason had to laugh at that. "I don't know what it would be."

"There was something, though." Kat seemed insistent now.

"Yeah, there was something," Snark interjected. "The guy was a straight up jerk!"

Jason smiled at that, knowing how Snark was. "Probably kicks his cat, huh?"

Snark eyed him a moment, and then grinned. "He probably ate it for breakfast."

"And stole that board he was on," Jason added, knowing where this was going.

"'Cause his hobby's shoplifting."

"And his mother's a hooker."

"And his old man's a crack dealer."

'And his sister --"

Kat had stared from one boy to the next in disbelief, and now threw up a hand. "Will you two stop!"

Jason laughed, and Snark looked relieved. "Let's just get past this, huh?" he said. "I feel like the back side of a fat lady."

Jason and Kat looked at each other, and the the girl gave a small shake of her head. "Meaning?"

"I feel like a giant ass," Snark said, looking pleased with himself.

"Hasn't hurt your sense of humor," Jason said. He dropped a hand on Snark's shoulder. "But you did get really mad for what seemed like not much of a reason."

Snark winced, and let his gaze settle on the skatepark. "Yeah, well...this is a special place for me." He turned back to frown at Jason. "Our place. I've been skating here for five years. That's almost one third of my life." He shrugged. "I like it here. I like the people here. I don't like it when people that don't belong here come in and try to say we can't do what we do."

"Male territoriality," Kat sniffed, with noticeable disdain.

"It's our place," Snark repeated, defensively.

Kat shook her head. "This is a public park, Snark. Public means for everybody. Even those guys."

Jason could plainly see that Snark didn't like the idea of that.

But the other boy sighed, and finally nodded. "I know. They just weren't regulars. And that one dude tried to lean on Goof. I just wasn't gonna do that."

No one said anything for a moment. Finally, Snark sighed. "But I won't do it again, okay?"

Jason smiled at him. "I don't want you busting up your board smacking people with it."

Snark laughed at that, but then just nodded. "Okay. gonna skate, or what?"

"Sure." Jason had dropped his board on the concrete when he'd sat down. Now he put a foot on it and rolled it back and forth.

Kat looked down at it and smiled. "Your board is turning pink."

Jason rolled his eyes. "I know. Not much to do about it."

The deck had been red when he'd bought the board, but two years of sun and shoes had faded and worn it to a pale rose. Jason wasn't crazy about the color, but it also didn't bother him.

"A real man can wear pink," Snark said, grinning. "I kinda like it."

Kat gazed heavenward a moment, but didn't say anything more.

"Let's go," Jason, said, waving a hand at the course.

They got up and stepped on their boards, and pushed off towards the bowls.

"Can you keep it cool?" Jason asked. "I didn't wear my helmet."

"I never wear one," Snark returned, smiling.

"That's because your head is made of stone," Kat said immediately, smiling evilly.

But Snark just grinned, and looked happy somehow, and Jason had to wonder how much the two had been talking before he'd come back.

Snark led them down into the first bowl, just an elliptical mini ramp no deeper than the toddler end of a swimming pool. There was a rail embedded around the rim for sliding, and they warmed up a bit doing a little interweaving back and forth, watching for other skaters, though everyone seemed to be farther on along the course just now.

The back end of this bowl was a ramp that led deeper into the ground and turned gracefully to the left. There was a hand railing around the top of it to keep observers on the walks above from falling. The ramp let out into the big bowl, with sides too high to climb and a walkway crossing above. You could get some real speed up coming off the down ramp and riding around the bowl about halfway up the curved side, giving you enough speed to easily climb the other ramp. That one brought you back up to mid level and then shot you down a long but less inclined ramp, and then up another, steeper one, which brought you into a third bowl much like the first one. It was a little bit of a thrill, but it happened pretty fast on a board.

They came up into the third bowl and circled it, with Snark showing off a little with a quick reverse and some fakie grinds going backwards. Jason grinned at him, and then followed as Snark left the bowl and they went over a series of ramps, some spaced apart, their speed more than enough to grab some air going over. It felt natural to Jason by now, and the motion and the speed was an intoxicating rush that took his mind off the earlier events of the day.

After that was the snake run, a waist-deep half pipe in the concrete that twisted and turned and doubled back on itself as it crossed towards the plaza area. It was a great test of balance, and Jason was pleased that it had become second nature to him now to not just make some speed here, but to grind along the inset rails at each doubleback without so much as a drop of the fear he had once had in doing it.

They exited the snake run onto a flat run with stairs and a center rail going down at the other end, followed by a series of ramps, more stairs, and straightaways lined with benches and mini-rails along the way. At the end of the last straightaway, after coming down off a stair railing, was a head-high semicircle of concrete with a concave face, which you whipped around at some speed and doubled back to another straightaway with benches and rails, and then a series of box ramps - a raised platform with a ramp at each end.

Along the sides of this area were the practice runs, with several rows of rails at varying heights, and benches you could practice on without interrupting the flow of the main course. It was the practice rails that Ray and his friends had been using earlier that day, and as they went past them, Jason couldn't help sneaking a look in that direction. There were several skaters there, but none were the boys he had seen earlier.

None were Ray.

The course doubled back towards the start at this point, with more plaza obstacles like ramps, stairs, benches, and rails, and eventually returned you to the first shallow bowl at the start of it all. All along the way were cut offs, where you could turn off to return to other areas of the course. But Snark made a complete run and finally brought them back to the sitting bench where they had started.

He popped his board and caught it, and sat down in one smooth movement, laying his board next to him with the trucks up so it would stay there. Jason managed to do the same, and Kat made it look easy as she popped her board and joined them.

