The Gulf and The Cove

by Rick Beck

Chapter 2


The night before Dylan started school, I fell asleep early. I lay down to rest my eyes, intending to walk to Ivan's. Mama was shaking me awake to take Dylan to school the next thing I knew.

Mama said she'd gotten us both up a half hour earlier, but I fell back to sleep. This time she waited for my feet to hit the floor. My feet usually hit the floor on the first call but I was still exhausted.

I wasn't the only one dragging the first day of school. Dylan did a good impression of a kid sleepwalking as he got out of the Chevy to begin a new school year.

Being a man of leisure, after dropping Dylan off at school, I returned home to have breakfast with Mama. That was so taxing, I contemplated a nap. Who knew you had to recover from a vacation? Since I began work at the conservancy, I hadn't had one until now. I wasn't sure I was cut out for vacationing.

I thought about walking up to Ivan's to fall asleep in his bed, but he would have left for work at first light. He worked all the time. He missed dinner some nights and when he did, I got nervous.

He had to be busy to miss one of Mama's meals. It was further proof of Ivan's dedication to the plans he had for the cove.

Ivan knew what day school started. He finished work early to be at the table the second night we were back from vacation. He was in my bed after I tucked Dylan in that night.

In between dinner and bed, Dylan captivated Ivan with stories of the rides he wanted to go on when both his fathers took him to Disney World next time. Ivan smiled and he agreed to Dylan's plan, but first he wanted to finish building the cove.

While I went on those rides with Dylan, my impressions were less enthusiastic than his. I nodded and listened to the things Dylan told Ivan. My son was more observant than I was. I didn't recognize his description of some rides and places. He liked height and speed. I was raising a typical kid in spite of his ability to do exceptional things.

Ivan was at the table for two nights in a row. Both nights he stayed at the conservancy house to sleep in my bed and compare notes. Of course we couldn't compare notes until Dylan was in bed. Dylan wasn't going to bed until he finished telling Ivan his tale about Disney World and he was just as animated about it the second night.

I went downstairs for milk and cookies, Dylan was done and he apparently ran out of gas somewhere on the story's homestretch. Ivan came down to carry the plate of Mama's version of Toll House cookies, chock full of walnuts and chocolate chips.

Ivan followed me into the bedroom and our son was face down across our bed. Luckily I'd had him put his pajamas on after dinner. Ivan scooped him up and deposited him on his own bed. Tucking him in was all that was left for me to do.

Being away from Ivan for so many nights couldn't help but remind me of the time he was gone from our lives every night. This was never a good memory. I quickly pushed aside memories of Ivan's time away. He was home and this was not about the past.

Even as passionately in love with Ivan as I was, we didn't make it much farther than one shot of each other's love before I went to sleep on him. I'd never gone to sleep while Ivan and I were still making love, until now.

He thought it was cute. I thought I must be getting old. No matter where it was, or what I was doing, once Ivan and I began making love, I was good to go until the wee hours of the next morning, and sometimes the morning after that.

When it came to Ivan, two nights away from the man I loved was two too many nights. I became needy and I worried about him not being there. I worried about him not loving me as much as I loved him. I couldn't believe that after so many years, I had doubts.

There was a quandary going on in my brain. He was gone for ten years. After ten years, he came home to me. The two things were interconnected. Ivan left me. Ivan came home to me. He was home.

Watching Ivan hang on Dylan's words was pleasing. He was genuinely delighted to hear how much fun Dylan got out of his visit to Disney World. At times like this, we were as much a family as anyone. The two people I loved most in the world were with me and we were getting the most we could out of life.

Six months ago Ivan didn't know he had a son. We had come a long way in a short time. We were a family. We were happy.

I was already up to here with uncertainty in my life. As soon as Ivan and I were in the same bed, the love was there for the taking. In all those years, in spite of so many tears, as soon as Ivan was within reach, I had no resistance to his handsomeness and charm.

He was the only man I'd loved. He'd be the only man I ever loved. I couldn't love anyone the way I loved Ivan. My childhood sweetheart had become my lover again.

