This story is purely fictional. However, some places mentioned do in fact exist, but certain things may be changed for the advantage of the story. This story will, at some point, include sexual relations between two males. If you don't want to read something like that, then leave. If you are under the age of 18 (21 in some areas), or if it is illegal for you to view this material, then you should exit out of this. This story is copyrighted and may not be copied for any reason, without the author's permission. Send all feedback/comments to CzarSmith90@yahoo.com.
"Maybe we should ask our doctor about psychotherapy sessions? I think it's covered on my HMO." He spoke this single thought suddenly and quite solemnly.
The running tap sloshed water over their dishes piled in the sink and she looked up briefly. "Honey, what on earth for?" She scrubbed at the dining ware with a bubbling yellow and evergreen sponge, giving her husband that curious look with a raised plucked eyebrow.
"Well, for Lake of course." He sat at the kitchen table still, lines of unnecessary stress sketched into a usually flawless forehead. "I mean he just told us he-" an uneasy hand ran through short chestnut brown hair, "and we just-" His thumb stroked a thick upper lip pensively, apparently fretting as he drifted in and out of various thoughts. "I should've said something."
"Well why didn't you?" She began to stack the porcelains in their rack.
"Well I didn't know what to say." He looked up at her with a bewildered expression. "Why am I getting the distinct feeling that this doesn't bother you at all?"
"Well it is the twentieth century Honey." Her attention was only half with him, conveniently preoccupied with the task at hand. "And Alake is a growing boy. Things like this are perfectly normal and quite common. He's just at that stage in his life. After all, exploring one's sexuality is a big part of adolescents."
"Serene!" Her husband threw his hands up in an overly dramatic display of exasperation. "I don't care what century it is or what the rest of society thinks. It is absolutely not normal to confess to your best friend of the same gender. How can you be so calm about this? And why do you insist on saying his name with that infernal `a'. It's too effeminate that way. I always told you-"
Serene turned off the water and banged both her hands into the tiled kitchen counter, cutting the rest of his sentence off. "Hugh, I don't appreciate the way you are implying that our son's sexual preference is due to the fact that I call him Alake instead of Lake. Alake is a perfectly fine name and saying it with an `a' is the proper way to pronounce it. If you've always had such a problem with it, why didn't you say something when we named him?"
"Because I thought you were going to use Lake. Argh," he shook his head, "never mind that. I know it has nothing to do with his name and I'm not trying to blame you for anything. I just- what do you think it is? What did we do wrong? We only have one child...How on earth did we manage to screw up with just one?" He was sort of mumbling the rest of his words, mulling over them internally.
"Look," she turned to her husband, with eyes a little wider than usual for emphasis; her dripping hands flared and gesturing in his general direction. "I already told you. It's a stage, we haven't done anything wrong and you're overreacting. I've read all about this in a magazine article. It's completely natural for him to be curious."
"Natural to be curious about other boys?" His head shook, his tone laced with disbelief. "It's this damn city." People always want something to blame. "Gay capital of America! Just great."
"Honey," she noted his slight sarcasm and calmed down easily. "Homosexuality is now recognized all over the world and has been a part of civilization for ages."
"That doesn't mean it's okay." He blurted out quiet bluntly and a bit childlike. His expression though, looked seriously pained and he ruffled his hair again. "I should've taken him out more; hunting or something- manly activities. We should have signed him up for more sports. All this art stuff, I mean he's really got talent but you know what kind of circles those artsy type roll around in."
Serene's eyes were half-lidded with a look that said, you can't be serious. "Honey," she decided to try and focus his attention on more objective matters. "You know you don't hunt and honestly, the best thing we can do for him right now, is to be supportive and open. Don't you think it's wonderful that he felt comfortable enough to tell us about it?"
"No," his large arms were folded into one another and his head was downcast. "Quite frankly, the more I think about it, the more I think I'd rather not know."
"Don't say that." She had turned back to her cleaning.
"We should have at least made him continue with boy scouts."
"Honey, he didn't like-"
The man's head popped back up and he interrupted before she could finish. "You know, I've heard of these camps they have for these things. You know, for confused kids." His finger was pointing and nodding at something unseen as if reaching some kind of important epiphany.
"I'm not putting Alake in anything like that." She stated firmly, wiping around the sink. "I read that a lot of abuse goes on amongst some of those youth group places. He's perfectly happy at home and I'm happy he's here."
"Well we have to do something." His hand lifted and fell into the table loudly as he agonized over it. "A psychiatrist, at least."
Serene crunched up the dirty tablecloth and threw it into the sink getting more and more annoyed by her husband's uncalled for hysteria. "Hugh, there is nothing wrong with our son." That was intended to end the conversation but instead the phone began ringing and he raised his voice above the sound, getting up out of his seat.
"Stop saying that Serene!" Ring-ring-ring. He was walking towards the device lodged into their cream colored walls, haphazardly. "It's almost as though you condone this behavior!" Ring-ring-ring.
"What behavior?!" She shouted back just as loudly over the insistent racket. "The boy can't control how he feels!"
His blind hand reached out to pick up the receiver, with only half the intention of actually answering it. Ring-ri- "Yes he can! You're always making excuses for him!" It grabbed nothing; the receiver was not in its usual spot.
"Excuses?!" She huffed, fisted hands pressing into voluptuous hips. "There's nothing to excuse!"
"Ah-ahem." The small voice cleared its throat and the two adults turned about simultaneously, completely taken off guard.
The ringing had stopped.
Alake Hamden stood in the doorway at the other end of the small room; his slim figure dwarfed by the large empty frame. He held up the black and silver handset in a pale hand; uneasy auburn eyes flitting from here to there without meeting either of theirs. "It's uncle Trent." He glanced up through a sweep of dirty blond bangs, head tilted down with obvious uncertainty. "He wants to talk to you?"
His father strode over absolutely unperturbed at having this argument with his wife overheard and gently took the small device confidently from his hesitant son, with a slight nod of appreciation. "Hello?" He easily answered it as though he didn't have a care in the world. "Oh hi Trent! How are you? Ah, yeah, everything's fine here. We were just having a heated discussion. Oh no, you didn't interrupt. It's fine, it's fine. What's that...Ah sure," he suddenly brightened up substantially. "Oh really? Ah well that's a great idea! Ha, ha, ha. Ah right...yeah. Oh, okay then. We'll see you tomorrow! Bye." He hung up smiling, it was a big smile. A big smile directed right at Lake, who shuffled his feet, trying to shake off the foreboding feeling that had suddenly arose.
"So you're going to work with Trent this summer!" It was more of a statement, rather than a question. Alake's eyes bugged a bit. His father stepped over, arms open, but suddenly decided against it and at the most awkward moment too. He straightened up. "That's great m'boy!" A hearty hand clamped down on a slight shoulder and shook the diminutive form thoroughly.
Lake's eyes grew that much bigger. "Eh?"
"Trent said he'll be by to pick you up around ten tomorrow morning so you'd better finish packing tonight. Then you can sleep in."
"What?" The sixteen year old fumbled with his words, still not sure what was going on. "He didn't ask me to go- we were just talking about his job and I said it must be pretty fun being a rafting instructor."
"Well I'm really proud of you Lake." His father beamed. "Your first summer job and you're going to be roughing it out in the wilderness for a few weeks. This'll be a great experience for you." His hand was in a little ball and hopped in the air the way little league coach's gesture at their star shooters to go for the goal.
Pleading eyes turned over to his mother, knowing instinctually that his father was a lost cause. "Mom?" But she could only answer him with a consoling shake of her blond locks.
"Just pretend its cub scouts again Baby. You'll do fine."
His brown eyes, unbelievably, were able to widen even more. He had hated cub scouts. "I think there's been some kind of misunderstanding though." He insisted.
"Don't worry Lake. Your mother's right, you'll be fine. You have all the basic survival skills. You were top of the pack!"
Father looked proud and Alake kept strict control over the sardonic expression that threatened to take over his face. Because you were pack leader dad...but he held his tongue. "I-"
"Don't upset you father." His mother mouthed silently from out of his dad's peripheral vision.
Oh God, why me?
His mother continued to move her lips "don't worry." Father finally picked up on the signals and turned, his eyebrows rising questionably. She smiled in return, the face of an angel. "You'll be fine Baby." Her attention immediately returned to her son, "Uncle Trent is really easy going. It'll probably be a lot of fun. I'm sure."
"Heh," Alake smiled halfheartedly. Not only was he doomed but he really didn't have it in his character to disappoint his father anymore than he had just unintentionally overheard. "Alright," there was the softest of sighs. "I guess I'll go get my things ready..."
Alake twisted the dial until the furthest rapid upriver came into focus. The giant umbrella he sat under sheltered him from the blaze of a steadily rising midmorning sun which was starting to reflect off the rippling water at an awkward angle causing an ugly ball of glare to show up in his otherwise spotless lens. He repositioned the fold out lawn chair, hoping it would help, before glancing at his Windfall Swatch. It would probably be another twenty minutes before the next raft turned that bend in his designated stretch of river. He sighed, and let the weight of the old beat up camera rest against his slight chest, hanging heavily off a thick strap about his neck.
Relaxing back into the blue, white and green nylon-polyester weave; his hands slipped into deep pockets of loose fitting dark cobalt jeans. He fingered the small rectangular box inside, which was getting a bit warm, easily absorbing body heat. Hazel flecked eyes scanned serene surroundings but there was nothing he hadn't already captured for himself. Mother Nature, he'd realized shortly after arriving, was a lot calmer and more temperamental than the human structures of an ever evolving cityscape. Out here the opportunity to shoot something strange and unique seemed rare. Oh wells, he had taken a few pictures of birds and animals that were pretty worthwhile. Another sigh, but today there was nothing, just like yesterday and the day before that. Hrmm, well at least he'd adapted to the job. He couldn't really complain, in fact, he'd been quite relieved when Uncle Trent had explained that he would be working for the photography company instead of the actual, physical, rafting part of the industry.
So here he was, trying to capture the essence of the passing party's exciting and brave endeavors. Honestly, Alake had to admit, it was kind of fun. He loved taking pictures of people, capturing each unique expression. The multitude and sometimes miraculous ways a body could twist, turn and contort, if necessary. Yeah, he was pretty much cut out for the job. Well, except for the fact that he was the only male member of the photography team. That had definitely made fitting in with the locals a bit difficult. The town girls traveled about in their intimidating cliques and the boys were all out doing some kind of odd-end, heavy labor work. Not that it really mattered, he wasn't here to socialize but it had been a bit lonely having no one his own age to really hang out with for the whole entire summer. He sighed softly.
Right now the other employees would be lounging around with their trendy sunglasses, long locks pinned up, legs stretched out in short brief cutoffs and not to mention, those excessively tiny bikini tops. It was commonly referred to as killing two birds with one stone amongst themselves, or in other words, making the easy buck while getting an awesome tan and for these reasons, he had a hard time respecting their efforts. It was a scandal that tourists even paid as much as they did for some of their terrible shots.
Huh, he sighed again, pulling his hands from his pockets and huddling further back, into the shade. His legs scrunched up, arms hung loosely about a pair of drawn up knees. The sun was like his arch-nemesis. Being one of those people who seemed to burn instead of bronze, he rarely wore shorts and always bore some sort of slightly oversized t-shirt. It wasn't that he wasn't hot. No, it was definitely hot, but he didn't like people scrutinizing over how thin his arms were or how slight his shoulders seemed. He got enough of that during swim class in P.E. He knew he was skinny, it was an obvious fact and no matter what or how much he ate, it made little, to no difference, which his mother explained, was due to genes and having a high metabolism was very beneficial. "You'll miss it when it's gone and you turn old and gray," she'd say. However, no matter how good it may be now, Lake still saw no substantial reason to flaunt this scrawny form anymore than he absolutely had to.
Light rose-colored lips twisted and a small nose crinkled, knowing quite well that his thoughts were drifting all over the place. Ah wells, that's what happens when you're bored. Hrmmm, he recalled the last day of school. What in the world had made him think that another guy could possibly find this body attractive? He must have been having a lapse in mental stability, confessing to Levin out of the blue like that. God, I'm an idiot. He ruffled his dirty blond hair which was more brown than gold in the shade. The sweep of short bangs fell back into place obediently at the removal of his hand. He checked the time again without really seeing the dials. "I must have been out of my mind." He mumbled to himself, melancholy. He wondered what the next school year would be like. Would he still have a best friend? Would he have any friends at all once the rest of his classmates found out!? He felt like he was on the edge of a huge black crater when the sound of laughter luckily pulled him back into reality.