"That was fun!" she breathed, her eyes aglow in the afternoon sun. She patted Jason's knee, and smiled at him. "You're getting really good." She laughed. "Nice view from the back, too."

Jason felt his face briefly warm, but had to smile. "You better not be watching other people's butts. You might fall on your own!"

She sighed. "It's a risk that's worth it."

She reached past Jason then and poked Snark. "You're almost too good, you show off."

Snark blinked. "Me? I can't help it if nature blessed me."

Jason and Kat exchanged smiles at that. Modesty was not one of Snark's strongest traits.

"That felt good," Jason decided, leaning back against the bench. "I need to get more motion and less camera stuff, I think."

Kat shook her head. "You're really good with that camera, Jason. Don't let what happened today mess that up."

Jason turned to look at her, and could see that she was serious. "I'm not. I just feel like I spend too much time watching instead of doing. I want to try to even it out a little more."

She searched his eyes a little, and then smiled. "Oh. Well, that's okay, then."

"God, I love doing this," Snark said, giving his head a little shake. "I'd do this the rest of my life, if I could."

"You can," Kat said, as if it was obvious.

"Nah." Snark sighed. "My dad wants me to go to college. I can't screw around my whole life, just doing this."

"So don't do just this," Jason offered. "Go to college, get a job, do all that stuff. And do this when you have some spare time."

Kat nodded. "Yeah. I plan to keep doing this until I'm hitting the ramps in my wheelchair. You don't have to stop just because you get older."

"Look at the Regulators," Jason continued. "I'll bet some of those guys are in their thirties. And they're better than we are."

"Better than you, maybe," Snark countered, grinning. "Ain't no old schooler got my moves."

"There's always someone that's better," Kat replied, shaking her head. "I was watching that new guy, Anthony, a while ago. He's better than I am, I know that."

Jason sat up straight then, remembering the picture in his back pocket. "Oh, crap!"

He stood and fished it out, and was relieved to see it was still undamaged, if a little curved to the shape of his butt. He looked around the park, but didn't see the Regulator. "Is Anthony still here?"

"He was just before you got here," Snark said. He shaded his eyes with a hand, and looked around. "There he is, over by the big half-pipe. Can't miss that dumb shirt."

Kat laughed at that. "What's wrong with 'Pop Shuvit'? I do that move all the time."

"Not spelled that way, you don't. " Again Snark looked slightly scandalized. "It's a 'pop shove-it'. 'Pop Shuvit is the name of an old rap band from Ecuador."

"They're from Malaysia," Kat said patiently, "and they're called Popshuvit, all one word. What's on Anthony's shirt is just a slang way to say the board move. It doesn't mean that band." She smiled. "And that band has some cool stuff, anyway. Skater's Anthem was kind of intense."

"Noise," Snark said, though with a smile. He had found something new to bug Kat about, and was on it like a mouse on fresh cheese. "They don't even speak American."

Kat gave a frustrated sigh. "You're looking for a primo ghosting, Snark."

The other boy's gaze touched on Jason's, and Jason gave a slight shake of his head. "I wouldn't."

Snark grinned, and bumped his shoulder against Kat's. "Sorry. I thought we were having fun."

Kat looked surprised at the apology, and turned to stare at the boy. "You think that's fun?"

"Hell, yeah. I'm not serious, Kat."

"He likes to push people's buttons," Jason said. "He's harmless, though."

Kat reexamined Snark, and then smiled. "You're so good at being annoying, I just thought there was some mental damage or something."

Snark and Jason both laughed at that. But Kat eyed Snark anew, and Jason didn't miss the little smile on her lips.

They crossed the concrete towards the big half-pipe, where Zulu had given way to Rocket. That boy was now doing an elegant, quickly-paced roll back and forth, while Zulu and Tip stood and watched and timed it.

"I sure couldn't do the pipe all day like they do," Kat whispered. "My eyes would roll up in my head."

"Zulu's a freak of nature," Snark said, a little wondrously. "Dude's got more patience than I do, I know that."

Kat leaned over and looked at the picture in Jason's hand, and laughed. "Awesome. He looks like he sees a major crash coming."

That got Snark's attention, and he reached out and pulled Jason's hand over so that he could see the picture, too. He stared, and then grinned hugely. "Man, that's lit. He looks like a deer-in-the headlights, you know?"

Jason looked down at the picture, and nodded. "I think it's funny. Some of the Regulators are too serious. Anthony has a sense of humor."

"I like him," Kat agreed. "He's cute, too."

Snark just groaned, and Jason smiled, even though he'd also decided the older guy wasn't hard to look at. Age meant a lot more now than it might someday. The difference between sixteen and twenty-one, like with Jason's brother, Matthew, seemed kind of huge just now; but the difference between guys twenty-five and thirty didn't seem so far apart to them. Once guys were ten years or so older than Jason was, he had trouble guessing their ages, until gray hair and wrinkles set in. Anthony could be in his twenties, or his thirties.

The Regulator was talking to a couple of girls wearing helmets and new kneepads, and holding their boards by the trucks like they were handles. Jason pegged them as newbies, not because they were holding their boards in an uncool manner, but because they didn't yet know it was considered the mark of a newbie or a poser to carry them that way. He didn't really care about such things, seeing way too much social junk about skating that could get in the way of doing the sport itself. What real difference did it make in how you carried your board, or put it on the pavement?

Anthony saw them coming out of the side of his eye, and turned to smile as they drew to a halt. "Goofy-foot! What's doing, dude?"

Jason held out the photo. "Got your picture."