The first time I saw Ivan he flew. My heart fluttered and I knew my heart would be tied to his heart forever. The same was true all these years later. As long as I was near Ivan, I wanted him, and so far, since his return, he wanted me. He came home to me before he knew he came home to his son as well.

After ten years there is doubt. When Ivan brought Boris home, I knew he could still fly. He could do anything he set his mind to do.

Going to Disney World was a giant step for me. I left and I didn't look back. I trusted Ivan to be there when we got back and he was. Our lives were interconnected once more. We were as one. I could now go away and feel like he'd be there when I got back home.

I was smart enough to know this feeling of insecurity about Ivan would go away in five or ten years, but for the here and now, it made whatever was going on in my life less secure, less certain.

Except for taking Dylan to school and picking him up, I spent my time napping, eating, and in the evening Dylan regaled us with his recollections of Disney World.

I hadn't been to the Bait Shop since our vacation. I didn't want to be in Ivan's way. Ivan's plans and his excitement were infectious and I couldn't wait for him to come home each day. Besides a disagreement with a customer and problems with the electrical system in the Bait Shop and the cove seemed like it had always been. Ivan had done a remarkable job of turning the ugly eyesoar into a place in which he could do business. When I looked at it, it was still the same ugly old shop that was more an eyesoar than a business. I hadn't been to the Bait Shop since coming home because I couldn't hide my disappointment. Ivan had big plans but it was the same cove.

When I had time during the day, I walked on the beach. Mama and I talked more than we had talked in years. She never complained about me going back to work. Pop wanted me to contact Harry to tell him what my plans were.

Some days I walked to Ivan's and then I swam out to the logs to sunbathe and watch nature at its most natural. I was working on my tan. Beyond that I didn't know what my plans were.

On Thursday I was looking for a new plan. I hadn't taken Ivan's lunch since I came back from Disney World. That was a great plan. I'd take Ivan lunch.

When I came downstairs from my after breakfast nap, I went to the kitchen. It was empty and I had a plan. I took slices out of the ham Mama left cooling on the counter. I could smell it in my bedroom, so I knew what to look for. I got the rye bread out, an onion, a tomato, and Miracle Whip, making two of Ivan's favorite sandwich.

Turning the ham so the missing slices weren't immediately obvious, I dug a healthy portion of potato salad out of the bowl Mama left beside the ham. It was a great combination of flavors.

After smoothing over the top of the potato salad, I fished two big juicy dill pickle spears from the pickle jar. The feast was complete once I added a slice of Mama's cherry pie from last night on top of the food in the bag..

With Ivan's lunch beside me, I drove to the cove, parking next to the Bait Shop. Much to my surprise, I was looking at what I calculated was the new Cove Dive, Surf, & Bait Shop. I knew it was planned but there was no mention building had begun. The structure was probably three feet high. I went to see the new structure.

Why hadn't Ivan told me he'd started the new shop?

Ivan's plan changed day to day. He told me there would be a new Cove Dive, Surf, & Bait Shop. It was part of his plan for the new cove. He had the sign to prove there would be such a shop. Seeing it made a big difference.

The footings had been laid and the concrete floor was in place. The bricks came up to mid thigh as I stood at the back wall. When I raised my eyes to check the front wall, I saw why this was the spot Ivan picked for the new shop.

Straight ahead was the entire cove. The new shop was built on the hill overlooking the cove. The marina was just to the left. The Fish Warehouse was farther to the left. The cove was dead ahead. The mouth of the cove that led to the Gulf was off to the right. A hundred yards from the front of the new shop was where Popov's fishing fleet anchored while they were in the cove.

The new shop was going to be in the middle of Ivan's plan for the cove. I'd gone up and down the six stairs next to the Bait Shop and never once did I think that hill overlooking the cove was a good spot to build something.

The front wall had a spot where a window would go. The window would be two feet off the floor. It would run from a few feet inside the door to within five or six feet of where the shop ended. It would be an immense window on the cove. I could see myself sitting in that window and looking out.

Outside the door of the new shop to the right was the boat ramp and beyond that was an impenetrable undergrowth that went nearly to the Gulf.

