by George Gardner
Tom was a big man. A gentleman in every sense of the word, he made his barely-sufficient living from the sea. Twenty five years had passed since he had made his first voyage with his father at the tender age of twelve. His mother had resisted his father's encouragement of him to carry on with the business which had been started by his great-grandfather. All her efforts had been in vain and Tom had taken to his life on the sea with the same love and passion with which his father had imbued their calling. At thrity-seven years of age there was little chance that he would ever give up the sea. It was in his blood and in his soul and he could no more countenance living without the ocean than he could living without breath.
Times were hard. Harder than anyone could remember. Fishing quotas, fuel costs, diminishing stocks and the expenses involved in maintaining the "Lady of Lorne" made life difficult but Tom was not one to give up. He loved his time out on the sea, away from the land and all it's distractions and woes. He loved the smell of the boat. He loved the wind and the waves, the salt tang of the air, the sting of the spray on his face and the velvet blackness of the night dappled with stars when the boat lay, quiet, in the darkness and he and Andy slept.
Andy was younger and shorter. Only twenty-eight but he, too, was a seasoned fisherman. He was slim but strongly built and he also came from a long line of fishermen. There were only the two of them on the boat these days. Not that long ago there had been four of them but the escalating costs and falling returns had forced Tom into the hard decision to let Ben and Sean go. They were young men and they had taken their chances and had left their home forever and gone to seek their fortunes elsewhere - far away from the sea.
There was a deep and enduring bond between the two men. Andy had come to sail with the Lady on his sixteenth birthday and Tom had taken an immediate shine to the youngster. Now, after twelve years had passed, their friendship had grown into that which only men can understand or know. It is a oneness that is a mystery to womankind and a staff upon which they, those fortunate enough to know it, can lean and be lifted, supported and comforted. It is there for good and for ill, for them - forever. It is not a sexual thing and yet, at the same time, it is not entirely spiritual. Who can say where the division lies between that which is purely affection and that which is sexual? Tenderness need not be sexual and sex need not be born from tenderness. The bounds are hazy and may be misconstrued. The truth may take some time to come to clarity.
Night was falling as they hauled in the net for the last time that day. The Lady tossed gently in the ocean swell as they laboured. On the far horizon a dark line of cloud heralded the coming of the foul weather which had been forecast on the radio earlier in the day.
"I think we'll head inshore a bit," Tom said as they stowed the ropes. "That looks nasty."
"D'you want to eat first?" said Andy, "I'm starving."
Tom slapped his friend's head affectionately and ruffled his hair. "Always thinking of your stomach," he chuckled. "We better get under way, mate."
Andy sighed heavily. "I know," he said. "Sounded like a real corker from what they said. I was just hoping...."
"Sooner we get going, sooner you get fed."
They set to preparing the Lady
to ride out the threatening storm. It was essential to make sure that there
was as little opportunity for water to enter the hull as possible. Any
failure to do so would result in certain disaster. The sea makes no allowance
When it was done, Tom started the engine and set course for the island which lay ten miles east of their position. It was their closest landfall but he already knew that the storm would hit well before they reached its sheltering coast. Andy was below preparing a meal for them in the tiny galley. He was a much better cook than himself, Tom mused, and he never complained about the unfair division of the kitchen duties. Anyway, Tom usually did the clearing up afterwards.
The wheelhouse door opened and Andy came in.
"On the table," he said.
He took the wheel without another word and Tom went below to eat. They didn't talk a great deal while they were working and little more when they had leisure but they knew each other's thoughts as surely as they knew their own. Tom always felt strangely unsettled when Andy wasn't around him, like a part of himself was missing. He hadn't noticed this until fairly recently and it had bothered him at first. A chance remark by Andy had caused him to stop worrying about it. They never talked about feelings or the like. Such things were not they way of the sea but Andy had said, out of the blue, "I'd hate it if you had to give up the Lady . I'd miss you, mate." Obviously the feeling was mutual and therefore not to be worried about. Tom was happy to admit to himself that he loved his friend. He knew it for what it was but he would never admit it to anyone else, least of all to Andy. In his heart, though, he also knew, just as surely, that his friend loved him. The thought made him feel warm as he settled down to eat.
