Just Hit Send - Summerfire

by Grasshopper

Part III

My shop did heavy business in the summer and in the winter I kicked back and took classes at the local campus. I even taught a class in modern American literature at night. Some people probably think I waste my talents but 'No hassles, taking my time. No one to answer to but me'. I even crafted a wooden plaque that hung by my front door with those words carved.

I found that I had a talent for carving and taught summer kids how to craft seabirds from driftwood. My pieces became popular and I even made a little money selling to tourists who wanted to remember their vacation.

I still found an occasional warm body to ease away the nights but I was always easy to let it go and most of them were friends that surfed the same waves I did.

The spring of my 29th year, my Daddy had a mild heart attack. It scared the shit out us all. He worked so hard to make his high school the best in the state and all that care had worn him out. Papa D nearly spazzed and waited on him hand and foot until Daddy wanted to kill him. When we went to bring him home from the hospital and the pink lady wheeled Daddy out to the car in that wheelchair, the look on Papa D's face was pitiful. Daddy insisted on getting out of it at the door so Papa D could see him walk. I guess wheelchairs aren't Papa D's favorite thing.

Mama decided that we all needed a break. I totally agreed and Papa D came up with the idea of going back to the lake. So, the summer of 29 became the summer we went back in time. I was actually excited to go back. The pain of losing Kenny had turned into a bittersweet memory and he was like this guidepost for me now.

Pop couldn't get off that week but Mama, Daddy, Papa D, Nickie, that's my stepsister, her friend Carrie and I all trucked up to the lake. I loved it; this feeling of going back in time, back to being that doofy little kid that didn't know from squat.

Nickie had never been and was all over me to show Carrie and her how to paddle a canoe and other woodsy stuff. We were beach kids; what did she know from trees? I remembered everything Kenny had taught me. It was all coming back in a rush as the Cherokee rumbled down the dirt roads toward the cabin. Papa D had made sure that we rented the same one we always had. The realtor promised it had been fixed up not two years ago.

Driving into the front yard, I expected to see Joe Phillips talking to my dads there on the front porch and a tall skinny kid standing beside him, hands poked in his back pockets, rocking on the balls of his feet. I looked for the tire swing but it was long gone. I guess time is a thief.......it steals what you love but memories hold them for you till you're ready to let them go.

We had a great weekend. We gutted the fish we caught, laughing at Nickie who wouldn't even touch the guts, but she sure could put away the fish. Mama cooked on the big grill outback. Papa D made the best potato salad and Daddy disappeared to wander back with an armload of wild flowers for the table. I caught him handing one to Papa D along with a kiss. I watched Papa D touch Daddy's cheek and they whispered something only they could hear.

We sat on the end of the dock that night and Daddy sat close to me, his arm across my shoulders. "It's seems like yesterday," he sighed, knowing I was thinking of the last time we sat there together. My Daddy always seemed to know what I was thinking. Why are gay men able to do that? Why do we always know what people we love are trying to say or trying not to say?

"He was good for you, you know. He taught you to hold tight to your dreams. I thank Kenny for that," he said softly. I just sat with him quietly, my head on his shoulder.

As I watched the moonlight bounce across the ripples of black water, I saw Kenny's light. It was glowing from the end of his dock. I smiled.

"I guess someone bought the old cabin," Daddy said when he saw where I was looking. I had asked Mr. Freedlich at the store if Mrs. Phillips still lived at the cabin. He told me they had moved away to look for work in Charlotte.

"I guess. It seems weird to see the light after all this time." I thought about my light on my porch at home. I glanced up at the light on the end of our dock. There was no light bulb and spiders had spun webs all over the grill work.

The week flew by, laughter and fun, quiet times and rest for Daddy. He hated that we were pampering him but too bad. He was loved too much to do anything else.

I walked up to the store to make a quick phone call and then helped everyone pack their gear in the car for the trip home Saturday morning.

"I'm not going home yet," I said quietly.

Mama started to fuss but Daddy shushed her. "We'll drive back up and bring you the car. How long are you staying?"

