Sunday, September 30, 2012

A Love Unexpected Ch. 8

…Bring Jake and Dylan Closer

The bonfire was everything that the twins and Marcus had described. There were at least a hundred young people milling around the gigantic tiki-lit garden filled with hanging baskets of flowers and low coastal shrubbery. It opened up into a wide expanse of black sand beach. A natural-wood fence followed the borders of the yard down to a secure gate just above the high-tide line, and a hundred more of Sage and Spencer’s friends were spread out along the shore. Drinking, laughing, swimming; they all came to celebrate the start of summer and end of school proper.

As far as food went, it was like walking through a sumptuous buffet in Las Vegas. Seafood of every variety, Italian and Thai dishes, a taco bar, a sandwich counter, salads in combinations Jake had never heard of, as well as the typical teen foods of hamburgers, hotdogs and every kind of pizza. Three different brands of beer, all expensive, were on tap, offered alongside exotic teas, sparkling water and tubs full of iced soda pop.

Jake surrendered the keys to his truck at the door with promises he’d get them back once he proved his sobriety at the end of the night, but it wouldn’t matter. Rooms had been set up, similar to high school grad night parties, for kids to crash in if they were too tired or too intoxicated to drive home.

Jake and Marcus found their friends easily despite the masses. Spencer was holding court with several friends, tottering a little on his feet even though it was still early. When he spotted the cousins he hailed them over in a wasted fashion and made introductions all around. Sage and Noah had found a quiet corner to cuddle, and Luis was off dancing somewhere, but they were just as enthusiastic in their welcomes.

Kelsey was, as usual, as close to Dylan as humanly possible. Jake almost turned around to lose himself in the crowd when he sighted them, but he fastened what he hoped was a naturally pleasant expression on his face and made himself greet both amiably. Kelsey said “Hi Jake” like a well-programmed robot with a smile that didn’t come anywhere near her eyes.

The truth was, Kelsey was only being nice to him under stringent duress. After Tuesday night’s beach party debacle Sage had harangued her thoroughly and practically threatened to disown her if she didn’t shape up. It was enough to make her realize that Jake had already wrapped her friends around his little finger and reduced them to blithering idiots who would believe anything he told them.

However, she needed to be careful or she’d find herself on the losing end. “As much as I think Jake is up to no good, I promise I won’t try to break up his bromance with Dylan,” she had promised her friend.

Kelsey was positive that, despite what everyone said, he was at fault for her invitation on the yacht being rescinded, but he was too suave. All he had to do was flash those innocent-looking green eyes and smile with that deep dimple, and he had them dropping like flies, convinced otherwise. No dummy, Kelsey decided she needed a change of tactics. She would fake being nice if it killed her. Biding her time, because at some point stupid Jake Nielsen would fuck up, she knew waiting him out was one of her strong points. She’d find a way to expose him.

Jake stopped worrying about Kelsey as soon as his eyes found Dylan, and his breath hitched at the sight of his beautiful, blue-eyed face. He couldn’t help it; his memories stole back to soft lips and that rescue kiss. It hurt that he didn’t trust himself to be honest with him and tell him to his face how he felt, but it would be unwelcome at best, disastrous at worse.

Steady, he told himself. Remember your vow. Focus on how Kelsey looks as if she belongs in his arms. Is he fighting her off? No, it’s as plain as can be; she is his future, not you. What kind of chance would you have with a straight guy?

Dylan broke into a huge grin, slapping Jake on the back in warm welcome. “For someone who almost drowned yesterday, you’re looking pretty good.”

“Thanks to you,” Jake replied appreciatively. “I owe you a debt of gratitude for realizing I was in trouble right away and knowing exactly what to do.”

“Nah,” Dylan waved him off modestly. “But how are you really? Any lasting side effects?”

Jake shook his head and then wished he hadn’t, grimacing. “My neck is a little stiff, but at least the nausea and headaches went away. It felt good to get clean last night and go to sleep without my aunt waking me up every half-hour.”

He laughed awkwardly. “You know what they say about your life passing before your eyes? It isn’t true. No white light or bright glowing tunnel. Nobody appeared to me and made me remember all my screw-ups. It was like being in a trance without dreaming. And then I just woke up and found myself…”

His voice trailed off in embarrassed silence. He had almost told Dylan how great it felt to regain consciousness beneath his gorgeous mouth. He blinked and fought a blush he was getting familiar with when around the older boy.

Dylan didn’t seem to notice. “…trying to stay on your surfboard while vomiting and dealing with my bad breath.”

“You don’t have bad breath,” Jake said softly. “Or if you do, I didn’t notice it.” He laughed to dispel the unease that had settled over them. “All I tasted was salt.” And you.

At that moment Marcus disengaged himself from a high school friend he hadn’t seen in months, and he turned to find Jake and Dylan staring at each other with bewildered looks of both their faces. He knew instinctively that he’d interrupted a private discussion that felt a bit stilted, and maybe both needed liberating from it. He stepped between them like a bull, shouldering them aside and breaking the connection.

“I’d suggest getting out on our boards and spending time out on the water, but you know what Mom said about surfing.”

Jake really did blush this time. “Dude, don’t let me keep you from your fun. If you want to, go for it.” He stared longingly out into the ocean where surfers were lined up waiting for some barrels and wishing he could be there. It was like getting back on a bike after falling off; he wasn’t going to let one bad experience keep him from surfing ever again.

To Dylan he said in a chagrined voice, “Aunt Pat told me to stay out of water more than knee-high for a whole damn week.” Jake groaned in disappointment. “I can wade in it, and that’s about it. Maybe I should just stick to building sand castles.”

Dylan let loose with loud mirth that rumbled through him. “Look at the bright side, Jake. You’ll be so busy at the day camp next week you won’t have a moment to spare for the beach.”

“Do you always have to be so damn positive?” Jake crossed his arms in fake indignation.

Marcus laughed, throwing his arm around his cousin’s shoulders. “Let’s go get something to eat. I need a beer. Don’t you want a beer?” And when Jake huffed at him, Marcus backtracked. “Oh yeah, dude, I keep forgetting that you don’t drink.”

Jake thumped him playfully on the arm. “I drink, Marcus, I just don’t…”

“Get drunk. Yeah, yeah, I know. Mr. Squeaky Clean. You’re no fun.”

“You don’t have to get hammered to have a good time,” Jake told his cousin stiffly, his feelings a little hurt from being treated like a child in front of Dylan.

“So you say.” Marcus was at a loss over the sudden change in Jake’s behavior, but he couldn’t help teasing him with a punch of his own back to Jake’s stomach. “And someday, you’re going to tell me that story you promised me about why you stopped.”

Dylan looked at the two of them, totally confused by the vague anger brewing between the boys, but let it go after his friend shot him a warning frown. Something told him Jake’s story wasn’t pleasant to remember.

As it turned out, Jake was learning that even semi-sobriety didn’t mean you were safe from shit happening. Ninety minutes and two cups of beer later, an expensive European microbrew that tasted very good, by the way, he was standing alone down the beach the watching two older Caldwell siblings build the framework for the bonfire in a large concrete fire ring. The sun was still an hour from setting, but already a chill breeze was blowing in off the water and it was getting cold.

A barefoot teenager with her black and purple hair in shoulder-length cornrows and wearing a string bikini top and tight, white shorts sashayed up to him. She stood there quietly looking at him so he wasn’t aware of her at first.