"Get ready to paddle hard when I say so!" Trent's deep baritone echoed across the raging waters and in the valley. "This first rapid we'll take nice and easy, but it's the next two we'll need to work for."
Dropping his legs, Alake popped up into a more alert position. He clasped the camera with both hands and aimed it upstream. The glare was worse now than it had been earlier and against his better judgment he decided to reposition off the huge rock formation, down to the bush on the bank. It wasn't really required to leave his post to get a good picture. No, he'd only do this sort of thing for Uncle Trent's trips. Really, it was sort of silly but Alake felt that Uncle Trent was actually kind of cool and a nice guy. With his easy going and sort of carefree attitude, he accepted Lake for who he was and not who he should be and Lake appreciated that, sincerely.
Sliding down the rocky side of his lookout, he crept a little more carefully over a few very slippery boulders. The flipflops weren't helping. He cursed but finally made it to a green bank and its overgrown foliage at the forest's edge. The woods always smelt a little different than the river, not as clean and yet every bit as refreshing in its own musky, intense way.
He tripped over the stump of a huge fallen log and silently swore again while recollecting his wits. Then, glancing up, he caught the tip of their raft coming round the bend in the river. "Well," he climbed up onto the molding surface of the thick slowly deteriorating bark, "this'll have to do." He picked up his trustworthy assistant once more and diligently focused it on their steadily approaching craft. They were just about to hit the first rapid.
Peering through the camera, there was Uncle Trent at the back, steering and then a grey capped son who looked to be around Lake's age, just a little bit in front of his robust middle aged relative. Two young women sat in the center, done up with ponytails and waterproof make up, they were probably already twenty one but Lake couldn't really tell. And at the front, a mother and father, who seemed to be having a great time beneath the big brims of their matching safari sun hats and older styled sunglasses.
Everyone was all smiles and Alake snapped a great picture. With oars up, they rode out the natural bumpy current of the first tier.
A hearty, yet warm and inviting laugh rang out over the waters above the rest and played in Lake's ear ever so teasingly. He zoomed in more at the boy in the backseat, to take a better peek at the face of such an enchanting sound. The voice was well suited and Lake couldn't help a small curious smile.
Handsome; in a ruggedly natural and yet refined Abercrombie way, with that square jaw line and long straight nose. A smooth brow plus wide brilliant smile, that definitely had no need for braces and accentuated his chiseled cheekbones. Alake wondered if he was a model, because he should be. Water droplets reflected light off his tan broad shoulders and bare biceps - definitely a jock - with little more than a wifebeater, if anything, beneath that lifejacket. His head lifted and that dark concentrated gaze seemed to stare right into the lens and set on Alake, who felt his cheeks warm considerably. Had their eyes just met and locked through the viewfinder?
The starstruck teenager jolted out of his daze, just as the shutter reopened. What the hell am I doing? The raft was just starting into the next rapid, waves high and sloshing over its yellow plastic sides. "Not yet!" Trent shouted over the crashing water. They were all tightly gripping their oars in anticipation. Alake peered through his little glass window again; watching the boy who now had a seriousness set into those still handsome features. The boat tilted, overflowing with water and one of the girls squealed. "Now!" Trent shouted and father plunged his paddle in as deep as he could. "Dig!" Mother, one daughter and the son were left swinging at air for a split second and then KA-SPLOSH! The opposite end came down hard. The squeals turned into fits of laughter. "Keep paddling!" Trent commanded, taking his oar and digging it in on the father's side, the boat twisted and spun. "Here comes the next one! Hold onto your oars!"
Confused, the young boy gripped his handle tersely and stopped paddling. Big mistake, Alake thought to himself with a small rueful smile, having seen Trent command a copious amount of vessels through this part of the rapids in this specific way. He snapped shot after shot. The teenage boy's corner sunk down suddenly and he was pulled under a tumbling, frothy surface. "Kale!" His sister in front of him shrieked as she witnessed his disappearance to the back of her paddle.
"Keep paddling or we'll capsize." Trent commanded calmly. He repositioned into the boy's empty seat, digging in deep to catch the undercurrent and bring the dragging corner back up.
"Kale!" Mother called out after him, with frightened motherly concern. She glanced over at her husband tight lipped with a terse expression, continuing to paddle fiercely.
"He's fine darling!" Father shouted over the chaos in the most soothing tone he could muster while also furiously paddling. "Look!"
A head of chestnut brown hair popped up in front of them and bobbed; his laughter ricocheting against the mountain's stony walls. He turned to see if anyone else in his family had gone overboard.
"Kale, try to keep facing downstream." Trent called out after the boy who was floating further and further away. "And swim away from the rocks!" He reminded loudly.
"Okay!" Kale merrily replied, while trying to tread against the current, backwards.
"Alright everyone, we'll all have to paddle together to catch him before the next set. Follow the strokemaster."
Mother began chanting, "one, two, one two."
Alake was able to capture a few more pictures of Trent pulling Kale back into their dinghy before they started round the next small bend and towards a set of sandpaper waves. The boy ruffled his spiky wet hair once onboard, looking a bit regretful. "My hat." Alake could still read his lips with the help of zoom.
One of his older sisters consoled him, "it's ok, mom'll buy you a new one."
His mouth twisted into a little playful pout, "yeah, I guess...won't be the same though..." But those strong shoulders shrugged anyways and with a slightly obligatory smile they continued along their way, disappearing from Alake's vantage point.
Alake got up, quite pleased. He'd definitely caught a few good shots, so it'd really been worth the hassle of changing positions. He made his way slowly back through the unruly vegetation and over smooth slippery boulders again; noticing the gangly green algae build up with his spare moments this time, eww. Hmm, but that little episode had really refreshed the novelty of this place. Guess the summer still had a bit of promise left to it after all, but too bad I didn't get a shot in on my own camera. He thought, sort of pretentiously to himself, as he was about to climb the rocky surface of his lookout. Definitely model material. Wish I could've taken pictures of him I could keep for... Something caught his attention from the corner of his eye then. A grey hump bobbing between a few of the larger rocks just a bit further out and caught in a tiny eddie to the side of his post.
He made his way over unsteadily and yet determined. The stones rocking under his feet, not as securely lodged into place as the one's closer to shore. He teetered but managed to stay balanced with outstretched arms on either side. Just a little further, he reached out. "Got you!"
However, in his excitement of capturing the straw hat Lake lost his footing and one leg slipped knee deep into the small recess of water. Thank God it hadn't been any deeper! His heart was racing. If he had fallen into the river not only would the camera and all the pictures he'd just taken been ruined but he probably would've been sucked into some unfathomably strong current and sucked down into some abhorrently dark depth to drown and die a treacherously slow, gruesome, not to mention frightening, death. No wonder they were told to stay at their posts, it was definitely dangerous to get too close to the swiftly moving water without a lifejacket.
He tenaciously began pulling his leg back as he also tried to steady his breathing but the sopping pant leg was quite heavy and it was even more difficult to stay level than earlier. The stones tottered and he waved the grey cap madly, like an army flying its battle banner, trying desperately to steady himself. Finally, Alake managed to lift the majority of it from the soft suck of the pool when off popped his sandal and downstream it merrily went its way. "Noo!" Lake called after it in vain, his arms unable to snatch at its swiftly retreating form because they were far too busy trying to keep the rest of his body from falling in, was this what it felt like to be a tightrope walker? "Ah," he managed to sigh in defeat and then struggled furiously to make his way back, over and up to his lookout again; the toes of the only shoed foot curling madly all the while, in a conscious effort to keep the last tong from falling off.
Huffing audibly when he was actually able to fall back into the not so comfortable lawn chair, he looked down at his now bare foot disdainfully. "Stupid shoe," he muttered to himself. Why even bother keeping the other when it had no match, he considered throwing it angrily into the river but decided against it easily, knowing quite well it wouldn't make him feel any better about the whole situation. Plus, there was no way he was going to walk around town, let alone the forest, completely barefoot. Sigh, he'd just have to find something to make due until he could buy a tacky colorful pair from the drugstore for the remainder of this month. Bleh, he sighed again, unconsciously fidgeting with the rim of the fog colored baseball cap.
Hmm, he looked down at it. Turning it around and studying the frayed ends. It bore a really old styled metal clasp and looked well worn, maybe Mr. Jock was a baseball player? His arms sure looked the part of a pitcher's. Water dripped from the drenched material and over his slender wrist, still cool to the touch. It was really getting hot out. Alake thoughtfully turned it over again and then pulled back his bangs before tugging it on. His head was just a little smaller but it didn't matter, the coolness caused a shiver to slither down his spine and he breathed in deeply. It felt good, the wetness seeping into his warm hair and dribbling past sensitive ears, down the back of his neck. Like when mom presses a moist towel to your head as a kid if you're running a high fever - it had that sort of familiarly restorative quality to it. He stretched out his sopping leg and leaned back into the chair. His pants were sure to dry in less than an hour under this beating sun. A voice reverberated around the valley down river and Alake yawned leisurely before lifting his camera again. The next group of rafters would be turning his bend soon.
After work Lake had one hell of a time making his way through the woods to the dirt road for pick up with only one shoe on. The girls all gave him a look, like he was stupid or something, as he clamored into the giant van with them quietly. They whispered amongst themselves and giggled in the backseat. So immature, Alake shot them a dirty look or at least attempted to, but this just made them giggle that much more. Maybe he was stupid, maybe he was strange too.
Sissy their manager spoke to him over her shoulder from the driver's seat. "Don't worry, you ain't the first to lose one." He replied with a weak smile to the rearview mirror and she laughed heartily, the way Uncle Trent often chuckled. "Well was it worth it at least?"
The image of a brilliant smile accompanied by dark eyes and short spiky hair flashed in his head. "Yeah," he sounded thoughtful, "I got some great pictures."
"Good," she was smiling warmly.
Sissy ended up giving him a ride back to the campsite which was a short drive to the outskirts of town. "You've got a couple days off coming up right?" She spoke casually as they pulled up to Trent's camper. "Got any plans?"
Lake swallowed a trite laugh. "Umm, no, there isn't really much to do up here."
"Ah yeah, that's true." The vehicle rolled to a stop. "Well the town always throws a big end of summer B-B-Q. So that's something to look forward too?" Her eyes rolled upward as though trying to remember something, or was it calculate? "Yeah, it'll be a few days before your last day working probably. Oh that reminds me, you've got to write a little two weeks' notice thing for the boss."
"Oh really?" He had already opened the door, one foot out.
"Just a couple sentences, like I, Alake Hamelin, am giving my two weeks' notice as of this date. You know, it's part of the law or something."
"Okay," he smiled softly, "I'll remember to do that and thanks for the ride." He was sincerely appreciative but the quietness of his tone subdued its effects. However, Sissy being an adult accepted the gratitude for what it was.
"No problem. You take it easy and I'll see you on Thursday!" She was always so cheerful.
"Yeah," he glanced up with a small smile, "see ya," and shut the heavy door.
Once inside he kicked off his remaining slip on and rushed over to the tiny shower, skipping over its shallow rim. He twisted on the tap, grabbing the showerhead to let water run over his pink toes. They weren't really supposed to use the water in the tank for things other than cooking and brushing teeth but he just couldn't stand it. Scrubbing their soles vigorously, he gave the right one extra special attention, any reminiscence of the forest's spongy earth thoroughly washed away. He could hardly believe he'd just walked on moss, ferns, fungi and who knows what else, without a shoe on. Yeah, the guy who couldn't even stand the thought of walking barefoot on the sidewalk, wait `til Levin heard. Oh wait, Levin was probably going to avoid him like crazy from now on. He sighed, the soap rinsing away, he turned off the water and turned around, greeted by a sullen expression in the mirror. Piercing his lips he tried not to frown. A tentative hand rose and feathered across the rim of the gray hat and he purposefully changed the upsetting train of thought. It was really comfortable, so much so that he had completely forgotten it was even there. Hesitant fingers gripped the lip, giving it a little tug but the locks of tangled honey brown beneath made his nose crinkle.
Ok, probably a good idea to go shower first, river water can't be too clean. He grabbed the towel off a tiny rack. Then, in a cupboard on the left side of the small space outside the fold up door, he fished out clean clothes and a zip-lock bag of toiletries. He found some clean socks and also slipped them on. He'd probably have to make a few more trips to the coin Laundromat in town before it was time to go back home. Only a few weeks left, hmm, guess he'd survived after all. He sighed thinking it was good but also bad because summer would be over and he'd have to go back to school.
