The Gulf and The Cove

by Rick Beck

Chapter 11

The Road

Ivan was a kind and gentle soul before he left. The unknown in our past worried me. Now that he'd told me about the conditions during his initial captivity, I was more worried about him. I didn't know if a thing like that could change someone. Ivan was strong and he had a powerful mind.

I thought he could resist an introduction into the subversive world of spying and come out whole, but did he?

I wasn't sure it changed Ivan but I wanted to hear his story. The known was far less threatening than the unknown. I understood it was likely to create more questions than answers; I'd take that risk.

Our son was as smart as we let him be but his emotional maturity was another story. I was mature enough to hear what Ivan told me. I prepared myself to hear about those missing years. As he warmed up to the prospect of talking about those years,

I felt more secure with the idea that Ivan was fine. The fear he was changed by the experiences was unfounded. He'd been home long enough for me to accept him as is. We'd both matured away from one another. Ivan was closer to being the same old Ivan than I was to being the same old Clay but I had the benefit of a career, the responsibility of a son, and a love that stood the test of time.

The fact Dylan couldn't get enough of his father was reassuring. Ivan was very good with Dylan. He was probably a better influence on Dylan than I'd been in the last six months. That alone was enough to set me at ease about what Ivan did over the missing years. By filling in the blanks, my hope was we could put those years behind us.

Dylan didn't need to be exposed to the harshness Ivan experienced. He'd learn soon enough the world was populated with a lot of evil people. We didn't need to go into while he was ten.

No one was more aware of Ivan's absence than Dylan. Ivan was willing to tell us the story, when there was time in what was a busy schedule, but he would only tell it once. Dylan deserved to know where his father had been and what he did. Dylan needed to hear the PG version. One he heard the story, it would reassure Dylan that there was a reason Ivan was gone for so long.

Once we knew the story, it would be easier to accept that Ivan was home to stay. Ivan would feel better about it once he talked about it and we could get on with out lives.

I knew little or nothing about Ivan's activities once Dylan was asking about his father's whereabouts. Ivan was searching for Boris. That's as much as I could tell our son for sure. I didn't lie. I told him what he was ready to hear. I didn't say that he'd come home. I didn't know that he would come home.

Once Dylan knew who his father was, the questions came in clusters. What? Where? Why? When?

My son ought to consider journalism as a career.

After establishing I could furnish little accurate information about where Ivan was or what he was doing. I didn't know how he intended to find Boris. We entered the doldrums concerning Dylan's curiosity at that point. There was no reason for him to keep asking me questions.

I felt bad when I wasn't able to tell Dylan what he wanted to know. A hole was created once he knew who his father was. I couldn't do anything but love him and see that his needs were met. By being there when he needed me, his father's absence was less of an issue.

Talking about Ivan and not sounding angry wasn't easy. I did it. I would not try to poison Dylan against his father. There was the hope he'd return to us in time.

Dylan's silence became more perplexing than his questions. I wanted to be able to reassure my son his father would come home.

I couldn't do that. I didn't know Ivan would come home and I didn't want to get Dylan's hopes up, only to have them dashed. I didn't want to get my hopes up for the same reason. We waited together, until Ivan did come home.

He'd been gone a long time.

He was trying.

I was trying.

Dylan had never been happier. He'd never acted like a kid but when he was around Ivan, Dylan loosened the grip he'd always kept on his emotions. Ivan made Dylan giddy with delight and the ten year old boy inside him came through.

Dylan was very much like his father. He was a kind and gentle soul with an intensity and intuition he mastered early on. He'd waited for his father to come home for half his life. When he did come home, I'm tempted to say, 'All was forgiven,' but the time away was a factor. Hearing about it would fill in the blanks. Coming home made Dylan's life better but if my son was waiting for his father to backslide, Ivan showed no sign that he wasn't devote to his son, to me, and to the cove empire he was determined to build. We couldn't ask for more.

We were both crazy about Ivan but we were waiting to hear Ivan's story. He was going to tell us when he was ready and we were waiting.