“I have been trying all night to work out where I know you from.” Her perfect smile was brilliant in her tanned face and the beads on the end of her braids made a clicking sound when she moved. “Maddie,” she announced, putting out her tiny hand to shake.”

“Jake.” He squinted in the dim light and took her hand gently in his, wondering if she was being friendly simply for friendship’s sake. “I’m sorry, but you aren’t familiar to me. Did you go to A.P. High?”

The girl lifted her shoulders in light resignation, as if it didn’t matter. “I still do, Jake” she giggled. “Class of 2013.”

He quickly worked it out. She wouldn’t have begun high school until the year after he moved to Madera, and he didn’t think she was one of the crowd of friends that Marcus had introduced him to. “Then sorry, no. I’m originally from around here but I moved away four years ago.”

“That’s too bad,” Maddie purred, stepping forward into his personal space. “And I don’t care what you say, I still think I know you from somewhere.” And just like that, she was hitting on him while Jake did his best to make a graceful exit.

It was more or less the same all night. The bonfire drew the party-goers like bears to honey, and there stood this adorable curly-headed brunette that nobody knew, lit up and on view. Jake didn’t hear the whispers around him asking who he was. It never occurred to him that if he’d moved to the darker corners of the yard he would be virtually invisible. All he could tell was that girls who, he quickly surmised, had already had a few beers too many were eyeing him up and down like a piece of candy. Swaying on their feet, either staring at him coyly and giggling or using what they believed to be cleverly-phrased pickup lines. All sorts of variations on “You’re really cute and have the most beautiful green eyes, do you know that?”

“Thank you,” he would manage and try to pity her. Try not to feel disgusted when she had stumbled against him and was practically draped all over his body. Sometimes being aloof helped, but often not. He’d resort to making light of the situation or, in desperate cases, mention having someone special in his life. It wasn’t a lie, but he couldn’t let those two important words: I’m gay, slip out of his mouth. He disgusted himself with his cowardice.

“Whad’dya say we go inside and find a quiet place to get better acquainted.” The newest girl, this one age twenty with her dark hair in a pixie bob and her lip and nose pierced with rings, had her head resting against his shoulder. She lifted her hand to begin stroking his jaw. He thought her name was Angel.

“I don’t really think…” But he didn’t get a chance to use one of his ten kinder versions of get lost. Marcus, grinning ear to ear, had been watching the whole litany of seduction scenes from fifteen feet behind Jake and now rushed in to his rescue.

“Hey, Angel,” he called, loudly enough for only her to hear. “Stop molesting my cousin.”

The teenager stood up straighter and turned around. “Marcus Walker,” she yelled in fake mortification. She stared between the two of them. “Cousin, huh? Well, I can sure see the resemblance. You have the same eyes.”

The three got into a short conversation, and then Jake said his goodbyes. He leaned over to Marcus. “She’s all yours, Cuz,” he whispered.

“I’m right behind you.” Marcus said quietly. “I just couldn’t stand watching you become one more fish snack for all these barracudas. It’s like they have never seen a man…”

"Or something," Jake laughed and they walked off together to get more to eat.

From the vantage point of Roz’s patio, Dylan chuckled and shook his head while he watched a very uncomfortable-looking Jake fending off the latest of the slew of determined women. Their intentions weren’t hard to guess, and some of them were quite offended when he wouldn’t take them up on their offers. He was calm and well-mannered, careful not to make even the most inebriated feel censured, but Jake finally escaped with Marcus, not succumbing to one of the flirty girls. Come to think of it, Dylan hadn’t seen Jake show interest in a single woman since he arrived in Aleppo Park. Maybe he was shy or picky, but just maybe…

Even with the parade of would-be conquests, Jake ended up having an extraordinary time. That was, up until one in the morning when he was trying to find Marcus so they could leave and unexpectedly ran into Kelsey.

“Hi Jake,” she said in a saccharine sweet voice, dripping in venom. “I know I’m supposed to be nice to you or you’ll rat me out and make all my friends dump me, but I have some info you need.”

“What’s that?” he asked warily, lifting his hair off his neck. It wasn’t worth the effort to argue that he had no intention of snitching on her, but he was eager to hear what she had to say.

“Just that I’m watching you. I know all about you and see what’s going on, and you can’t win.”

Jake swallowed and wondered what she meant by watching him. He inwardly swore that he had fought his base desires all evening and barely looked at Dylan once. Friendly, yes, when they crossed paths, but he was avoiding the older boy. He’d even managed to forget Kelsey was there and would have liked nothing better than to believe she was leaving him alone.

Then he wondered if she suspected he was gay.

The almost-scared look that flashed across Jake’s face to be extinguished almost instantly fascinated Kelsey. Oh, so he did have something to hide. No matter what it was, she would find out.

His sexuality was something she could get mileage from, and Jake wanted to kick himself for his cautiously erected charades he’d played all night with the local girls when it would have been just as easy to tell them the truth. He knew it was time to stop hiding and just be honest with people. He didn’t have the luxury of being able to care if Dylan knew he was gay, and let the cards fall however the hell they wanted.

He inspected the short eighteen-year-old with a face that would be pretty if she knew how to be nicer, but her sour disposition gave her a pinched look. He felt sorry for in a way. She was so frenetic in the way she grabbed at people as if they were objects, and she didn’t even comprehend the damage she did to herself by it. She might find a way to hurt him, but he would always win against the Kelseys of the world because underneath, where it counted, she couldn’t touch him. Yes, she was annoying, but her immaturity almost made him laugh out loud.

He couldn’t help but break into a smile. “I’ll keep that in mind, Kelsey. Have a nice night.” And he walked away, leaving her pouting in his wake, reconsidering whether or not Jake had anything she could exploit to her advantage.


Jake woke up excited on Monday morning and jumped out of bed before his alarm clock went off. It was the first day of the children’s day camp at the rec center, and he couldn’t wait to start. It wasn’t even that he’d be spending the whole day near Dylan and they would probably hang out in their limited free time; he was pumped up about teaching baseball skills to the kids. These were young boys who would filter into youth sports teams, hopefully as more competitive players, and become tomorrow’s standouts at A.P. High School. That one or two of them might take a little piece of his skill along with them made it all worthwhile.

He almost didn’t make it through his first hour. Coach Abel had somehow heard about Friday’s incident on the beach and wanted to send him home for a couple days until he was positive he had recovered fully. Jake insisted he was fine and had come ready to work, and he would not be easy to stop. He promised that if he felt any side effects or became overexerted, he’d let the coach know and take a break.

Jake was quickly introduced to the rest of the baseball training staff, four men like himself who had all lettered in the sport in high school and were now playing for various college teams around the southwest. Whitley and Chance were the pitching assistants; both played at UCLA, seniors this upcoming fall, and were good friends. They were also total douches with the typical attitude that the pitcher was the most important player on the team. Evan worked with the catchers and was a funny standout from A.P. High Jake remembered from his own year there. He attended Arizona State. Manny, a base and outfield assistant like Jake, hailed from Capistrano Valley High School in Mission Viejo and was a very talkative junior at CS-Fullerton.

Jake was the youngest assistant, and he realized that his job was cut out for him. The other four had been preparing for the day camp for the past three weeks, already had their assignments memorized and taught as a cohesive unit. There would be no time to acclimate himself slowly, and he had to be up to speed and show he could perform. There were twenty children in each session, morning and afternoon, and Jake grit his teeth and went to work. Moving up and down the lines of boys throwing baseballs back and forth, he corrected stances and the way small hands gripped the leather. Drills taught them the correct way to round bases and what each position’s requirements were. He put in 150 percent from the get-go and earned the grudging respect of Coach and the other assistants, at least Evan and Manny’s.

