STANDARD WARNING: This is a work of fiction. Any similarity to individuals, living or dead, is pure coincidence. Do not read this story if you are offended by man-to-man romance or sex. Do not read if you are underage according to the laws in the country, state/province, county, city/town/village or township where you live. There is sex between males. You have been warned!
Copyright 2002 by
Nick Archer. Permission is granted to Nifty Archives to post one
copy. No part may be copied, reproduced, republished, or reposted
on another website without written permission from the author.
Thicker Than Water
By Nick Archer
The lengthy ride home from the picnic was subdued. Matt drove them home, and their route would take them south on Mannheim Road. In the radioless quiet, Matt debated if he should take 159th east to Harlem or wait until they got further south to take Lincoln Highway east. Either way, in the late Sunday afternoon traffic, the trip home would take almost 45 minutes.
The open windows in the Jeep allowed the warm air and the scents and sounds of suburban Chicago into the vehicle. There was the odor of car exhaust of course, mingled with the scent of hay, freshly mowed grass and the rich, loamy scent of the earth itself. There was also the delicious aroma of the leftover food Mary had insisted they take with them.
They heard the sounds from passing cars and trucks. When they stopped for a traffic light at the intersection of 143rd Street, one car had the bass on its stereo so high that it rattled the loose parts.
Matt was lost in thought. The confrontation between Tim and Tony had attracted Marys attention. She had demanded they all sit down and discuss what had happened. . He could still picture the conversation in his mind; adults around the picnic table and in lawn chairs they had moved close to participate in the conversation. The table itself was covered with cigarette packs, a rainbow of Bic lighters, bottles of beer and cup of wine. As it turned out, Mary told them she had known about Tonys gayness, or at least she claimed to. She lectured Tony about messing around and heaped guilt upon him in the best Italian Catholic tradition. To his credit, Tony looked chastened and promised not to harass Tim again. Matt privately wondered if the incident would indeed mend Tonys cockhound ways. He doubted it.
As they passed Orland Square Mall, Tim commented to Matt, "I was afraid it was going to turn out like my family at our party last Fourth of July."
"Thank God it didnt."
"I was surprised they let the kids hang around and listen, though." Tims comment was directed at his own boys as much as the other kids. The three boys as well as some of Tonys nieces and nephews had gravitated around the picnic table where the adults were discussing Tonys situation. Ryan had a vested interest in the conversation because Tony was his Big Brother and Patrick a good friend of his mothers. Tommy listened while sitting next to Matt. Tommy always loved to listen to adult conversations. While he didnt interrupt, he stored all the information away in his mental files. Brian finally pulled up a seat simply because there was nothing else to do.
"Thats the Italian way," Matt explained. "Or maybe its more of a European sensibility. Nothing is hidden from kids. They see their parents fighting, they go to funerals and to weddings. They consider it part of growing up. I know it caused some culture clashes in my dads family."
"Still, I didnt think the kids needed to hear all that."
"And how would we have kept them away? Even if we did think of some way to exclude them, they would probably find a way to listen anyway."
Tim mulled this over for a time. "Im glad Mary was OK with Tony."
"Tony was lucky, wasnt he?" Brian commented.
"Yes, he was. His family accepted him."
"Mary said she knew all along. How did she know, Dad?" Tommy asked.
"Im not sure. Mothers always seem to know." Matt accelerated the Jeep as they exited the south edge of Orland Park. "It was time he came out of the closet. Theres nothing I hate more than a closet queen."
"Dad?" Tommy piped up from the back seat. "Whats a closet queen?"
Tim flashed Matt a grin that said, OK, smartass, lets see you explain this one.
Matt glanced at him through the rearview mirror. "Its a man who hasnt accepted the fact that hes gay and hasnt admitted it to anyone else. Thats why we call it living in the closet." Matt flashed a look at Tim. See, that wasnt so difficult.
"Why is that a bad thing?"
"Because its deceptive. When you love someone, you want to be honest about who you are. Even if the other person is a friend, you want to let them know. Of course, you dont have to advertise it."
"Because being gay is only one part of you. You - and me and Tim - are so much more than what we do in the bedroom. Still, being gay affects everything that we do. It changes the way we look at people, relationships and the whole world. If you care about someone, you want to be honest with them. And if they love you, they will accept who you are without trying to change you."
