In Skater's Time

by Rick Beck

Chapter 17

Egg Roll Heat

Skip arrived at my house a, in his little Deuce Coupe, a little after ten, because he wanted to miss rush hour. We strapped my board to the top of his car, and we drove past where the gigantic nuclear power plants stood. We'd seen them on our trip to Huntington Beach, but we passed them at seventy miles an hour, and they looked surprisingly unsubstantial at seventy miles an hour.

The nuclear power containment buildings were huge, when you are traveling at walking speed. As we sat on our board, facing them at San Onofre, I couldn't help but wonder how much waste water leaked unnoticed into the Pacific. While we waited to catch our wave, I wondered if enough escaped to manufacture some huge green hairy creature, that would one day appear from the depths, consuming surfers as it came ashore. They did that all the time, according to the Japanese movies I saw.

The surf was up, and when you sit on your board, and you see it for the first time, it's intimidating. A force of nature is unleashed, and mere mortals intend to harness its power, and ride it like you might ride an unbroken broncho.

The first wave I caught, took me half way to the beach, before it nearly drowned me. I got seriously acquainted with the bottom of the Pacific Ocean on my first ever successful attempt at riding on top of my board, before I was dragged under it for some distance.

Besides losing a little skin on one of my sides, I was none the worst for wear. I began wondering what the attraction was. The Beach Boys made it sound so easy. I needed to let the portion of the Pacific Ocean I drank settle, before trying another wave.

"You OK?"

"Yeah. I just wanted to practice falling off my board," I said.

Skip laughed.

"That's the spirit," he said.

Yeah, that was the spirit all right. I'd be a spirit if I drowned.

"OK, not the first wave, not the second wave, but the third wave is our wave. You'll ride this one. I'll catch it with you. This is your wave, Z. I can feel it in my bones."

I followed the same routine to stand up on my board. This time I felt my feet touching the surface. I felt my board in a way I hadn't before, and Skip was maybe ten feet away. He'd caught the same way. He was yelling like crazy, but I couldn't hear a word. I did my best to balance my self, letting my arms help this time. I was scared this time. What's the worst that could happen? I could drown. If I did drown, I wouldn't be worried about big hairy things coming to get me.

This wave wasn't quite as big as the previous wave I caught, which made it feel like an easier ride. By the time we were approaching the beach, and I'd moved several times, keeping my arms out, I was a real big success. We were having, fun, fun, fun, now.

I made a graceful exit off my board, stumbling on something below the surface. Lord, I hope it wasn't a surfer.

I was standing up and recapturing my board when Skip rolled over top of me. He knocked me down, and I was sitting in two feet of water, if you didn't count the five foot waves that were rolling over us.

"I was trying to keep my bathing suit dry," I said in a fake anger.

"You did it, dude. You did it," Skip said, and he jumped on me again.

He needed to stop doing that. He had me aroused. I'd ridden my first wave, and it no longer seemed like such a big deal. Of course I could surf. I was a California boy. All California boys surf. It's required.

I didn't like the bottom at San Onofre, and I did get acquainted with it several times. Actually, I didn't like the bottom at San Onofre, because of those containment towers. I didn't want to admit that something I couldn't see, scared the shit out of me, but I'd seen funnel clouds, and I wasn't sure if there would be a funnel cloud if one of those things blew its stack, but it really didn't matter if you were surfing there a the time.

We went to Redondo the next time, and then to Manhattan Beach. Skip said he'd take me to Zuma, but, while we passed San Onofre every time we went up the 5, we didn't surf there again. I liked it a lot more at seventy miles an hour.

Skip had been the perfect gentlemen. We'd had a great summer. He couldn't get enough of surfing, and I had come to accept it as another thing I liked doing. One day, after the surfing was done, we'd gotten back into his Chevy, and he took a long look at me. I could feel the heat coming off him. Skip was hot.

He slid over to my side of the car, threw his arms around me, and we made out long enough for me to be dizzy, when it stopped. Then he sat so close our eyes nearly touched. His eyes weren't flue. They were such a light green, I thought they were blue. Maybe they changed color.

"I couldn't wait any longer," Skip said. "I've been waiting for you to find me irresistible, and then you'd rape me, but I'm tired of waiting, Z. If we're going to keep seeing each other, I've got to have you. We've got to do more than surf, as much as I love to surf.

"I don't know how to make the first move, Skip. I don't know when the time is right, and like the night my father interrupted us, I worry about the things that can go wrong," I confessed.

"Nothing will go wrong, Z. I won't allow it. I want to make love to you. Not just give you head, but make love like it means something special has grown up between us," Skip said.

"Oh, it grows every time I see you," I said. "I really like you, Skip."

Of course, I wanted Skip in the worse way, and I got my wish, but this time I knew, we were not lovers. Yes, we made mad passionate love, and then we did it again. Skip was very good, and he'd had experience. He was older, wiser, and he too knew that our friendship was not a love affair. Neither of us said it, but we knew it was true.