By the time he had finished, the storm was fast overtaking them. The Lady was pitching quite heavily as he climbed the steps to the deck hatch. It was secured tightly against the wrath of the sea and took a few moments to open. Wind and water lashed into his face as he made towards the wheelhouse and he had to hold fast to the rail so as not to slip on the treacherous surface of the deck.
"Okay?" Andy asked as he slammed the door shut against the raging elements.
"As always," Tom said, clapping him on the back. "How're we doing?"
"About ten knots."
"It's a rough ol' night out there."
"It's going to be a bad one, sure enough. She's bucking a bit."
"We should make the island in about half an hour," Tom said as he stared out into the storm-lashed night. "We'll be okay."
Andy grinned at him.
"I know that," he said. "You'd never let enything happen to me, would you?"
"Throw 'ee to the sharks soon's look at 'ee!" Tom said with a laugh.
He settled himself on the small bench at the back of the wheelhouse and regarded his friend as he deftly handled the wheel. Another odd comment, he thought. Wrapped in humour but true nevertheless. He would never let anything happen to Andy, he knew that. He rolled two cigarettes and passed one to his friend.
Time ran backwards for Tom. Another strange comment. It had stirred something deep within him again. He had tried to put a name to the feeling before but it was still too vague to be recognised. He had even considered the possibility that he might be gay. It wasn't beyond belief for him because he was not a man who worried over such things. He knew who he was and what he was and it followed from this standpoint that if, indeed, he were gay then that, too, was just a part of what he was. He could never, honestly, remember ever having had any erotic thoughts about Andy, or any other man for that matter. He loved Andy, without question, but that didn't necessarily mean he was queer. He tried looking closer at Andy as he steered the Lady. By any standards, yes, he was a good-looking guy but he observed this fact without any physical reaction. He had seen Andy semi-clothed, naked, dressed to kill, covered in oil, soaked to the skin and not once had he found anything stimulating in it. He had touched him often and been touched by him just as often and that, too, whilst enjoyable and pleasurable, provoked no more than the warmth he felt for the man. But these comments? It occurred to him that it might be that Andy was trying to tell him something. Was he trying to sound him out? Maybe Andy was gay. That thought didn't worry him either. He knew Andy as well as it was possible for one human being to know another and if he was gay then it didn't matter a damn. Andy would always be the same Andy. He smiled thinly to himself. Wouldn't it be the greatest joke on them if they were both gay and had spent all these years together without realising? On the other hand, maybe it wouldn't be so funny. Twelve years is a lot of time to waste.
The thought hung for a moment until Andy spoke.
"Take the wheel, Tom. The hatch cover's coming loose."
"I'll get it," Tom said, getting to his feet.
"You stay where you are, old fella," Andy came back at him. "I need to take a leak anyway."
Tom took the wheel with a wry smile. "Old, is it?" he said to the retreating figure. "I can still see the pants off you, young 'un."
Andy went out into the storm. The wind had risen considerably and the Lady was being tossed like a cork by the enormous waves which loomed out of the night, their white crests ghostly in the dim lights of the boat. As Andy bent to his task, Tom saw it coming. His heart almost stopped as the towering mountain of water reared high above the deck. The crest rolled, foamed into whiteness and began to break. The Lady was directly in it's path and there was no escape. He spun the wheel, frantically tyring to have her meet the wave head-on. He opened the fanlight in the windscreen and screamed into the teeth of the gale for Andy to look out. He saw Andy look up but, as he did so, Tom knew it was too late. The wave broke over the port quarter of the Lady and she heeled over violently as the tons of water smashed into her. A roiling mass of white foam was all Tom could see through the windscreen as the boat slowly righted herself. The hatch cover had stayed in place but there was no sign of Andy. Tom stopped the engine and ran, as quickly as he could, out on to the for'ard deck.
"Oh my God," he breathed, "Oh my God. Oh no."