Matt glanced at the redhead again through the rearview mirror. Tommy looked deep in thought. "Does that make sense?" Matt asked him.
"Yeah. But ."
"What did Mary mean when she said she also knew about the pink unmentionables in his dresser?"
"Were not supposed to mention those," Brian replied.
"Because theyre unmentionable," Brian quipped.
Tim laughed, then glanced at Matt and pretended to cough and clear his throat. He was reveling in the tight position that he had gotten himself into.
But Matt rose to the challenge. The old teacher instinct buried deep within him took over. He could explain things to the boys without sounding condescending or clinical.
"Tony has what is called a fetish. He likes the feel of womens underwear when he masturbates."
All three boys in the backseat snickered and shifted, but Matt ignored it and continued. "A fetish is an object or body part that a person uses to enhance sex. Sometimes, they think they need that thing to feel aroused. In other words, its something that starts someones motor running. Its not normally harmful, but can cause embarrassment."
"Like Grandpa Patrick was embarrassed?" Brian asked.
Matt smiled. "Yeah, like that." Patrick had been mortified by the revelation that Tony liked to masturbate with womens frilly, pink underthings. Tims reaction had been slack-jawed shock. But Matt had started to laugh. When all eyes at the table fell upon him, he quickly covered his mouth. A stray wisp of smoke from one of the grills came to his rescue and he faked a cough to cover his amusement.
"Usually fetishes are harmless. Lots of gay men like leather, or hairy men, or smooth men. Some like uniforms or certain body types like bodybuilders." Tim flashed a grin at Matt. "Some even like certain body parts like feet."
"Ewww!" Brian exclaimed. "A foot fetish?"
"Sure. But some fetishes can be harmful, even dangerous."
"Like what?" Tommy asked.
"Like stinky feet," Ryan answered.
"Im not going to go into specifics now." Tim was nearly dying in the passenger seat. "If you have questions or concerns, you can ask me individually. As always, you guys, I want you to feel like you can talk to me about anything. If someone wants you to do something thats - out of the ordinary, shall we say - and you dont feel comfortable about it, just say no and get out of the situation. And come talk to me - or Tim," Matt added while flashing his partner a dirty look.
"Do all three of you understand?" Matt asked.
"Yeah," they mumbled.
Ryan spoke up then. He did a perfect imitation of Forrest Gump. "Mama always did have a way of explaining things in a way I could understand."
They all burst out laughing.
"I dont know, Matt. I dont think you needed to go into all that detail about fetishes yesterday," Tim said as he toweled his wet hair Labor Day morning. They were going to take the boys to Frankfort.
"When, then? When would have been a good time?"
"I dont know," he mumbled. "I just dont think its something we need to discuss with them."
Matt was slightly miffed. "So tell me a good time to discuss fetishes with them. Do we talk about water sports after Tommy gets pissed on at a bar? Do we talk about bondage after a date handcuffs Brian against his will? I know it was uncomfortable and awkward, Tim. But you know that these people are out there. Is it better for them to stumble onto someone with a fetish or from loving dads who have their best interests in mind?" Matt paused and then added, "Knowledge is power, Tim."
"Yeah, but if you give them too much knowledge theyll want to go and try it. I still think you went too far," Tim said as he tied his Nikes.
"I disagree. I think youre underestimating their intelligence. Were raising them to be responsible and to think for themselves. At some point, we have to let go. Theyre going to go around dipping their sticks no matter what we do or say. You said so yourself."
"OK, then smartass. Why didnt you go into the specifics of water sports or scat? If knowledge is power, then ."
"Listen to us," Matt interrupted with a sardonic laugh. "Now the tables are turned." He stuffed his wallet in his back pocket and tucked his tank top into his shorts.
Tim was not amused. "Youre not listening to me, Matt. Its like you threw gas on a fire. And now you have to put out the fire."
Matts eyebrows knit together in concern. "Youre starting to sound like a right-wing reactionary. They know about suicide but does that make them go out and try it? Do high schools encourage sex if they hand out free condoms? Just what do you propose, Tim? Shall we have them fitted for chastity belts?"