On the right of the door to the new shop, the current Bait Shop had a fancy new sign on top but it was the same wood, cinder block, and tar paper shack it had always been.

Ivan had cleaned it up. It looked better than it ever had but an eyesore is still an eyesore. It was more shack than shop.

As I stood there, Ivan came out of the Bait Shop and glided toward me. His bare chest glistened. The man I loved kept his eyes on me as he walked.

He smiled when I smiled. He knew what I was thinking.

"You've been busy," I said.


"I am surprised. It's breathtaking. I'll want to sit in this window and survey your cove empire. You won't be able to get me to go home," I said.

"Suits me fine," he said. "We can live in the shop."

He took a quick look to see if anyone was around before taking my hand.

"Welcome to the Cove Dive, Surf, & Bait Shop, sweet thing."

"I didn't realize what a view you'd have," I said.

"I wait for Tag to get out of school. He makes a mortar that's far superior to mine. I've watched him making it and I do it just like he does, but my mortar sucks. We'll lay bricks as long as the light holds out or until we run out of mortar. That means I miss dinner some nights," he said. "If I miss dinner, I must be working hard."

"We ran out of mortar yesterday. Tag will stop for ten bags of mortar mix after school today."

"I brought you ham sandwiches. I'm still catching up on my sleep. Disney World isn't for the faint of heart."

"When you take a kid like Dylan to a place like that, you need to put on your running shoes," he said. "The kid loved it."

"You telling me," I said. "I did too but it took me longer."

"I'll wait to kiss you until we go into the Bait Shop. Somehow ending up fish bait has never been that appealing to me. I keep thinking we're safe here with so many people who know us, and then I hear the news, and I realize we're safe behind closed doors if we keep the curtains closed."

"And that's what I like about the South," I sang. "Thank heavens we live in a more enlightened time."

Ivan laughed.

"I can wait," I said. "I think."

Our eyes stayed lock together.

"You've had your share of practice waiting," he said, in an uncharacteristic reference to his time away. "I missed you while you and junior were in Disney World. I regretted not going after you were gone."

"I'll always come back to you, Ivan."

"When you say things like that, I feel guilty all over again. For leaving here. If I'd known what it would take to find my brother, I'd never have gone. Those are years we'll never get back, Clay, and I'm sorry about that."

"We're together. We've only got fifty years or so to make the most of it. It'll have to be enough," I said. "I'm not going anywhere."

Ivan laughed again.

I loved his smile. I wish we lived in a place where I could grab him and kiss him, but there were no such places.

"What's up in the Bait Shop?" I asked.

"I'm ordering some things. Seeing what the well stocked dive, surf, and bait shop has to offer. I'll hold off on ordering too much stock until we're ready for the grand opening of the new shop. I want to be on the cutting edge of what's available. It's about location, location, location, and we've got it and a variety of activities to go with it."

"I'm sold. Now all we need is a beach," I said, looking at the oyster shells covering the parking lot.

"Come with me. I'll show it to you," he said, walking toward the Bait Shop.

Once we were inside and away from the window, he put his arms around me and he locked his eyes in mine.

"Have I ever told you that I love you, Clay? I mean really, really, love you. I missed you and junior. I'm glad you're home."

"I think you mentioned it," I said before kissing him. "But I don't mind hearing it again and again. You know how much I love you."

I couldn't believe I left Ivan. I wanted to see him every day. I wanted to be with him every day. We might not be able to make up for lost time but we could make the most of the time we.

Being able to leave him and trust that he'd be there when I came home was a giant step for me. I needed to be comfortable enough with myself to let Ivan decide what Ivan would do.

Since he came home, it was the first time we'd been separated for more than a day or two. It felt good to leave him and have a fabulous time with Dylan. It felt better when we came home and found he hadn't gone anywhere. While away, I didn't spend much time worrying about him. I was too busy dashing from one ride to the next. There was something to be said for exhaustion.

I'd never been to a theme park before and there were endless things to see and do at Disney World. We weren't able to see the entire park and that meant Dylan would be ready to go back soon. I would look forward to hearing the words, "Let's go to Disney World.'

We'd go back and take Ivan, once the new cove was done. Big changes were already apparent. My lover was excited by it and his excitement excited me. He was home and we were together and life was good.