The Regulator looked delighted, and held out his hand. Jason gave him the photo, and smiled when the older guy's eyebrows went up.

"Hey, that's really good!"

Snark bumped his shoulder against Jason's and grinned, but didn't add to the conversation.

The Regulator showed the picture to the girls, who both tittered in delight. Jason felt oddly embarrassed, and also oddly pleased. Cameras were so good these days it was easy to take a great picture. But a lot of people just couldn't compose a shot, and so were amazed when they saw pictures taken by someone that could.

"Thank you, Goofy-foot."

Snark spoke up then. "You can call him 'Goof'. We all do."

He poked Jason with his elbow, who just smiled. Yeah, what was one more?

But Anthony frowned a moment, and put a hand on Jason's shoulder. "Do you mind?"

Jason shrugged. "Nah. As long as it gets my attention, it's good."

The regulator smiled. "It's all in how you say it, anyway."

After that, Snark led Jason and Kat on another circuit of the course, and then they ran a few rails in the practice lanes. Jason used the one that Ray and his friends had used earlier, paying special attention to how much he used his own arms in balancing during the run. The near impossibility of doing it with his arms totally motionless quickly became apparent, and it was just one more thing in his mind about Ray that somehow seemed special.

He looked up at one point, and saw Truck Leoni sitting on the bench across the way, sort of draped over it with his eyes closed like he'd collapsed there. Jason grinned, popped his board, and carried it across the way and sat down beside the bigger boy. "You look worn out, Truck."

Truck's eyes opened, and he looked over. "Oh. Hi, Goof. Yeah, I'm tired. I don't think I'm made to have wheels under me."

"Aw." Jason reached out and patted Truck's shoulder. "You've come a long way. Be proud. You should be."

The bigger boy smiled, and looked over at him with renewed interest. "That's one reason I like you, Goof. Always something nice to say about someone."

Jason felt his face warm at the compliment. "Well. I have gotten better."

"I know. I'm working my ass off, and it has been showing some results." Truck laughed. "All this swinging my arms shit, I'm amazed I haven't learned to fly yet."

Jason smiled at that. "There's still time."

Truck leaned to one side and patted his butt. "I think I need a pad here next. When I hit the pavement, there's three feet of me that come down on top of this thing. It hurts!"

Jason nodded sympathetically. "Yeah, but better your butt than your head!"

Kat and Snark had seen them sitting there, and came across the course lane. Kat sat down next to Truck, while Snark plopped down by Jason, bumping shoulders with him and then grinning when Jason turned to look at him. "Keeping Truck's ego up?"

"Uh huh." Jason laughed. "He seems to think wheels don't really suit him. And that he's too tall."

Snark shook his head. "Aw, hell, size doesn't matter. You ever see them wheel out those big rockets at Cape Canaveral? Those things are awesome-size, and they're on wheels."

"They're also damn slow," Truck pointed out.

"Only until they blast off," Snark continued, his eyes bright. "Then they really start moving!"

Truck rolled his eyes, but took a moment to gaze skyward. "That's all I need, is to blast off."

Kat put a soothing hand on the big boy's wrist. "Don't let Snark get to you, Truck. He's not diaper trained yet."

Jason and Snark both laughed at that.

Snark reached across Jason and gave Truck's shoulder a push. "Wanna run the course with us? We're gonna make one more go."

Truck's eyes lit up at that. "Yeah!" But then his smile waned a little. "I'd better be last in line, though. If I have to bail, I don't need all you people falling on top of me!"

The four of them returned to the head of the course, and once again they followed Snark into the first bowl, and then down the ramp to the big one. Jason, again second in line, immediately noticed that Snark had relaxed the pace considerably compared to their other runs, and smiled. Snark talked like a jerk sometimes, but he had a sweet heart. He was looking out for Truck, there was no doubt in Jason's mind.

But it was still a reasonably challenging run, with enough speed to feel like they were doing something, yet not so much that anyone would feel uncomfortable with it. For Truck it was about as much speed as he ever managed to make, and Jason smiled at the whoops of pure joy he heard coming from behind them. They made it through the course without any problems and returned to the start, this time the four of them dropping onto the bench back at the head of the course, with everyone sighing happily.

"That was savage!" Truck said, sounding pleased with himself. "Man, that felt good!"

"It was a good run," Kat acknowledged. "Smooth." She smiled at Snark. "Thanks."

Jason simply leaned against Snark and didn't say anything. But he was secretly happy that Snark had looked out for Truck, rather than doing anything reckless that might have caused the bigger boy to bail and mess with his confidence. Keeping up was hard for Truck. Managing a complete run with a crew was an accomplishment the bigger boy seemed thrilled over.

Jason looked again at the smile written all over Truck's face, and for the first time that day, really felt some peace.

"That was lit," he whispered to himself, nodding.

They sat and talked a while longer, until the angle of the sun in the sky began to suggest late afternoon. Jason checked his cell, and saw it was nearing time to head home to start dinner. He stood and grabbed his board, and smiled when Snark pouted at him.

"You're heading out already?"

"Got to. My turn to start dinner."

Kat smiled at him, and then looked disdainfully at Snark. "Some guys care about their families."

"I care about mine," Snark complained. "I just don't know how to cook!"

Truck simply laughed, and waved at Jason. "Go on, Goof. We'll see you later."

Jason nodded and started off, smiling at the developing argument between Snark and Kat going on at his back. It sounded almost real, but underneath there was a playfulness that couldn't be missed. He laughed. Kat was getting good at this. Snark had a way of rubbing off on even the nicest people.