"I called and I can have the cabin for all of next week."

"Why?" Mama asked.

"I just need, I don't know, I just need to be here for awhile."

I stood watching the tail lights and then listening to the silence. I had always loved being here without tv or radio or music. Just the quiet. I already missed my family but there was just something about being here that made me need to stay. I don't know if it was the light.

I spent Sunday lying in the hammock I'd hung between two oak trees, just drifting and reading. The sky started pure blue but hazed over as the day grew long. I could feel a change in the atmosphere and reckoned that I might see a little rain by the morning.

That evening, I sat out in my usual spot on the end of the dock and watched the sky go red. I knew what was coming. I just knew it. When the first one crackled, I smiled. By the third, I was laughing out loud. "Damn, Kenny .... Show me that summerfire!" I yelled to the lake and to my lost friend.

The rain fell all through the night and the next morning I found puddles on the cabin floor where the roof had leaked. I ate some Cheerios and trooped down to the store to call the realtor. He told me he'd have some one up today to see to repairing the leaks. I mopped up the water and tipped the rain out of the hammock, undoing it and throwing it over the railing of the back porch to dry. The storm had disappeared as quickly as it had come and the air was clean and fresh.

I fished for a couple of hours in the dingy and came back to clean the two fish I'd caught for lunch. I'd cleaned up and was just going to see if my hammock was dry when I heard a tap on the front door.

My mind had trouble with this. I know I wanted it so bad I could taste it but he could NOT be standing there, looking at me through the screen door. I wanted to cry and laugh and run all at the same time.

"Kenny?" I whispered, knowing it couldn't be but hoping somehow it was, my heart pounding. There he stood, same as ever, tall lanky Kenny with the brown curly hair, the sunkissed skin the color of autumn leaves and the ragged cutoffs, his bare feet planted firmly on the porch.

"Hi. You needed your roof patched?" he said in that same soft Kenny voice.

I know I looked like an idiot, standing there not even knowing if I needed my roof patched or what.

Finally, I had to say it. "Who ARE you?"

"Deacon. I'm here to patch your roof".

Ohh My God! My hand over my mouth, I just stared. It was as if Kenny spit him out. This had to be Kenny's son, the one who had hidden behind his mama's leg when I found out about them both the summer I was 16.

"You're Kenny's son?"

"Yes. Kenny was my dad. He's dead like going on five years now. Did you know my dad?"

"Yes, he was my friend here in the summers when I was growing up."

Something suddenly seemed to click behind the boy's eyes. "Are you JD?"

You don't know how much that pleased me to hear him say that. It meant that Kenny had said something about me, talked about me a little. He hadn't forgotten.

"Yes. JD," I said and held out my hand to Kenny's son. I'd like to say that lightning bolts shot through our hands and a chorus of angels started singing and we fell to the floor in reckless abandon ....... but well, I can't. What I did feel was warmth and softness and maybe a hand held a little too long.

I had to think this through. Remember me? The one who analyzes to death until there's nothing left think about. Standing right in front of me is the one person I've wanted all my life, but not.

"Deacon, is it?"

"Yeah. So, you want me to start now?"

"Sure. You need help?"

"Nah, I been doing this for like ever."

"You take after your dad then?"

"Yeah, I guess." And then he said the funniest thing. "I like it. I got no one hassling me. I take my time. I got no................" I blended my voice with his, "one to answer to but me."

We looked at each other and slow grins began to surface. When Deacon smiled, his face took on its own life. Kenny was there but Deacon was as well.

"You DID know my dad, huh?" he laughed.

"Yeah, he taught me a lot."

"Maybe you could tell me some stuff about him sometime." He looked straight into my eyes, those brown eyes searching for what I wasn't sure.

I left him to his work but damn, I counted every hammer whack and listened so hard in case he called that I almost fell out of the hammock. I wanted to go sit on in the front yard and watch him work but ick !

"I think I got them all," his voice called from across the back yard. "You call me if you get anymore leaks, okay?" He didn't come across the yard and I didn't get up.

"How much do I owe you?" I asked.