"Come here. I'll show you what I'm going to do," he said, walking to the desk he stood behind to read or look at the catalogs that were filled with items he'd consider putting in the new shop. I stood beside him to look at the catalogs too.

"You wanted to know how we'd have a beach at the cove," he said, pointing down at the hand drawing that was a map of the cove. "I'll explain it to you. I will rent a road grader and this section west of the boat ramp will be cleared all the way to the finger of land that separates the Gulf from the cove," he said, moving his finger along the land he intended to level.

"Not exactly Miami Beach," I said.

"We'll bring in truck loads of sand and that's how we create a beach. Our beach will stop here," he pointed. "That leaves a half mile strip of land for a vacationer to walk to the Gulf. I'll clear a path people can use to go between the Gulf and the cove."

"You make it sound easy," I said, trying to imagine it.

"When you build something out of nothing, it's never easy. I know how I intend to do it. What I need to accomplish it is another question. Renting a road grader is not cheap. I'd need to clear the beach part in a day or two. I should be able to afford that."

"Where does the sand come from?"

"They dredge openings to rivers to allow bigger boats to move in and out without running aground. I can call the coast guard and see where the dredging is going on. I'll need to rent a truck to truck in white sand. I have no idea what that will cost."

"How many truck loads?" I asked.

"I don't know. It's only two inches on my map of the cove, but it'll take many truck loads of sand to fill that stretch of beach."

"I'll call Harold at the coast guard station. He'll find out where they're dredging," I said. "I told you I'd invest in whatever you do."

"I appreciate your confidence in me but you've got money in this project and so far you own part of a shack and five hundred dollars worth of concrete, bricks, and mortar."

"I don't own part of the marina?" I joked.

"Twelve slips and a dock hardly a marina makes," Ivan said. "I do intend to expand to twenty-four slips. Popov has fishermen with boats who have no place to park them. He'll help with the cost of expanding. I'll run my plan for the beach by him. He has to approve everything I do. It is his cove after all. I'll see if he has any ideas."

"I thought it was your cove," I said.

"It is technically speaking. Popov is the power behind my kingdom. He has the right to object to anything he thinks will be harmful to the cove. So far he's on board," Ivan said. "I haven't run campsites on the beach by him yet, or the beach for that matter. It'll be a while before we're ready for the sand. First I need to finish the new shop. That won't be until late November to early December if the weather holds. It won't be in time for the snowbirds this year, but we'll be ready for them next year," Ivan said. "I decided on the map as a way of showing Popov what I wanted to do. I don't put anything on it until I'm pretty sure it belongs there. I do make changes as I process ideas."

"How far is it from here to the finger of land?" I asked, tracing the hypothetical beach with my finger.

"It's a few feet short of four thousand feet. About three quarters of a mile. I'll grade a twenty foot wide space for the beach. That will leave a ten foot space above the beach for fire pits. I'll clear a space for campers to park above the fire pits. That will leave no brambles and bushes on the sites nearest the boat ramp. As you move toward the Gulf, the distance between the parking and the highway increases," Ivan said.

"I see," I said.

"Popov hasn't seen the map. He owns the land around the cove, and he'll sell it to me if he approves of my ideas. We can't build anything on the finger of land. It disappears during storms and the cove and the Gulf become a single body of water."

"I've never seen that," I said. "I've been here fifteen years."

"Popov said there were a couple of nasty storms right after he came to the cove in the 50s. That's the last time it was flooded. The Fish Warehouse owned the cove back then. They sold all the land surrounding the cove and a big piece of the warehouse to Popov during hard times. The man who originally owned the Fish Warehouse died and his family knew nothing about catching or selling fish. Popov knew everything about fishing. He hired people who knew how to sell fish, and until now, that hasn't changed."

"I'd heard Popov owned much of the land here but this is the first time I knew how much," I said. "He's a smart businessman and he listens to what I say. So far I haven't disappointed him," I said.