He yelled at the top of lungs the name of his friend but there was no response. He yelled and yelled until he was hoarse but only the wind replied. He peered out into the night, for even the smallest sign of Andy, but his heart knew the futility of hoping on this most terrible night. Mingled with the spray and the rain, tears coursed down his cheeks. He clung to the rail and he wept as he scanned the boiling sea.
Then he saw it. Off the starboard bow. It was faint but it was the distinctive flashing of a distress beacon. Their lifejackets had beacons built in which were activated on contact with seawater. Keeping his eyes fixed on the flashing light he stumbled back to the wheelhouse. He snapped off the light so he could still see it from inside and pressed the engine starter. Nothing happened and he didn't have to stop to think what it might be. Water in the engine compartment. No time to fix it. Tom was out on the deck again in seconds. He knew that what he was contemplating was suicide but rather they both died than he have to live with the memory of the death of his friend. He struggled out of his waterproofs and pulled his lifejacket on over his pullover. He was kicking off his boots as he tied a rope around his waist. Without a pause he jumped into the water and struck out towards the flashing beacon. He coudn't see it most of the time but some sense seemed to be guiding him in the right direction. The Lady wallowed dangerously, without power or guidance, and it was likely that she would not be there for him to return to but he struggled on through the raging waves.
Time and again a breaking crest would plunge him under and he would resurface, gasping for air. The cold seeped inexorably into his muscles and bones. It wouldn't take long. Twenty minutes or so, they reckoned. How long had he been in the water? Couldn't remember. Didn't matter.
Then suddenly the beacon was right in front of him. He surfaced out of a submersion and it was just there. Almost within reach. He kicked out and put all his strength into swimming towards it. His hand touched the jacket and he latched on to it. In the flashes of the xenon beacon he could see the face of his friend. He was unconscious but he was alive. Tom quickly fastened their jackets together and than began the arduous task of pulling them back along the rope. It took time. Time which brought hypothermia and death ever closer. By the time the Lady loomed out of the night Tom could scarcely feel his body. His hands bled profusely from cuts inflicted by the rope sliding over and tearing into his unfeeling flesh. He made for the ladder which hung over the stern and there he had to rest, cold or no cold, as his strength was almost gone.
But only for a moment. His fingers were numbed and he could hardly untie the rope which he had lashed around his waist. Now he had to release the straps which held him to Andy and loop the rope under his arms. Precious time was spent in this but he knew he could not lift his friend from the water without the aid of the winch. He was too weak and cold. That done, he struggled up the ladder and tumbled over the transom on to the deck. With enormous effort he hauled himself to his feet and grabbed for the small derrick which was used to lift the net from the sea. Working with all the speed he could manage he yanked the net rope out of the block and began to feed through the one which was tied to his friend. He wound it around the winch drum and then leaned all his weight on the handle which turned it. Normally it was electrically powered but with the engine stopped there was no power for the motor. Agonisingly slowly the rope wound on to the deck. Tom kept his eyes fixed on the stern, waiting for the first glimpse of his friend's head appearing above the transom. When he saw it, he breathed a little easier and wound on until Andy's waist was level with the rail. Tom locked the winch and stumbled across the heaving deck. The storm raged unabated as he pulled Andy over the rail and back aboard the Lady.
Andy was alive. He would not remain so for long if he wasn't warmed quickly. Tom hefted the unconscious form on to his shoulders and made for the deck hatch. He had to put Andy down at that point. The hatch was too small to allow him to carry his friend any further. He had to drag him through and down the steep steps which led below into the cramped quarters. Once inside he quickly removed Andy's waterproofs. His clothing underneath was sodden and had to be removed also. Laying the naked body of his friend on his bunk, Tom grabbed some towels and began to dry him vigorously. The body was pale and his lips were blue from the cold. He wasn't shivering and that, Tom knew, was a bad sign. He gathered up all the blankets and the sleeping bags and wrapped Andy tightly within them. He was cold himself. Deadly cold, but he needed to get the engine started. He needed to get the Lady to safety or they might both still perish. As quickly as his unresponsive limbs would allow he stripped himself and put on dry clothes. That would have to do for now.