"You? Nada. Mr. Greeley pays me to upkeep the cabins."

I knew I wasn't gonna play the "Oh Gee, something's wrong with my sink game" just to get him to come back and I knew I wanted him to come back.

I wasn't asking myself why. That would come later when I sat up all night over analyzing. "I'd really like to talk to you about your dad when you have a chance. He meant a lot to me and I, well, truth, I kinda need to talk about him."

Deacon stood still for a minute and rocked back and forth on the balls of his feet. I shut my eyes. "Sure," he finally answered, as if he was making some huge decision.

"You living in your dad's old house?"

"Yeah, I work for Mr. Greeley and he lets me pay it off a little at a time."

"You want to come over for a hamburger tomorrow around 6?"

"That'd be cool. I'll see ya, um........JD". He stared at me for a minute as if he wanted to say something else but then turned on his heel and was gone. I heard the truck skitter down the dirt road and 15 minutes later I saw the light come on at the end of Kenn..........Deacon's dock.

I sat for a long time that night on the end of the dock, but this time I watched the light at the end of Deacon's dock. I don't know what I was looking for but it made me smile.

The next afternoon, I was irritated with myself for even considering that I had seen anything in his eyes other than someone's roof to fix. I didn't even know how old he was and here I was mooning around like I was 16 again. How much was Kenny and how much was Deacon?

Right at 6, I heard the truck growl to a stop out the front door. I called to him to come in when I heard the tap on the door. He let the screen door slam behind him as he carried in a bowl of pasta salad.

"You didn't need to bring anything," I protested with a big grin on my face.

He had cleaned up real good. I mean REAL good. Gone were the cutoffs and ripped t-shirt. He had on chinos and a red button down shirt that made his hair shimmer.

I have to tell you that I kinda scrabbled around finding something good to wear too. I didn't bring much with me but I did have clean jeans and a green t-shirt that Nickie says makes my eyes all emeraldy. Ha!

"I wanted to. I like to cook and I don't have anyone to cook for," he smiled.

We both looked at everything except each other and I finished patting out the hamburgers and setting the mustard, ketchup........well, you know the drill.

"Wanna eat out back? I don't think we're gonna see anymore rain."

"Sure," he said. "I'll carry the stuff out for you."

We worked in companionable silence to get the food to the little wooden picnic table out the back door. I had the coals just right and the burgers cooked really quick.

"You want a beer?"

"Sure. Thanks. Let me get em, K?"

The burgers were perfect, the pasta salad was great, the beer was cold, Deacon was funny and cute and smart and interesting and I was waiting for the other shoe to drop. God doesn't give anyone two chances like this. I was 28 years old, 29 in two months. I needed to get a grip. This was just two guys eating food because one of them knew the other one's father. Right?

"So," I asked very suavely, yeah right, "You go to school?" God, did I ask that?

Deacon looked at me and crossed his eyes. Really!! The brat crossed those chocolate eyes and made this silly face. "Haha! Yeah, I'm in junior high.."

"I'm sorry," I sighed. "I'm not good at finding out stuff."

He smiled and everything went out the window. "I'll be 19 in three months.

Is that what you wanted to know?"

"Yes."

"JD?"

"Yeah?"

"What does that stand for?"

"Just Dumb," I answered quickly, just like I did when I was small.

"No, really," he asked again. There was something in his eyes, in his voice. I was all off kilter.

"Is it important?"

"Yeah. I think so."

"Joshua Daniel. I can't use either name, so my dads shortened it to JD."

"Why can't you use your names?" The light was softening and the sun was starting to make its nightly rainbow across the lake.

"Josh was my daddy's brother's name and it hurts too much to call me that. He thought he could but he couldn't. Daniel is my Papa D's name and well, there can't be two Dannys."

"Can I call you Josh?"

"Why?"

"I don't know. Maybe its cause no one else does."

"Sure, I guess. If I don't answer, yell doofus." I know it's stupid but he could have called me trashcan right then and I would have just grinned. Is he just the friendliest guy in the world or is he flirting? I told you how my gaydar totally sucks and I never use it or trust it.