He looked around the park on his way out, and had to nod to himself in agreement. Snark did have it right. This was indeed a special place.

Jason turned over in bed for about the hundredth time and looked at the clock. It was just midnight. He'd been in bed for an hour already, and sleep just wouldn't come.

After dinner, he'd looked at the pictures he'd taken earlier that day, and again marveled over how beautiful Ray's face was. The magnetism was incredible, and Jason had laid down in his bed and let his fantasies take charge, with predictable results. But even after relieving himself of some of his tension, the picture of Ray in his mind remained ever-present.

I'm obsessed with this guy, he decided, after finding himself unable to concentrate on any of his normal evening routines. He didn't feel like chatting with his friends, and just surfing the web seemed dull and uninteresting. The TV had nothing that could hold his attention, and when he put some music on, it just seemed annoying. Wrong.

Finally, around eleven, he'd said goodnight to his parents, citing a busy day, and headed off for bed. And now, he couldn't sleep.

The insistence with which the little movie of his encounter with Ray that day kept replaying in his mind was aggravating. Jason usually felt like he was in fair control of his own head; but tonight it seemed that all bets were off. Try as he might, he could not get the image of Ray's face to leave his thoughts.

Finally, Jason got up and padded over to his bedroom window and looked outside. The moon was up, and full, and the world of night brightly lit. The street lamps, usually the dominant features of suburban nights, seemed subdued by the presence of nature's own spotlight shining down from above.

Jason smiled, and lifted the sash. His parents had the air on, but it wasn't running just now. The heat of the day had retreated until morning, the light, ocean-borne breeze that came in through the screen cool and lacking the humidity that had marked the day.

Their house was located in one of the island suburbs that was part of the greater metropolis, but well removed from the skyline of skyscrapers that was the beating heart of it all, and the far lights on the horizon that marked the real city limits were too distant to have any power here. The night carried a sense of peace with it that Jason found restful, so much so that a desire to be out in it immediately formed inside his head. He grinned, looked over his shoulder at where his board stood up against the side of his nightstand, and made his decision.

Jason donned his work jeans, found a clean tee-shirt and pulled it on, and stuck his bare feet into his Converses and laced them up. He put his trusty baseball cap on bill-back, grabbed up his board, and went back to the window. The screen squeaked a little when it was raised, so he pushed it up slowly until it locked. Then he dropped his board into the bush to one side of the window, climbed out, and stepped down onto the two large stone blocks he'd put there just for this very reason. Turning, he pulled the sash down, paused to listen for a moment, and then stepped down off the blocks.

Sleepless nights were not exactly new to him, and he often burned off the excess energy that seemed to be keeping him awake by taking his board out for a few turns around the block, or even a run over to the high school, where he'd use the ramps and rails outside the lunchroom doors for a little practice. The school parking lot was well-lit, and the cops seemed not to be too interested in this part of town at night. He'd never had a run in with them, nor had to explain what he was doing out riding so late. They announced their occasional drive-bys with headlights that could not be missed for a long time before they got close enough to see him.

Jason took his board out to the street, dropped it and stepped onto it in one move. He pushed off, and headed off down the pavement. The night air passed around him, invigorating in its freshness.

The moon cast an intense white light over everything, offering abnormally good seeing for midnight, and giving the landscape a slightly eerie quality. The shadows beneath trees were unusually deep, and the colors of everything he could see had been muted to pastels and grays. The streetlights hovered over slightly orangish pools of light, light that normally was good at battling the darkness, but which seemed weirdly ineffective beneath the white glow from above.

He reached the end of his street and paused, looking off down the cross street towards the well-lit parking lot of the high school. He really felt no attraction to go there. He felt like cruising, just winging it, and going where the road happened to take him. So he pushed off again, and stayed on in the same direction he'd been traveling.

Above him, the full moon had washed out the midnight stars, but they still lived at the horizons, winking and blinking in the shifting night air. Small sounds reached his ears, all the tiny signals that accompanied the much reduced movements of people at this hour. Remnant traffic on distant highways, now just the faintest of soft growls, mingled with unnameable sounds that carried no particular meaning save that they were made by others of his kind. Headlights and taillights moved slowly on the distant hills. The winking red lights of airliners tracked placidly across the moonlit sky, and the faint echoes of their engines reverberated among the many hills and valleys that was the earth below.

For one small moment, the length of a held breath, Jason could imagine himself alone in the world, just him on his board as it rolled along moonlit streets lined with slumbering faces. The yards he passed were dotted with the dark blobs of trees and shrubbery, concealing the homes there behind the flowing cloaks of shadows. Save for the occasional porch light all was in darkness, windows mostly blank at this hour; or at best, softly lit behind shades or curtains, lights only, not eyes watching, not thoughts judging, not the places of other people at all. There was a fantasy element here, if one chose to see it, and Jason could easily squint a little and imagine a world different from the one he knew so well. A world of possibilities, perhaps, where dreams came true and the mysteries of life were far more accessible to observation and understanding, and to solving.

Where the faces he met could be more than just pictures on his bedroom wall.

He smiled, feeling the sense of relaxation that usually came over him on these late night jaunts. This was why he did it, mostly. Sure, the exertion served to tire him, and make it easier to fall sleep. But the truest benefit was to his head - the inside of it - where the passing breeze seemed to carry away the doubts and insecurities of the day, and leave behind a peace and a quiet which stilled his thoughts and brought sleep closer to hand. No one was watching him as he passed. No one cared that he did. The world belonged just to him, if just for this lone moment in midnight time.