Finding his Converse sneakers tucked beneath a bench in the kitchen section of the cramp compartments, Alake pulled them out and on, wondering if it was worth buying the overpriced flipflops after all. There was only a few days of work left, but then again, there was no way he'd want to risk ruining these. They were his favorite pair.
Locking up the trailer, he jogged up the dirt road which wound its way about the dispersed campsites and up to the showers. He glanced at his watch; people were firing up their grills or throwing matches onto crumples of newsprint under strategically placed logs. It was late in the afternoon and he'd probably just missed the rafter crowd who usually rinsed off after a run before heading back to the city in their fancy SUV's. Maybe the washrooms would be empty? The campers definitely wouldn't shower until after they finished cooking. It'd be nice if there wasn't anyone in there.
Alake stepped into the cement block of a building greeted by the sound of a couple showers running. Oh wells, they'd probably be long gone by the time he was done. He strolled past the sinks and stalls to the shower section at the back. It was nice here, nicer than a community swimming pool change-room. The floor was tiled, the walls freshly painted every season, the sinks porcelain and sunk into a flat tiled counter. The ground slanted back a bit so excess water drained into a trench, so the floor never flooded and all the crap that people washed off wasn't left on the shower tiles. The camp grounds in these parts had money, most probably because of the river's extreme sports tourist's attraction.
The furthest stall was occupied, his pink lips twisted a little disappointed but he shrugged and hung his clean clothes plus the hat on two hooks next to the one which only had a white towel draped over a pair of well-worn carpenter shorts. Alake left his sneakers beneath the grey cap and stepped into the small compartment, pulling the cloth curtain close behind him. He put his towel on a hook next to the opening of the actual showers and the bag of bath stuff on the wooden slated bench. Pulling out a bottle of vanilla-milk shampoo, conditioner, bodywash and a blue mesh sponge. He stripped off the dirty tee and jeans before stepping over the ledge and into the shower with his socks still on. A rueful smile broke across his pretty face. Despite knowing he was being a little silly and slightly paranoid about cleanliness, he still found himself doing this. Turning on the tap, the cotton white material soaked up water quickly and clung to his toes. Ah hell, who was ever going to know anyways? He grabbed the blue sponge and filled it with bodywash.
Warm streams of the constant spray cascaded down and over his slender form; the sweet scent of his soap overpowering fresh outdoor air. His eye lids slipped shut; it smelt like home. Just like this he could almost trick himself into thinking he stood under his own shower, in the bathroom right next to his bedroom in their tall skinny two-story house, deep in the messy suburbs of San Francisco.
A shower stopped a few stalls away from his and then its curtain swished open, followed by that familiar hearty chuckle. "Alake is that you?"
"Uncle Trent?" Lake somewhat reluctantly opened his eyes and shouted over the ricochet of the drops against tile.
"Ho, ho, I thought it was you." The voice was coming closer. "Your mom still likes all that Bath and Body stuff even after all these years?"
"Yeah." His voice had returned to its normal volume and the man probably missed the quite reply.
"Definitely smells good." He stopped and Lake turned. He could see the navy blue and grey Sunkosi water shoes just beneath and behind the bottom trim of his curtain. "One of my rafters found your sandal downriver." He waved the brown leather Banana Republic tong above the cloth and Lake couldn't help but laugh a little to himself at the odd yet thoughtful gesture. "Knew it was yours right away." It disappeared back behind the curtain. "I'll just leave it here by your sneakers. Hope you didn't lose the other one too."
"No," Alake replied quite cheerfully, happy about the recovered accessory, "I just left it back in the camper."
"Oh, that's good, then I'll meet you back there!" The words trailed away as he was speaking them.
"Thanks Uncle Trent!" Alake shouted, making sure he could hear.
"Ha, ha, ha," his laugh was so wholesome. "Don't thank me, it was Kale who fished it out of the river. I'll introduce ya to him later." The footsteps were pretty far away now, getting harder to hear and then he was gone. Alake continued to smile, reaching over for a dollop of shampoo. Uncle Trent was great.
The bubbles began to form and he firmly shut his eyes, turning back to the spray of water. Kale, a rich laugh echoed in his head. Wasn't the name of that kid he'd shot falling into the river this morning something like that? The shower in the stall next to him turned off and the curtain swished. His was the only one left running now and he took his time, relaxed, beneath the constant drizzle. Soap suds falling to the floor, washed into the trough and leisurely floating away down to the drain. Showers were great.
Finally Alake pulled himself away from the comforting douse of water and turned it off. Being clean always felt so good, he wrapped the fluffy blue, green and white towel about his slender figure; drying off a bit before pulling the curtain aside to retrieve his clothes. The water logged socks squished beneath his feet, leaving a discolored trail behind him to where he'd stepped out of the stall. He held both ends of the towel about himself loosely with one hand while reaching out with the other, totally oblivious.
"Wow, you're pretty pale." The deepening voice of a young man commented and Alake swirled about with wide eyes and a flustered look. The other boy's dark eyes roamed over his barely covered figure freely and he was startled, like a deer caught in the headlights of an oncoming car.
He was smiling, a handsome smile, from beneath the white towel that hung about his head and shoulders. Hands lost in its folds, drying the short dark brown hair beneath. The muscles of his bare chest and trained abdomen rippling with the vigorous movement of his raised arms. "Not that it's a bad thing," he continued when Alake failed to reply.
Rouge rushed up from God knows where and colored the fair skin of his cheeks easily. He pressed his towel firmly closed, against his naked body and clutched the clean clothes fiercely before spinning around. His brows furrowing into a most formidable scowl as he quickly ducked back into the sanctity of the small change room slash shower and yanked the curtain shut loudly, forcefully. Damn jerk! The clean clothes were angrily tossed up onto the single hook that was now vacant. What the hell was that? Who the hell just goes about commenting so brazenly about other people's bodies! He finished drying off before whipping on a clean pair of underwear and blue jeans. His hands and towel worked furiously at his dripping golden locks, still extremely embarrassed.
However, as time passed, so his rage was consumed by the energetic actions and looking down, a hand fell to touch the cream of his slender yet firm stomach. Well, at least he didn't say anything about how skinny I am. Lake would've hated that much more. A sigh escaped his parted lips again, the goodness of the refreshing shower long forgotten. He'd take his time and hopefully the other guy would be gone by the time he'd finished dressing and packing up.
Alake quietly opened the curtain and peeked his head out; nothing but the wind rustling tree leaves outside greeted his attentive ears. Good, he stepped over to his sneakers and pulled off the mushy socks one at a time; patting each foot dry with his old shirt before slipping it into a shoe. He bundled up all the dirty clothes and tucked the small pile under his arm. With the towel slung about his neck, he grabbed the gray cap from its hook and not having enough hands, placed it lightly atop is head as to not mat up his hair again. This thing probably needed a really good bath too. He bent over and scooped up his forlorn flip-flop, the hat clinging precariously to the crown of his skull. Heh, it didn't fall off, he smiled to himself and cheerfully headed towards the open entrance.
"Hey," he called out just as Alake passed the last of the stalls.
The hazel eyed teenager turned to find his rambunctious counterpart seated upon the tiled counter top next to the sink, still shirtless. In his head Lake looked up to the heavens incredulously. Why God? He shouted, arms thrown up and out in an act of certain desperation. Why is he still here? Argh, but he controlled his inner urge to do so and instead, dropped his gaze away. "Umm, hey?" He sort of mumbled uncertainly, in reply.
The taller, sturdier and tawnier boy hopped off his perch, still smiling. "You sure took awhile. I was waiting for you."
"Yeah," he sure sounded cheerful, "sorry if I startled you earlier."
"Ah yeah," Alake's eyes darted about the room feeling really uncomfortable under the other boy's blatant and confident gaze. Pink lips twisted a bit, barely managing a meek smile.
"Hope I didn't offend you, I mean with what I said." He went on, was he rambling? "I have a tendency to just blurt things out without thinking first." No, he was just overly friendly and kind of frank. "But I didn't mean it in a bad way, honestly. I mean," he reasoned with himself pretty much, "it's fine not to tan." His hand moved, his shoulders shrugged, "it's just a different look and actually now that I take a better look, it suits you..." He trailed off, standing there and Alake snuck a peek at his handsome face to catch a thoughtful expression as the other boy pondered over what he was really trying to say.
"Umm," his eyebrows rose up a bit quizzically and then their eyes met. Alake blinked, "so why were you waiting for me?" He glanced away quickly after asking the simple question.
"Oh, ha, ha ,ha, right," that semi-familiar melodious laugh, "my hat." His hand rose and pointed directly at the hump seated upon honey colored fluff. It looked like a grey hen sitting amongst her nest of hay and the peculiar imagery made the genial boy laugh out loud.
Alake gave him an even more confused look, generously startled by the outburst. This kid seemed nice enough, if not a little strange.
Meanwhile, the other boy tried to find his words through the unexpected fit of chortles and gasps for air. "Sorry- but-do you think, I could- have it back?"
"Yeah, of course." Lake replied still a bit apprehensive, he leaned forward looking about, "but what's so funny?"
"Ah, nothing," he waved the rest of it away. "Overactive imagination. I've just never seen it on someone else before, `specially not worn that way."
Alake glanced into the mirror across from him. It sat really loosely backwards, holding up some of his longish sweeps. "Well, I wasn't really trying to wear it, just sort of dropped it on so I wouldn't leave it behind." He turned his head a bit, shyly examining the reflection. "Guess it does look sorta wanna-be-gangster this way." The smile brightening up his features as he sort of laughed at himself caught the other boy's attention immediately.
"Something like that," his return grin was wistful, "he,he, but not really." He straightened up again and leaned back into the counter behind him, looking open and unthreatening.
Alake tilted his head towards the boy. "Well, you can take it if you'd like." His hands were full so this was the best he could offer, defenses lowered a bit more than usual. "I was going to look for you and give it back sooner or later anyways." He was smiling softly. "You're the one who went overboard this morning on Rafter's Swim right?"
"Yeah," he laughed, "and you're the guy who was hiding in the bushes taking pictures. I really like the one where I'm in the white part of the waves. It looks awesome. Really dramatic, like I could be drowning." He was grinning from ear to ear. "My friends back home will freak out when I show them."
"Ha, ha," Lake chuckled sincerely, his eyes holding a shine of sentimentality. "I'm glad you like them." The dark haired boy, whose eyes seemed to twinkle with an intriguing light, languidly pulled himself away from the tiled ledge and leaned into Lake audaciously, who's breathe caught at the top of his throat from the suddenness of the unexpected gesture. He could practically feel his heart stop briefly for the few seconds it took a confident pair of hands to rise above his slight shoulders and encircle his golden head.
"Really though, thanks for saving it," the boy spoke softly now, still smiling warmly. Their faces were much too close to one another's and he was leaning much too far into Alake's personal space, who even felt the brush of the smooth inside of a bare arm against his sensitive earlobe. He told himself he was imagining it. Fingers were running along the worn rim, why did it feel like time had slowed to some torturous snail's pace? The hairs at the back of his neck stood straight up along with a whole slew of goosebumps.
"It's actually pretty special to me. My grandpa gave it to me when I was a kid." The soft and gentle tone with a hint of sentimental reminiscing seemed to whisper coyly in Lake's ear and his eyes grew wide. Run away imagination, run away imagination.
It was lifted from its spot gently and Lake felt each strand of his fashionably cut hair fall down into its proper place. The sweep of bangs doing as much as they could to hide a light hue of peach that was threatening to taint not only his cheeks, but nose as well. The taller teenager finally pulled back, putting on the hat and wiggling it comfortably into place - this simple and very normal action the cue to pop back into reality abruptly. Alake quickly turned his head to one side, hiding as much of his fair complexion as he could until the wave of warmth subsided. "No need for thanks." He replied quietly, the once relaxed atmosphere turning a bit tense again. "It just sort of floated to me and I picked it up so it's not like I really saved it or anything."
"Yeah?" He was still very charismatic, still beaming; pretty much oblivious to Lake's slight rise in temperature. "Guess it's the same with me."
"Hmm?" Alake's head rose timidly again, curious and desperately hoping he was back to normal and no longer flushed.
"Your shoe." He continued smiling and motioned to the brown leather tong in Lake's hand. "I fell in pretty hard later in the afternoon and lost my oar in the tumble. I was grabbing for anything down there in the dark and ended up coming up with that? Ha, ha, ha," Lake just couldn't get over that laugh, like music to a deaf man's ears. "Uncanny, huh?" His smile radiated with the warmth of sunshine after a rainy day. "Like fate or something."
Alake returned the expression with a small, much more humble curve. Definitely something.