Neither of them wanted to back down and they couldnt find a compromise that allowed them both to save face. In addition, Tim was getting angry because he felt like Matt wasnt taking his concerns seriously and because he felt like Matt was making fun of him.
Tim started to flex his jaw muscles. "I just think ."
From downstairs, they heard Martys voice, "Mare, Mare! Its Rhoda!"
Matt laughed as he left the bedroom and started down the stairs. "Marty always did know how to make an entrance," he commented to no one in particular.
"I dont think this is finished," Tim said after him.
Matt stopped at the top of the stairs and turned around. "Its finished for now, Mr. Grant. Now, get dressed, come downstairs and for Christs sake, chill out."
Tim flashed an angry look at Matts back.
"Hi, babe," Matt said as he hugged and kissed Marty. As he shook Vinces hand, the handsome young man leaned forward with his lips puckered. Matt obliged him with a social kiss.
Matt acted disappointed. "I wanted to be Rhoda. She always had the best lines."
"Sorry, I called it first."
Matt turned his attention to Vince. "Nice to see you again, Vince."
"Whos Vince?" he asked after Matt kissed him. "Im Sue Ann Nivens."
Tommy jumped Marty and almost toppled him. "Hi Uncky Marty!"
"And here comes Georgette." He lifted Tommy off the ground and hugged him tightly.
After he released the man, Tommy looked at him quizzically. "Georgette? Who ya callin Georgette?"
Brian hugged Marty. "Can I be Murray? He had great lines, too."
Marty laughed. "Good job, Matt! Youre indoctrinating them well." He rubbed his chin thoughtfully. "Hmmm. Lets hear your New York accent."
"Mare, can you fill my cawfee cup for me? I was late because the cah wouldnt start."
"Hell do," Vince said as he sauntered over to Brian. Then in a sex-kitten voice like Sue Anns he added, "But youre not bald, Mur."
Tim appeared with Ryan.
"Who is Tim supposed to be?" Brian asked
"Hes Mr. Grant," Matt answered. "Because today hes gruff and grouchy."
"He doesnt look anything like Mr. Grant," Vince commented.
"Hes a bit chubby like Mr. Grant," Brian observed.
A sudden silence fell in the kitchen as all eyes fell on Tim. He gritted his teeth and flexed his jaw muscles for a moment before he spoke. "Careful, kiddo, if you want to live to see your fifteenth birthday." There was a real touch of hurt in his voice.
Matt tried to smile. "OK, lets go."
Matt drove the Jeep as Marty followed in his car. He drove west on Sauk Trail. The day was heating up rapidly, and the forecast predicted it would be hotter than yesterday. In the back seat, the three boys poked and tickled each other, each round of horseplay resulted in a waterfall of giggles and squeals. They reminded Matt of monkeys; See No Evil, Hear No Evil, Speak No Evil.
In the front seats, the atmosphere between the two men was as frosty as the air-conditioning that blew out of the vents on the dashboard. Matt glanced at Tim who sat ramrod-straight in the passenger seat and fixed his gaze outside the Jeep. He was clearly not in a good mood.
At the county line between Cook and Will, Sauk Trail took a little jog north, then they continued west to Frankfort. They passed the ritzy Prestwick subdivision with its plush and expensive homes clustered around a golf course. They passed the Frankfort school complex and Camp Manitoqua.
"I went to camp there for a few summers when I was your age," Matt told the boys.
"Did you like it?" Tommy asked.
"Enough to want to be a camp counselor myself."
"Frankfort. The Town With 1890s Charm," Tommy read the sign out loud.
They crossed railroad tracks as they entered the village. Frankfort was an old village by Illinois standards. It was founded in 1855 when the Michigan Central railroad passed through the area. It also had the advantage of being close to US Route 30 that was a major east-west highway. Around the turn of the century, a second rail line was built just south of town. It paralleled the Michigan Central line. Frankfort began developing industry and boasted a large grain elevator.
