Just Hit Send - Summerfire

by Grasshopper

Part II

I graduated from high school. I made 1500 on my SATs and had my choice of colleges. I wanted to stay close by home cause I needed the beach and the quiet and I needed my family close by me. I know a lot of kids are miserable and want to run as far as they can from home as soon as they can. Especially gay kids who have to fight for the right to just breathe in a home without any understanding ….. unconditional love, yeah. But my family's different. I grew up knowing that it doesn't matter who you love as long as you love. I have role models that knock my socks off ( a phrase my Papa uses when Daddy kisses him) Hahaha ! The way they still kiss at their age, I expect those socks to come flying across the room anytime now.

I got a lot of flak when I was a young kid in school cause I lived with my mama and my daddy and my Papa D and Pop. They took turns of course but still it wasn't the traditional arrangement. Whenever I got in a fight or caused a problem (which I did frequently... Cause, well, you know that gay kids are screwed up, right?) one of my parents would come to school. I always wanted it to be Papa D cause he was so beautiful and all the ladies in the office swooned (grandma's word) and they'd usually let me go with a warning. Now, Daddy is very handsome but he's a principal of another high school and he would be mad before he even hit the doors, so I'd get in trouble twice.

Anyway, I went to the local campus of state university and became the man I was supposed to be. I thought about Kenny Phillips a lot at first but then he faded into this fond memory, someone I knew a long time ago who taught me how it felt to be in love

I even thought of Marcus now and then and wondered if he'd found his way, written that story. God, he was beautiful.

I had an apartment off campus and had my share of semi casual sex, meaning I had to know them and have conversations and like them before I would touch or be touched. I didn't go to the clubs or bars. I knew if I ever found someone who loved me like Daddy and Papa D love each other, it wouldn't be there.

I remember "The Talk" I finally had with my dads. After the summer of 16, as I call it, I was totally dumbstruck as to who I was or what I thought anymore. I really thought I would love Kenny forever, that my heart was broken.

Finally, the three of us were sitting out on the log by the small bonfire on the sand and Daddy started to talk. He talked about the house behind us. The house he and Papa D had dreamed of by the water. He told me how much it meant to him to have Papa D with him for the rest of their lives.

I asked him kinda timid like if sex goes away after you get old, like over 30.

Papa D choked on his beer and said, "I'll let you field that one, J."

Daddy smiled and said, "Definitely not, JD. It gets better. If you love someone, that feeling of wanting to be close never goes away."

I got braver. "Daddy, what about, you know ...... sex sex?"

He looked at me for a minute and said, "Hon, some men can live without it and some men can't. It all depends on you and what you want."

"What about you and Papa?" I hid my eyes.

Papa D said softly, "To me, it's part of your Daddy. I need it to feel part of him. I wouldn't want to be without it or him." I could feel them getting all mushy. I knew it wouldn't be long before they made some excuse like gotta check on something. I swear my dads are too old for that. Aren't they?

"I need to check on that download I left going on the computer," Papa D said.

"Well, you might need some help with that," Daddy laughed.

See? You know, if grown men can giggle, my dads do all the time. It's totally gross but I guess I love them anyway.

Graduation from college brought me to a crossroad. I had this piece of paper that said I could be a businessman. I could go to an office everyday in a coat and tie and push papers around and come home every night whacked out. Or……………, I could start my own business and do what I loved. I didn't want to teach like my daddy and mama and Pop or be a caregiver like Papa D. I wanted to be around the water and work on the boats and surfboards.

I talked to my dads and at first they were upset, said I was wasting myself, but I remembered what Kenny said, "No one hassling me, taking my time. I got no one to answer to but me". And you know, the sound of the surf at night and the way the moon dances over the water, tripping and giggling; it's all worth it. All I needed was someone to love. Kenny would have understood. He always did.

I started out waxing and cleaning the boards and finally bought the shop when Ricky decided to move to Florida. It was a good life, no one hassling me. I read a lot and wrote in my journals. Yeah, I kept them up, somewhere in the back of my mind thinking that one day Kenny'd read them.