Jake didn’t have time to eat lunch with Dylan that first day. He was in conference with Coach Abel listening to the man evaluate his skills as a teacher- judged as fairly good and had Jake ever considered being a P.E. teacher- and barely had time to gulp the sandwich he brought from home. He saw him at a distance across the parking lot when camp ended at four, but he was tired with dirt sticking to his sweaty body and didn’t feel up to talking much. Dylan also looked busy but a whole lot cleaner and cooler, and Jake just raised his hand in greeting before driving off.

The rest of the week followed much the same pattern, but Jake was getting to know the campers by name and enjoyed watching their skills improve. He and Dylan found time to share their lunch hour twice, and it was Manny who clued him about using the showers near the pool area after camp each day if he didn’t want to go home covered in dust. However, that was Dylan’s arena, and Jake feared catching him in the dressing rooms, forcing his eyes not to stare in lust and getting a hard-on as they changed clothes. Being in a lose-lose situation between fighting an erection in front of the man he loved vs. offending him with his body odor, Jake chose to keep his distance and leave the rec center as fast as possible after camp finished.

At the center when he was with the kids and staff, Jake could clear his mind of all but baseball. Anywhere else, his emotions drifted all over the place. He wished he could just go with the flow and be happy in the present. Thoughts of Dylan and how much he wanted to be in his arms or kissing those warm lips came out of nowhere. He felt positive and on top of the world when he surrendered to the cathartic plan that Dylan would be worth acting like an idiot for if he just blurted everything out. Cringing like a coward when he anticipated how negatively such an admission would be received. He didn’t think love could make a person so miserable. He felt like he was going to explode with the need to simply touch him.

The pull on his feelings made him sometimes difficult to get along with. Or maybe it was Marcus’ eternal curiosity and joking around that irked him. His cousin wondered why Jake kept acting a little off. At first he believed it was due to the situation over the beating his dad gave him and then moving in on short notice. But that was three weeks ago, and Jake was still walking around with his head in the clouds. So next, Marc thought that maybe he’d found some hot guy to fall in love with… except that he wouldn’t discuss it. The more Marcus pushed, the surlier Jake got, until it became obvious that he was not going to share any information.

It was Friday night, the middle of June already. Avery had taken Pat out for a seafood dinner, so the boys were cleaning up their own fast food meal. Not wanting to start another irritating round of hints without answers and being frozen out, Marcus approached Jake cautiously.

“Noah says that Sage was watching you at the bonfire and thinks you’re gay.”

Despite his mood, Jake had to grin. “Well, at least she’s in good company because I’m sure I am.” He tilted his head. “What did Noah say back?”

“Knowing him, probably some joke,” Marcus smirked before getting serious again. “You know he wouldn’t out you like that without permission.”

“I know,” Jake agreed. He picked up his empty soda cup to take it into the kitchen. “Um, tell him if it comes up again he’s free to tell the truth. I don’t have anything to hide.”

Marcus’ eyes went big. “Really? Are you sure that’s what you want?”

Jake nodded. “I’m fairly sure he isn’t going to take out an ad in the Orange County Register, but yeah.”

“Oh, by the way,” Marcus informed him, “Noah and Dylan are coming over tomorrow night for pizza and video games.”

Both elated and fearful, Jake struggled to act nonchalant. “It’s fine by me. It’s your house, Marcus.”

Marcus’ fist came down on the counter hard. “See, this is what I mean. What kind of a statement is that?”

Jake jumped and stared at him, shocked. He certainly hadn’t meant that the way it came out… bitchy, selfish and ungrateful. Marcus was glaring at him with his arms crossed over his chest.

“You’re right, and I’m sorry,” Jake backtracked. “I know it isn’t an adequate excuse, but it’s been a long week, and I’m tired. Of course, I’d love to spend tomorrow night with you three and the Xbox. It sounds like fun.”

“It’s cool, Jake,” he smiled. “But sooner or later you have to let me in and tell me what’s wrong.”

“Nothing’s wrong,” Jake lied. Because there were some things that he couldn’t tell anyone.


The guys were all enjoying a rowdy time the following night in the Walkers’ family room. Pat and Avery were again out, leaving the boys surrounding the wide-screen tv with admonishments to keep the noise down and the trash picked up. They were getting pretty heavy-duty into Left 4 Dead, the apocalypse game. After losing several crazy rounds of paper-rock-scissors, Jake was forced to take on the persona of Zoey, the only female protagonist. He was having multiple problems with The Witch killing him every time he went near her, and he knew his mind wasn’t on the game.

Half an hour later, they were all getting tired of it. Dylan set down his controller and stretched. “So what do we do now?”

Forever after, Jake would never know what compelled him to speak. Maybe it was the sleek brown skin of Dylan’s torso that made an appearance from under his shirt every time he extended his body to reach for a piece of pizza from the box on the table. Maybe Jake was just bone weary with keeping his secret and, even though he realized his dreams were going to get ground into dust, he hated the dishonesty. Maybe…

“I’m gay,” Jake said bluntly to dead silence. Okay, it was candid but not tactful.

He looked up from his lap at the three of them. Noah was staring with his mouth wide open, his hand frozen as if he was going to throw his game controller at Marcus, which was what he’d planned on before Jake spoke.

“Duuuude,” Marcus whispered, quite surprised by how Jake just unloaded that bomb without forewarning. “Way to just spit it out.”

Jake blushed. Even though he knew he should focus on Dylan because he was the one who mattered the most here, he was almost afraid to. What if…? But he had to know. This was the whole reason he said anything.

“So does Dylan get the short or long version of the story?” Noah asked, scratching his head, just as taken aback as Marcus.

Jake had turned his head towards the blonde and was staring straight at said-Dylan, checking for signs of revulsion. He saw none, took several deep breaths and began to relax. Maybe he could get through his confession unscathed.

“I’m not sure,” he finally answered. “It kind of depends on what he wants to know.”

Dylan had a million thoughts flying through his head, the primary ones astonishment and delight. Jake Nielsen was gay. Holy shit, he was gay. That was awesome. The. Most. Awesome. Thing. Ever. But kind of scary; yes, definitely scary. Someone—a boy— he really cared about might actually be capable of returning his feelings. It meant… uh, telling Jake that he was gay too. He would have to. So the rest of his friends would know, but he guessed he could handle that. It looked as if everyone else in the room seemed to know about Jake except him. Only him, from the looks of things. Noah knew; Marcus knew too. Zip, zip, zip, his brain was in meltdown.

His voice came out a little wooden when he spoke. “Everything, I guess.” He gazed deep into Jake’s eyes and saw uncertainty mixed with hope. It made sense; coming out like that must have been difficult. “I’m not prejudiced if that’s what you’re worried about. I’m…”

Dylan couldn’t say it. He wanted to, but he told himself that this was Jake’s moment and he didn’t have a right to intrude, but what he felt was cowardly. He watched Jake break into a big smile, so for now his admission could settle until another day.

It was going to be alright, Jake was happy to see. Dylan looked a little nervous but not disgusted. At least he wasn’t leaping to his feet and storming out of the house, calling him a filthy faggot like his father had and swearing never to speak to him again. Jake took a deep gulp of air and began.

“I think you already know this, Dylan, but I grew up around here. I’ve known Noah since… when, Noah?” He glanced at his lanky friend.