They parked their cars on Linden Street, a newer residential street near the center of town. The exciting colors, music, sounds and smells beckoned to them. The village closed Nebraska Street - the crown jewel of the town and the source of municipal pride. When Route 30 was paved in the 1920s, many businesses moved to the highway a quarter-mile to the north. For decades, the village grew slowly. It was barely a dot on most maps. As the Chicago area grew and spread outward so did its insatiable appetite for land. Subdivisions began appearing around town in the sixties as Chicagoans longing for open spaces and country living "discovered" Frankfort with its quaint main street of historic commercial buildings on Nebraska Street.
The growth produced more traffic and as the village entered the 1970s its streets became choked with autos. The library was swamped in a sea of books and new patrons, the bank couldnt keep up with all the transactions and the post office couldnt cope with the increase in mail volume. Saturday mornings choked the streets with suburbanites attempting to complete weekly tasks. One by one, businesses and governmental organizations moved to the outskirts of town where they could expand. Frankfort State Bank moved north on Route 45. The Library moved east on Route 30. The post office built a striking new structure on Route 30 west of town.
Also, in the early 1970s, Frankfort began staging a Fall Festival over the Labor Day Weekend. It started as a small community fair and grew to one of the premier traditional craft shows in the nation.
Growth continued in the 1980s around the fringes of town, but the center of town had all but died. Several key business and services had moved out and to make matters worse, the Michigan Central line through town was abandoned.
Frankfort leaders wisely decided to capitalize on the strength of the Fall Festival and the handsome but vacant buildings on Nebraska Street. They created a historic district, landscaped the former rail line and added other amenities such as historically correct streetlights and benches. The abandoned rail line became a hiking trail from Chicago Heights to Joliet. Where the trail ran through the downtown area, the village built a handsome gazebo and hosted a series of summer concerts culminating with the Fall Festival.
The result was a downtown area so charming it could be a movie set. Antique and curios shops and restaurants moved in. So did the tourists. By capitalizing on history, Frankfort had shrewdly remade itself into a "must" destination for antique collectors. By preserving and enhancing its own heritage, Frankfort had positioned itself for the future as well as enhancing the quality of life for its current residents.
The boys were almost hopping with excitement. They had little interest in the booths of antiques, collectables and crafts. Their focus was the midway with the rides and games.
"Dad! Can we go on the rides?" Tommy asked excitedly.
"Yes, later. First, lets look at some booths and get something to eat."
"Aww, man!" Tommy sulked.
As they neared the first row of booths, Matt called a huddle. "If we get separated, well meet outside Aurelios at three. OK? Synchronize watches ."
Matt led them to one of his favorite places to browse. It was a square parking lot behind the Frankfort Historical Society. The vendors that sold paper ephemera such as magazines, old books and postcards were usually placed there. In addition it was shaded which was a big advantage on this hot day.
"This is so cool!" Ryan exclaimed as he browsed through a box of old Time magazines. They were arranged chronologically so that the purchaser could find the volume that coincided with his birthday. "Heres my birthday!" The magazine was dated July 27, 1981. He reverently slid the magazine out of its protective plastic sleeve.
Marty snickered. "You were born the week Prince Charles and Lady Diana married? Why am I not surprised?"
"Can I buy it, Matt?" Ryan asked him.
"Sure, hon. Do you have enough money?"
"Yeah, I think so." He handed over his allowance money to the vendor.
"Look at the ads in here!" Ryan exclaimed.
"Good God!" Marty gasped. "Everyone had big hair back then!"
"A Chevy Citation!" Vince exclaimed. "My mom had one of those. What a piece of shit .OOPS!" He covered his mouth in embarrassment.
They laughed - except for Tim who remained stoic.
They strolled to Nebraska Street and worked their way down the line of booths.
"Look at this jewelry! This is faa-aa-bulous stuff." Marty had momentarily forgotten himself. He realized that he was in a suburban situation and not in Boys Town.
The proprietor of the booth grinned. "Thank you." Matt immediately recognized him as a blip on the gaydar.
Tommy was ogling the rings. "I wish I had a ring like you guys." Tommy was referring to the fact that Matt, Tim and Brian all had silver bands. They had purchased them at Northalsted Market Days last August. Tommy had not yet joined the family at that time and therefore he didnt have a ring.
"Tim," Tommy turned puppy eyes to the younger man, "Can I buy one?"
Tim pressed his lips together. "Ask your father."