"Alake?!" His name being cheerfully bellowed shook him from the brief moment of stupor. "You still in here?" Trent popped his head around the corner of the cement wall. "Kale!" He said the other teenager's name wholeheartedly, the way one would right before generously clapping a strong hand on sturdy shoulders. Alake was bizarrely reminded of his father and instinctively pulled away from his close proximity with Kale. "So you two have already met? That's great!" He turned to Alake, "I was just coming up here to let you know that I'd be over at the Dime's campsite because they've invited the two of us for dinner. Are you boys done cleaning up?"
"Yeah," Lake turned to his uncle with a big smile and briskly proceeded to his side as though it were a welcomed safe haven from something very dangerous. However Kale was quick to follow and the trio headed off together, down the dusty dirt road, back to the campsites.
"Lake," Trent talked casually as they went along, "you have a couple days off coming up right?"
"Yeah," the boy replied. "I'm off until Thursday."
"Hmm..." He walked a bit ahead of the two younglings, "well I wanted to ask you if you wanted to come with me on an expedition then."
"Expedition?" Alake questioned.
"Well, it's going to be a two day and one night trip and I didn't want to leave you here on the campgrounds alone. I know there ain't too much going on here, so if you wanted to come..."
"Oh! Please come!" Kale suddenly burst out and Lake gave him that now familiar, wide-eyed expression. "Because you're talking about our trip, aren't you Trent?"
Trent stopped his descent and laughed, turning to face the pair. "Yeah, but it's your choice Lake. Don't let Kale make the decision. I know you haven't gone rafting much so if you don't feel comfortable..."
The boy wore a lopsided grin and one raised eyebrow. "I've only been rafting that one time when I was little with you, me, mom and dad."
"Well, yeah," he scrubbed the back of his head, "that's what I mean. Those were like class I and IIs, mostly a sightseeing trip but tomorrow will have more IIIs and IVs maybe even a V if we're lucky, so I don't want to force you..."
"I'll take care of you!" Kale blurted, unable to keep from interrupting again, "I mean I won't let you drown. I'm a good swimmer. Please come." He begged with puppy eyes and a pleading tone. "Everyone has a partner except me and Trent's the guide. It'd be so much fun if you came!"
It took all of Lake's willpower to refrain from breaking out into a fit of giggles at Kale's childish excitement and zealous enthusiasm. While Trent was nodding to himself off to one side. "It would balance the boat out nicely."
Kale's eyes opened wider with an epiphany. "And I wouldn't fall in as much!"
"Ha, ha, ha," Lake couldn't hold it in any longer. That expression was priceless and much too cute for words. "Alright, if you need me so much, how can I refuse?"
"No," Trent seemed quite serious. "I want to you to really think about it Lake, whether you want to come or not. No one should pressure you into coming." He eyed Kale but the blatant emphasis was wasted.
"I'm pressuring!" He gleefully poked at Lake a bit, "peer pressure, peer pressure," and when the other boy didn't immediately pull away from his trepid teasing, went for the extreme and completely glomped one entire side of Alake's slight frame, almost knocking the poor kid off his feet; who was about to keel over from the sudden shock. "I need you!"
Trent noticed Alake waver under the weight and instantly came to his rescue. Cutting in between the two of them and plying the overly rambunctious boy off tediously, like pulling freshly chewed gum from the sole of your favorite sneaker. "Don't listen to this fool. He'll be just fine without you but if you'd like to come, I think it'd be a really great trip to join in on, especially when the two of you get along so well."
So well? Alake internally scoffed, imaging that his face was so red by now his head could probably be easily mistaken for a ripe tomato. Ahh, but for some odd reason he really believed them. The trip would probably be a lot more fun than staying here alone in the camper and it wasn't like he didn't know anything about rafting. He'd been watching everyone intently; all he had to do was follow Trent's instructions. "I'll go." His considerate smile was soft and sweet, like the sound of his voice. "I actually, really want to go." He repeated, to himself more than to the others, who were now horsing around familiarly with one another. He glanced over at them and began to laugh, notes laced with an airy, carefree tone. The more he thought about it, the more appealing the idea became. Alake started jogging off down the stretch of road feeling a little bit excited and leaving the two idiots pro-wrestling each other behind.
"Hey wait!" Trent called after him. "We should stop by the camper and pack up some gear. Maybe even get the tent and camp with the Dime's down by the put-in so we can get an early start tomorrow!"
"Sure!" Alake shouted back, laughing still, his eyes twinkled.
Kale beamed, his own dark pupils lighting up that much more. "I have a two man tent! You can stay with me!" He shouted chasing after the other boy.
"Now wait a second. What about me? I'll be lonely!" Trent joked, running down the hill after them.
"Don't lie old man!" Kale teased over his shoulder, "you'll be fine."
"Old man!?" He sounded seriously perturbed by the reference. "Who's old?!"
"You are of course! You said it yourself on the boat today! You're as old as my old man! Ha, ha, ha," Kale laughed earnestly but almost jumped out of his skin when Trent appeared next to him and easily matched the young boy's quick pace.
"You were saying something about being old?" Trent was chuckling as he teased. "Maybe it's your dad who's actually young?"
"Hey you two!" Alake shouted up through the trees, already far past the bend up ahead of them. "If you keep chatting you're going to lose the race and I'm not even a good runner!"
"We're racing!?" Kale became bullheaded at the thought of a competition and suddenly put more effort into it, while Trent merely paced himself by the robust teenager's side - laughing all the while, keeping head to head and making it look easy.
They made a quick stop at Trent's RV and then took it easy for the rest of the jog downhill. After awhile, veering off the main road and onto a half beaten path of tracks which seemed threatened to be reclaimed by the surrounding, persistent, growth of wildlife. Trent was hiking a good distance ahead of the two boys, his large broad shoulders completely hidden by a mass of gear strapped strategically to the heavy duty backpack. Alake shifted the much smaller one on his own shoulders. His uncle had not given him much to carry; just a sleeping bag along with his own personal effects and some water but it was an unaccustomed weight for him to bear nonetheless. He stumbled a bit on an upturned root.
"Want me to carry something?" Kale, who still bore little more than the, now slightly dingy, white towel about his neck, offered helpfully, noticing the other boy's awkwardness.
"No," Alake hefted the weight, to place it back into a more balanced position between his shoulder blades. "I'm fine. I just haven't done this type of thing for a while. Your family sure likes to camp in the real wilderness though. I don't think there are any campsites this way."
"Yep," Kale sounded proud. "We come up to the mountains at least once a year and recently we've been doing a lot of off-roading because my parents bought an SUV. It's pretty fun. We're from this really flat, small farming town, in between Redding and Sacramento so it feels awesome up here."
"Oh," he's from a small town, no wonder he feels so wholesome. Lake was watching his feet, "my uncle's from Sac."
"Yeah, he told us." Kale turned to Lake smiling. "And you're from SF, right?"
"Yeah," Alake returned the smile happily.
"You know Trent's the best guide we've ever had. So we were pretty surprised he didn't live up here all the time and is actually from the city."
"Oh but he's been rafting for a long time. He's been all over the world. I think it's like his passion." Lake explained, personally knowing the difference between passion and paying work. "Anyways, it's not like he really lives in Sac. He's just there right now `cause my dad gives him a job during the off seasons and it's driving distance to the American River."
"Oh yeah, I overheard my dad talking about that with Trent. Your dad owns a construction company. That's pretty cool." Kale ambled along, turning to face Lake every now and then with that wide smile of his. "My dad is sorta like the electrician of our town, so it's kinda co-related work?"
"Yeah. So is that what you're going to be?" Lake was honestly curious; he knew quite well that his own father desperately expected him to follow in his very large pre-made footsteps.
"Nah," Kale waved the thought off, "he'd probably like that but I wanna be a baseball player. Ha, ha, ha," he laughed sort of to himself and rubbed the back of his head. "Kinda lame huh? Like what you say in kindergarten but I really love playing."
Alake observed quietly as the other spoke. He was so carefree, easy going, and sociable, the complete opposite of himself. "It's not weird." He replied quietly. "You should definitely go for it. Maybe you'll play for the Rivercats someday. That's the Sacramento team, ri-" Lake tripped again suddenly and Kale caught up his meager elbow, their eyes meeting momentarily.
"Are you sure you're okay?"
His heart fluttered and he quickly pulled away this time, recomposing himself before he could grow flustered. "I'm fine, thanks."
Kale was smiling again and his dark eyes sparkled with an incandescent light.
"Are you laughing at me?" Lake's vision narrowed, he realized he was being awfully stubborn for once.
"No!" Kale exclaimed earnestly, trotting in front of the other boy backwards now. How on earth did he do that? "I just think you're cute!"
"Cute!?" Lake's eyes bugged, that was way worse than being funny! Don't just go around telling other guys you barely know something like that so carelessly. "Don't say that!" He objected a bit too belligerently out loud.
Kale shrugged, "but if you are, you are? I can't help but say it."
"What if I said you were cute?"
One eyebrow raised, "but you wouldn't `cause I'm not. Well," he thought about it, "some girls back home call me cute but I think they use the word for anything and everything. Ha, ha, ha." He laughed jovially.
Lake's head hung and if he'd been an anime character the bead of sweat would have easily overwhelmed his small, round skull. "What blatant honesty." The boy mumbled to himself under his breath.
"What was that?" Kale leaned in closer, tilting his head so he could see beneath the inconvenient sweep of bangs.
"Nothing." Alake hurriedly pulled back again with a shaky smile, "you're just really honest." He was going to suffer from a minor stroke if this uncalled for and always unexpected closeness to such a handsome face continued. Topic change. "You're not scared you'll trip walking like that?"
"`Course not!" Kale suddenly scooped up one of Lake's free hands. "It's because you're focusing so much on the ground that you keep tripping. Just look up and pretend it's not there." He pulled on the light length of arm. "Follow me!"
They ran through leafy shrubs and hopped over moss covered logs; weaved about various bushes and by passed old boulders. We're going to die! A voice in Lake's head screamed but his feet just kept on moving. Topple over some big ass rock and roll down into the river and drown! But it didn't matter; he couldn't help but laugh, echoing Kale's melodious one as they raced through the forest, paying little heed to the green and brown blur that surrounded them. This was crazy, but every time Alake was about to stumble Kale merely supported his weight and pulled him forward, like their shoes had sprouted wings and were lifting them up off the spongy earth.
They broke through the foliage and into a small clearing, laughing hysterically and completely out of breath. Everyone looked up from the things they were doing and Kale was the first to straighten himself up. He yanked, the not-so-white-anymore towel that was about to fall off, back into place.
"Kale!" Mrs. Dime sounded reprimanding. "What on earth are you doing romping around the woods half-dressed like that!? Quickly, go put on a shirt before you catch a cold!"
His sisters laughed in unison from where they sat by the open flame, rotating chicken wings skewed on long metal prongs, "boys."
"Mom," Kale protested, "it's so warm still. I'm fine."
She shook her head, stern. "The sun's almost gone and you know how cold it gets at night."
"All right," He finally gave in, "I will in a bit."
"And you must be Alake, Trent's nephew? He's told us all about you. Come on over and have a seat." She motioned to the fire where there were quite a few spots open. "Supper will be ready soon and your uncle is just setting up his tent right now with Bret, Kale's dad. My name's Janet and these are my two daughters Amanda and Cathy." The girls looked up and smiled at him; one nodding, the other giving a little wave with her free hand.
"Hi," he returned their gestures with a weak yet genuine smile, "nice to meet you." He followed Kale uncertainly towards the trio, who lifted the lid of the pot set on a small propane gas stove by their huge black SUV nonchalantly and peered in.
"What are we eating?"
"Mashed potatoes, chicken and corn," Amanda replied cordially to her baby brother.
Kale nodded approvingly and was just about to plop back into a lawn chair when Mrs. Dime cleared her throat loudly. "Kale, your shirt."
"Oh yeah," he shot up before his butt could even touch the fabric of the fold up contraption. "Come on Lake." He took that hand again and led the much shyer and docile boy away. "You can leave your stuff in my tent."
"Supper will be ready soon! Find your father and tell him too!" She called after them before their figures receded completely into the surrounding brush.
Lake glanced about with concern as they walked further and further away from the main camp. "Umm, Kale why's your tent so far from everyone else's?"
"It's not." They stepped into a very small clearing and he turned cheerfully. "It's right here." They could just barely hear the muffled sounds of the girls' chatter. Lake's eyebrows rose a bit, "seems far to me."
He was a bit hesitant with his question, "isn't it," a little embarrassed, "kinda scary, out here by yourself?"