Noah thought a minute. “Um, t-ball, right? I was five, so you must have been four.”

Jake nodded, and twisted back around to look at Dylan again. “Noah’s dad was my first coach. Marcus came to watch me play one Saturday and they hit it off. Then two years later, Noah moved into our neighborhood and we all went to the same school. My older brothers and I… had, um… troubles at home.”

“That’s one way to put it,” Noah muttered darkly, and Marcus nodded knowingly.

“We spent more time at Marcus’ house than our own. My dad has problems with his temper and can get a little rough.”

Two disbelieving laughs followed that statement. Dylan was giving him an openly confused look, so Jake dug deeper.

Four years had made a lot of difference in his life. It seemed so ridiculous now, but when Jake was fifteen, his world felt like it came apart the winter day his father arrived home from work and told the family they were moving. As part of restructuring so he could keep his job, George had accepted a supervisory position, along with a hefty raise, in the new factory his company had just built near the central California city of Madera.

Carolyn and the three brothers sat in dazed silence digesting this news. Bad enough that ninth grade Jake had to leave Aleppo Park and all he loved, but his oldest sibling David was a live-at-home sophomore at Saddleback College down the road and Adam was four months away from graduating high school. After the ensuing furor died down, Carolyn stood firm in a decision to allow the boys to finish the present term in their respective schools. Relocating could wait until summer.

Surprisingly, George agreed. But, come summer, transfer north they did amid hugs, tears and promises of frequent visits between the families of the two sisters. The shrinking Nielsen clan settled into the mountain community readily enough, leaving the older boys behind to continue their education in southern California colleges. And Jake was miserable.

“Madera is a… different kind of environment than the OC is. I’ve known I was gay since I was fifteen, but the last thing I was going to do was tell anyone that didn’t absolutely have to know. Maybe the high school kids would accept me, but I didn’t want to take the chance, not while living at home. My father is very prejudiced and I knew he wouldn’t support me.” Jake shrugged casually to mask the hurt he still felt inside. “I didn’t come out until last year at Long Beach State, and even then I was very careful and only told a certain few. Dad found out anyway. When I arrived home from college we had… um… I guess you could call it a discussion.”

Marcus scoffed, his face dark with anger. “More like an interrogation complete with bruises. Jake left home the next day.”

Dylan stared at Jake, his eyes wide. “Your dad hit you?” He knew these kinds of things happened; he just had never met anyone they had happened to.

“Hit him is putting it mildly,” Noah interjected. “His father beat him up for being gay.”

”Yeah,” Jake laughed nervously and tried to joke. “Sucks to be me, I guess.”

”So Jake is down here hiding out,” Marcus summed up. “His father is not mentally sound and would drag him back to Madera if he got the chance.

Jake rolled his eyes. “To be physically compelled to give up my godless, faggoty ways or suffer his wrath. He was even talking about sending me to some church-run gay conversion camp.”

Dylan was completely shocked by Jake’s story. His family had been so accepting with his own coming out, he sometimes forgot that the rest of the world was less so. ”Why didn’t you have him arrested for assault?”

“I should have but I just wanted out of the house. My last final at Long Beach was on the eighteenth. I flew home four days later, only to turn around and drive back the next day. As long as I can hole up here at my aunt and uncle’s and he stays in Madera and unaware of my location, I’m safe.”

”So far, so good.” Noah added with a small smile.

”What about when you go back to Long Beach?” Dylan was even now searching for flaws in his plans.

Jake cleared his throat. “I don’t know. I'm already signed up for a dorm which would be the safest place to live even if I would rather get an apartment. The campus is pretty big with a lot of students. And there’s always security if I get in trouble.”

“Luckily Jake doesn’t have to rely on his father for financial support,” Marcus added.

“The best thing for all involved,” Jake avowed, “would be for him to peacefully disown me, but I don’t see that happening. I just take each day as it comes and kind of say my prayers at night that he never catches up to me.”

“Holy shit, Jake!”

(To be continued...)

Thursday, September 27, 2012

A Love Unexpected Ch. 7

Secrets Revealed…

Head back. Chin forward. Nose pinched. Dylan instinctively remembered the drill for the respiration part of CPR, but he had never done this before except in training with lifelike dummies. How was he going to save Jake when the water was so deep he couldn’t stand up and he needed solid ground beneath his feet for support? He wasn’t even sure he could keep him steady on his longboard and get close enough without spilling him into the ocean. He stared anxiously down into his friend’s pale face and pushed Jake’s wet curls away from his nose and mouth. Even with the steady heartbeat fluttering in his throat, Jake looked so lifeless, so still. Precious seconds were being wasted with his indecision.

“Let’s go, guys,” he told Marcus and Noah. “We have to get him into shallower water so I can work. Try not to jostle him too much and whatever you do, don’t let him slip off the board.”

As a unit, they began to move quickly towards shore, letting the surging current propel them. By now a group of fellow surfers who had noticed Jake’s wipe-out rushed in, eager to assist and circling around them. Some helped tow Jake, others folded their arms over his legs and torso so he wouldn’t fall and two grabbed the three long-forgotten surfboards belonging to Jake’s friends. Within half a minute, under the momentum of a few strong crests, they were standing in water chest-high on the welcomed sand where Dylan felt he could successfully perform rescue breathing. It was now or never, and he quickly slipped into authority.

“Noah, you and…” he pointed at several tanned, muscular men in their late twenties, “you five, hold the surfboard steady.” He stared at a young teenager. “You, watch out for breaking waves and give me fair warning. Marc, I need you to plug his nose.”

Dylan knew that, no matter how inelegant his technique would be in the oscillating water, he had to get air into the boy’s lungs immediately. He slipped his hand underneath Jake’s neck to brace him properly, used his other hand to grasp his chin and leaned into him to seal his mouth with his own. He felt Marcus’ hand snake in and pinch the nostrils shut and nodded that he was ready to begin. Timing silently in his head, he gave Jake three deep, slow breaths, noticing with relief the steady rise and fall of his chest in his peripheral vision. Suddenly he sensed Jake stirring to life under him. Oh, thank God.

Needing to gasp deeply for oxygen, Jake felt himself being yanked from a twilight of sorts into the sensations of chilly wetness surrounding his body, the taste of salt on his tongue and someone’s soft lips on his own. His gut hurt like hell and nausea turned it upside down. All of a sudden he was gagging and retching.

“Hold him steady now,” someone said. The voice sounded commanding and familiar.

Sturdy hands rolled his upper body against a hard surface. Tilted on his side, he began to throw up what seemed like gallons of seawater. Dimly, he heard cheering and felt someone hitting him firmly between his shoulder blades to help empty his stomach. Once he finished choking, the blows soothed into calming circles.

“Slowly,” he was instructed. “Take it easy.” Jake knew that voice. He craved that voice.

“You scared the shit out of us, Jake.” That voice was Noah’s.

“Wave,” somebody screamed frantically. Dylan thought fast. It would be disastrous for Jake to get sucked under yet another large swell. He would have to guide him over it, if possible; through it, if necessary.

The same toned arms grabbed Jake up and nestled him firmly into a wetsuit-covered torso. “Hold your breath, Jake,” came the well-loved whisper into his ear. “Don’t breathe the water.”