Matt wanted to smack his face. With a chain saw.
But to Tommy he said, "Sure. Do you have any money left?" Tommy was a spender. Allowance they gave him on Friday was often gone by the following Wednesday, and sometimes even by Monday. Matt knew the boy bought junk food with the bulk of his money. Tommys appetite had increased exponentially in the past few months. The kid could pack away an amazing quantity of food. Yet, he still remained slim partially due to his participation in soccer, partially because of his metabolism, and partially, Matt suspected, because he was beginning his adolescent growth spurt. He spent the balance on small toys such as balls, yo-yos, playing cards and Silly Putty. Boy things. Recently, he wanted to purchase a genuine leather soccer ball, which would cost him several weeks allowance. Matt suggested that he save his money and when Tommy did actually manage to save enough money to purchase the ball, Matt heaped praise on him. It was a small step but a significant one.
"I have some money, not much."
"Lets find one that fits you," Matt moved toward the silver rings. "Ill make up the difference. But youll need to repay me from your allowance." Money wasnt the issue; the silver bands were relatively inexpensive and Matt could easily afford one. He wanted to teach Tommy to handle his money more responsibly.
They found a band that fit his index finger, but Tommy had other ideas. "Can I have one that fits my middle finger? I think rings look cool on that finger."
Matt smiled at him. "OK, buddy." They found one that fit his middle finger.
"That does looks cool," Ryan said with a touch of envy.
"Bitchin," Brian agreed.
Vince and Marty had walked ahead several booths.
"Thanks, Dad," Tommy said.
They caught up with Marty and Vince in front of a booth or leather. The hot afternoon son caused the leather to release its spicy scent to the surrounding air. Matt grinned as he breathed in its distinctive odor.
Brian picked up a black leather baseball cap and looked at it longingly.
"How much do they want for this?" Marty asked. He turned the cap around in Brians hands to glance at the price. He drew in a dramatic breath. "Oh, gracious! Youll have to ask the vendor if they have financing."
"Dad! Can I buy it?" Brian asked.
Matt sighed. "Youll owe me allowance money until the next ice age." Matt put the hat on his son and stood back. "On the other hand - it does look cute on you."
"Black leather," Marty licked his lips, "I think Im getting excited."
"Down, boy!" Vince commanded.
"Are you sure, Brian?"
While Matt worried about the reaction of the other two boys, he pulled out his Visa. It wasnt fair that Matt was spending so much on Brian and Tommy or Ryan would point it out immediately. Matt glanced at Tim, whose face was inscrutable as a statue. Matt was frustrated with him. They still had not resolved their earlier argument and Matt knew Tim was still angry with him. Matt gave Tim a slight smile and raised his eyebrows as if to ask What do you think? Tim gave no response.
While the vendor wrote up the sales slip, Matt told Brian, "This is partially your birthday present."
"My birthday was a month ago, Dad."
"Its your birthday present until youre eighteen." Matt lifted the visor of the hat and grinned at his son.
"Im hungry," Ryan complained.
"My mouth is watering for something long and tubelike," Marty said flippantly. He licked his lips lasciviously.
Vince, Matt and Tim looked at him in shock. How could me make such a crude comment in front of the kids?
"I meant - Im looking forward to a bratwurst." The high school band boosters sold grilled bratwurst. The sausages were fresh from Wisconsin and then grilled to perfection over charcoal. They were one of the specialties of the Fall Festival.
Through the crowd they wound their way to the band boosters booth. Aromatic smoke announced the presence of bratwurst and made their stomachs growl as they stood in the fast moving lines. There was a table of condiments; catsup, onions, sauerkraut and three kinds of mustard - traditional yellow, hearty brown and Dijon.
As Matt and Marty dressed their bratwurst, Marty turned to Matt. "What did you fight about this time?" Marty asked.
"The kids," Matt answered shortly as he smeared his brat with Dijon mustard.
Matt shook his head. The boys were already seated with Tim and Vince at a table near the beer tent. There wasnt enough room for them at the table so they sat on the trampled grass under a nearby tree.
As they ate their juicy, delicious brats, Matt told him about the picnic and then how he had talked about fetishes with the boys.
Marty took a bite and shook his head as he chewed.