"Nah," he was crawling into the evergreen folds of its entrance. "My parent's tent is just a few meters that way and Trent's will probably be the furthest out. It's hard to find a clearing that's big enough for our car, fire and one or two tents, let alone three or four. Anyways, the girls wanted to be near the fire this time `cause they get cold and I don't care, so yeah." He was riffling through things and then lifted the material away. "What you waiting for?" He poked his head out, gazing up at Alake, who looked like he didn't really know what to do with himself. "Aren't you coming in? Or did you want to stay over with your uncle?"
"Oh no," Alake shuffled his feet unconsciously. Cub scouts, cub scouts. Sharing a tent with someone his own age would be a lot more fun that sleeping next to his uncle, definitely. He slipped off the backpack and stepped forward. "I'll stay with you, if it's ok."
"Of course," he moved aside to let the other boy in. "I moved my stuff, so there's plenty of room."
Once inside the dome Alake started feeling a little better. It wasn't anywhere near as small as he had imagined and Kale immediately helped to roll out the boy's borrowed sleeping bag on the other half of the vinyl green flooring. "There," he dusted off his hands and Lake noted that he had a plain white wifebeater tank on now. "Just like home." He was on his knees and crawled back towards the entrance. "We better head back before they eat all the food without us." His stomach growled loudly and he laughed, slipping on his shoes which they'd left by the door that flipped open. "I'm starved."
Alake moved over and tentatively sat next to him, to follow suit, when his stomach made a just as disagreeable sound as Kale's. He laughed out loud as well, never having felt so at ease with someone in his entire life. Strangely enough, to him, Kale was practically the definition of the cliché phrase, `a breath of fresh air'.
That night Lake settled into his sleeping bag feeling pretty tired from the day's endeavors. Kale's family was really friendly and extremely talkative. He wasn't use to visiting so much and they had bombarded him with all kinds of questions. Good thing Uncle Trent had been there to divert some of the attention and Mrs. Dime sent everyone to bed early for tomorrow's big trip.
Kale flopped down next to him. "I'm beat but don't think I'll be able to sleep." He turned onto his side to face Lake, who had his eyes firmly shut already, facing the ceiling and refusing to move a muscle. His heart was jumping around like a bunny on Ecstasy and beating wildly in his ears; this was crazy and absolutely nothing like cub scouts. He had purposefully decided to torture himself for an entire two nights. Good job idiot. He could feel Kale shift around restlessly next to him and then lean over his still form. "Lake? Are you really asleep already?"
Alake played with the idea of just pretending to be but couldn't really do it - a small smile breaking his stringent line of rose at Kale's perturbed tone. "No," he peeked open an eye through the sift of golden strands and then sat up.
Kale backed up, giving him more space. "Oh, I thought you might've been since you were so quiet."
Lake crawled over to his backpack without really getting out of his little black cocoon and pulled out something from one of the side pockets. "Nah, I can't sleep that easily actually." He returned and settled back down next to the other curious teenager. "I usually listen to music until I fall asleep." He revealed a silver IPod in his open palm. "Wanna try it? Might help you relax." He held out one of the earpieces on the long length of white cord.
"Sure," Kale smiled and accepted it.
Lying back down slowly together, they put a headphone in each ear and Lake showed him the tiny screen, turning it on. "What kind of music do you like?"
"Hmm, anything really, but I lean towards more rock rather than rap."
"Hee, hee, me too." Kale had never known a guy who could giggle and get away with it the way Alake could. He smiled softly to himself. "Wanna hear my favorite band?"
Kale shrugged, "sure."
He scrolled for the song with his thumb and pushed play. A video popped onto the screen as the music started.
"Wow, is that the singer?!" Kale grabbed Alake's slender wrist suddenly and pulled the device closer to his face. "He's so pretty! Like a girl almost."
Lake blushed but the light from the small LCD screen wasn't enough to illuminate his betraying features. "This is Tokio Hotel. I really think the main singer's cool. He can just dress anyway he wants to. Do his hair all crazy and its totally ok. Plus he's got an awesome voice."
"Yeah," Kale was watching the screen intently, "sounds kinda like Greenday. I like this song. The guitar riffs are really good."
"Ah yeah," Lake sounded like he just realized something. "Sometimes I forget it's not English and other people can't understand it but the guitarist, that's his twin brother playing and one of the bands they like is actually Greenday so maybe that's why the sound is similar."
"What?" Kale turned to Lake and blinked, "that's his twin? They don't look anything alike. I mean being twins and all. He looks like a gangster with the baggy clothes, cap and crazy dreadlocks while the other one," he analyzed the screen for a moment, "well he just looks like a really pretty emo."
Alake laughed, as straight forward as ever. "Yeah, guess you're right. I wouldn't mind having hair like that though. It looks good up or down and it's wild, like making a statement."
Kale turned back to the screen and analyzed the charcoal and blond streaked, chaotically layered, shoulder length hair of the performer who seemed to sing with his entire body instead of just using his mouth and the mike. "It's cool but," Kale turned to Alake again, even though he could only see a dark silhouette of the boy's face. "I like your hair now too."
"Yeah, all that black would probably make me look like a ghost" Lake replied quietly, "and it's not like I'd ever get it done like that. I just think it's tight but I'm not that much of a trendsetter. I'd rather blend in with the crowd."
"Oh really?" Kale sounded genuinely thoughtful.
"Yeah," he replied, completely at terms with himself.
The song was ending and the next one called `Schrei' started blaring. Kale began to laugh. "Can you seriously fall asleep to this?"
And Lake joined him. "No, not that song," he changed it, "let's listen to Death Cab."
"Oh," Kale sounded pretty happy, "you like them too?"
`Summer Skin' started playing softly into each of their ears and they both settled down into the plush of their sleeping bags. The intricate storytelling and melody easily lulling the two boys to sleep...
"Squeaky swings and tall grass
The longest shadows ever cast
The water's warm and children swim
And we frolicked about in our summer skin
I don't recall a single care
Just greenery and humid air
Then Labor day came and went
And we shed what was left of our summer skin
On the night you left I came over
And we peeled the freckles from our shoulders
Our brand new coats so flushed and pink
And I knew your heart I couldn't win
Cause the season's change was a conduit
And we'd left our love in our summer skin"
-Death Cab for a Cutie
The next morning they were all up before the break of dawn and packing. They loaded the majority of the Dime's things into the parked SUV and locked it down, taking the minimal amount of items with them to strap securely in dry bags on the raft. They were all set and headed out just as the sun started to rise.
The first couple of miles started out nice and easy, with a few sections of sandpaper water and class I rapids. They `kruised' along and it picked up a bit more with a couple Class IIs. Alake had felt a bit apprehensive but after a few hours he was feeling much more relaxed, getting a feel for the boat and the waters.
They passed through the orangey-red stone of a gorge early in the morning with a hawk cawing high up in the brightening blue sky and he regretted that his camera wasn't waterproof. Things looked different out on the river compared to sitting on the shore. He wished he could have snapped a few pictures of the exquisite rock formations and the tall, antlered deer that lapped at the far side of the river but had to make do with trying to stockpile the images in his memory.
Trent slowly worked his way into getting a little more daring as everyone's eyes seemed to open up a bit wider and blink away any leftover sleep. He instructed one half of the boat to row causing them to spin off the tail end of a Class I rapid and into some sandpaper waves. The girls giggled and Kale's parents smiled at one another while the two teenage boys laughed at the back.
Trent glanced over at his nephew and smiled. Everyone was getting a lot more comfortable and perky. That was good, because he intended to pick up the pace of the trip from this point on.
The first Class III rapid came up and it was a jagged path between a sort of island patch of trees and an oversized boulder. Their guide instructed everyone to dig deep as they approached, until the small craft caught on to the proper current. It pulled them in hard and the front end of their boat submerged for a split second before popping free. Giggles and laugher echoed the tumbling froth and they splashed back into the main current, paddling along merrily afterwards.
"Can we try doing those tricks again today Trent?" Kale was wide awake now and sounded excited with bubbling anticipation.
"Sure," he smiled widely, "there should be a few places we can be a bit more adventurous than the regulars. I'll let you know when they come up."
Mrs. Dime glanced over her shoulder to the back of the raft. "Alake, will you be okay with that?" Her voice rang with that considerate motherly tone. "You were saying last night that you haven't done any really serious rafting before."
Lake returned her thoughtfulness with a sweet smile. "It's fine." The warmth moved up from prettily curved lips to twinkle in his gold flecked eyes. "I have complete trust in my uncle's skill and I've been watching people raft all summer so I don't feel so nervous anymore."
"You were nervous?" Kale asked, turning. He sounded a bit bewildered and Alake glanced away shyly.
"Well, just a little."
Amanda, who Lake had found out last night was the middle child turned to her brother. "Idiot, anyone would be nervous if they hadn't gone for awhile! Even I was nervous yesterday."
"Me too." Cathy admitted on the other side. "Even though we come every summer it's always a bit nerve racking `specially since the guides are always changing, you never know what to expect until you're actually on the water."
"Yeah" Kale jabbered on happily with the two of them. "One time we got this really militaristic dude and he was freakin' scary! Like he was shouting orders for the entire ride but," he glanced over his shoulder at Trent with a small smirk," you're pretty tight for an old dude, Trent."
"Kale." His father scolded throatily from the front seat but Trent only shook his head and chuckled.
"I'll try to take that as a compliment."
"What do you mean try?" The boy turned more to get a better look at the middle aged man's expression. "That was a compliment."
Alake began laughing, the sound resonating about them like the tinkling of multiple bells and Kale gazed over at him. "Wow." The word sort of just slipped out quietly.
"Just keep paddling." Trent scoffed, easily taking notice of that dazed expression pointed in his young nephew's general direction. "There's another III coming up so why don't we try to ride the eddie for this one?"
Kale blinked out of it quickly, his automatic response to the idea a heartfelt cheer. "Yeah!" He turned to the other boy excitedly, "get ready, this is really fun!"
"Okay," they were quickly approaching a large patch of rocks where the water was churning, twirling and swirling into a mess of white froth and mist. The front end dipped in deep, "when I give the word everyone move as far into the back of the boat as they can and dig deep."
The natural current pulled them in like the previous rapid and it was just about to pop. "Now!" They all pulled back away from the rising front end. Alake and Kale sliding right onto the back edge next to Trent. "Dig! Dig deep!"
They were fighting frantically against the pull of the under current and then suddenly Alake couldn't feel it batting against his oar anymore. The raft had lifted up and was floating a top the furious tumble of the rolling wave. Everyone started to laugh, cheering and Alake felt a tingle run up his spine. "Wow," he couldn't help but exclaim, "this is cool."
Kale glanced over happily but suddenly in that brief moment of distraction a different current pulled on his oar. The same was happening on Lake's side and his paddle crashed into Cathy's. Then, in an attempt to recover, he leaned over digging deeper but the boat rocked and bounced back into the natural downstream current. Alake didn't even have time to steady himself, the little yellow dingy jumped and bucked him right off into the raging waters.
"Lake!" Kale shouted, and before Trent was able to catch hold of the other teenager's lifejacket, had dived in right after his submerged friend.
"Kale!" Amanda cried after him.
Trent swiftly grabbed the reigns of their ride tightly again. "Everyone, back to your positions!" He ordered, "let's pull out of here without flipping." On a trip like this, carrying so much camping equipment, it was not even fathomable to belly up or even worse get wrapped on one of the many surrounding rocks.
Alake's small body did somersaults down there in the dark and for some reason he found it strange how naturally his body knew when not to breathe. His arms waved about freely, reaching for something? His hands empty, dammit, I lost my oar. The water pushed and pulled him in different directions, which way was up? He felt disorientated but began to kick his legs anyways. The lifejacket dragging him along - its coarse material scratching the tender underside of his arms, until they broke through the surface.
The sun temporarily blinded his dilated, readjusting pupils; he gasped and filled his empty lungs to their max. Streams of water ran down from his hair and over his face soothingly warmed by the heat of the midmorning rays. It felt strange at this moment, blinking drops out of his eyes, like crying but not really. Something bumped into his heavily padded back lightly and then two hands came around to encircle his small frame, one clutching an oar. "Are you okay Lake?" That voice sounded truly concerned.
He took another deep breath, relief settling in with the security of that reassuring embrace. "Yeah, the smile spread and changed, "yeah." He started to laugh, the adrenaline rush kicking in, "that was crazy!"
Kale began laughing as well, genuinely relieved. "I know!"
Their legs were both kicking under the turbulent surface. "Ah, but I lost my paddle." Lake exclaimed ruefully, turning his head a bit.
"No," Kale pulled the one in his hand closer to them. "This one's yours, I left mine back in the boat."