The engine compartment was not too badly flooded. The big marine diesel engine was still warm in spite of its drenching. Tom tried the starter again but it still failed to respond. The batteries were under water and shorted. The emergency batteries for the lights wouldn't last long so he had to work quickly. It was possible to start the engine manually but would he have the strength? He would have to have, he told himself sternly. He found the starting handle and located it into it's slot in the crankcase of the engine. He braced himself as best he could and threw his weight against the handle. It moved slightly but would go no further. Tom remembered the compression release lever. It had to be operated first. You crank the engine then, when it's going as fast as you can make it, you close the compression lever and hopefully the engine will run. It took four attempts but the engine finally roared into life. The lights brightened and he heard the bilge pump begin to throb as it set about pumping the water out of the hull.
Tom was still terribly cold. He was wet up to the waist again and his vision was becoming blurred but he couldn't give up yet. He crawled back through the hatch into the crew's quarters and checked his friend. Andy was breathing a little better but he was still deathly cold. Tom knew he was still in danger but there was a more immediate threat which had to be tackled first. The storm had not diminshed and the Lady had been driven at its mercy all the time their human drama had been unfolding. Tom struggled up to the wheelhouse and checked the GPS. They were only a mile or so off the coast of the island. Thank God, he thought, as he gunned the engine and steered for the shelter of the land. He knew the eastward side of the island had a small cove with a narrow entrance where they could be safe and ride out the storm. Could he find it, though? The island was uninhabited and there were no lights on the eastern side. In good visibility, he could probably have found the cove with the searchlight but would it be enough in this weather?
In half an hour the coast of the island was close by. Tom could just hear the pounding of the waves on the rocky shore above the roar of the wind. The lighthouse on the northern headland of the island swept its watery beam across the storm lashed Lady as she ploughed on. Tom knew roughly how far down the coast from the light the little cove lay but there was no room for error in this sea. An error would have them dashed to pieces on the jagged rocks in minutes. He switched on the searchlight and panned its beam towards the shore. The island shielded them from the full force of the storm but the waves still reared and broke around the boat as Tom searched for the haven. He saw it. The gap in the breakers which marked the entrance was just slightly to port. Tom adjusted course and slowed the engine. Too much and the wind and waves might yet see them wrecked. Too little and he might ground her in the cove. With all his skill Tom steered the Lady through the narrow entrance. The wind dropped and the waves became only a gentle swell as she moved into the lee of the cove. Tom put the engine to idle and went out on deck to drop the anchors - one ahead and one astern. Then and only then did he give in to the fatigue in his body. He half staggered down into the crew's quarters and sat down on the edge of Andy's bunk. Andy was shivering now and he was conscious. Tom looked down at him.
"How d'you feel young 'un?" he asked gently.
"So cold," Andy replied through chattering teeth. "What happened?"
"You went over the side," Tom said. "Don't worry about it now, we're safe in Lawman's Cove."
"I'm so cold, Tom."
Tom didn't think about it. He stripped off his wet clothes and rubbed himself down with the towel. Then he climbed into the bunk beside his friend and enfolded him in his arms. Andy made no protest and put his arms around Tom. Andy's body still felt so cold to Tom but he knew he would soon warm up. He rubbed his hands vigorously up and down his friend's back, then his arms and hands. When the effort of this proved to be too much for him, Tom just held his friend as close as he could, sharing the heat of their bodies, and soon Andy had fallen asleep. Tom needed to sleep, too. He was exhausted and he was cold but somehow the nearness of his friend kindled a new warmth in his heart. It felt so right holding Andy in his arms. It felt so good to feel his naked body pressed close to his own. Tom drifted off to sleep with a smile on his lips.
Tom awoke. It was still dark outside but the storm seemed to be dying now. Andy still lay in his arms and he was warm now. Tom lay still and just listened to his friend breathing softly as he slept. Gently, almost absent-mindedly, he stroked Andy's hair and then rested his own head lightly against that of his friend. He became aware of the contact between their bodies. Andy lay half on top of him and he could feel the soft pressure of his manhood against his left hip. Tom found himself dwelling on this and in a short time he felt his own cock begin to stiffen. He wasn't concerned. That felt right, too. Andy stirred and snuggled closer to him. Tom turned towards him and held him tighly against himself again. His rising cock was now between them and lying against Andy's. He stroked his friend's back affectionately and thanked God that he had not died in the icy ocean's grip.