The roar of the comber engulfed him and his rescuer, and he felt the arms tighten around him more securely and clasp him fast even as the other’s feet dug in against the uneven ocean floor to stay upright. It was good that Dylan was holding him because Jake was so weak he could barely move his own legs. They were plunged into the swirling foam that gushed over their heads and battered around them, and he did what he was told. Once the breaker passed, Jake finally opened his green eyes and stared thankfully into the cerulean blues of his hero as water streamed off the two of them. Smiling at him in relief, Dylan still had him by the shoulders as Noah and Marcus rushed to hug them both with huge, joyful grins plastered on their faces. The morning blazed sunny and warm without a single cloud in the sky.

“Are you okay?” Marcus asked tremulously. It was quite obvious that he had been crying because his eyes were swollen.

“I think so.” The crowd around the four boys pressed in on them. “What happened?” he asked dully.

It all came back to him now. The set-up into the perfect barrel, the immediate realization that his stance was wrong and inability to correct it, falling head first and being slammed to the bottom. He rolled his head slowly and felt the muscles of his neck spasm. Yeah, that was the contact point.

“You went over the falls on that last wave,” Noah replied in a hushed voice. “Dylan found you unconscious underwater, and you weren’t breathing. He had to give you CPR.”

“Thanks,” Jake mumbled, hanging his head. He felt his face get warm remembering the soft, cool lips fastened to his mouth. Knowing they belonged to his longed-for boyfriend was both hot and embarrassing. And, as silly as it seemed in the face of his almost-tragedy, he was humiliated by getting forcibly bailed off his board, dragged to the bottom and being saved from drowning. By Dylan.

He seemed to sense Jake’s discomfort and let go of him, but not before giving his shoulder a squeeze. “It’s alright.”

At that moment, their attention was diverted by the arrival of the two rescue personnel in a small motorized craft that pulled up alongside and cut the engine. Against his vehement protests, Jake was quickly loaded on board, and his three friends followed them to shore. The lifeguards used their first aid training to assess him and took vitals, insisting that Jake lie flat on a provided backboard although he complained that he was fine. When they asked him whether he lost consciousness, he couldn’t remember, and Dylan explained the accident from his point of view.

“You did good,” one of the lifeguards nodded to him and then looked around at the crowd of surfers. “All of you did.”

They heard an approaching siren. The rescue squad from the local fire department pulled off the small access road and gingerly made its way across the sand to stop next to them. The crowd parted when three firefighters jumped out and began to unload their equipment before approaching the injured boy.

That’s when Jake began to lose it. He had been brave when he came to and found himself floating in the middle of the ocean and being kissed by Dylan Moore. Puking his guts out and water crashing around him while his friends treated him like a fragile piece of glass. Knowing that if it wasn’t for Dylan, how close he’d come to dying.

Ever since, he had been fighting a growing sense of panic and unreality from his ordeal, and this was just too much. He knew that the EMTs would insist on taking him to the emergency room. He loathed hospitals. The smell of disinfectant, the bright fluorescent lights and the noise of the incessant intercom calling doctors here and there, the whole idea of illness and injury made him feel like puking again.

Jake flailed his arms and pushed into a sitting position. “I am not going to the hospital,” he yelled. “I’m fine.” Throwing himself against the lifeguards hovering over him, he tried to stand and staggered against the dizziness that came out of nowhere. He pitched sideways into the nearest warm body, which was Dylan’s.

Dylan reached for his shoulder to halt him and was practically bowled over. One arm encircled Jake’s waist, the other made contact with damp brown hair. Entwining his fingers into his curls he grasped the back of his head and refused to let go. “Jake, stop it and listen to me.” He gave him a little squeeze that miraculously calmed the younger boy enough to make him pay attention. Jake turned his frightened gaze up toward him.

“Let these people help you,” Dylan pleaded. “They need to check you out and make sure you didn’t get any salt water in your lungs. Go with them. I promise you’ll be okay, and we’ll be right behind.”

Jake tried to shake his head and it just made him feel worse. “N-n-not alone, they can’t make me.”

Marcus turned to the nearest EMT. “I’m his cousin. Can I travel to the hospital with him?”

The technician was about to say no when Jake looked at him pleadingly. It was easy to see that the kid was terrified and a thrashing patient would be dangerous in the vehicle. There was also no mistaking the fact that they were related, not with those identical green eyes and dimples. Realizing that Marcus’ presence might keep him from freaking out more, he nodded. “As long as you stay out of the way.”

Once the decision was made, Jake settled down and let the emergency workers take over. He mentioned the stiffness and pain in his neck and one of them fitted a cervical collar on him. Leads went on his chest, an oxygen mask placed over his nose and mouth just to be on the safe side. Dylan assured them that he would personally drive Jake’s truck home. Marcus was already on the telephone with his mom, and once she got over the concern of Jake’s near miss, she promised to meet them at the hospital. She would leave the back garage door unlocked so Dylan could store their gear.

Jake was put on a stretcher and loaded in the back of the ambulance with Marcus hopping in behind him to make the three mile journey to Samaritan Medical Center in San Clemente. Dylan and Noah loaded up their belongings in Jake’s Ford pick-up and Noah’s newer Silverado and drove off right after.

For all his earlier distress, numerous procedures and tests revealed that Jake’s injuries were shockingly mild. He sustained mild damage to the soft tissue of his neck but no spinal cord damage, and the muscle strain would work itself out over time with some light prescription pain medication. Chest x-rays and ultrasound revealed no sign of water in his lungs, nor had he suffered any ill effects from the short-term oxygen deprivation. He had a mild concussion and was kept in the ER most of the day under observation until the doctor felt it was safe for him to return home.

Aunt Pat in her colorful clothing and with a strident laugh covering her anxiety had flown into the medical center like a ship under full sail, followed shortly by a more composed Uncle Avery, and they provided a comforting presence for Jake. Noah and Dylan, who sped to the hospital after they took care of securing their belongings, left early under the Walkers’ urging when they realized they were not going to be allowed back in the cubicle for more than a few minutes at a time.

Not before teasing Jake unmercifully, however, with Marcus’ assistance and winks at his aunt and uncle, for being such a daredevil. The staff was quickly filled in to the reason for the cute teenager’s ER visit in no time. Finally calmed down when he learned he was relatively unscathed and would not be spending the night, Jake took the banter in stride but was relieved to depart the hospital late in the afternoon with his family.


One of the first things Aunt Pat did once they arrived was discreetly call Jake’s mother and tell her about the accident. The reason was two-fold; as his parent she deserved to know that he had been injured, but just as important, Carolyn needed to intercept any insurance information before it landed on her husband’s desk. As expected, she reacted with distress and immediately demanded to speak to Jake.

“Mom, I’m fine,” he tried to soothe her. “Please don’t worry. They didn’t even keep me overnight.”

“Don’t treat this like it isn’t a big deal,” Carolyn exclaimed frantically. She was free to speak openly only because George hadn’t returned home from work yet. “I’ve always worried about your surfing and the risks you take.”

Jake sighed. “I wasn’t taking any risks. It was a freak wave, Mom, and it could’ve happened to even the most experienced surfer. Nothing’s broken.” He and his aunt had decided it did no good to tell her that he lost consciousness and needed to be brought back with CPR.

She asked a few more questions and, once satisfied that he was going to recover fully, Carolyn changed the subject. “Have you been in touch with any of your friends here in Madera?”


With the threats of his father ringing in his ears, Jake had been so careful to keep his new life separate from his old. He realized the danger of alerting anyone who might turn informant, but it was more than that. Following his one and only drinking mistake from just over a year ago, Jake didn’t have a lot of friends in his high school that he trusted to keep a secret. The students he remembered, even the ones he had played baseball with for three years and should have known better, had whispered behind their hands even if they hadn’t snickered outright in his face. Trust them? No way!