Looking back on it, Ivan didn't have much of a childhood. Over the years my family became his family. At a time when my siblings were leaving home, Ivan was appearing more and more often at our dinner table. Having the kid up the beach joined at the hip with their youngest son didn't raise so much as an eyebrow.

Mama and Pop were happy I made a friend and I'd given up being morose over leaving Tulsa. The only question in those early days in the conservancy house, was how many plates to set for dinner.

As we finished growing up together, our friendship developed into something that went beyond ordinary friends. I suppose the term inseparable described it. There were no models or images to explain it. We were together and didn't mind other people not knowing how to describe something that worked fine for us.

I was working as a fisherman at fifteen. Ivan's father was the captain of the Vilnius II. Working beside Ivan suited me fine. My father met and became friends with Mr. Aleksa. My decision to go to work on the Gulf was allowed to stand.

Talk of Ivan being gone stopped years ago. Now the talk was of Ivan being home and at the Olson's table on most nights.

I never told my parents the truth about Dylan. I saw no need. They'd accepted Sunshine as their daughter. She offered new life to my family. They died a little when Sunshine died.

The truth about Dylan was written on his face by the time he turned five.

No one ever said, 'Who does he remind you of?'

By five we all saw Ivan when we looked at my son. Like Sunshine, Ivan was lost to us and his name remained in storage as Dylan grew. There were no doubts.

Ivan was my best friend and I was raising his son as my own. It told a tale of love my parents didn't dare mention in front of Mama's God. Dylan was an Olson. The opaque references to Ivan and me being best friends dare not venture into the nether regions no one had words to explain.

My religious mother and conservative father couldn't deny the implications residing in those facts. Dylan was part Sunshine and part Ivan. According to the law, he was my son and an Olson. They were never going to understand.

As Dylan grew and matured, my parents accepted the facts. They stopped struggling with the truth. Everyone involved was part of their family and a good family it was. That's what was important. Untangling Ivan from Dylan and me from Ivan wasn't possible. It was better to accept it and be happy we were happy the way it was.

The one thing my parents knew, when Ivan showed up, Dylan was an Olson. He'd been raised an Olson. He'd remain an Olson and that was that.

Coming in during the raising of Dylan, no one was more surprised that Dylan was Ivan's son than Ivan. It may have been a relief when Pop cleared the air for Ivan's benefit. No one was more agreeable than Ivan. We weren't going to thrust Dylan at him and demand he do the honorable thing. We did the responsible thing.

With the air cleared, everyone was happy to have Ivan home. No one was as happy as Dylan. Ivan's presence validated Dylan's biology in a way the Olsons couldn't do once he turned five.

There may have been no telltale sign that being raised by people he shared no biology with bothered him, but Dylan looked on someone who provided much of his biology for the first time. No one doubted it was a good thing.

Dylan acted more like a child around Ivan than anyone. It was like he got what he always wanted under the Christmas tree.

I knew how he felt.

From early on the women in Dylan's life provided him with love, affection, and the nourishment needed for him to grow healthy and strong. This nurturing is difficult for men to provide. Women are uniquely endowed with empathy and compassion men don't always come with, and if they do come with it, they aren't necessarily comfortable in the nurturing role.

For one, I was happy to have any help I could get.

Three women nurtured Dylan after Sunshine was gone. The same three women comforted Sunshine as she weakened in her final fight. They Assured her that Dylan would be kept in the bosom of love until he grew strong. I promised to take care of Dylan, but without the women in his life, I'm not sure what would have become of him.

The three women who mothered Dylan were always ready to furnish whatever was needed. As Dylan grew, he returned the love and affection many times over. His quick mind and sensitive nature put a smile on our faces.

This bond made the conservancy house a warm and wonderful home.

With Ivan home for seven months and me back at work, I adapted to the changes. Even with Ivan home, nothing made me smile faster than hearing Mama, Lucy, and Twila laughing in the kitchen when I came in for lunch.