He passed several crossroads that showed the headlights or taillights of late travelers, but none were focused on him. He moved on, uncaring and unobserved, and soon found himself skirting the end of the shopping district. With a start he saw where he was, where he was going, and had to laugh. Mantanza was just down the block. The skatepark would be empty at this hour, but there were no fences, no walls, no one to tell him he couldn't visit. That he had intended to come here all along, he now realized. This was where his unrest had started earlier that day, here was where it needed to be dealt with this night.

He used a convenient driveway to come up onto the sidewalk, and rolled down its length to the entrance of the park. Lights on tall poles marked the corners of the large lot, but had there been no moon, the course itself would now lay mostly in darkness. The lights in the corners each lit some part of the lot, but the center was only visible by the white light of the moon.

Probably, the county figured that a well-lit course would be a nighttime draw to skaters, and people that didn't skate almost surely viewed it as a purely daylight activity. Besides, people in the park at night would be a nuisance, don't you know? It might cause problems. It wasn't normal.

He gave a soft laugh at that thought as he turned into the park and rolled down the sidewalk to the bench he had sat upon earlier with Snark and Kat and Truck Leoni. He stepped off and popped his board and caught it, and laid it face down on the bench as he sat beside it. He let his gaze rove out over the park, taking in the absence of motion, the absence of life. It was quiet here just now. There was a stillness here unlike any other - the stillness of hard concrete reposing in the moonlight. The park itself was a construct, poured and molded to fit a purpose, the product of designers and fabricators and people with vision.

The life of a place like this came from the people that used it. The people that loved it. The people that lived a part of their lives here every chance they got.

It was really sinking in now that what Snark had said earlier was true. Mantanza was a special place. A place of freedom, a place of dreams. Like Jason's grandparent's cabin up in the mountains, the skate park was one step removed from the harsh realities of the world. This was a place where nothing mattered but the wheels beneath your feet, and how you made them do your bidding. The rigid firmness of the concrete, the sly seduction of gravity, would serve to pull you down if you let them. If you didn't know them, and their ways. There was a primitive urge in people to run and to fly - to be in motion - and here was a place where that urge could be let out to play.

Jason closed his eyes and sat back, enjoying the stillness. Why couldn't all of life be so calm and relaxing? This tranquility was a feeling everyone should have, one that was portable, and went everywhere with them. That it needed to be sought out showed the people were doing something wrong managing their daily lives. Such tranquility should be built into everyone.

Again, Ray's face came to mind. This time, despite its beauty, he was able to examine it without being drawn in. Yes, it was beautiful. Ray was gorgeous. But now he saw that that was the only thing he knew for certain about the boy - that his own eyes loved to see him.

Was Ray gay? Jason had no way of knowing. Even if he was, a guy that looked like that surely had a boyfriend already. And even if he was gay, and free, and looking for someone, why would he be interested in Jason? Their brief meeting had been totally negative, with nothing to suggest that pursuing it might improve things. Nothing to suggest that being with Ray could ever happen.

Jason sighed to himself, and gave a small shake to his head at his own foolishness. Another infatuation. Another crush that would never mean a damn thing. A pretty face, that tantalized his eyes, and that was all.

He heard a sound then, and opened his eyes. The unmistakable grind of wheels on concrete came to him, muted with distance. His eyes moved to follow the sound, and suddenly there was motion, down towards the plaza end of the course. He leaned forward and stared in amazement.

Someone else was here.

He watched as an indistinct shape moved in the moonlight, turned towards him, and became the outline of a human being. It lifted up and down, grinding along rails and benches, the sounds he was hearing altering in pitch to fit the circumstances. The figure made a circuit of the left side of the plaza end of the park, then went out of sight as it took one of the shortcuts back to the start.


Who would be here at this time of night?

But the moment the thought appeared, he realized it was stupid. He was here, wasn't he? Sure, he'd never come here at night before now. But for all he knew, some other skater, or even skaters, came here every night to have the place to themselves.

But then that thought bounced, and he looked at it again. No. Without the full moon as a guide, the whole center of the park would be too dark to skate in. It would be impossible.

It was the full moon that made all the difference. The light of day, at midnight. It had to be someone taking advantage of the bright night, just as he was.

The more he considered it, the more he realized what a rare night this actually was. There was one full moon each month. And not all of them occurred at night. Some were daytime events, mostly washed out by the sun. Even the nighttime moonrise times varied, with some occurring way too early or late to be useful. He'd read somewhere that even when the moon looked full to the eye, two days on either side of the actual night of the true full moon, it was only giving back half the light it would return on that night of nights. That left just the one night of really bright light each month, and not always at night, and not always with clear skies to see it. Rare.

Jason surveyed the park, realized it really was bright enough to actually skate with a minimum of hazard. The moon was directly above, shining down even into the bowls and walled courses. The park was perfectly visible, completely free of any possibility of shadows.

Whoa. An entire skatepark, for one person! One night only, folks! Get your tickets now!

He laughed. Or for two people. Was that cool, or what?

So who could it be?

Jason stood, picked up his board, and dropped it, stepped onto it, and pushed off. He glided across the concrete, heading for the lane to the plaza end of the course. The moonlight provided excellent clarity for things that were close to him, and fell off in resolution with distance. Yet it was more than enough light to skate by.

He also saw then that shadows were possible. The moonlight streaming down from nearly directly overhead now was strong enough to leave a weak blob of the stuff directly under his feet, which moved along with him as if alive, the movements of his arms giving it ghostly wings as he used them to balance. It wasn't nearly enough to interfere with his eyesight, though, and he ignored it as he moved closer to where he had seen the other skater.