I met Kelly by the hotdog stand there at Wrightsville. I know, not very romantic but then life kinda laughs a lot. He couldn't get the mustard to squirt out and I reached over and gave it a whack of the side of the cart.

It then splashed all over my shirt. So much for impressing a cute guy.

We talked and laughed and found we had a lot in common. He asked what I did and I told him I mended surfboards. I didn't tell him I owned the shop. He said he was a lawyer and worked downtown Atlanta, over here for a court case that ended the next day.

I guess I was lonely. I guess he thought I was a cute beach bum. Whatever, we had three very good days and three excellent nights. There was no talk of seeing each other again or happily ever after. It wasn't what I wanted in my heart but it served its purpose.

After Kelly left, for some reason, I kept seeing brown eyes in my head. Kenny's voice spoke to me through past curtains of time. "In a heartbeat," I could just hear him whisper. God, I wanted that heartbeat.

Mama got married and had my stepsister, she thought she would lose Daddy but it never happened. It's like no matter how big our family grows, there's always room for someone new. Not just Mama and Daddy and Papa D and Pop and Nickie, but Easy and Val and their three kids. I miss Grandpa Nic but I know he's with Sam and he's happy. I remember when Easy brought Gabe home for the first time. I wanted so much to find my someone new and bring them home. Is it this hard for a gay man to find someone who wants to love him? Sometimes I feel like life is passing me by.

Can you tell I think too much and analyze something way past death? I try to be like the magazine articles tell you, you know, stress free, practice Yoga, but when I'm surfing, running, exercising, getting that adrenalin rush, I'm still thinking. I wish I was one of those people who never thinks.

Anyway, we're sitting out on the logs by the fire and suddenly the sky lights up. "Heat lightning," Daddy said.

"Summerfire," I murmured. I watched the red glow and the sparks of light shoot from one cloud to play off another and knew where I needed to go. I needed to see Kenny. I watched the summerfire and remembered what he'd said, "I'll always think of you when I see it." Right back at ya, Kenny.

I was 25, a grown man and felt like that same little kid that had fallen to pieces that summer of 16 as I drove down the dirt road that led to the cabins. No one had been back here in ten years. It was amazing how small everything looked, sort of dilapidated and old. All I had ever seen here was Kenny and he had made the world glow.

Turning back into that shy doofy kid, I suddenly realized that he might not even remember me or even worse, remember but not care. I walked over to the little takeout store and opened the sagging screen door.

Same old store, nothing had changed. Dusty and smelling of pickles and fish bait and beer. Even old Mr. Freedlich still sat behind the counter, watching that same old black and white tv with lines of static rolling. He did look older but once you get to 110, how do people really tell?

"Mr. Freedlich?"

"Ayup? What kin I do ya for?"

Same silly question. Time seemed to have stood still. I was back in my cut offs running to catch up with Kenny.

"Do the Phillips still live in the cabin down by the inlet?"

"Ayup. Some do, some don't."

Same weird answers. I guess Mr. Freedlich will always be here.

I decided to take the path and walked through the pines, memories rushing at me from every direction. Sensory overload.

"JD ........ come see this robin's nest that fell out of the tree."

"Kenny. Stop teasing me. Where are you?"

"Smell that? That's what rain smells like."

"You scared of a little worm, Doof boy?"

"When I see summerfire, I'll always think of you."

I don't know why the tears. I guess it was just too much to keep inside.

I walked up on the porch and knocked on the door. I could hear sounds inside and waited for Kenny to smile at me.

"May I help you?"

I saw the girl that had shattered my boyish dreams ten years ago. She wasn't young anymore. Time had danced tragically on her face and in her heart. She had a small child clinging to her jeans and another perched on her hip. She couldn't be more than 33 but she looked much older. Tired of life somehow.

"I ... I was looking for Kenny .. Kenny Phillips," I stammered stupidly.

"Don't I know you?" she peered through the screen.

"I was a friend of Kenny's about ten years back and I was passing through and wanted to say Hi."

"Oh ....," she sighed, "I remember you. At least, I remember Ken talking about you."