"So, tell me about my dad. How were you two friends?"

This turned into a couple of hours of laughing at dumb little JD and all the stuff he didn't know. How Kenny had showed me how to make a fire and how to catch worms and pee in a high arc over the wall and how to put cards on the spokes of my bike.

"I wish I'd known him then before he got all quiet and sad."

"He had some hard knocks," I said softly.

"He talked about you a lot. He missed you, I think."

"I missed him.........more than I can ever really say. He helped me grow up. Deacon, for what it's worth, I loved your dad. He was special."

"I wish......"

"What do you wish?"

He lowered his head and stared at his hands. "I better go. I've got lots of work to do tomorrow." He stood up quickly and started to clear the table.

"Don't bother with this. I'll get it later."

"Thanks for the burger. It was great," he mumbled and turned to go.

"Deacon?" He turned back to me. Please God, let me get this right. "Do you know the light at the end of your dock?"

"Uh huh."

"Your dad told me to always look for the light. When it all got too much to look for the light. I've done it all my life. See my light at the end of my dock? When you want to wish or when your mind gets all tumbled around, look at the light."

He rushed at me and hugged me so tight for one second and then ran. I don't know if I scared him or secured him. I was only trying to do what Kenny did, make the bad things go away. I don't know what Deacon's bad things are but I won't make the same mistakes Kenny made with me.

I didn't see him for two days and then it was only at the store.

"Hey."

"Hi there. I sure enjoyed the company the other night."

"Josh," he said softly. "It's not that I don't want to come back but......"

"I understand. It's totally fine." I had no clue but he looked upset.

"No, I don't think you do."

"You want to tell me?"

"No."

"Well, if you change your mind, there's cold beer in the fridge."

I didn't know what else to say. I don't know what he wanted to tell me or not tell me. I can be absolutely clueless at best.

I was set to leave on Saturday and Friday afternoon I spent cleaning up and thinking. I kept counting on my fingers like a child: 18,19,20,21,22,23,24,25,26,27,28,29.......19 in three months, 29 in two months. It was like this mantra spinning around in my head. It was too much, it was years, it was minutes...........it was......it was Deacon. I had to let it go.

I'd go home and watch the light on my porch and hope he was all right.

It was all so stupid. He wasn't even gay. If I said that, he'd go running off screaming into the night. He needed a friend, just like, no, not just like me, but he needed a friend. I didn't know if I could do that. There was too much I might want, too much to lose. Better to go home and polish some more boards. Yep...No one hassling me, taking my time. No one to answer to but me. That's all there is.

Friday evening just as the sun was lowering, I heard his truck pull up. He knocked on the front door and I called to him to come outback to the dock. I felt him stand behind me for a minute and then settle down near, but not too near.

"You leaving?"

"Yes, tomorrow morning. I've gotta get back."

The sky was a hazy red. The heat was heavy, the smell of jasmine strong in the air. Whenever I think of those nights at the lake, I always smell the jasmine. I turned my head to look at Deacon and I saw it. 'Not now', I groaned. 'Let me get gone'. But no one ever said the gods are kind. The heat lightning lit the sky, crackling across the clouds like some kind of warrior king brandishing his sword.

"Fireworks, pinwheels and magic," I murmured.

"Summerfire," Deacon sighed.

I realized that I had been 14 the summer I saw it for the first time with Kenny. He had been 21 and I loved him. Loved him with the purest, bravest, most innocent heart.

"Josh?" he sighed.

"Yes?"

"Come back."

He reached out his hand and touched my face. I stared at him and got the answer I had been searching for. Can it happen this quickly? As quickly as the heat lightning shoots from one cloud to the next?

"I will," I heard myself say. "Watch for the light."

I wanted to say more, do more but it wasn't the time. I needed to think. He needed to think. Time changes things. We all know that. Doubts, fears, they creep in and cloud everything. We needed to think before something happened that couldn't be undone.

He walked away, up the dock. I heard the truck pull out and I knew I'd be back. Not for Kenny. He was gone. I'd be back for Deacon.

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