Carolyn told him his father had gone through old cell phone records to locate telephone numbers Jake had called frequently while living at home, making inquiries to see if anyone had heard from him. Jake’s face set itself in a scowl. He could just envision the horror stories good ole Dad was sharing with the guys he stopped hanging out with for good reason. His only consolation came in remembering he never planned to return to the area and, therefore, didn’t have to worry about any of those assholes. They were his history, not his present or future. They could believe any number of trumped up tales about him that had circulated as rumor from his senior year at West Madera High. George’s opinion of him was already bad enough; if they maliciously shared them with his father, it wouldn’t change anything about their relationship.

Jake would have loved nothing more than to go to bed after he finished the telephone conversation, but the doctor had warned Pat that, because of his concussion, he needed to stay awake for several hours. He was therefore allowed a quick shower to wash out the remnants of the itchy sand from his hair and private places and settled close to family activity. Dressed in a t-shirt and track pants, he bundled under covers on the couch to watch boring television. Pat fussed around him and tried to get him to eat some light fare but he wasn’t a bit hungry.

His neck hurt when he tried to turn it, and he had a mild headache. He took the Tramadol prescribed by the ER physician, but it made him sleepy. Every time he closed his eyes he felt like he was still floating in the cold water of the Pacific and the sensation made him queasy and lightheaded. He supposed this could be the physical reaction to the concussion, but it was unpleasant and he forced himself to think of something besides vomiting over the side of his surfboard.

He settled for a sweeter image. Recalling the point just before he got sick, Jake felt anew the very first impression he’d been conscious of. The slightly chapped lips that had lingered warm and reassuring and tasting of sea salt, firmly affixed to his own and passing needed air into his starving lungs. Jake let his emotions carry him along, not up to battling an unhappy fact that left him feeling depressed. The reality telling him that Dylan had a job to do- saving Jake’s life- and it was not in any way romantic. It wouldn’t have mattered whether he was a friend or a stranger; the results would’ve been the same. That was the kind of wonderful person Dylan was. It was what he had been taught to do.

Even if the older boy hadn’t been kissing him, Jake could still make believe and savor the moment. He allowed himself to drop into his own little fantasy world where Dylan wasn’t straight and was into him and they were in love. As he had already discovered, it was his favorite place to live. He had no doubt that he loved Dylan Moore absolutely, and he longed for a real connection with him but he felt so torn. Jake was already miserable enough for not being able to let him in on his secret, but nothing good would come of it. He didn’t even have the courage to tell Dylan he was gay. What would happen when he could no longer fight the common sense that kept his feelings hidden? Well, that wasn’t hard to guess, and he cringed at the thought of Dylan’s disgusted reaction.

If only Dylan was gay and wanted him in the same way, Jake would show him more devotion than he could ever imagine. He’d surround him with tenderness and the depth of a solid relationship that would bind them in total commitment. He knew he could be all the man Dylan would ever need. They were so in sync with each other already, and add passion into the mix along with a healthy sex life…

Stop it! It was not to going to happen. Dylan was not in love with him and could never be. He was a good friend, and that should be enough. Jake certainly didn’t need to muck it up by inserting some unwanted agenda that would drive him away. He assessed it for what it was- a weakness in him to let these headstrong desires take charge. But just for today, couldn’t he let himself be weak? Give himself a pass for this one time because he was too tired and sick to fight it off? That sounded reasonable. Today he would indulge himself mentally, but starting tomorrow he would work more diligently to put Dylan out of his mind. Dylan had made it clear that he wanted Kelsey and he would not stand in their way.

Unfortunately, Jake was weak in other places and, as the visions in his head soared so did they bring forth the lust that caused his other head to make its needs known. He recalled that Dylan’s chest was completely hairless and absently wondered if he shaved everywhere like many collegiate swimmers did. His tight washboard abs were perfect, the requisite board shorts hid lithe hips that nestled his unexplored package and couldn’t hide the good muscle structure of a well-toned ass needed by an athlete. What Jake wanted Dylan to do with that ass and hips was nothing short of X-rated.

Jake felt his dick harden and fill and was glad to have the lower half of his body covered by the quilt. How his hand wanted to take care of this affliction was not for public viewing either and would have to wait for the privacy of his bedroom. Even if his only reality was lying on a rolling surfboard with his stomach twisting as if turned inside out, he could see himself naked on a soft bed and moving feverishly underneath the strong but slender body of the tall, blonde boy. He moaned quietly with an ache even his fingers couldn’t relieve.

“Are you alright, Jacobaby?” Aunt Pat had slipped into the family room unnoticed, and now she observed him carefully for signs of pain. “Do you need more medication?”

He ducked his head to hide his pink cheeks and shifted beneath the covers to unobtrusively straighten out his erection.

“I’m fine. My neck… um, the muscle spasms hurt a little, but I’ll be okay.”

She pulled his earlobe in fun. “Let me know if you need anything.”

“I just wish I could go to sleep.”

“Nobody said you can’t,” Pat laughed. “You just can’t stay asleep. I’ll wake you up when I need to.”

Several short naps and a light meal of chicken soup later- his aunt insisted it was good for everything- and Jake felt much better. It was early evening. He was dozing again on the sofa when wild ringing of the doorbell startled him. Marcus ran to let in Sage, Spencer, Luis and Noah. They were all talking at once when they trooped into the family room.

Sage immediately rushed over to Jake, her long hair flying behind her in braids, and leaned over to give him a sound kiss on the forehead. “Glad to see you’re not dead, you idiot,” she beamed in amusement.

“Sorry to disappoint, but no.”

Jake looked up from his vantage point on the couch past her long, tanned legs in her ripped denim shorts to her quirky smile and returned one of his own. No matter what Dylan ultimately decided to do about Kelsey, he was glad the others in Marcus’ group of friends liked him well enough to make sure he was still in one piece. They settled in a circle around him, with Marcus, Spencer and Luis taking the floor while Sage sat on Noah’s lap in an armchair.

“Didn’t yo’ mama teach you to stay out of the deep water?” Luis teased, his dark eyes glowing against his olive complexion.

Jake broke into giggles with the rest of them. “Since when do we listen to our mom’s?”

“Maybe you need to,” Spencer chided him with a wink, throwing his long blonde hair over his shoulder. “What, are you turning into a grom or something?”

“Marcus, Spencer called me a grom,” Jake fake-whined like a child, pouting at being referred to as an inept newbie. He turned to his cousin, wincing slightly in pain. “Kill him for me.”

Marcus tackled Spencer to the floor as Sage shrieked, overjoyed at watching her twin getting manhandled. Chaos ensued for a few minutes as everyone joined in until a playful “settle down, kids” from Uncle Avery echoed in from the other room.

“Yeah, settle down, kids.” Noah repeated. “Mind your manners.”

Luis leered at Jake. “Who were you showing off for on the lineup?” He cackled and elbowed the beleaguered Spencer in the ribs. “Some cute chick paddling around out there?”

Noah and Marcus smirked at each other, and Jake shot them a dark look. He couldn’t hide his discomfort. “No distractions, just stupidity. I got caught up in a rogue that was heavier than I thought.”

There was a pregnant pause in the conversation. Sage glanced from a grinning Noah to Spencer’s crossed eyes and back to Jake. “The real reason we’re here is to personally invite you to our annual ‘Finally School’s Out’ bonfire tomorrow night.”