The time came when Skip had to do something with his college education. He'd given himself one last summer to surf and play away one last summer. We talked on the phone each day, and we'd become friends.

Skip's father was an investment agent for some huge conglomerate that had buildings towering over most of the major cities. Skip had to take the first step on his own. He'd monitor it carefully, and after two years, if Skip kept his nose clean, and learned the ropes, his father would quit the firm where he'd made his millions, and they'd go into business together counseling folks on how to make the most of their investment.

I was a stock clerk in a small grocery store. While I wasn't going to stay at Hitchcock's for the rest of my life, I might stay there for the foreseeable future.

I was in no hurry to get where I was going, where ever that was. I was having a hell of a good summer, even while working full time.

I skated down passed the mall to the patch of grass on the far side, at about three one afternoon.

"Ralph." I said.

"Hi, Z. You look pleased with yourself," he said.

"I am pleased. Isn't life wonderful, Ralph."

"I guess that depends on who you ask," he said. "For some of us, life sucks big ones."

"I'm sorry to hear that. Anything I can do for you?"

"You mean it" he said too quickly for him to be thinking it over.

"Name it. Your wish is my command," I said blithely.

"Do you have a gun?" Ralph asked, as serious as a judge.

"Why would I have a gun? Is there going to be a war?" I asked, still unconcerned.

"You'll need it to shot my mother, and then, rob a bank, and give me the money. That's what you can do for me."

I was speechless a thirteen-year-old could think that way. Ralph seemed like one of the nice guys. Had I missed something.

"You're just like everyone else. You got it good, so you think I got it good. Well, I don't. Life sucks, and I'm the sucker. You got your job, plenty of money. You go surfing with your boyfriend. If I had your life, I'd think life was peaches and cream, too."

"Ralph, in spite of what it's like for you now. It will get better, because you're a cool kid. You set me back on my heels, with your talk of killing and robbing, but you are stuck with what you have, until you're a little older."

"If I get a little older. My mother's a disaster. CPS took me once. They locked me up with some real pieces of work. You know what a kid my size doesn't, when a six foot kid, weighing two hundred pound, tells you to do something?"

"I can't imagine it. What did you do?" I asked.

"I did what they told me to do, and when they finished with me, they sold me for a dime, a cigarette, whatever, until they wanted me again," Ralph said.

"Sexually?" I asked.

"What do you think? Where are you from? Anyway, I ran the first chance I got. I hid out, until my mom got sober for the first time during my lifetime. She noticed her checks got smaller when the 'brat' wasn't around," he said. She's my mother. She's supposed to take care of me. CPS came to get me, my mother got a lawyer to stop them, and so now she gets her extra cash, and I stay away from here. I sleep in the storm pipes, like Gordo, John, Ace, and those dudes."

"John said that you were in school," I said.

"I go to school. As far as they're concerned, I live at home. I shower in gym, and I get clothes from Father Carroll's, downtown. I do OK," he said.

I was doing better before I stopped to talk to Ralph. Why didn't someone do something for the kid. I knew kids steered clear of CPS, no matter how concerned they were for the welfare of kids. They didn't have the time or the money to protect the kids in their custody. It was not a secret in Massachusetts, and no one could live under a bridge in the dead of winter.

"You hungry?" I asked.

"Does a fish swim?"

"My parents are cool. They always bring home dinner, during the week. There's plenty for you, if you want to come with me. I want to help you Ralph," I said, knowing help for a kid like Ralph took way more smarts than I had.

It was Chinese night, and both my mother and father raised an eyebrow, when they met my dinner guest.

"You're shorter than the last dinner guest Zane brought home," Dad said.

"It's on account I haven't grown up yet," Ralph parried.

"I can see that. Zane usually hangs around with older boys," Dad said.

"Dad, he doesn't know who Zane is," I said.

"I do, too," Ralph corrected. "You think I'm stupid. Z is for Zane."

"Bingo," Mom said.

"What are these things?" Ralph asked, pointing at the egg rolls.

"Egg roll. Don't look like no egg I ever seen,"

"It's good," I said. "Don't put too much of the mustard on it, and you'll like it."

I may as well have said, you need to slather it with mustard, because he slathered it with mustard, cutting it with his fork, he took it into his mouth. It confirmed what I'd suspected all along. It doesn't take long to look at an egg roll, and in a flash, it was back on his plate.

Both of my parents had small smiles, understanding Ralph's condition, quite well, because I'd been just like him at thirteen. Tell me don't, and I couldn't wait to do whatever it was, but Ralph was a trooper. He used his fork to get the mustard off the bite he spit out, and it went right back into his mouth. This time he chewed carefully, and he tasted the egg roll this time.

"Here," I said, giving him the fresh egg roll I just put on my plate. "I'll take the rest of that one off your hands for you. I like the mustard, but it's best enjoyed in small amounts. The Chinese know how to spice up a dish."

I took the piece of egg roll covered in mustard off his plate, replacing it with a fresh crisp one. Ralph smiled for the firs time, and he seemed to relax. Ralph ate a little bit of everything, which surprised me, but it shouldn't have. The kid was living under a bridge. He'd probably eat grass if you put taco sauce on it.