He talked about me, I thought. My little boy heart smiled.

"Where is he? Working on pipes or someone's floor? I just wanted to say Hi and be on my way."

She stepped out onto the porch and looked at me sadly. "Sugar, Kenny died last year. He was sawing lumber and well, there was an accident. He was gone right off. No pain."

What?

What?

What?

No.

Not Kenny. Bigger than life. So high on a pedestal I got nose bleed just looking. My God! I just wanted to say Hi.

In my brain, the part still functioning, I thought frantically, if I hadn't come, he wouldn't be dead. I needed to talk to him. I needed to tell him. I needed ........ I needed Kenny.

I heard a truck roll to a stop behind us and the murmur of voices.

".......a friend of Kenny's."

"Get him a soda."

I felt someone push me gently into the rocker there by the door.

"I'll be okay. I'm okay," I repeated as I rocked.

"This is my husband Frankie."

The big gruff man stuck out his hand and I took it automatically. "JD," I said softly.

"Kenny and I split up years ago. I've still got some of his stuff. You want it?" she asked.

She brought out a box and I saw one of my journals lying at the bottom. Reaching in, I grasped it and ran my fingers over the black and white design.

"JD Year of Hell Age 14" I remember handing it him and his snort of laughter at the title. Opening the cover, he had written something on the inside. I choked back a sob as I read the words, "In a heartbeat".

So many things left unanswered. Was he? Would I have? Did we? Would I ever find summerfire again?

I excused myself and, holding the journal, I walked down to the lake. The old dock was still there, weathered and worn, nails poking up and boards warped. 'Kenny needs to fix it,' I thought sadly.

I sat down to find that my toes could reach the water like his used to do. I sat there til dusk, holding that book, remembering. Knowing now that I'd never have what I'd always dreamed of. As the sky turned to gray and the lightning bugs began to blink, I searched the darkness on the other side of the lake for my link to Kenny's heart, my light in the dark to keep me from being afraid, but the light was gone.

"I need to talk to you, Kenny," I spoke softly, tears running down my cheeks as I mourned for what I'd lost. It wasn't lost love; it was lost faith, I think. Love faith in someone to always be there. How could it be lost love? A boy can't be in love with a man. How can men be in love with each other? No man would ever love the boy in me. "Kenny, I need to talk to you right now". I needed the light but the light was gone.

I drove through the night and stayed quiet for days. I laid the journal on the table by my bed. I never opened it. I already knew what it said. I did hang a light on the corner of my porch ..... I suppose so Kenny could find me if he looked.

My Daddy came to find me, to see what was wrong. I broke down and cried in his arms like a child. A blond man holding a blond man; one crying for faith and light that was lost and one simply crying because he loved his child.

He told Papa D because every night when I came home from the shop, my light was on, glowing on the corner of my porch roof. It was their way, I guess of saying, 'It's okay, baby. We love you. We understand better than you know'.

They sat with me out on the sand, our favorite place to talk. "I hate being grownup," I sighed. "Nothing feels right anymore."

"Was it easier being 16?" Daddy asked.

"God, no."

"It's just another step," Papa D told me. "When your Daddy and I were 25, we had been together for 10 years. In all that time, there was love. You'll find your love. You have to wait."

"But you knew at 16," I argued. "I'm way past that." I knew I was still childlike in some ways, good ways I hoped. I still called my dads Daddy and Papa D. I always would. That's cause they never pushed me away or made me push them. I would choke on the words 'Father' or 'Dad'. They had been the center of my life, they were what I wanted and what I couldn't find.

"When you were 16, Daddy, did you know you loved Papa D?"

"Yes. The first time I saw him smile, I knew."

"And you, Papa D?" I knew this story by heart but I wanted to hear it.

"Yes, JD. Your Daddy fixed me. I was broken and he mended me. It took years, me confused and fighting, but your Daddy never gave up on me. I knew when I was 16. I knew the first time I saw his face."

See? See why I know that I can find someone to love me? I have these two men to show me the way. If I stay alone all my life it will be because I haven't found what they have. I hope not. I want that heartbeat.

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