In Skater's Time

by Rick Beck

Chapter 14

Getting Back

By the time I got home later that night, I ran right into a prevent defense. I knew precisely what the first question would be. My parents would not ask where I was, until almost midnight. They wouldn't ask me if I'd been drinking, although I was drunk on love. They would not question my character, or my life's choices.

"Did you get to work on time this morning?" Dad asked.

"Yes, sir."

They sat on the couch. My mother held onto my father's arm. They were usually in bed by nine on work nights, and so was I, usually.

"You're burning the candle at both ends, Zane. You can't get away with it long term. You do know that? You look beat, and I won't keep you up, unless you're hungry, and your mom put a plate in the ice box for you."

"No, I ate. I had this fantastic Mexican food, Dad. You guys need to try Mexican. It's great," I said with enthusiasm.

"Maybe on the weekend, we'll look for a Mexican restaurant," Dad said. "You are going to be at work tomorrow?"

"Yes, sir," I said.

"You want me to wake you at your usual time, before I leave?" he asked.

"Yes, sir. I had the Mexican food. I'm not hungry. I'll go up to bed, now," I said, taking the steps two at a time, after my parents had nothing else to say.

As grillings went, it was no great shakes. I'd given my parents a lot of trouble at fifteen and sixteen, but I'd been an angel since we moved. In some ways, with my father stopping at work to take me home at dinner time, we were closer than we'd ever been.

Dad was happy. For the first time in his life, he was making plenty of money to do anything he and mom wanted to do. I'd need to introduce them to Free. They needed to know who I was spending so much time with. Compared to some of my friends back home, Free was a choirboy; no piercings, tats, or crazy hair.

After unloading two trucks the next morning, I was stacking the can goods in the isles, next to the shelves that needed stocking. I didn't hear Mr. Hitchcock walk down the isle. My mind was full of canned goods, and Free.

"You are a happy fellow," Mr. Hitchcock said. "You are whistling, Z. I haven't heard you whistle before. I haven't heard a clerk whistling, while he worked."

"Yes, Mr. Hitchcock, I'm happy. I didn't realize I was whistling. I'll keep it down."

"No, no. It's a pleasant sound. You whistle all you want. I hope it means you are happy here. I haven't had a clerk as efficient as you for some time. I'd like to keep you happy. If whistling does it, keep on whistling. Since you are so efficient, and you are saving me time and work, I am raising your pay by another quarter an hour. I want you to know, I'm happy too, Z."

"Thank you, Mr. Hitchcock. I try to do my job as well as I can. It's what I agreed to do, when I came to work for you. I am glad you're happy with me."

I went back to stocking the shelves, and whistling a happy song. Work didn't seem like work the last few days, but I did know that at three, I was ready to leave, and I was afraid that didn't please Mr. Hitchcock, but I was doing my job, as he showed me how to do it. It wasn't hard. I was able to move around, and the customers were nice. There was no downside working for Mr. Hitchcock.

I skated directly to the patch of grass on the far side of the mall on Broadway. This time Free waited for me. He stood up, when he saw me coming.

"Hey, Z. How are you today?" Free asked.

"I'm just fine, handsome. I got a raise at work," I said.

"Cool," Free said. "You hungry. Could you stand more Mexican food today?"

"I was thinking about it since we had those tacos and burritos," I said, and we were off to the food court. At three in the afternoon, it was almost empty. We walked right up, ordered our food, and five minutes later we were eating.

After ordering, I reached for my wallet, as the clerk rang up the sale.

Free put his hand on my arm to stop my wallet from appearing in public.

"You paid last time. This one is on me," he said.

"But we bought more this time, and I'm the one that got the raise," I said.

"Yes, you did, and we're celebrating. I did some work for Mr. Ramsey today. He pays me in cash, so it's not on his books. I'm buying," Free said, handing over a twenty for our meals.

"What do you do for Mr. Ramsey?" I asked.

"He has a storage area behind his store. I move the boxes out to where they go on the shelves, and I put up the canned goods, candy, and chips and stuff," Free said. "It saves him a lot of physical work, and it isn't that hard."

"That's what I do at Hitchcock's Market," I said.

"I know where that is. I stopped going because the candy bars are all next to the checkout counter. For me to clip a candy bar, I've got to have something to check out. I stopped going in there. Now I have a reason to go back," Free said.

Mexican food must grow on you, because it was even better the second time around. We got some more complicated tortilla filled wraps with junk I couldn't identify, but it was so juicy, it dripped down my chin and tasted fabulous. We were like two smiling idiots, juice dripping, and we couldn't get enough. I added a bit more hot sauce to my two tacos, and they were delicious.