Twila had a heart attack in late March, a few weeks before Ivan came home. Over seven months later she was once again working in the conservancy house twice a week.

Things changed and then there were those things I hoped would never change. These were things I depended on when life gave me a good shake.

Ivan was an Olson by virtue of our love. I was an Aleksa for the same reason. This came about when we were boys and growing into men. If our marriage of the mind was recognized by society, our families could celebrate our connectivity in something other than whispers. It was the way it was but I wished it wasn't.

Dylan's arrival on our beach connected us in a whole other way. I didn't give much thought to Ivan's childhood, the process of growing into a man, which was seriously interrupted when the news came about Boris. At the time I wasn't sure Ivan would survive it, having no idea that surviving it meant leaving me.

Seeing Ivan and Dylan square off in a game of Goofy Golf was like watching two kids trying to prove they were the best. The boy in Ivan had resurfaced and he was the same as the boy I met on our beach so many years ago.

Ivan was gone for ten years and I wanted to hear about it. I loved him and I cared about him and hearing about what he did, having him talk about what he did, seemed the right thing to do.

Then, we would put it behind us and the nightmares might go away, mine and his.

If Dylan had nightmares of his father disappearing again, he didn't mention it. There is an innocence that comes with children. They often accept what happens as the way it is. I can't be sure Dylan didn't wake up in a cold sweat in the middle of some nights.

We were both anxious to accept that Ivan was home to stay.

The walls of the new shop were close to to completion by the time the third week in November rolled around. Once the last brick was laid, the mortar would be left to dry. On days when it might rain, a tarp went over the construction. The rest of the time the new shop baked in the Florida sun.

Dylan was Ivan's biggest fan.

Now my son is no pushover. If Ivan thought he'd waltz in, discover he had a kid, and endear himself to him right off, he was sadly mistaken. It took fifteen minutes before Dylan was sold on the idea that his father was home to stay.

He'd left me behind and my anger boiled up from the first sight of Ivan. He'd not win me over as easily as he'd won over his son. It took me a couple of days before I began to think, maybe he is home to stay. My desire to believe was more powerful than my anger.

After being absent for too long, Ivan was home, and busy trying to make up for lost time. I didn't know if that was possible. I was making the most of the time he gave me and so far, Ivan was as available as any man who was building a business empire could be.

I love Ivan and I wanted to be with him, while trying to save the Gulf of Mexico. I had a career, a son, and love that endured the passage of time. That's not to say my love would always be returned with equal intensity by Ivan.

I'd given up the idea we'd spend the rest of our lives together a long time ago. The idea had come back to me. It was somewhere between a hope and a dream.

Ivan's presence was viewed as more permanent after he'd been home a while. It was easier to see him staying as the months ticked away. He didn't get any farther away from our beach than the cove.

He was investing for the future in the cove. I couldn't ask for more and if I doubted him from time to time, I could live with that.

I'd live with that for Dylan.

I'd live with that because I believed in our love.

I would live with that because loving Ivan was the best thing I ever did.

Thanksgiving dinner was served at two on Thursday. It was a family affair but several invitations went out for turkey sandwiches with sweet potato or peach pie, or both, at 7p.m.

After Ivan, Dylan, and I stuffed ourselves at Mama's table, we took our appetites on the road. Dylan was invited to Twila's. We stayed long enough to have a slice of pumpkin pie before heading to Harry's house for 'Thanksgiving drinks, hors d'oeuvre, and conversation with the congressman at 4p.m.'

I knew better than to show up at four. It was after five when we left Twila's. Harry's gatherings usually went well into the night. With him running for the senate, it could last until early morning.

With Harry in election mode, the time we'd spend alone with him wouldn't amount to much but he hadn't been home in months and I wanted to make sure he was OK.

There were twenty people between the front door and Harry's den. In clumps of two and three they talked. Harry had the biggest cluster surrounding him. He held a bourbon and branch water in front of him to ward off evil spirits.

Looking up, he came toward us. Since I didn't know anyone by name, I stood with Ivan and let Harry come to us.