"He wanted to think about what I'm proposing. He seemed to like my ideas. He wants to put the cove in the hands of someone who will take care of it. When he first came to the cove, there were derelict boat wrecks in and out of the water around the cove. Once he owned the land he began removing them. After that he made certain anyone coming and going from the cove had equipment that didn't pollute the water. Once he got that done, the cove has remained the way it is today. I see endless possibilities without changing the cove too much. We'll improve what's here and shine things up a bit."

"So we have Popov to thank for keeping the cove clean," I said. "Which helps keep the Gulf clean."

"Yeah, and he hasn't given me to go ahead on my plan yet." "Ivan, it sounds great to me. The planning and the doing are two different things. It sounds like a ton of work," I said.

"It'll keep me out of traffic," he said, kissing my cheek. "And you'll always know where to find me if you want me."

"I always want you," I said, feeling his sweaty chest.

Ivan's smell filled my nostrils. He'd always had a musky intoxicating fragrance. He was meticulously clean but I'd never seen him use deodorant. I've never smelled anything like cologne. Once we were in an embrace, his fragrance mingled with mine, and after that, we became one, inseparable, and full of passion. It never changed.

Our kiss lasted. The feel of his lips on my lips lingered once we split apart. His eyes stayed in mine, our fingers intertwined, and the heat in the Bait Shop was on the rise. I watched the sweat run down Ivan's chest. I started to perspire.

"It's not good for business to get caught kissing your boyfriend," Ivan said.

"It was good for me," I said, placing my body against his.

"Yes, and I think we can pick up where we left off at your house tonight," Ivan said.

"Or yours," I said, panting from our closeness. "I've almost recovered from Disney World."

"I'll bring my A game," Ivan said, moving back a step as we stopped holding hands.

"Lunch?" I asked.

"I'm still dizzy from the kiss. Wouldn't want to put it on top of the butterflies in my stomach. Might hurt the poor critters."

I laughed. 2

"It's in the car. If it's hot in here, it's hot in the car. Don't want it to go to waste," I said, going out and feeling what felt like a cool breeze.

It had to be in the mid eighties but we'd just raised the temperature in the Bait Shop ten degrees.

I spread the feast on the counter in front of the window you could almost see out of now. Ivan took a bite of his sandwich and he smacked his lips.

"You fixed this for me?"

"I did and I'll get a spanking when I get home. Mama had just finished cooking the ham and making the potato salad before I went to work on it," I said.

"Can I watch her spank you?" Ivan asked.

"Invitation only, big boy," I said. "Exceptions can be made."

Ivan chewed and he ate some potato salad. He handed me half of the sandwich and I took a bite of his pickle.

"Popov still gets twenty-five percent of the profit?" I asked.

"He does," Ivan said. "He insists on it. I'll own it and he'll be my silent partner. That's what he needs the time to think about. He wants someone else to be responsible for the cove."

"Popov loves you like a son, Ivan. There's little you can come up with that he won't go along with. He knows you'll deliver something special by the time you're done," I said.

"I'll do my best, my love. The sports fishing and the SCUBA diving enterprises, I'll own, as in we'll own them. He won't get a cut because the boats are on the water. Physical operations, structures on cove property, he takes a cut of those. For that I buy the cove for a bargain price. He keeps his income. I take care of the cove."

"I'm amazed, Ivan. How'd you come up with all this?" I asked.

"I bet you thought I was sitting on my ass doing nothing the entire time you were gone. I had thoughts about the cove being a picturesque location since we began to live here after my Pop Pop died. While I was gone over those years, when I wasn't thinking about you, I was thinking about how great the cove is. This takes it from a dream to something I can build. I can build it, control it, and keep it out of the hands of those who might ruin it long after Popov is gone."

"I can see it when you talk about it, Ivan. It'll be great for the local economy and it'll preserve and enhance the natural beauty."

"People will come to the cove for a visit and they'll want to stay and we'll have the economy to make it possible. Some will come to vacation here and they'll go home and tell their friends and they'll come and they'll return home and tell their friends. As more people decide to spend time here, it'll provide the revenue we need to make it the kind of place people want to visit."

"You certainly have it all figured out, Ivan."

I'd never felt closer to Ivan than I did that day.

Ivan was proving he was home to stay.

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