I'd spent my entire life avoiding the idea of Mexican food, and I somehow thought it would be different back east, but now that I'd experienced the California Mexican food, I would never go back to burgers as a steady diet. A burger and fries had been my fallback meal for years, but it now had competition.

I couldn't eat all the food Free bought for me, but I ate it anyway. I realized how a lot of older Mexican folks got as large as they grew to be. You could start eating the stuff, and never stop from one meal to the next, but Free and I did stop, once the food was gone.

We sat watching the teeny-boppers make their appearance. Some nodded at Free, and others just walked by us like we weren't there, which was fine.

It was a pleasant day and after we got to the clearing in the woods, I got a good view of it, lying on the blanket, and watching every move Free made, as he loomed above me, eyes closed, a blissful look on his face.

It was while I had a lucid second or two, between the sheer bliss that overtook me, when Free rode me like a bronco that lost his buck. It still amazed me that I couldn't touch him while he fell into his love making trance. As soon as I did, the incredibly jet propelled liquid spewed forth in one torrent and then another, until he settled down on me, chest heaving, waiting to recover. For a few minutes, before it began again.

He reminded me it was best for him if I didn't handle him, even with care, because he would reach his peak of passion early on, and it took all his focus to hang on to give me all he had to give, and he gave a lot.

I settled for rubbing his muscular legs and smooth chest and shoulders, when he leaned forward to kiss my hot lips. He was more flexible than anyone I knew, but I never knew anyone who did what Free did. No matter where, or how, he touched me, it left an impression that drove me closer to our final act in a passion play that started a new each afternoon at about three thirty.

Lying beside Free, his hand in mine, my head leaning against his shoulder, his arm around me, gave me more pleasure than the sex act, which gave me more pleasure than I can express in works. I live in a state of bliss, and a constant erection that I'm hoping to satisfy as each day proceeds.

I need to write everything down, so that one day, I can go back to Free, find him in sentences and paragraphs long ago written. I can't capture his essence, and it would be impossible to describe what I feel for him. Words have their limits, and reading mine, will serve to remind me of how awesome Free was.

Being my first love, Free would have a forever place in my heart. While I wanted it to last forever, I wasn't dumb enough to believe it could. Life wasn't that easy. Maybe a few people fell in love at first sight, and stayed together until the last breath, but I didn't want to think much past tomorrow's meeting.

Up until the fourth month I lived in California, it hadn't been as advertised. In the land of milk and honey, the milk went sour and I got stung, each time I reached for the honey. In the land of fruit and nuts, there were plenty of fruits, who didn't interest me, and the nuts were everywhere.

I was flying on a wing and a prayer, and my prayer went unanswered. I prayed for only one thing, and after months of thinking I'd really made a mistake, moving to California with my parents.

The night I met fee it all changed. The milk was fresh and cold, the honey was delectable, the fruit had become luscious, and the nuts crunched, and they were just salty enough. Life had gone from a lost cause to the greatest story I was able to imagine.

My life turned into something great, because of a single meeting. It wasn't an ideal meeting. The circumstances were strained and uncomfortable, but when a thing is meant to happen, it is going to happen, and Free and I rushed into the night, and we found each other in the darkness.

School had begun, and miracle of all miracles, I was able to qualify for the work release program. If Mr. Hitchcock certified my work ethic, and I took English and math, they'd cover the rest of my credits for graduation with work credit. What a novel idea.

I arrived at Hitchcock's market around nine each day. There were deliveries at eight, two mornings a week, but Mr. Hitchcock told me that he could handle those, and get a little exercise to boot. Working for the man was easy, because he seemed to like me and value what I brought to Hitchcock's market.

I might be a little late meeting Free, but he knew how excited I was to be able to keep a full time job, now working Saturdays, and go to school too.

While I understood the fragility of love, I only understood it, because I'd discovered it. As marvelous as life had become, I knew each day would not be as wonderful as yesterday. Free and I were in love, and there was nothing to compare it to, because it was nothing like anything else.

I now knew love existed, and I was able to feel love, accept love, and give myself to love. Nothing pleased me more than holding Free, being held by Free. Most of my waking hours were spent with Free on my mind. When I wasn't with him, I was thinking about him. I could happily go about doing the things it was necessary to do, and still not be free of Free. in my heart, know that before much longer, I'd be seeing Free, and he would set me free of all my cares and woes.

While I was with Free, there was nothing else. The world became suspended, until we'd expended all the energy we had on making love. The world stopped for us each day. Nothing in that world mattered to be, but Free. Free. Free.

By my sixth month in California, the first crack appeared in what had been a heretofore flawless relationship. The crack was subtle, barely noticeable, but the crack did appear. It was no one's fault or doing. It was what it was, a crack.