"What?" Matt asked defensively.
Marty wiped the corners of his mouth daintily before he spoke. "Matthew, Matthew, you just never learn, do you?"
"What?" Matt asked. Vince looked on with curiosity.
"You have got to learn to think before you speak." Matt started to protest, but Marty stopped him. "Now dont start getting defensive, Mary Richards. Ive known you longer than I care to think. And I know that you sometimes have a tendency to shoot your mouth off. Now, you listen to me," Marty was winding up for the pitch.
"Im not sure you did the right thing in telling the kids everything. I know you and how you feel about honesty. And I know you want the boys to feel like they can talk to you about anything. But sometimes you go too far - and I think you went too far this time. They didnt really need to hear all about fetishes, cupcake. You could have been more general and still gotten your point across."
"But I wanted them to know that there are some real perverts out there."
"Theyll find out sooner or later, sweetie. You know, you might have even scared them."
"I didnt think about that."
"No, you didnt, Matt. And you also didnt think about Tim. You have got to let him win once in a while."
"What do you mean?"
"What I mean is that you always have to win. At least let him think hes won once in a while. You have more experience with kids and youre older than he is. They respect you just because of that. Youve got to compromise once in a while, Matt."
Before Matt could respond, a shadow appeared over them.
"Now can we go on the rides?" Tommy asked impatiently.
Matt hesitated. He was comfortable and wasnt particularly thrilled about rides anymore. "I dont really want to go." Matt hesitated. Matt loved the rides when he was a kid, but now they made his stomach queasy - a fact he was loathe to admit to the boys.
"Ill go with them," Tim volunteered.
"Tim you are a dear," Marty gushed.
Matt lifted his rear off the ground to pull out his wallet. He handed Tim a twenty-dollar bill. As Tim took the money, Matt grabbed his fingers and held them for a long moment. Their eyes met for a brief second. Matt smiled at the man he loved. Tim didnt return the smile.
"Well see you in front of Aurelios at three," Tim said flatly to Matt.
Matt watched their backs wistfully as they wove their way through the crowd toward the midway. Vince watch them walk away with a touch of envy. But Marty was looking into his best friends eyes. There he clearly saw the hurt and confusion, the longing and the love. Marty wished he had some magical incantation to make everything better. But Matt and Tim had ventured into a territory about which he had little or no experience. They were struggling with parenthood.
When Tim and the boys were out of sight, Marty asked Matt about the picnic the previous day. He helped Matt off the ground as he had done many times before - literally and figuratively. Just as Matt had helped him off the ground many, many times. I guess thats what friends are for - Marty mused -- to help each other stand up, brush themselves off and move on with their lives.
"Come on, sweetie. Lets go look at more booths."
The boys touched Tim casually but discreetly. The kids knew what gestures were appropriate and what might bring stares or even comments. As they hopped up and down with excitement, they touched his back, arms and shoulders.
The lines for the rides were long, and the hot sun didnt help. The Ferris wheel was first. Tim made sure they were drinking lots of liquids.
The boys ran like excited puppies from ride to ride while Tim followed at a more sedate pace. Next were the bumper cars. They each managed to get their own car. Ryan seemed to have a defective one - he could never get it to go forward. The defective car didnt seem to faze Ryan in the least. He drove in reverse for the duration of the ride.
Ryan and Tommy wanted to go on the English Rotor. It was a huge barrel that plastered the riders against the wall by centrifugal force. Then, they lowered the floor while the riders clung to the walls.
"I dont want to ride it," Brian hesitated.
"Oh, come on, you big baby," Tommy made fun of his older brother.
"Spinning rides make me puke."
"OK, then you stay here and hold Ryans magazine. Here," he handed Brian some money. "Get us some bottles of water while you wait."
Brian walked to a nearby trailer selling lemon shake-ups and funnel cakes. The small bottles were sharply overpriced at $2.00 each, but there was no alternative.
The trailer had a wooden plaque announcing it was owned and operated by the Novotny Family. Inside, there was a husband and wife and a boy about his age. Brian waited patiently in line, hoping that the boy would serve him.