“Is it that time already?” Marcus piped up, an excited gleam in his green eyes. He turned to Jake. “It is the biggest, most bitchin’ party you’ll see all season. Sage and Spencer’s Aunt Roz has this huge house in a gated community on the coast with a big garden patio and a beach that is more or less private. She has the food catered, and it’s good stuff. She even hires a local band. Swimming, drinking, dancing- everything’s free.

“We really want you to come,” Spencer said earnestly. “I mean, if you’re feeling better by tomorrow night.”

Jake rolled his eyes with a grin. More wealthy people, he reflected; they seemed to grow like weeds here. The best part was that, despite their money, they were all down-to-earth and likable. With the exception of Kelsey, nobody was a snob.

Speaking of Kelsey…

“Look, Jake.” Sage’s voice was apologetic. “I know she can be…”

“First-class bitchy?” her brother offered.

“Whiny?” Luis added, the red highlights of his hair turning to flame in the dim lamplight.

“A snotty brat,” Noah insisted, “unable to see beyond her own selfish needs?” He kissed Sage’s cheek in apology for his harsh pronouncement.

“Try all of the above,” Marcus said darkly, playing with a loose thread on the quilt and throwing meaningful glances at Jake. “So does that mean you invited her, Sage?”

“She helped me plan the party. I can’t just uninvited her, but I did speak to her Tuesday night after the episode on the beach.”

“More like, yelled at her all the way home,” Spencer grinned in glee, remembering the quivering mess of teary-eyed girl huddled in the back seat of the car, apparently realizing she was going to lose all of her friends if she didn’t grow up. “Kelsey was, uh… more subdued, I guess you could say… anyway, I’d never seen her totally speechless before.”

“I merely said if she wasn’t so jealous she’d be more fun to be around,” Sage sniffed, hurt at the way they were dissing her best friend. “Maybe she should just let us all get along instead of starting fights and forcing people to take sides. You know, because you and Dylan are guys and he’s besties with Noah and Marcus, it’s natural that you’re friends too. I told her to stop worrying so much. She has the most to lose if she keeps it up.

“Please, Jake,” she entreated. “I think she finally understands, and she says she’ll behave. No more outbursts and blaming you for things that aren’t your fault. We truly want you there.”

Jake sighed. He really did want to attend the bonfire because he needed some fun after the week he’d had. If he was going to make Aleppo Park his home he had to start branching out and making more friends. Besides, Dylan would go.

Then he mentally slapped himself. He had vowed to put thoughts of the older boy away and stop dreaming about him. Still…

“Okay, I should be mostly recovered by tomorrow. Unless something weird happens where I suddenly get worse overnight or something else crops up, I’ll be there.”

There were triumphantly happy smiles all around, and Jake felt a sudden warm glow at being liked.

Later that night, in bed and finally able to safely fall asleep after his concussion, his drifting mind relived the events of the day for him. His hand reached out to grasp his semi-hard cock and take care of business, but his eyes closed before he had the chance to touch himself. He would not remember what he dreamed about but it wasn’t Dylan.


After departing the hospital Friday morning, Dylan let Noah take him back to his house where he’d left his Honda and drove home. He was exhausted but revved up in exhilaration at the same time. Never before had he needed to use his lifesaving skills, and the fact that he’d known how to react to an emergency and rescued a friend from drowning did wonders for his self-esteem. That he had also provided Jake a calming influence when he was freaking out after the accident and refusing to go to the hospital made him feel even better.

It had been a week to pull him in all directions. Obviously, Jake’s near-tragedy was the lowest point on the scale of events, but there were other things to consider. Tuesday night when Kelsey had accused Jake of using his influence to kick her off the yacht on the Catalina Island trip was nearly as bad, at least in an emotional sense. He had never grasped how possessive she had become of him until he observed her wrath and heard each taunt fall from her spiteful mouth.

Despite being angry and wounded, Jake hadn’t resorted to her tactics; he had disappeared into the dark to lick his wounds. Dylan still felt awful for being so indecisive and not following him. Working the pieces of information like a puzzle brought him no reassurance, and if saving Jake today was a triumphant achievement, then that night was etched in Dylan’s memory as one of his most dismal failures.

Dylan had watched Sage and Spencer stomp back over to them a half-hour after following Jake down the beach, angrily collect the weeping Kelsey and leave. Noah showed up next to gather up his gear as well as Marcus and Jake’s. He didn’t even acknowledge Dylan’s presence, so the blonde knew they were not cool with each other.

“Is Jake okay?” he asked anxiously.

Noah looked at him square in the face. “No, and why should he be? Are you too blind to see that what Kelsey did tonight was uncalled for?”

Caught in between two friends, Dylan had made a vague vacillating gesture that Noah caught immediately. “Everyone else but you noticed it.” he exclaimed angrily.

“I did notice but…” Dylan shrugged feebly. He hated confrontation like this when the solution was just out of his reach. He felt it was his duty to make things right for everyone with no hard feelings.

“Why does Kelsey treat him like he’s such a threat to her?” the redhead asked, exasperated.

Dylan thought a moment, venturing, “Maybe she feels threatened. We should have asked Kelsey to go with us on Sunday.”

Noah looked at him as he’d grown antlers. “Are you fucking kidding me? This all started Friday night at the cin… no wait, it started the first time Kelsey laid eyes on Jake. She is so jealous of him that her face is turning green. Putting the two of them together on the confines of your yacht would’ve been like hitting a beehive with a stick.”

Deep in his heart, Dylan knew Noah was right, but he still wasn’t ready to concede defeat. “Maybe she doesn’t understand what she’s doing.”

“Dylan, that’s bullshit. Excuses like that enable her behavior.” Noah knew about these kinds of things because his oldest sister was a psychologist and often threw those kinds of words around. “People always feel sorry for poor little Kelsey, not the people she destroys with her temper tantrums. It’s sickening.”

“I wanted to go and tell him…” Dylan looked crestfallen, wondering again if maybe he should’ve left Kelsey to work out her problems by herself.

“Yeah? Well, you didn’t. You’re too busy making sure she was okay. Kelsey is never going to stop acting like a bitch until she’s forced to. It’s going to take effort on all our parts.”

Dylan hung his head, unwilling to admit he knew what Noah was talking about. He changed the subject by indicating Noah’s full hands. “Do you guys need any help?”

Noah shook his head. “I’ll get it. Jake’s really hurt and just wants to go home.”

“Well, at least let me put the boards in the back of his truck.”

“No, Dylan.” He twisted to move Jake’s surfboard out of his reach. “Leave him alone and let him get over it. You stayed here with her, so you made it very plain you took her side. If you go over there, you’re just rubbing his face in it.”

Dylan had watched helplessly as Noah moved off in the darkness toward the parking lot and leaving him by himself, feeling like shit. And now here they were, three days later and bumping up against the Caldwells’ bonfire the next night, and he shuddered at the possibility of Kelsey going off on him again. Only this time, Dylan was going to do the right thing.

Gah! Dylan tried to make himself think of something more pleasant than the Kelsey situation. Catalina Island! He smiled about the trip with his friends. Talking to Jake had been fun. He was in Boy Scouts just like him at about the same time and even worked on the same badge. He’d been clearly impressed with the yacht too and had enjoyed his crewing chores. The whole day had been nice, at least up until the point where Erin had overreacted to Spencer’s kidding and almost disclosed something he wasn’t ready to share.

Would he ever be? Dylan sighed.