When everything is perfect, and you are in love, and the person you love is in love with you, life will go on, with you, or without you. I preferred, with me. No matter the outcome, I'd been as totally devoted to another guy as I possibly could be. There was no halfway in, or out. I was all in for Free, for better or for worse, and the crack would grow, whether or not I ignored it.

"How do you feel about the navy?" Free asked.

"Every country worth its salt has one," I said.

"What do you think about me joining our navy?"

I thought he'd hit me with a baseball bat, is what I thought.

"This is a rhetorical question, right?" I asked.

"I talked to my recruiter," Free said.

"I thought I was your recruiter," I said. "I recruited you to be my lover."

"Oh, Z! You've got to see, this is the only way I have a future. It won't be right away. I need to get my GED first," Free said. "My recruiter thinks I can find an occupation I like, and the navy will train me to do well. I have no talent, Z. I can't do anything. If I learn a skill, I'll be able to support myself."

I pushed Z out of the equation, because this was about Free. I loved him, and that meant Free came first, even when he just told me he was leaving me. I would not bitch and moan. I would not be a selfish bitch, and make us both miserable for whatever time was left..

"I can help you with your GED. I'm not all that smart, but I'm a senior. I'll graduate in a few months. I should be able to help you enough for you to get your GED," I said, feeling like someone had just begun pulling my teeth, one by one, and without the benefit of pain killers.

"See. I knew you'd understand. It's not like I'm joining forever," Free said.

"The navy does travel," I said. "You can't be stationed in El Cajon or Santee?"

"Z, it's my only shot. They'll help me get my GED. They don't need to do that. My tests came back with good scores. They want me in the navy."

"In the navy," I sang like the Village People sang it.

"I'll write you. We'll stay in touch. I'll get a skill, and then, when I serve my four years, I can get a decent job."

Yes, he could.

"Four years? I can't stand to be away from you for four hours, Free."

"We've always known that we have to grow up. We need a future. That wasn't a secret. I decided to check out the nave as a possibility, is all."

It was all, and letting go left me with the pain the size of the Pacific inside my chest. Whatever the opposite of love was, was the weight that had fallen on me. I had to support Free, make him think I could live with his decision, and deal with the greatest loss I'd ever known.

I would do it, but I wouldn't be whistling any time soon. My life had settled into a balancing of work, my home life, and my life with Free. The idea that one third of my life would be sliced away, did nothing for my disposition.

I could only prepare for when Free would leave, and then the real pain would start. Knowing it was coming was not any help. The time Free and I spent together was no longer the same. The love that had been there had become illusive. I felt the same way about him that I'd felt all along, but it was a surface response to a physical being. Underneath, where everything took place, I was empty as the land of milk and honey had become for me.

I would survive this. Once Free left, the likelihood he'd return to me in El Cajon was inconceivable. He was going to discover the world. He was going to be with thousands of gorgeous guys who would give their right nut for a shot at his beautiful ass. Free wouldn't even remember me in four years. If he did remember me, I'd be the guy he had a fling with, before the navy, where he became a man.

With all he'd meant to me, becoming a fling he once had, was the worst possible conclusion to a love story. Even when I suspected our love would one day end, I never considered that there'd be no hope of a return performance.

Experiencing the first love of my life, made giving that love up a major undertaking. A long distance love affair might be possible, had Free and I been together longer, and had we developed a dependence on each other for something more than sexual fulfillment.

Free was going to go around the world, while learning a skill that could sustain a good life. Free had spoken of how young we were, and we were young, and he was my first love. I was hoping that Free wouldn't be my last love.

Free needed to get his GED, before he could be accepted by the navy. His recruiter got all the material he'd need to study for the test, and a backpack to carry the books. When I arrived at the patch of grass at the far side of the mall, Free was reading one of the books from the backpack.

He still smiled, when he saw me.

"You're taking this study thing seriously," I said.

"I need to pass the test to get into the navy. It's not too bad. I went to tenth grade, and I wasn't stupid. My recruiter said, 'The test isn't hard.'"

"Yes, and he's a recruiter," I said. "he gets paid to say that."

"Exactly," Free said.

"Come with me. We'll go to my house, and I'll help you. I was never the brightest bulb in the box, but I know a noun from a verb, and I am good in history," I said.

Until that moment, I had no plan. I loved Free. I didn't want to let him go, but Free had a right to the life he wanted, and if he was willing to work for it, I was willing to help him. I could have ignored him and walked away, but I couldn't ignore him and walk away. So, I'd help him get where he was going, as my last act of love for him.

I was helping Free, when my parents came home. I introduced them to Free, and they were surprised to see me helping someone get his GED. When dinner was ordered, it was ordered for four, and Free ate with us, as Free revealed things about his life I didn't know.