"Where do you live, Ralph," Mom asked. "Why aren't you home eating dinner. I mean we're delighted to have you. I was just wondering."

Ralph looked at me, turning his head. I nodded once, realizing the third degree was coming, because of Ralph's age. My parents had already thought about the legal questions concerning me taking up with a child.

"I don't live at home," Ralph said politely, folding his hands in his lap, knowing there would be more questions.

I figured, the kid will either bolt and run, or he won't. I intended to help him, but I wasn't sneaking him into my room. Although, he needed a bath, and I was definitely taking him up to my bathroom, where he could take one.

My mother used her fork to cut up the food on her plate not buried in rice.

"Why isn't a boy your age living at home?" Dad asked.

Ralph turned his head to look at me. I nodded.

"My mother's a drunk," Ralph said, and my mother had to cough into her napkin, while digesting this tidbit.

"Where do you live?" Mom asked, reluctantly.

Ralph looked at me. I interceded on his behalf.

"He lives under a bridge near Hitchcock's Market. Several boys live there. Some boys are older, and they take care of Ralph. Protect him from harm."

"There are places that will help him," Dad said. "I can look into it."

"No, you can't, Dad. You know as well as I do, the state lacks the funds and the will to help kids who can't live at home. He's been that root, and the same thing happened to him that happens to smaller boys. If he doesn't cooperate, they beat the hell out of him and take what they want. Don't tell you haven't heard the stories. I've heard them, and that's wrong."

"When I try to live at home, mother's boyfriends, wanting a good time, and not getting it because my mother's passed out, they think I'll do in a pinch."

"Oh, my God," Mom said, getting up and going into the kitchen.

Dinner was over. Ralph could stay the night, but Dad was going to investigate what could be done to improve Ralph's situation.

Ralph shrugged, like he'd heard it all before. He reached for another egg roll.

"These are good, you know," he said, taking a tiny bit of mustard and putting it directly into the middle of the bite he cut for himself.

Ralph was reluctant to go up stairs with me, after we had ice cream and cake mom dug out of the freezer. We watched television, and then I told him he could take a bath before we went to bed.

"Go to bed? I ain't sleeping with you. I don't let guys touch me, I don't know," he said.

"Your safe," I said. "I'm with someone."

I didn't tell him I had seen him in nearly a week.

"Give me a break. Half the guys who try to get me are married, and the other half are involved with several people. Don't matter when someone wants it."

"Matters to me. You're safe here, Ralph," I said.

He took his bath and put on my pajama tops. The pants wouldn't have stayed on if he gained twenty pounds. He settled for the shirt, and I put his clothes in the washer.

He came into my bedroom practically shining, he scrubbed his skin so much. When he saw the bed, he looked at me, and he looked at the bed.

"You're going to stay on your side of the bed, bub," Ralph ordered.

"Yes, sir, I am," I've got to work tomorrow and I'm tired.

"Is the red-head your boyfriend," Ralph asked, lying flat on his back with his own pillow, keeping four inches between his body and any part of my body.

"Sort of. We've been going out," I said.

"Everyone knows that. Don't touch me," Ralph said, turning his head to look at my face.

"I am not going to touch you, Ralph. You're a thirteen-year-old kid. I'm a grown man," I stretched the truth.

"That's supposed to make me feel better?" he said, turning his back on me. "Besides, I'm fourteen."

"Oh, pardon me, I didn't know you'd grown up in the last year," I said.

Ralph laughed. In about five minutes he was snoring, and I figured it was safe to go to sleep. It was a big day with two canned goods deliveries.

At twelve thirty-two, my eyes shot open. I felt like I was being strangled. I was having trouble breathing. Ralph had his arms wrapped around my chest, and he had a death grip on me. I tried to loosen the hold he had on me, but he was locked to me.

I wiggled, until his arms loosened enough for me to breathe, and I wrapped my arms around him and I went to sleep.

The next day, Ralph skated up to Broadway, when I skated toward work, and he turned, stepped off his board, and he gave me a hug.

"Thanks, Zane. You're a man of your word," he said.

"Don't call me that," I said.

"I'm just playing with you, Z. Thanks for the meal. I don't think I've slept that solid in months. You've got a nice bed. See you, stud."

At dinner the next night, Dad told me that he'd talked to an attorney, and under no circumstances was Ralph to stay at our house overnight again. He could come to dinner, and they'd do what they could for him, but no overnight stays, until the attorney came back with information about our exposure to laws concerning such things.

"No one wants those kids. No one has the money or the ability to give teenagers the kind of things that might help them become healthy adults, Dad."

"Zane, work with me here. He's going to try to clear the way for us to get custody of Ralph. Your mother thought he was adorable."

What I knew about Ralph didn't include the word adorable, but I didn't question my parents' wisdom on such things. I put the problem in front of them, so the y can look it over, and decide for themselves.

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