There was another flash of movement ahead, a grind of wheels, and then that other came into view again, coming towards him, barreling along at a pretty good clip as he hit the rails and benches. Jason was much closer this time, and got a better look, and he felt his breath go out with surprise. The other skater wore a reversed cap, just like he did, and looked to be wearing a white tank top and green shorts. An image came instantly to mind, one from earlier in the day, of Ray as he glided down a railing, clad in white tank top and green shorts, his teeth flashing white in the sun.

Could it be?

Before he could stop himself, Jason shot an arm up and yelled. "Hey!"

The other skater looked up and spied him then, and slid hastily to a stop. Jason dropped a foot to the pavement and stopped, too, and the two of them stared at each other across the moonlit concrete. The other skater's face was just a white blob, though, and try as he might, Jason couldn't make out any recognizable features.

But there is familiarity in more than looks. There was something recognizable in the way the other skater stood. Maybe how he held himself. That it was a guy and not a girl seemed plain, some subtle clue in the body language of the other just saying so.

But the longer Jason looked, the more certain he became that this was someone he had seen before. Ray!

Without warning, the other skater took off, leaned into a turn, and headed down one of the shortcuts back to the other side of the course. Without even thinking Jason pushed himself into motion and quickly followed, turning into the shortcut as the other skater vanished around a curve between two concrete walls ahead. Jason's left foot smacked the concrete hard as he gained speed, and then he was giving chase.

The skater ahead was on the move, handling his board like a real pro. Jason felt his heart race as he tried to keep up, but was immediately aware that the other skater was better than he was. But a sort of desperation had come over him now, a refusal to let Ray get away again without at least speaking to him. He rode the rises and dips in the course, leaning into them to accent his speed, and followed the other skater as he made his way around to the head of the course.

They reached the first, shallow bowl, and the other skater slid around the rim at a speed that made Jason grunt in amazement. The other came off the slide and forced his board around on the curved side of the bowl, and raced away down the end ramp towards the big bowl beyond. Jason followed, nearly lost it coming off the rim rail, but managed to hold onto his balance and ride the curve around just quickly enough to make the ramp himself.

At this point Jason was going faster than he'd ever taken the course before. He was immediately aware he had no helmet, and that a crash now might be serious. He'd learned to roll with falls, to convert the motion of the fall into something less harmful to the body; but there were no guarantees now that he was so far outside his normal comfort zone. The skater ahead of him wasn't wearing a helmet, either. The risks of him getting hurt were the same.

It was too late to stop. Jason rocketed out into the big bowl and rode around its circumference higher on the wall than he had ever done before. The other skater was already hitting the up ramp, and Jason couldn't shift his eyes for fear of losing it all and falling. He came around and was facing the other ramp, saw the first skater hit the top and sail out of sight. Jason gritted his teeth and followed, the board leaving the concrete at the top as he caught air and came down again. He waved his arms frantically, held onto his balance, and caught the long incline that would give him enough speed to climb the last ramp back up to ground level. There was no question in his mind that he was going fast enough; he'd never gone this fast on a board before!

He hit the up ramp, emerged into the shallow bowl there, and just caught sight of the first skater as he disappeared over the rim. Jason hit the rim himself, became airborne, and landed with a jolt that started him into a wobble he just couldn't counter. The board slid and he came off of it running, fell, and rolled a few times, instinctively absorbing the impact with his upper arms and shoulders. Finally, he slid to a stop on the concrete, the world spinning around him.

For a moment it felt like his eyes were revolving in their sockets. But then he realized he was no longer moving, was in fact laying on his back on the concrete, and that nothing was in the kind of pain that might indicate a broken bone. He gasped, took in a deep breath, and understood then that he was all in one piece. He had not slammed his head down on impact, and the shoulder rolls had probably kept him from a case of road rash on his hands and arms that he'd still have been feeling a month from now.

He stared up into the face of the moon, which stared back with a certain disappointment that couldn't be missed. All I can do is light that place, Jason. You have to be the one that rides it without falling on your ass!

He smiled at that...and then heard the sounds of wheels approaching. He turned his head, and watched as the other skater came back his way and stopped about ten feet away. Again they looked at each other in silence; again, the other's face was an indistinct blob of white in the moonlight.

"You okay?" asked a familiar voice.

Jason sucked in his breath, recognition hitting him like a blow. "Snark?"

The other boy leaned forward, shock now registering in his stance. "Goof?"

Snark stepped off his board and came over at a run, and knelt next to Jason. "Aw, shit! Are you hurt?"

Jason stared up into his friend's face. "No. I don't...I don't think so."

This close, the tank top Snark was wearing was obviously yellow, not white. And the shorts weren't green, but a sort of rust color, or maybe even a brown. The moonlight distorted colors...and maybe a few other things, too.

Jason laid his head back onto the concrete and closed his eyes. It wasn't Ray. How could he have thought it would be?

Snark put a hand on his shoulder, squeezed it comfortingly. "What are you doing here?"

Jason took another breath, opened his eyes, and slowly sat up.

Snark converted the squeeze of his hand into a helpful assist, and then shook his head. "Man! I couldn't figure out who would be here at this time of night! And when you chased me, I couldn't believe you kept up." A soft laugh filled the night. "Either you're better than I ever thought you were, or I ain't as good as I thought I was!"

Jason managed a laugh of his own. "Are you serious? I nearly killed myself keeping up with you!"

"You seemed pretty good to me!" And then the good humor left Snark's face in the company of a sigh. "I'm so glad you weren't hurt. I'd never get over that." He shook his head again. "What are you doing here?"