When he got to the window, his eyes met the bluest eyes he had ever seen. He was wearing a baseball cap so Brian couldnt tell what color his hair was. But his eyebrows and incredibly thick eyelashes were dark brown.
"Four waters, please," he told the kids.
Brian handed him the money. Their eyes met again, and a slow, knowing grin spread across the face of the boy in the trailer.
When he returned with the bottles, Tim, Ryan and Tommy were in the front of the line and next to ride the amusement. The bottles of water were awkward to carry, but Brian had an idea. He doffed his shirt and used it like a pouch to carry the water bottles.
Brian climbed the catwalk to watch the spectacle. The shouted to him and waved after they were admitted into the circular space, which was about twelve feet in diameter. They positioned themselves against the walls.
The ride began slowly, the increased revolutions.
"Shh-ii-ii-tt!" Brian heard Ryan scream in a falsetto voice.
With a loud thump, the floor dropped out. Brian was feeling dizzy just watching them.
After two or three minutes, the operator raised the floor again and began to slow the ride. When it came to a complete stop, the riders gasped a collective sigh of relief and headed for the door.
Brian met them at the exit and handed them each a bottle of water.
"You missed it!" Tommy exclaimed. "It was awesome!"
"Ill take your word for it," Brian assured him with a condescending pat on his brothers head.
Ryan tugged at Tims arm. "Theres the Tilt-a-Whirl! Lets go!"
Tim consulted his watch. "I think this is the last ride well have time for."
Ryan and Tommy groaned as the headed for the ride.
Tommy slipped off his shirt like his big brother and tucked it into a back pocket of his shorts. They guzzled their water as they stood in line for the ride. The line was surprisingly short and moved quickly. Still, by the time they reached the head of the line, they all had finished the pricey little bottles of water.
They ran for a clamshell-shaped pod when the ride had stopped and the previous riders had exited. Huge speakers blared an old song by The Cars.
Ryan organized the seating arrangement. "OK, if Tim sits on the outside, he can make it spin faster when he leans. Brian, I think you should sit on the other end. Tommy and me will sit in the middle."
"Dont make it spin too fast," Brian cautioned.
"Oh, dont be such a geek. Thats the best part of the ride." Ryan turned to Tim. "OK, when I tell you, lean as far as you can."
Tim was getting in the spirit. He grinned. "OK, youre the boss."
The grungy operator walked around the perimeter of the ride, making certain all riders were secured. "Are you ready?"
"Yes," some of the riders shouted half-heartedly.
"I cant hear you. I asked you ARE YOU READY?"
"YES!" They screamed. Ryan put his hands over his ears. The operator turned up The Cars to an ear splitting level and started the ride.
"Lean right, Tim. RIGHT!" Ryan had to scream to be heard above the music. Tims weight sent the car into a spin. Tommy and Ryan screamed with excitement. Brian felt his stomach lift.
"Left, Tim!" Tim obliged him and leaned left. Again his weight sent the car into a spin.
Brian simply gripped the bar until his knuckles were white, praying to God for the end of the ride.
"DO YOU WANT TO GO FASTER?" The gap-toothed carny asked.
Ryan and Tommy screamed again. The scruffy operator increased the speed of the ride. The increased speed added to Brians dizziness and nausea.
"Tim! Lean far right!" Tim did, and once again the car spun on its axis.
At long last, operator slowed the ride. The boys groaned. Tommy and Ryan groaned with disappointment that the ride was over. Brian groaned because he was ill.
They were still bobbing back and forth when the carny stopped their car and released the bar.
"Brian? You OK? You look green," Tommy observed.
As soon as the operator released the bar, Brian bolted out of the car, shoved his way through the exit and around the back of the ride. By the time Tim reached him, Brian was doubled over and vomiting.
"Ewww! Gross!" Ryan commented.
Tim placed his hand on Brians bare back. He felt helpless because there was nothing he could do. Tim pulled out his wallet again and handed Tommy some money.
"Could you get some water for us, Tommy? Quickly, please. Oh, and grab some napkins, too." Tim turned his attention back to Brian. "Come on, son. Lets go sit in the shade." With a firm guiding hand on his bare shoulder, he guided Brian to the shade of a maple tree.
"I feel so stupid," Brian panted as he sat on the grass.