"What?" Lake was looking over his shoulder at him confused, "didn't you fall in too?"
"Well, no, not really..."
"Kale! Lake!" Trent shouted at them. "We're going to pull you back in quickly." He sounded a little angry and Lake tried to turn to see why but Kale, who still had a strong hold on him, made it difficult. "Don't look at me! Continue facing downstream!"
The handle of an oar hooked into the strappings on Kale's lifejacket tactfully and began fishing them in. Trent hefted one of the boys up over the craft's edge, while Mr. Dime reached over and pulled in the other with Cathy's help. They repositioned quickly and just in time too, for the next short bout of rapids was right in front of them just as everyone settled down, back into their proper spots.
After that smooth run the river spread out into a wide shallow patch and Trent told everyone to stop paddling so they could turn and listen to him with their full attention. "Boys this is really important. I understand that you want to look out for one another but that little stunt you pulled back there Kale, was actually more dangerous than you may realize. No matter how it looks, it's rarely safe to dive into rapids, there could be hidden submerged rocks that you can't see or a very strong undercurrent. I can't have you jumping in after one another every time someone falls out. One swimmer is hard enough to recover while two can have a pretty big impact. First it throws off the whole balance of the raft and secondly, if we're in the middle of a long run or there's two sets that quickly follow one another, it can be quite a challenge to get you both back onboard." He sounded so serious that Lake cringed a bit; Trent hadn't scolded him for a single thing since he'd arrived here so this "life or death" reprimanding was quite a big first.
However he was mainly focused on Kale and not so much his nephew, with copious amounts of intent eye contact. "It's not your fault if you fall in accidentally, that is bound to happen but if you can avoid falling in, please do so at all times. When we arrive at a place where it's completely safe to jump in and swim around I'll let you know. There are plenty of places like that but not in the middle of a run? Alright," he glanced about the boat for any questions, "does everyone understand?" There was a quiet nod of heads as they all seriously consented and Mrs. Dime was contently pleased that Trent had taken the initiative to really lay out the rules. "Okay." He ended the small lecture with a kind smile, returning easily to his more cheerful persona. "Let's get going then. I have one or two more tricks up my sleeve before we stop for lunch and on that note, everyone did really well with riding that eddie earlier."
On the last rapid of the day, they finally managed to successfully perform a trick called a `Boof' which had been failing continuously. The idea was to paddle hard and get enough speed to ride up onto a smooth 35 degree angled rock, slide right across the wet slick surface and splash back down into the water again. However, so far they'd only manage to either bump off the side of the potential formations or actually get stuck up on the uneven surface. So when they finally managed to bump and slide, the air was filled with ecstatic hoots and hollers. Even Mr. Dime was crowing excitedly and everyone was able to put-out that day in an excellent mood.
They set up camp and ate in happy silence, a bit too tired to think of what to say tonight. By eight o'clock the sun was setting and Mrs. Dime ended the cheerful card games to send everyone off to bed early. Tomorrow would be another long day and there was not a single soul present who wasn't grateful for her opportune timing.
Alake curled up into his sleeping bag comfortably next to Kale. There was no need for music, no need for words; they were far too exhausted for all that. Instead each boy simply gave the other an all knowing grin and little nod of understanding before falling into deep, dreamless sleep.
"Hey Lake, did you have fun?" They were being towed with a few other rafts through the lake by jet skis at the take-out late in the afternoon on day two. The boys were lounging together in the front section with the girls behind them, stretched out legs propped up to enjoy a short tan. Trent was off in a few boats ahead, flirting with a co-worker while Mr. and Mrs. Dime had traded spots with their son and Lake; their backs turned and chatting with the couples' vessel tied to the rear of their own.
Today' trip had been just as exciting as lasts, with the addition of several other rafters out on the bottom half of the river. Most parties were there just for a day trip and were not as experienced as Trent's boat so they ended up being the `sweep', taking their time to go down the rest of the river and performing tricks for onlookers here and there when they accidentally pulled too far ahead. They had been responsible to take in any stranded swimmers but nothing really major happened during the course of the day and they only ended up with a few extra oars which had already been redistributed. In fact everyone's attitude was very playful and there'd been tons of friendly splashing turned into water fights, between boats for the majority of the trip. It was pretty cool. Everyone on the river seemed so good natured; I guess that's just how people are when they're on vacation. Lake turned to Kale with a wide smile. "Thanks for convincing me to come. It was really fun."
The other boy smiled back, "I'm really glad you came. He, he, it's was great chilling with you."
"Ha, ha, ha," Lake laughed, they had become good friends in such a short period of time, it was weird and yet felt completely natural. "Yeah, same here."
Kale lips then twisted into a playful pout, "it's too bad we didn't meet up earlier, since my family will probably be packing up and leaving soon."
"Yeah," Lake glanced away sounding a bit remorseful himself. "Summer's almost over huh?"
"Yeah," Kale leaned onto one of his elbows. "You really worked up here all summer and then have to go back to school huh? That must be rough."
The other boy smirked, "yeah, sorta but it wasn't so bad, now that I think about it. If I was at home, I'd probably just be doing nothing anyways. This was kinda like my first real white water rafting trip so I'll have something interesting to tell my friends about at least." He laughed; Levin was going to be shocked. Oh wait, were they even still friends? He'd run immediately after confessing and hadn't talked to Levin since. The smile faded a bit.
Kale tilted his head, "hey, what's wrong?"
Lake blinked and shook his head, "ah nothing." He smiled halfheartedly, he hadn't thought about the incident at all during the whole two day trip, why now? He tried not to sigh. "Just thinkin' about school, I don't really wanna go back."
"Oh yeah?" Kale relaxed back into the boat. "I guess I don't really wanna either. We'll be moving to the city and living in a new place is gonna suck. I've lived in the same small town for my entire life; knew everyone who lived there."
"Don't worry." Lake gazed over at Kale, his tone sounded reassuring. "I think you'll be fine." His eyes shone softly with adoration that the other boy missed completely, eyes shut against the constant glare of the blazing sun above them. "Since you're really friendly and outgoing, I know you'll have no problem fitting in."
"You sound like my mom." One eye lid lifted lazily halfway and he peered up out of the corner at his friend with a little grin.
Alake felt his cheeks begin to blush, embarrassed. "Don't compare me to your mom!" He protested as quietly as possible as to not offend Mrs. Dime who was still in hearing range.
"What was that?" Kale raise a hand to his ear playfully, eyes closed again.
Lake pouted, arms crossing. "You, never mind." A small sigh slipped out. "Anyways I'm sure you'll like living in the city. Things are so much more convenient. There's always something to see or do and you're the type that can become popular easily."
"Popular?" Kale looked up curiously through half-lidded eyes. He laughed, the tow had stopped and people were shuffling about detaching the boats from one another. "I don't care about those things." He popped up quite suddenly and caught Lake off guard. "I just like having fun!" And before the other boy could figure out what exactly was happening he was pounced and the two of them toppled backwards off the edge of the raft and into the gently rippling lake.
Lake came up for air quickly with wide eyes and an open mouth that gasped for air. The water was freakin' cold but refreshing, since it was another sweltering day. However, he hadn't been prepared to be dunked in all at once! Kale splashed him teasingly, laughing and Lake splashed back, smiling. "You little-"
Kale splashed him some more. "Who are you calling little? I've got you beat by a good three inches!"
"Well, I was going to say jerk, but maybe embodiment of pure evil is more accurate!" Alake laughed splashing back.
Kale blinked under the shower of tiny droplets, still smiling. "You're a nerd, aren't you?" He taunted, and laughed at Lake's furiously furrowed up brow and pursed lips.
"I guess," he replied changing back to a smile quickly with a brow still exaggeratedly V'ed. "I'm definitely no knuckle-headed jock like someone around here."
Kale laughed even harder. "You really are cute, aren't you?" He reached over to the other boy, the hand rising out of the grey blue water to muss up golden strands that were slicked back from their wetness like the once trendy greaser style of the 60s. "You look like that evil kid from Harry Potter like that."
And Alake lost all his smart retorts from that touch, reddening.
"Kale! Quit picking on Lake!" Mrs. Dime called over from where their boat had drifted in closer to the shore. "The way you treat your friends," her head shook in disapproval, "it's really a wonder how you even have any at all."
Cathy laughed, overhearing. "Mom, they're boys. Boys act like that. That's how they communicate their affection. That's the difference between the gender roles society sets for us as kids."
"Sociology major," Kale whispered, "she's probably the biggest nerd ever."
"It's like men never evolved since the caveman era." Cathy continued pointedly.
Amanda laughed, "yeah, they still use barks and grunts." The three women laughed out loud to themselves and Mr. Dime exchanged sardonic looks with his son.
Lake contained his laughter at how they all played off one another. The way the guys looked with their eyes rolling, the way the girls were chortling, completely forgetting his earlier awkwardness. He glanced over at his uncle who had already disembarked and was wading knee deep, pulling on a neon yellow cord to reel them in.
"Ok boys," Mr. Dime jumped out as well, "why don't you two come back over here and help pull the boat a shore, since you're all wet already?"
"Okay!" They shouted over and half swam, half floated back over to either side of the raft's stern. Mr. Dime was pulling on a side handle while the boy's pushed on the back until the bottom began to scrap against a rocky uneven floor. The women got out and positioned themselves in the rest of the open spaces along the sides, working together to lift the pretty heavy floatation device up and out of the water.
"Hey," Kale turned to Lake as they carried it up to a waiting caravan. "You wanna come over tonight and hang out?"
"Mmm," Lake sounded thoughtful, "I want to but I have to work tomorrow morning and I feel kinda wiped." He sounded truly regretful.
"Oh yeah," Kale nodded, "I totally understand. I'm pretty beat too. Rafting does that to you." He laughed, but there was a hint of disappointment to the melodious tone this time.
Lake glanced over, looking shy. "Mmnh, but if it's ok, I could come over after work tomorrow?"
Kale brightened instantly, "course it's fine!"
"You're parents don't mind? Maybe you should ask them first?"
"Nah! They don't care, come by anytime! We can make s'mores or something!"
"He, he," Lake smiled happily. Kale was the one who was cute. He felt his cheeks threaten to flush again and internally reprimanded himself to keep it under control. No more stupid ****. "Sure, sounds like fun."
"Of course," Kale beamed, "and it's yummy too!"
A gentle breeze rustled the leaves of nearby trees and bushes on the green bank. He rested the cumbersome camera back upon his lean chest and glanced at his watch, it was almost twelve. He wondered if Kale would be by again today. Recently, the other boy had made it a habit to hike up river to where Lake's post was and they'd eat lunch together. Today Alake had made the sandwiches and they sat chilling in the tiny cooler under his seat. A small smile rested on still lips, sometimes Kale would stay for a few hours longer and play around with the equipment. Shooting some of the rafters while Lake was taking pictures with his own camera or capturing Alake while he worked who would laugh and tell him to stop. He hated being in pictures, he didn't consider himself a very photogenic person even though he had the talent of making everyone else look photogenic. Yeah, it was a lot more fun taking pictures of Kale.
A few twigs snapped beneath his feet and branches of feathery leaves swished, Lake looked up expectantly. He broke through in that familiar grey cap, white tank and carpenter shorts, hefting a small backpack. Their eyes met and Kale beamed. "Hey Lake!"
The other boy felt like he could blush from his friend's blatant enthusiasm at seeing him. He got up out of his chair hurriedly, "hey," that familiarly meek smile. "I'll be right down!"
They sat on the old moldy log munching on the chicken salad and rye sandwiches. "These are great!" Kale praised after swallowing a mouthful. "I'll have to think of something good for tomorrow. We don't have much fresh stuff left since we're leaving soon. Just canned tuna and spam, bleh." His nose crinkled a bit before turning to Lake and apologizing for his lack of contribution. "Sorry."
Lake was eating quietly. "It's ok. I'm just happy to have some company during my break. You know," he was glancing away shyly, "you don't have to come every day. Isn't it a difficult hike? My spot's pretty far from the campgrounds."
"Nah," Kale rejected the idea easily, "it's a piece of cake. I'm really good at hiking and I like coming up here to see you; gives me something to do."
"But aren't you leaving soon? Your family doesn't want to do more family things before you head back home?" Lake looked at him uncertainly.
"Nah," Kale finished off the last few bits of his sandwich, "we see each other all year long. They said it was fine for me to come up here and hang out with you as long as I wasn't disrupting your work." Kale glanced over at Lake who was listening intently while chewing. "Your boss doesn't mind, does she?"