"I love you," he whispered. "Always did and always will, young 'un."
Andy stirred again and Tom felt him begin to rise also. That felt good, too. In a minute Andy's cock was fully erect and lying happily against tom's own. Tom revelled in the new sensations while he could for he did not know how Andy would react when he awoke. He had no intention of trying to conceal what was happening and he would take whatever Andy's reaction might be as it came.
"You awake?" came Andy's voice.
"Yeah." Tom replied. "How d'you feel now?"
"I'm okay, I think."
Tom shifted slightly, thrusting them closer together, and tightened his embrace a little.
"I thought you were a goner, Andy," he said quietly. "Scared me, I can tell you."
Andy ran his hand gently up on to Tom's head and ruffled his hair.
"You don't get rid of me that easy," he said. "No way, old fella."
He dropped his head on to Tom's chest and lay quietly for a moment.
"Times I've wanted this, Tom," he said quietly. "I've wanted to be this close to you for so long."
Tom said nothing.
"It's up to you, old fella," he went on. "I'm going for it. If you don't want it, you call stop."
With that he raised himself up and looked down into Tom's soft, brown eyes.
"I love you," he said and then their lips met and mingled into a long, fulfilling kiss.
"Love you, too, young 'un," Tom said gently. "You wont get a stop from me."
Tom felt a hand grasp his cock and begin to stroke it gently. The feeling was beyond anything he had ever experienced. He took Andy's into his own hand and explored it's length, then down on to the silky soft skin of his scrotum. Andy pressed his lips against Tom's again and now their tongues met and danced for their union. It was all too much for Tom. He felt the beginning of the rush which would end in his release.
"Don't worry, old fella," Andy whispered. "Don't you worry. I'm coming, too."
Tom felt Andy's cock stiffen even more and then it pulsed strongly in his hand and he felt the warm splashes on his stomach as Andy came to his climax. Just as Andy finished, Tom felt his own cock reach the point of no return. Andy kissed him passionately as Tom's release mingled with his own on his belly. He held on tightly to his friend and kissed him and never wanted to let him go again.
"Twelve years," Andy said at last. "Twelve years and I have to fall overboard to get you into this bunk. What'll I have to do the next time?"
"Just give me ten minutes, young 'un," Tom said with a chuckle. "Next time it's going to last."
"Why now?" Andy asked.
"I don't know, Andy," Tom sighed. "I think I've always known, you know, deep down, what I wanted but somehow it just never got to the surface. Until I almost lost you."
"I've always known, Tom." Andy said quietly. "I've always wanted to be with you - right from the day I came aboard the Lady."
"You never said anything."
"I tried but I didn't want to ruin a good friendship."
"You knew I loved you, though?"
Andy laughed quietly.
"Yes, I knew that. You and I have always loved each other, Tom. I do know that."
Tom smiled at the younger man.
"I'm glad about that - that you knew, Andy."
"So what happens now?"
"We go on," Tom said. "Nothing really changes - except it's all out in the open now. We can be together properly."
"It doesn't bother you?"
"What? Being queer? Why should it?"
"No reason at all," he said. "Not for you, anyway."
"It makes no dfference," Tom said with a shrug. "What I am is what I've always been."
"I have to say one thing, Tom," Andy said earnestly. "I know you'll say I don't have to but I'm going to."
"You risked your life for me, Tom. For that I thank you with all my heart, mate."
Tom ruffled his hair.
"Maybe," he said. "Maybe I saved my own life, Andy. While you were in the water I suddenly realised that I didn't want to live if you died. I'd be lost without you, young 'un."
"You'll never be lost then, old fella. I won't leave you. Never. That's a promise."
Tom knew that his friend meant it. He knew he would keep his promise because they were inseperable. They always had been.
Maybe it hadn't been a total waste, those twelve years. They knew each other and they knew they would stay together. How many couples really know that?
©2001 George Gardner