And just that fast Jason didn't have an answer. Not one that he could share completely, anyway. "Um...I couldn't sleep."

There was another small laugh, and Snark's head bobbed up and down. "I know what that's like, believe me. So you came out to skate a little, 'cause you knew it would make you tired. And you wound up here."

Jason stared at the other boy, and nodded. "You do know."

"Sure I do. I skate at night all the time." Snark tossed a hand at the sky. "I only come here when the moon's out like it is tonight, though. Most of the time I just run over to the school and zip around the parking lot under the lights."

Jason gaped at that. "I've never seen you there!"

"You, too? No...wait. Your house is close to our school. Munson...the high school, I mean. I'm closer to Burnett."

"The elementary school?" Jason laughed. "I never even thought of going there!"

Snark sighed. "Can you get up?" He rose a bit, tugging at Jason's shoulder, and helped him to stand. Jason rolled his shoulders, wiggled his hips. moved his legs. Nothing seemed to hurt more than what could be accounted for by a few soon-to-be bruises.


"I guess." Jason took a careful step, then another, and then relaxed, and walked over and retrieved his board.

Snark turned and went back for his, and then returned to Jason's side. "Come on and sit a little, okay? We can talk." He smiled. "Listening to me for a while might make you sleepy."

Jason couldn't help returning the smile. "Okay. Where?'

"Well, that bench we were on earlier was okay."

Jason agreed, and they walked back to the sidewalk and found seats on the bench.

And then Jason just didn't know what to say next. He hadn't expected to meet anyone here, let alone Snark. There was an odd pleasure in knowing that the other boy had restless nights like he did, but now he wasn't sure what to do with that knowledge.

Snark gave out a masterful sigh, and leaned back hard against the backrest, his eyes finding the moon in the sky. "Pretty, isn't it?"

Jason looked up, distracted away from his doubts. "Yeah. I was thinking earlier that there might be one night a month it was bright enough that a guy could come here and skate."

"Not even that," Snark disagreed. "I've been able to skate here at night just three times in the last five years, counting tonight. And the other two times, clouds came over and killed it before I was able to get home." He laughed. "Walking is so retro."

Jason smiled at that, and turned to observe the other boy. "So you've been here at night before? You never said anything about it."

"And have everybody else show up?" Snark blew out a disgusted breath. "I wasn't going to ruin it, Goof. This was like my special secret night, you know?" He sighed again, and looked around the quiet park. "Besides, it has to be just like it is tonight, or there just isn't enough light to be safe. I land on my butt often enough as it is, without trying to skate in the dark."

Jason nodded, perfectly able to understand that.

"So, why couldn't you sleep?" Snark asked suddenly. "Was it because of what happened today with those guys?"

Jason was stunned that the other boy could know, and then even more stunned when he found himself nodding. "Well..." he began quickly, and then trailed off, at a loss for how to proceed.

Snark was quiet a moment, then nodded. "I saw the way it was. Something between you and that guy, Ray." He turned to look at Jason. "You know him from somewhere, don't you?"

Jason automatically shook his head. "I never saw him before today."

The other boy frowned at that. "Then what? Something was going on."

What could Jason say? That he'd been struck dumb by Ray's good looks, and fallen in lust with him?

"I don't know," he said. "It was weird. I just didn't like that he walked off like he did. I felt like...I felt like we weren't done talking, or something."

It sounded lame, even to Jason. He was aware of Snark watching him, but sent his gaze out across the park rather than meet the other boy's eyes.

Snark suddenly took a stunned breath. "Oh, shit." He breathed. "You liked him."

Jason had to look over then. Snark's face, painted with white moonlight, looked astonished. But the truth was there, reflected in the other boy's eyes.

Jason licked his lips, unable to argue further. "Yeah. I liked him."

Snark leaned closer. "You're gay? I don't believe it."

The cat was out of the bag now, and Jason felt no desire to chase it. "Yeah. I'm gay."

Snark shook his head. "What about Kat?"

Jason gave a tired laugh. "What about her?"

"She...she's been chasing you for a year, dude. And you've been playing the game with her. I've seen it."

"Uh uh." Jason shook his head. "I do like Kat, but just as a friend. She thinks there can be more. I don't."

Snark sat back and just stared at Jason. "Oh, man."

Jason gave a big sigh, and crossed his hands in his lap. Now he might even lose his best friend, too. He should have stayed in bed. "You like her, don't you? Now you know I'm not the competition, you can make your move."

Snark seemed to ignore that remark completely. He leaned closer again. "How come you never told me?"

But before Jason could even answer, Snark leaned even closer. "How come you don't have a boyfriend?"

Jason leaned back a little, and Snark saw that and retreated a bit. "Sorry."

Jason nodded. "It's not like there's an available guy on every street corner. I haven't met anyone yet. I guess...I guess I haven't really been looking." He blew out a frustrated breath. "I don't even know."

Snark watched him a while in silence, and then leaned closer again. "A cute guy like you should have a boyfriend."

The words rolled over Jason's thoughts, and he turned to stare at his friend. "Huh?"

Snark took a deep breath, let it out very slowly, and nodded. "You heard me."

Jason just watched the other boy, the words Snark had just used kind of echoing around inside his head. Snark watched him back, plainly waiting.

Jason licked his lips. "You think I'm cute?" He nearly laughed after he said it, it sounded so odd to his own ears.

Snark nodded, and offered a little smile. "I always have. Ever since that day I saw you trying to catch air and not getting it."

Jason gave a little shake of his head, unable to process where this was going "You're not telling me you're gay, are you?"