Lake swallowed, "well, actually she's just the manager and I don't think she really knows, since you always leave before she makes the rounds for picking everyone up." He was smiling a bit coyly and Kale chuckled.
"But can't they see the difference in the pictures? The one's I take really suck!"
"No, they don't!" Alake was quick to protest and then almost choked on the last bite of his sandwich.
"Hey," Kale rubbed the boy's back as he coughed a few times, bent over. "You okay? Be more careful." He was seriously worried, "maybe we shouldn't talk and eat at the same time."
Alake shook it off, lifting his head that was redder from the soothing pats then the lack of air. "I'm fine." He tried to swallow. "I forgot the water bottles in the cooler. I'll go get them."
Kale held back the boy who was about to get up. "Ah, I brought something better!" He yanked over his bag and pulled out two bottles of brightly colored liquid from its insulated section. "I almost forgot I took these." He cracked open the florescent blue one and handed it to Alake. "Since I can't bring any decent food I thought something good to drink might make up for that." He laughed to himself and opened the other one while Alake was eyeing his bottle a bit incredulously.
"Um, Kale," he was reading the label, B&J Blue Hawaiian, "isn't this alcohol?"
"Barely," Kale smiled, "try it. It's really sweet. My sisters love this stuff. We have so many in our drink cooler I was sure they wouldn't miss two." He took a big gulp of the Strawberry Daiquiri in his hand that was a shocking red. Downing it like water and Lake watched with slightly enlarged eyes. Kale glanced up, "sorry, did you want this one instead?" He held it out, "I should've asked first but that one's sweeter so I thought you might like it more."
Lake returned his thoughtfulness with a small shake of his head and a smile. "Mmnh, this is fine." He tentatively brought the neck of the bottle up to his lips and tilted it back to let the cool liquid sit on his tongue briefly. It really was sweet, almost sickeningly sweet with a vulgar bitter aftertaste which made the next gulp that much better. The fizz tickled his nose as he finished swallowing and glanced over at Kale who wasn't paying attention at all, leaning sideways onto one outstretched arm while languidly enjoying the refreshing beverage. They listened to the inconsistent chatter of the birds high above. Lake drinking a little more to catch up so that when Kale's attention did return to him it wouldn't show that he was a complete `noob' to this type of thing. Hey, it was just a drink, right? And sorta tasted like fancy soda anyways.
"So you handed in your two weeks' notice huh?" Kale made conversation easily out of thin air.
"Hmmm," he sounded thoughtful, gazing away at something random. "So are you going to that barbeque thing this weekend?"
"Hmm, yeah, probably." He sipped at his drink. "My uncle will probably talk me into going."
"You don't want to go?" Kale asked considerately, turning to him.
"Well," Lake fidgeted with the now half empty bottle. "Not particularly. I haven't been getting along that well with the local kids."
"No way!" Kale exclaimed, "who would want to fight with you?"
Lake shook his head, "not really fight." He took another sip, "I'm just sort of quiet so I haven't talked much with any of them even though I've been here all summer." He sighed, quietly, "I guess they must think I'm a little weird."
His head was hung down and Kale was unable to see his expression but the comment itself, sounded terribly lonely. "You're not weird." Kale shifted on the log, passing his bottle from one hand to the other. He sat closer to Lake, his head bent over, to try and see beneath the sweep of golden brown locks. "You're just shy, don't worry I'll introduce you to some of the guys at the barbeque. We come here all the time so I'm pals with most of them."
Lake looked up at him smiling; his face a bit flush, his eyes shimmering. "Thanks Kale but it's ok, you're leaving that weekend and I'll be leaving soon too so there's no need." He finished off his drink resolutely.
Kale pulled back slightly startled by the cute vulnerable expression on Lake's face at that moment. "But won't you be coming back next summer to work? You might as well get to know them."
"Probably not," Lake held the empty bottle with two hands, contemplating. "I don't know how I even ended up here this summer? It was all actually a big misunderstanding."
"Oh?" Kale sounded disappointed, looking away, "that's too bad."
"Yeah," Lake replied softly leaning over, he rested his head on a broad shoulder, his lengthy bangs falling over his fair features.
Kale, caught off guard, jumped a bit but the other boy didn't notice. "Lake, are you okay?"
"Mmnnh," his eyes were closed already, "I feel kind of sleepy. Can you wake me up when my lunch hour's over?"
"Ah sure," he was getting use to the extra weight resting against him but found it pretty out of character for Lake to be so clingy; lifting his own bottle with a bit of an unconcerned shrug. Ah wells, this was pretty nice in its own way. He took another swig of his drink and then realized something. "But are you feeling ok Lake? You're not drunk are you?"
"I don't think so." The other boy mumbled back, "but I guess I wouldn't really know. I've never really drank before...so maybe this is me drunk? But I just really feel kinda tired suddenly. Sorry I can't talk right." He moved in closer to Kale, settling more comfortably next to him.
"This is your first time drinking?" He sounded surprised, well he was surprised. "You should have told me. I would've told you to drink it slower."
Lake shook his head, "I'm fine. It's just hot and I'm full and you're comfy. I'll just rest a bit..." he was dozing off and Kale slipped the empty bottle from his lax hands, placing it on the ground next to his feet. It was hot, he sipped on his drink, relaxing. Yeah, this was fine. It was okay if they could be this way just for a few minutes, just until he finished his bottle. Then he'd take Lake over to the river and wake him up with a few splashes of the cold mountain water; that would easily sober anyone up. Geez, there wasn't even that much alcohol in these drinks. Heh, he smiled to himself, cute.
The air smelt of burning wood and charcoal. That smoky barbeque smell that you can't get off even after you've change clothes, like it got imbedded into every pore of your skin. Lake gazed over at Kale who was playing tackle football with the local boys and some other robust campers. They had asked him to join but he'd politely declined of course. He wasn't much for sports, other than what they were forced to do in phys. ed. and football was that much more intimidating. Anyways, it was awkward; like everyone who was buddies with Kale instantly became cool in their books. Lake tried not to sigh, his mouth feeling dry, the charbroiled hamburger and hotdog taste beginning to stagnate on his tongue. The satisfaction of eye candy starting to fall short in comparison to feeling left out and alienated.
Hmm, he gazed at Kale, the random array of his dark spiky hair, the glistening droplets speckling golden skin, the way the biceps in his sleeveless upper arm rippled as he waved. Waved? Alake blinked and then their eyes met across the array of lawn chairs, picnic tables, tree trunks and long bladed grass. That dazzling smile, Lake felt his cheeks flare up immediately from being caught staring. He managed a meek return smile and quickly glanced away; looking down to hide his expression from anyone who happened to notice the friendly exchange.
The Dime's and his uncle were busy chatting away with other adults and Kale's sisters were making small talk with a band of handsome, strapping young men. Lake shuffled his feet consciously. Teenage girls in their packs buzzed around giggling and chirping like baby sparrows; a trio finally seating themselves on the other side of his picnic table. Lake got up, his attention drifting over to the seedless watermelon being chopped up across from where he sat. He milled over and quietly accepted a large piece from the woman who smiled at him broadly. The green and red prism filled both his hands generously and he wandered away from the sizzling grill and inconsistent chatter, to a table on the outskirts of the festivities. He sat on a bench facing the river, his back to the table and everything else now. A piece of driftwood was floating along and tumbled over a small rapid. Alake wondered how far it would go before getting caught up in a crop of rocks or some shallows. He took a bite out of the luscious fruit in his palms thoughtfully. It was really sweet and a small gratifying smile crept onto his usually placid lips.
"Hey," he whispered close into an unsuspecting ear, "is it good?"
Alake jumped, startled and he blinked up at Kale who impulsively sat down next to the surprised boy, cheerful.
"Mnh," he swallowed, still smiling, "yeah."
"Really?" Kale beamed, he was always so shiny. "Let me try?" His mouth opened, "ah."
Lake giggled helplessly and then uncertainly lifted the piece of melon while Kale in turn swept up a slender wrist to bring it up further and chomped down on one of the uneven peaks. "Eeeh!" Lake exclaimed quite quietly as juice began to trickle down between his fingers and over his hands from the impact of that bite. "You're so messy!" He teased playfully.
"S'orry." Kale leaned in more; his tongue, after finishing with the moisture on his lips, sticking out as if ready to lap up any of the remaining sticky substance from other places.
Lake instinctively pulled away quickly from that light grasp, knowing damn well that his all too spontaneous friend was prone do doing rash things that flustered him terribly. He shyly licked up the light pink trail himself like a silken cat lapping at its dirtied paw. "It's really sweet huh?" Kale commented, watching intently.
Lake glanced up and then away, almost instantaneously, feeling embarrassed again. There was just no way to avoid it when Kale was involved. "Yeah," he nibbled a little more of the tender fruit, trying to act indifferent and probably failing miserably at it. Stupid, why didn't you just wipe it off on your pants like any normal guy would do?
Kale didn't care, "share with me?" He asked so seriously.
Alake glanced over at him with a soft smile, his eyebrows curving up curiously. "Sure, but why don't you just go get one?"
He lifted it as though to pass the piece over but Kale only leaned in and took another bite off the top, careful not to drip this time. "Don't wanna. Anyways, your piece is really sweet."
"They're probably all sweet but here," Lake practically pushed it into the other boy's hands; he couldn't deal with too much more of this unnerving atmosphere, "have the rest." He tried to smile with his eyes. "It was too big for me to finish anyways." He felt uneasy here, like an animal taken from the wild and placed in a zoo. Was everyone there secretly making judging glances over at them? He knew the way they acted with each other probably wasn't that normal. Or maybe it was just him, he was reading too much into it, yeah, like with Levin. His heart was beating rapidly, maybe faster than ever before, and he wished so hard that it would just stop all together. Kale was leaving tomorrow; there was no sense to get all attached, to feel like this. He was just a guy he'd become friends with over the summer, that's all, that's it. That and the butterflies in his stomach fluttering about madly.
"Hey," Kale leaned over trying to get a better look at Lake's downcast expression. He'd already finished the watermelon and had tossed the hull into a trash can at the end of their table. "What's wrong?"
Alake looked up smiling, "ah, nothing." He fidgeted, his fingers still felt sticky. "Aren't you going to keep playing ball?" He glanced over his shoulder at the guys who were continuing with their game.
"Nah!" Kale got up. "There's actually something way better to do right now!" He pulled on Lake's arm. "Come on!"
"What?" Alake asked, being towed along with little to no resistance.
"Mom!" Kale shouted nonchalantly over the commotion of the party. Mrs. Dime was the only one to turn around, her ear tuned to the sound of her only son's voice. "Tell Trent Lake's with me will ya? We're heading back to the camp first!" She shook her head disapprovingly at her son's impudence but it was quickly followed by a nod of okay.
"I'll let him know. You two stay out trouble! And put a proper shirt on!"
"Yeah, yeah." He waved over his shoulder at her and then they were gone, vanishing into the surrounding brush and trees.
They ran down along the edge of the river until Kale came to an abrupt stop. He released Lake's hand and started taking off his shoes. "I thought we were going back to the camp?" Alake asked, quite confused.
"We're not." Kale quipped with a smirk. "Hurry, take your shoes off and roll up your pants!"
"Why?" He was loosening his sneakers hesitantly. "Where are we going?"
"Cross the river." Kale was hunched down on his heels and scooted over closer to Lake's legs. "Want me to help you?"
"No!" Lake was quick to respond and hastily removed both sneakers and socks. "I can do it myself." He was rolling the hems of his jeans up now. "Are you sure it's ok for us to just go across the river like this?"
"Course," Kale popped back up with both pairs of shoes and passed Lake his own once the boy had finished with his pants. "Trust me." He confidently took one hand and lead Alake down the bank and into the fairly shallow water.
This is crazy, Alake thought to himself as they waded across the steadily flowing stream that ran as high as half way up his calves in some places. Kale chattered on pleasantly, trying to ease the other boy's noticeable apprehension. "You know I just realized I hadn't shown you this place last night. It's one of the best things about being up here!"
They'd reached the shore and Lake didn't even bother with his socks, instead used them to dab a bit at his dripping feet before slipping into his shoes again. He barely had time to jam the wad of white into a pocket when Kale was dragging him off. "What's the rush?" Lake gasped trying to keep up while one of his loosely rolled pant legs kept falling lower than the other.
"Nothing really, just the best time to swim is from three to five, but we can probably stay out until the sun goes down. Everyone will be at the barbeque until at least midnight."
"Swim?" Lake's eyes widened, "but I don't have my shorts." He protested earnestly.
Kale laughed, "don't worry. It'll just be the two of us, you don't need them."