My parents liked Free. What wasn't to like.

Free was a whiz with math. He knew more about math than I did, and I thought he'd do fine on math questions. History was mostly reading, and I read to him. We went over the most important events in the founding of the U.S., and the highlights of American history since the colonies left British rule.

I remembered much of history, but I still managed to learn a few things I hadn't picked up on before. Studying with Free kept us together, and it started eating into the time we had left.

For the first few days of studying, Free left before my parents went to bed.

"How is the studying going, Free?" My father asked.

"It's not as hard as I thought it might be. Z is a good teacher. He's a big help," Free said, before leaving for the night.

It went like that for a week or so, Free leaving before I went to bed.

We hadn't had sex, since we started studying together. Most of our time together was spent on the things we found in the books he'd been given. I was certain that they questions on the test would come from those books. The military had no desire to waste time and energy on losers. They'd seen to it that the books they gave to recruits, who needed a GED, was right to the point.

At the beginning of the second week of Free being at my house most of the time when I was there, he started staying over. The first time he stayed for the night, we'd put down the books at nine, and we made love until the wee hours of the morning. He'd never been more passionate, but I was withdrawing my most intense feelings, realizing this was now a passing fancy.

The day after we made love at my house for the first time, I took Free to work with me. I sat a five gallon bucket of plaster on the loading dock, and Free sat there in the shade, going over the material in the books. Anything he acme to that he didn't understand, he marked down. When I took a break, I went to the loading dock to help find the answers Free needed.

At lunch time, I bought a loaf of bread, two kids of lunch meat, a tomato, and onion, and some plastic knives and forks, and paper plates, along with our biggest bag of potato chips. I went back to buy two bottles of soda, and Mr. Hitchcock, now curious, followed me to the loading dock.

"Ah, now I see where you keep disappearing to," Mr. Hitchcock said, picking up one of the books next to the five gallon container of plaster. "This young man studying for his GED, Z?"

"Yes, sir. He's joining the navy, and he needs a GED before they'll take him."

"I see," he said. "And you are his tutor?"

"I'm trying to help on my breaks, and I can't let him go hungry," I said.

"Yes, but you didn't take your employee discount when you rang up your sales. An employee doesn't pay full price for groceries, because he is an employee," Mr. Hitchcock said.

"I don't mind," I said. "I have a good job. I can afford it."

Mr. Hitchcock disappeared for a few minutes, and he brought me back a five dollar bill.

"It was only seven dollars," I said. "This is too much."

"No, it's not too much. I gave you the owners discount. I can do that, you know. I am the owner," Mr. Hitchcock said, leaving us to finish lunch.

"You are right, Z," Free finally said.

"I am. About what?" I asked.

"He is a nice guy. I was worried he might ask me to wait for you somewhere else," Free said.

Not a chance. He'll be asking about your GED every day now. He'll be pulling for you to succeed, because it's the kind of man he is.

"Cool," Free said, biting into the sandwich I built him.

The next day that Brenda Hitchcock worked, she made her way back to the loading dock, where both Free and I studied, during my afternoon break.

"Hi, Z. Pop said you were helping a friend study for his GED. I'm in school to become a teacher. Can I help?"

"How well do you know English," I asked.

"Straight A(s). I plan to teach English. Who do we have here?" she asked.

"I'm Free," Free said, standing up to shake hands with Brenda.

"What is your real name? I want to know who I'm teaching," she said.

"I'm Anthony Wentworth," he said.

My hand immediately went to my mouth. I'd never asked Free his name.

"You didn't know his name, did you?" She asked me.

"No, I never asked. He goes by Free," I said.

"That might work on the street, but if he's getting a GED to accomplish something with his life, he should be Mr. Wentworth. How did you know he's not an ax murderer?"

Both Free and I laughed.

"He's no ax murderer. He's one of the nicest people I know," I said.

"I come in at three, which is usually about the time you leave, Z. Have him here at three, during the week, and if it isn't too busy, Pop will handle the store, and I'll offer Mr. Wentworth my best English instruction," Brenda said. "Let me take the English book up front, and I'll look it over. I've seen examples that appear on the GED test, and I can make sure you're equipped to pass it. It's fairly basic material."

"That would be a big help," Free said. "And so you know, I've never even picked up an ax."

Brenda laughed, taking the book that contained the English section of the material, and Brenda disappeared with it.

"If I ever tried to find you, I wouldn't have know who I was looking for," I said.

"My name will be on the envelopes, when I write you. I'm sure they won't accept Free as my proper name. It may be the new navy, but it ain't hat new."

"I suppose not, but I can't believe I never asked you your name," I said.

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