"Clayton, Clayton," he said, giving me a hug and then turning to shake Ivan's hand. "Come over here. I have someone I want you to meet."

I followed Harry into the scrum. Ivan stood his ground, having no desire to get into the middle of the maze.

"Brad, Brad," Harry said, getting the attention of a middle age man with salt and pepper gray hair.

"Brad Trent, this is Clayton. He'll be campaigning with us. He'll introduce me. Brad is my campaign manager, Clayton. He'll keep me moving forward. It's important to stay in motion if you plan to run for the senate."

It was a polite handshake. I could see a question in his eyes as he looked me over. Maybe I had food stuck between my teeth.

"I expected someone older," he said, still looking for something he obviously couldn't find.

"Sorry to disappoint you," I said. "I'm getting older," I said, sensing too much of something about the man. "Harry, I don't want to take you away from... all of this, but a few minutes and Ivan and I will get out of your way."

"Oh, certainly," Harry said. "Ivan, come over to the den."

We walked beside each other as Harry told me about some legislation he was introducing. Brad bird dogged us until Harry led the way into the den.

"Excuse us," I said, shutting the door in the bird dogs face. "Harry, you look good. How have you been? I'm still waiting for that trip to the Gulf Club."

"Oh, Clayton, I'm going full speed at the moment. Over Christmas I'll be home a week. I'll make time then," he said. "Ivan you are looking well. I can't believe you've been home six months and we haven't had time to talk and I hear you're doing good things in the cove. I want to hear all about it."

"I have the plans for what I'm doing in the car if you want to see them?" Ivan said.

"I do. I hear the new shop is going great guns."

"I'll be right back. I put the plans in the trunk of the Buick to work on over the weekend. I'll be right back."

Ivan opened the door and shut it behind him.

"Mr. Trent is a tad intense for my taste, Harry."

"Don't start, Clay. He's a necessary evil," Harry said.

"I'd keep garlic around your neck if I were you," I said.


"It's good against evil," I said.

"A good campaign manager is necessary at this level. He'll fade as we get to where we're going."

"You be sure he knows he's not my campaign manager," I said. "I am with you because it's where I belong. He isn't part of that."

"He won't be. I'll set him straight. Tell me how things are going."

"My life has never been better, Harry."

"You and Ivan are good?" Harry asked with concern.

"We're very good," I said. "He's been as considerate of Dylan and me as he can be. He works too hard and too much, but we know where to find him."

Harry smiled and patted my back.

"I'm delighted to hear that. I'm glad you're happy."

Ivan returned with an easel and the map of the cove project.

Harry studied it, leaning to check some of the tiny art work.

"This is where the beach will go," Ivan said. "These are fire pits up here and a picnic table beside them. The old shop is going to be converted into a satellite fast food establishment that sells J.K.'s prepared foods. They'll just be heated at J.K.'s Junior Kitchen and the customers can carry the food back to their site."

"I love it. You're attention to detail is remarkable, Ivan. How'd did you come up with this? It's going to put the cove on the map."

"I've been thinking about doing this since I was a little kid and going out with my Pop Pop. He talked about it being a shame more people couldn't come here to see the picturesque cove by the sea.'"

"Where are the hangups? What can I help you with? I love it, Ivan. That's an impressive map. We'll want to get pictures of it and use pictures on the brochure we'll create for you at the conservancy. You drew all this detail? I find it impressive."

"Yes, it's constantly being changed."

"Clay, can you use your camera equipment to take some pictures of this map? The art department at the conservancy would love to get a hold of this."

"I've never photographed anything like this but I'm a photographer. Where there's a will there's a way, Harry," I said.

"Connie will know where to get brochures printed. Listen to me, butting right in, that's if you don't mind the conservancy being involved with your project."

"Butt away, Harry. This entire idea is right off the top of my head. I didn't think about a brochure or pictures of my map. It's a great idea."

"Now, what can I do? What's giving you trouble?"