"Puking my guts out - Im so embarrassed."
Tommy returned with the water. "Dont drink it too fast," he cautioned Brian. Tim wet two napkins from his bottle of water and handed one to Brian to wipe his mouth. The other napkin Tim used to wet the back of Brians neck with the cool water.
"That feels so good."
Tommy sat beside Brian and looked at him with concern.
"Hey, Tim?" Brian spoke.
"Why are you and Dad mad at each other?" Brian knew full well why they were angry at each other. All three boys had overheard their argument that morning.
"Um - we had a discussion this morning."
"Sounded like a fight to me," Brian opined.
Tim pressed his lips together. "Adults sometimes had discussions. We had different opinions about ..something."
Tommy spoke up in a timid little voice. "I hate it when you guys fight. Its like youre making us choose sides. And I dont want to choose sides."
"Yeah," Brian agreed, "what he said."
Tommys comment, so simply and sincerely stated, stung Tim to the core. He felt his eyes sting with tears. "Im sorry," he apologized quietly, averting his eyes from the boys. He looked off into the crowd for a long moment. His eyes seemed to be searching for something.
He glanced at his watch. "Damn! Its twenty after three! Wed better go meet them. Are you sure you feel OK, Brian?"
"Yeah, much better."
They worked their way through the crowds, anxiously looking for the three other men. When they spotted them, Matt was carrying something that was rolled up in a tube. The two groups of males greeted each other with chattering crosstalk.
"Whats that, Matt?"
"Where have you been? I was started to get worried."
"Brian puked after we got off the Tilt-a-Whirl," Tommy reported.
"It was a Techincolor yawn," Ryan corrected.
"I wish you two wouldnt take your shirts off in the hot sun without sunblock. You both burn so easily." Matt turned his attention to Tim. "How were the rides, Mr. Grant?"
Tim smiled widely. "Mr. Grant isnt in this episode anymore."
Matt smiled with amusement. "So who are we now?"
Vince, Matt and Marty laughed along with him.
"Are you sure youre feeling OK, Brian?" Matt checked in with his oldest son again.
Brian pulled his black leather baseball hat off and with a smooth motion of his arm, tossed it into the air above the crowd.
"Im going to make it after all."
"Here, Prints," Tommy called to the cat as he filled his bowl with dry food.
"Tommy, come over here when youre done." Matt was sitting at the dining room table with a large bottle of aloe vera lotion.
Tommy put the bag of food in the cabinet and traipsed into the dining area. He stood in front of Matt and draped his arms around Matts neck.
Matt couldnt help smiling at him. Such an adorable kid, he thought. "Hi, son."
"Are you and Tim still fighting?"
"Who said we were fighting?"
Tommy rolled his eyes. "Hel-LO! We all heard you this morning."
"We were just having a discussion."
"Thats what Tim said. Sounded like a fight to me."
"Turn around and take your shirt off, please." Tommy complied as Matt smeared a large glob of the sticky lotion on his shoulders. "Tommy, Tommy, Tommy," he said ruefully.
Tommy mimicked him. "Dad, dad, dad."
"Youre going to be burnt tomorrow." He shook his head, although the boy couldnt see the gesture.
Prints gracefully hopped down from his favorite sunny windowsill, crossed the living room and into the kitchen to check out his bowl.
"Did Vince and Marty go home? I thought they were coming to dinner?"
That was one good thing about Tommy. Matt knew he could change the subject and get away with it. Brian would remember the original thread of the conversation and go back to it. Matt didnt really want to discuss the argument/fight/discussion he had with Tim that morning. Although the ice had thawed a bit, they had yet to apologize to each other. Matt made a mental note to himself to do so before they went to bed that night - although he still believed he was right about explaining fetishes to the boys.
"Marty has to work in the morning and Vince has school. Just like you do."
Two figures approached the back door of Matts townhouse. Their dark shadows fell across the kitchen floor.
Prints looked up from his bowl, arched his back and hissed loudly at the intruders. Matt and Tommy glanced at the cat through the doorway to the kitchen. The cats attention was focused at the back door, although they couldnt see who - or what - was standing there.
Tommy and Matt heard a male voice say, "Whats wrong, boy? You never hissed at me before."
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