Lake's heart now, definitely started beating faster than it ever had, faster than he thought it ever could. Skinny dipping? "Uh, ah," he was at a loss for words, stuttering incoherently.
"We're almost there," he said over his shoulder and after a few more steps they broke out of the woods.
The glade was home to a small aqua blue pool of water which was refreshed by the constant flow of a tiny runoff above a mountain slab of shimmering ebony rock, cascading down its jagged side like a blithe waterfall. Purple, blue and yellow wildflowers littered the grassy clearing from where they stood to the edge of the miniscule lake in front of them and Kale pulled his friend further into the surreal scenery. The sweltering afternoon sun was glistening off the softly rippling water and at the right angle, the curve of a broken rainbow could be seen floating at the fall's base within a subtle misty haze.
"What do you think?" Kale asked proudly pulling him all the way to the water's edge. He began to strip off articles of clothing spiritedly.
Alake pulled out his digital camera from a pant pocket and began snapping pictures. It was the ideal set for Kale to model in, who pulled off his wifebeater and then started to unbutton his well worn khaki carpenter shorts. Click, click, click. The teenager turned, laughing. Click. "Hey what are you doing?" He approached reaching out for the camera, with only a pair of sky blue boxers on and that brilliant smile.
Lake blushed, it couldn't be help. "Recording memories?" He offered and Kale laughed some more, snatching the silver device deftly from flustered fingers.
"Alright, let me get some of you too then."
"No!" Alake clamored for it but Kale held it high and out of reach.
"It's fine." Kale argued, "you can always delete them after, right?"
"I guess." He backed off uncertainly.
"Hurry then! We're losing valuable swimming time!"
"Okay." The other boy replied ever so quietly. He began timidly removing his clothing as well, at least a little grateful that they weren't going to be splashing about in the nude. However with every click of the camera and Kale's eyes gazing intently through the viewfinder, Alake's cheeks burned fiercer and fiercer. Until he was also down to his green and blue plaid shorts, eyes glued to his bare toes intertwining with the long blades of grass beneath.
Kale put the camera down on their pile of clothes and grabbed one of Alake's hands. "You're so cute Lake. Come on, let's go swim."
The water was warm and cool all at once, sort of like Alex's mixed emotions. No matter how awkward the situation, Kale had a way of making everything seem okay and normal. Was this really normal? Being so close to another boy after only a few weeks, Lake felt he'd been knocked over from the moment they'd met and was now way in over his head. Maybe this was fine, maybe guy friends really could be this close and think nothing of it? Like brothers, but there was no way Lake felt any kind of kinship to Kale. No, he'd recognized these emotions immediately but kept pushing them away trying his best to hide them. Kale would be leaving tomorrow and then all this would be nothing more than a dreamlike memory.
"Hey," Kale treaded around him with a pair of all knowing eyes. "You've been thinking about something with that small frown all day today. Won't you tell me about it?"
Lake smiled at his concern," really it's nothing; just thinking about school."
"You don't want to go back that much?"
"Yeah," he suddenly dived under the water and popped up a little ways away. "I want to take a closer look at the waterfalls!" He called over.
Kale's handsome features still bore traces of concern as he followed suit and dove under as well, swimming a strong breast stroke to catch up. "Sure."
They spent themselves to the max in the tepid water that afternoon, warmed by the yellow cast of the gentle sun. They played until its colors changed like a ripening mango, from bright yellow to an orangey-red glow. It began to set amongst the spiky tops of evergreen trees and Kale helped Alake out of the water. He whipped his dripping shorts of with one swift move and Lake abruptly did an about face, completely taken off guard. My God, he was so brazen and worry-free. His face flared up with rouge and with a quick peek noticed the other boy was busy with wringing the small article of water, thus giving Lake the opportunity to leave his own soaked underpants in a small heap on the dusty shore and quickly slip into his jeans.
Kale turned just in time to witness the tops of two cream colored cheeks disappear into a dark navy hem. "Isn't it hard to put them on when your legs are still wet?" He was wandering over when he noticed the discarded pair of shorts, picked them up and wrung them out as well.
"Not really." Liar, it was hard as hell, the difficult material managing to stick to every imaginable spot of his still moist skin. "It's fine." Alake didn't dare to turn around.
Kale stepped up next to the flustered boy and picked up his own carpenter shorts, pulling them on. "Well if you say so." He picked up their shirts as well, passing Alake his. "Let's head back before it gets dark."
They didn't bother putting on their shoes this time; treading carefully until they reached the river and crossed over. Kale offered his tank that was slung casually across bare shoulders for Lake to dry his feet with but the boy refused and used his socks again. It'd be terrible to dirty Kale's shirt with his feet but the other boy really thought nothing of it.
They hiked back down along the river to the Dime's campsite. No one was back yet, of course, the party would run well into the night. "Hungry?" Kale asked casually peeking into their coolers, there wasn't much left to them.
"Not really," Lake replied quietly, shuffling his feet again. "Did you want to go back and eat more?"
"Nah, I'm not hungry either." He pulled out a couple cans from the drink cooler. "Thirsty? Beer okay?"
Lake's eyes widened, "beer?" He faintly recalled being splashed to consciousness last time. "I dunno. I was so embarrassed the other day..." He sounded seriously hesitant.
"It's okay, if you fall asleep I won't wake you up this time. It'll be night so it's fine if you sleep." He strode back over to Lake and handed him the icy cold can. "Come on. Let's go back to my tent."
They pulled a sleeping bag out and opened it up so they could both sit on it comfortably and stretch out weary limbs. Alake sipped on his drink, God it was terrible but he suddenly felt so thirsty; probably from all the running and swimming.
They were leaning back on one arm each gazing up at the darkening sky, waiting for the stars to appear. The airs temperature was dropping and Alake shivered. "Are you cold?" Kale looked concerned. "I can start a fire."
"No." Lake sat up rubbing one of his bare forearms, "It's okay," the short sleeves were doing little to nothing for him and his still dripping hair.
Kale shook his head and got up. "You're cold. Wait a sec." He went over to their tent, entered and came back out with a white bundle. He passed Alake a small towel, "your hair's still wet."
The boy smiled and rubbed the matted mass a bit. "Thanks but really, I'm fine."
Kale shook his head, "I'll start a fire."
In no time he had a small blaze going in a circle of already blackened stones, far enough away from the sleeping bag to keep it from catching yet close enough to Lake's side for him to feel it's comforting warmth begin to envelope his slightly chilled body.
"Put this on too." Kale order, sitting back down next to Alake, he picked up the fluffy cotton white hoodie he'd brought out with the towel.
"Really," Lake protested and yet obediently gathered the lush material in his hands. "I'm fine now."
"Wait!" Kale stilled the other boy's hands and reached out to run a palm over the Alake's shoulders, then down his back. "I knew it! This shirt's all wet too. Take it off first." He was gathering up the ends before Lake even knew what was happening and pulled it off.
Topless, he was bug-eyed, startled and flush all over again. Kale really had to stop doing these things. He hastily yanked on the hoodie, to the extent of pulling on the actual oversized hood to hide his flustered face.
Kale was smiling considerately to himself but Alake missed it and they both began to sip quietly at their cans again. "Hey Lake, we're pretty good friends, right?"
"Yeah," was the soft reply from under the hood; Kale's scent practically engulfing his senses. He let his eyelids fall shut for a moment. "We're really good friends."
"You won't forget about me once you get back home will you?" There was a tinge of honest worry slash uncertainty to his normally charismatic tone. "I know it sounds lame but let's promise to keep in touch. I'll write emails to you all the time."
"Sure and I'll write you back." His eyes opened and gazed down at his socked feet upon the black plush material. He felt the sad emptiness in those words, remembering how his middle school friend had all made similar promises and yet two years later the occasional reply was rare.
"Hey Lake," Kale's voice was calm and coaxing, "the stars are coming out, aren't you going to stop hiding from me under there."
He shuffled around on the sleek fabric until he was positioned in front of the other boy who had his arms rung around scrunched up legs. Two hands rose to lift and slowly pull back the hood but Lake refused to lift his head. "Kale," his voice was quivering. Don't do it. Something in him repeated, don't make the same mistake as last time but it must've been alcohol playing games with his heart and head that made him think this time was different. That there was a chance.
One of Kale's hands gently captured Lake's chin and tilted his head back. "You're lips are still a little blue." He leaned in as though examining them closely.
Alake's breath caught in his throat and he stumbled with the words. "They're not." He tried to pull away but couldn't really gather up enough willpower to do so completely. This was torture, for a minute there he'd thought...and his heart had practically stopped beating, just for that split second.
"Lake," Kale was creeping in ever so closer. "Don't take this the wrong way but I think you're really pretty. Even prettier than that singer you like so much."
Lake blushed, was it the alcohol talking, how strong was this stuff anyways??? He swallowed, feeling genuinely troubled. "How can I not take that the wrong way?" He really did want to pull back, no, he really wanted to pull the other boy forward. "This probably isn't a good idea." He barely whispered.
"But you're not pushing me away." Kale replied gently and then their lips met. Not briefly, like a kiss of butterfly wings stolen from an unsuspecting crush, no, Kale was not that type of guy. He was brazen and rash sometimes yet gentle and kind. His mouth was hot and hungry, with a tongue that delved deeply and pressed against Lake's with an ardent urgency. The hand on his chin traveled along a fine, slender jaw line and up past an ear, fingers pushing back strands of fair hair, curling amongst the silky locks. While the other ran along the curves of the side's of his chest and back, pressing their bodies together, closer. With both their eyes closed they lost themselves completely in the overwhelming sensations; the other's smell, touch and taste. Kale carefully laid Lake back into the downy material of his sleeping bag; his mouth and lips finding other areas to eagerly explore.
"Kale," he still wasn't sure and his small voice trembled with its uncertainty.
"Lake," his lover coerced, "I love the way you're always so shy and hesitant. I love the way you rely on me, the way you hold my hand so tight sometimes, as if never to let it go." He trailed kisses here and there as he spoke soothingly. "I love the way you react when I do things unexpectedly and the way you cheeks turn pink and the way you always turn away to try and hide it. The way you smile, the way you laugh. I think I fell in love with you the first time we met. When you stepped out of the shower in your wet socks and half open towel, the way you quickly turned around all flustered and jumped back in." He nuzzled fair warm skin just beneath the soft fabric that was now pushed up and gathering under Lake's arms. The boy swooned under his gentle and attentive administrations, this confession heaven sent. "What should I do Lake? I can't hold back anymore. I couldn't stand the thought of leaving without letting you know."
"Kale," his eyes flew open when hands pressed against places no one had ever touched before; his face coloring with the deepest crimson. "What, what if this is just the summer sun and alcohol talking. I just-"
Kale immediately stopped, rising. Their eyes met, gazing into the depths of one another's soul intently. "If you want me to stop..."
"I," he glanced away for the briefest of seconds, biting a bit on his bottom lip as he realized it. "I-" Their eyes met again and locked this time, "I don't want you to stop."
Kale descended on him swiftly, their lips meeting with a fervor that had not been so vividly present earlier. Their bodies crushing together with a fierceness comparable to that of ocean waves crashing into moonlit shores. God, if this was a summer dream, Lake silently prayed feeling Kale firmly press down into him, don't let me wake up. He lifted his arms and clung to his passionate lover's robust frame. Tears caught at the corner of his eyes, decorating long full lashes disdainfully. Even if this is just what people call a summer fling, I'll remember it for the rest of my life.
"Lake," Kale whispered into a sensitive ear as if reading his mind. "I love you. Even after this summer is over, no matter where you are, where I am; I'll always love you. So don't forget me when we leave this place, because someday my heart will bring me back to you. I can feel it."
"Kale," his arms were wrapped so snuggly about the other boy. He was such an idiot for saying such sappy things so straight forwardly, but that only made Lake's heart ache that much more. "I'm so glad I met you. I love you too." He opened his eyes gazing up at the twinkling night sky as Kale held him ever so gently, ever so securely. Flesh touching flesh, in nothing more than their summer skin under a shimmering sky. He lifted his head to brush against a cool earlobe, "please find me again Kale. Next time I want to spend the entire summer with you."
A star flecked sky had never looked so beautiful, Alake thought, letting his body which felt like it was inflamed completely relax into the surrounding plush material, welcomingly accepting all of Kale. He wanted to tell him, but words were easily lost during that warm summer night beneath the cloudless sparkle of above, with only the sounds of pleasure and satisfaction melodiously intertwining with the harmonious tranquility of nature. Here where, even if it were just for a brief moment in time, everything else was insignificant compared to the existence of one another.