"The major pieces don't change. I add things like fire pits and such to offer visitors options. I'll need a grader to take up the jungle between the boat ramp and the Gulf. I'm having no luck. The closest place I can find is in Fort Myers. Transportation it is more expensive than renting the machine. Then I'll need sand for the beach. We'll rent a truck to haul in white sand. I don't know where from."

"Grader? I've got local contractors who we've been doing business with since my father's time. Give me until Christmas and I'll talk to them and find out what I can on the grader and the sand. Some of them are working up the beach twenty miles. They might be agreeable to renting us a grader and a truck for hauling sand. How does that sound to you?"

"Great," Ivan said.

"I'll be home a week over the holidays. We'll talk and discuss options then."

There was a knock on the door.

"Excuse me," Harry said, walking away from the easel where Ivan placed the map.

"Brad, I'm in a meeting. This is about my congressional district. I'm still a congressman at the moment and I'll be done here in a minute."

Harry closed the door and walked back to lean his backside against his big oak desk.

"I'll leave him in Washington over Christmas," Harry said.

"I'm glad you're home and making plans to stay with us, Ivan. Needless to say, you gave me more than one sleepless night over the past five years. Now I've got to get back to my donors. They were promised face time with the candidate. Don't want them giving their money to my opponent."

The three of us went diving earlier in the day Saturday and while eating clams at J.K.'s Kitchen, Ivan said, "I'm ready to tell the story you two want to hear. Tonight, after dinner, we'll head for my house. I'll begin telling you about my years away. We'll have two weeks before Taggart and I will start on the roof. So tonight on my deck, after dinner, you're both invited if you're interested."

"Count me in," Dylan said, as he finished polishing off a plate of fried clams. "I get to go diving, have clams, and hear Daddy-O's story in one day. How cool is that?"

"Don't expect too much," Ivan said. "The first few years were spent going back and forth across the country, talking to the men who served with Boris as they returned to the States."

"Cool. I want to hear about that," Dylan said.

We got clams and hush puppies at J.K.'s Kitchen and stuffed pork chops with sage dressing at Mama's table. It gave new meaning to the word stuffed.

I was always famished after a dive and I came up for air after my third pork chop. I couldn't eat another bite, until Mama put the banana cream pie in front of us.

I could hardly move until Ivan said, "I'm ready to tell the story. There's nothing to stop us for two weeks."

"You mean I can stay home from school?" Dylan asked hopefully.

"I think a few hours after dinner in the evening will be as much story telling as I want to do. I'll have time to sort through my thoughts after each episode and before starting the next segment. I'm guessing if you ask your daddy if you can stay home from school, we both know what the answer to that will be."

The ground rules were set by Ivan. He'd tell the story when he was ready but he'd only tell it once.

I was more than ready to hear about where Ivan went and what he did while he was gone. Once I heard the details, I might be able to shake my nightmares. It was worth a shot.

Five of the ten years Ivan was gone were a complete mystery. So after two slices of pie, I was ready to rock and roll.

We were off to hear the story wizard.

"Going to Ivan's, Mama. Don't wait up for us," I said, as Mama washed dishes and Lucy dried.

"Fine meal, Mama," Ivan said. "Thank you."

"I'm going too," Dylan said, slipping out and shutting the door before there could be an objection.

We disappeared into the night.

Since the storm the month before, the weather had been perfect, except for the occasional day of showers. Fall brought pleasant clear weather. As December rolled around the temperatures were moderate and the humidity was on the lower side of the scale.

Once we were at Ivan's, we stopped in the kitchen for sodas before we went up to sit on the deck outside Ivan's bedroom.

Dylan sat in the big wicker chair beside me. We still fit but it wouldn't be long before Dylan would need to bring the third wicker chair out to the deck.

We sat in the dark as a slight breeze ruffled the curtains in the sliding doors behind us. A quarter moon shined low in the southwestern sky. Stars cascaded overhead.

Night sounds surrounded us.

It was the perfect night for Ivan to weave the pieces of his mysterious past together.

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