A frown crossed Snark's face, and for a moment he looked down. "I don't know what I am." He raised his eyes again. "I like Kat. I like a lot of girls. But I've also liked other guys." He shrugged. "Like you."

Jason sat back a little and stared, waiting for the sudden smile, the clue that it was all a joke. But Snark simply watched him back, waiting.

"Why didn't you ever say something?" Jason finally managed to get out.

"I didn't know. I thought you were straight, Goof." The intensity in Snark's eyes was plain. "Being friends is better than nothing."

Jason watched a moment longer, and then smiled. "My name is Jason."

A smile crawled across the other boy's face. "Mine's Damian."

Jason sighed. "I know."

Snark watched him a moment longer, and then gave a little shrug. "So. You like this guy Ray, huh?"

Jason frowned, seeing again in his mind's eye the face of the boy he'd only met briefly that morning. Or the previous morning, since it was after midnight. He smiled at his mind's insistence on this correct bit of chronology.

Snark took the smile as an affirmative, and nodded. "I can help you find him. I know who he is."

Jason stared, stunned all over again. "You know him?"

"Yeah. His name's Ray Amuro. I saw him at a CASL event last summer." Snark looked unhappy at the admission. "He's good."

Jason shook his head. "Why didn't you tell me?"

Another unhappy look transited Snark's features. "I didn't know who he was when we were standing in front of him. I knew he looked familiar, but it didn't register until I heard his name. After that, even. And then, it just didn't seem to matter. After I was such a jerk, I mean."

Jason's mind went back to the confrontation with the visiting skaters, and replayed the way Snark had acted, which had seemed so confusing at the time. Oh.

"You were defending me," Jason said, smiling.


"When Ray got up in my face, you were defending me."

Snark blinked. "He didn't get up in your face."

"You know what I mean. He was upset that I was taking his picture. You didn't like his attitude about it."

"No. I didn't."

"You were defending me," Jason repeated, charmed by the idea.

Snark grinned then. "Okay, I was. Is that what you want to hear?"

Oddly, it was just what Jason wanted to hear. For a moment he was back in his room, surrounded by walls covered with pictures. Two year's worth, just about every cute skater Mantanza had to offer. And most prominent there, represented much more than any other, was Snark. Snark smiling, Snark in every aspect of skating, Snark standing among others, laughing, smiling, carrying on. Jason had fantasized about the boy, kissed him in his dreams and been with him in his imaginings; but never once had he felt that such a relationship would be possible, and never once had he even considered trying to pursue one. It had been solely a mind thing, unable to move beyond wishful thinking. Snark was a friend, and just a friend, because as far as Jason had known, Snark would not have been interested in anything more than that.

But now...

"How come you don't have a guy?" he suddenly asked.

Snark's eyes widened. "Um. Well --"

Jason leaned forward. "Because you had no idea, not even a little one, that the guy you wanted would be interested back."

Snark considered that, but only a moment. "Yeah."

Jason closed his eyes, the possibilities suddenly laying out before him. What a night this had become!

He opened his eyes, and found the other boy smiling at him. "What are you thinking about now, Goof?"

There was fondness in the way Snark asked him, and Jason realized that that fondness had been there all along.

"I'm interested," he said, smiling.

Snark eyed him. "In what?"

"In you, stupid."

Snark's eyes widened, he blinked...and then he smiled. "Really?"

"Yes. Really."

A look of delight appeared on Snark's features, and Jason felt slightly breathless at its appearance.

"Well," Snark said then, "what about Ray?"

What about Ray? Jason saw again that boy's beautiful face, but somehow it had lost some of it's power over him. A face was just a facade, really. Something to look at. Not nearly as important as the person that lived behind it. Seeing could never hold a candle to touching. And that's what he wanted now.

He sighed, and let Ray's face slide away from his mind's eye. A new ideal had taken its place, one that now seemed far more attainable. Far more real.

Sometimes you don't know what you are lucky enough to have, even when it's staring you right in the face.

Jason sighed. "He's got a really nice face. But...I don't know him, and I doubt I ever will."

Snark grinned, his delight plain to see. "I think I saw he had a girlfriend at that CASL meet, anyway."

Jason was watching Snark's face, and could see the joke coming. "Yeah?"

"Uh huh. Big girl, with tats." Snark grinned. "Smoked a cigar, too."

Jason laughed, and leaned a little closer to the other boy. "And muscles out to here, I'll bet."

"Yup." Snark smiled at him, his eyes so bright as he slowly leaned forward. "She probably lays bricks for a living."

"Her mother's a mafia hitman," Jason said, not really paying attention to the words, intent on Snark's eyes as he leaned closer again.

"And she eats roadkill for breakfast," Snark whispered, leaning closer, too.

They were just inches apart now, almost close enough to feel the heat. Jason took in every line, every curve of the face before him, and could now see how those features added up to the person that lived within. The beautiful person that he had always known lived within this face.

"What are we doing?" Snark whispered.

Jason leaned a little bit closer, and also whispered. "I'm wondering if kissing you will be as wonderful as I always imagined."

The moon played tiny, joyful games in Snark's eyes as he leaned in the last few inches, and said with the quiet of the night around them, "Here. I'll show you."


This story is part of the 2020 story challenge "Inspired by a Picture: Sofa Skater". The other stories may be found at the challenge home page. Please read them, too. The voting period of 31 January to 21 February is when the voting is open. This story may be rated, below, against a set of criteria, and may be rated against other stories on the challenge home page.

The challenge was to write a story inspired by this picture:

2020 Inspired by a Picture Challenge - Sofa skater

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