By the middle of Dylan’s senior year he was no longer willing or able to commit emotionally to girls or endure shallow relationships with them even for the sake of appearances. Not even to stifle gossip at school about why one of Aleppo High’s most popular seniors had suddenly stopped dating… anyone. He couldn’t care less about having a girlfriend, but why he wasn’t able to fall in love and stay there became an obsession.

Then one day he was in the locker room after swim practice. Almost fully dressed and ready to head out for the parking lot, he observed four members of the varsity squad on the butterfly relay team enter after a thorough drumming down by their coach for sloppiness. A new senior, tiny with black hair and hard muscles across his back and shoulders, slipped off his speedos to go shower, and Dylan felt his dick harden in his jeans at the sight of the boy’s sleek ass cheeks rising and falling in rhythm to his easy-going gait. Sinfully smooth-looking skin that glowed and the sway of his hips below a well-proportioned back. Dylan was dismayed by his quick arousal, and he fled the school in panicked denial.

However, from that point on he noticed male body parts everywhere. The brightness of a neighbor boy’s shy eyes, the soft lips of the kid who owned the locker three down from his, the slender fingers on a fellow swimmer’s hand; it drove him crazy. He could be sitting on the senior patio eating lunch and subconsciously checking out a male student before abruptly returning to attention, hoping desperately nobody was watching. He only knew one solution to hide behind, and that was to jump back into the social scene and fake his way through dating girls. Not sex, but at least take a girl to dances. Or allow himself to flirt with his gaggle of female admirers, headed by Kelsey, who followed him around to the swim meets. And if he was secretly terrified about what he thought it all meant and he lost his self-confidence nobody else had to know.

By the time Dylan began his freshman year of college, he acknowledged that he was probably gay. He didn’t consider himself bisexual or that new term, pansexual, because he’d lost all interest in women. They were fine for friends, but he wouldn’t be caught in bed with one under any circumstances. Like a metaphorical stepping stone on his travels to self-discovery, he could look back at his dating history and easily see the clues he’d missed along the way, even if he did get a late start on figuring out what he really needed. It wasn’t necessary for him to announce it to the world.

Maybe it was being in the new, less-of-a-fishbowl environment of a large, anonymous university campus where Dylan didn’t have to concern himself over what his friends might think. Strangely, once he accepted the truth, it settled him down and he stopped pretending to be straight. That didn’t mean throwing himself in the opposite direction by dressing in rainbow colors and plastering his car with No H8 bumper stickers. His sexuality was his business, not for public consumption. The only ones he owed an explanation to were his parents, and they had always been so open and unbiased in their opinions he didn’t even fear telling them. The first thing they did when he came out to them was send him over to talk to his father’s youngest brother, Uncle Christopher, and his husband, Uncle Bruce.

It took the patience and wisdom of these two men he had known his whole life, whom he loved and admired for their candor and joie de vivre, to convince him he would get through this. They had come of age in the less-tolerant eighties and knew a few things. First of all, confirming that at this stage of being single, Dylan was only responsible for being true to Dylan and it did not mean he had to stand in the middle of the Long Beach campus and shout out that he was gay. He didn’t even have to tell his best friends in Aleppo Park until he was ready. Go quietly about his life, stay alert to those who might offer support and be cautiously receptive toward new experiences. This would teach him everything he needed to learn.

Dylan returned to college for his second year and followed his uncles’ advice. He had met an openly gay student, Troy, the previous term who was looking for a roommate to share his four-man dorm with, and the other two sophomores in it were friendly and easy-going. He told Troy he was gay, but neither of them was attracted to the other, so they remained friends. Dylan didn’t date at all. He was too closeted to get involved in the university LGBT-community activities and wasn’t even tempted to try out any of the downtown clubs. Frankly, he was a little intimidated by the idea of intimacy with another man and decided sex could wait.

When he approached Christopher and Bruce with his fears, they told him he was perfectly normal. No, more than normal; he was being level-headed and mature. Being gay in some ways wasn’t any different than being straight, and he didn’t have to prove himself by falling into some stranger’s bed. Sooner or later he would meet somebody who would mean the world to him, and he would want to share every aspect of his life with him. Dylan now began to sense he’d found that somebody.

Except that Jake wasn’t gay.

(To be continued...)

Sunday, September 23, 2012

A Love Unexpected Ch. 6

The Worst Kind Of Surfing

The next day, Dylan had to stop by the Aleppo Park recreation center to turn in some paperwork for his job as a swimming instructor for the summer. He was lucky because it was a dream come true position where he would give lessons in the morning and help lifeguard the large Olympic-sized pool during the afternoons. But the Parks and Recreation Department was looking for dynamic college students, and they paid well above minimum wage. Dylan, with his swim team stats in high school and placement on the JV water polo squad at Cal-State Long Beach was just what they were looking for.

Bill Towers, the man in charge of the summer program, looked haggard. “Hey, what’s wrong, Mr. Towers?” Dylan asked.

Bill exhaled loudly. “That kid, Trevor, who has been training for the last two weeks to help Coach Abel out with the baseball camp just called and said he’s taken a full-time job working for his stepfather. So now, the program starts on Monday and I’m down one college student. Coach can’t do it with only four assistants.”

Dylan immediately thought of Jake. “I might know somebody,” he said excitedly. “The cousin of my best friend just moved to Aleppo Park. He lettered in baseball at his high school up north and was a freshman at the university on a scholarship last year. He needs a job too.”

Bill looked at Dylan thoughtfully. He didn’t like hiring someone off the street, so to speak, but he was desperate. The program needed young people to work under Coach to teach various skills, and even one employee dropping out meant extra work for everyone as well as the likelihood of the children not enjoying their camp experience. Besides, Dylan Moore was a good kid, dedicated, well-skilled and hard-working. If he vouched for this new boy, he would probably work out.

“I’ll tell you what, Dylan. You get him in here, and I’ll take a look.”

“Yes sir.” Before he was even out the door, Dylan was calling Marcus on his cell and telling him about the job.

“Explain that again.” Jake was eating lunch with his cousin at the kitchen counter.

Marcus rolled his eyes at having to repeat himself twice. “Okay, let me say this slowly, and I’ll use small words this time. Dylan called me. He has a job at the rec center. He teaches swim lessons. They have day camps all summer. One is for kids learning to play baseball. Do you follow me?”

Jake shook his curls out of his face and smacked Marcus on the arm. “Very funny. But go on.”

Marcus explained how the center was in a bind with the kid who had given notice without having worked a day. “Dylan says the job is practically yours. They’re desperate to fill the position immediately. All you have to do is go down and apply.”

Jake sat there with his mouth open. Not only would a full-time job pay well and help him with college expenses in the fall but it was one in which he’d see Dylan every day. It would look really good on any resume he filled out after graduation and he could spend the summer with the boy he worshipped. He’d keep his baseball skills current, improving his chances to actually play during his sophomore year, and maybe he and Dylan could become closer friends.

An hour later he was standing in Bill Towers’ office, freshly showered and dressed in his best pair of jeans and a white button-down directing him to the online Madera Tribune prep sports newspaper archives on Bill’s computer. Jake’s name popped up frequently from his junior and senior years of play for the West Madera Wildcats, and there was no doubt in Bill’s mind that Jake was exactly as Dylan had described him. His stats were excellent in both batting and defense.

“So what position do you play?” he asked.

“I was a shortstop in high school, but in college, I’ll play anywhere they let me.”

Bill smiled at his enthusiasm. “Do you have any pitching experience?”

“Not since ninth grade,” Jake acknowledged quietly, hoping this wouldn’t be a deal-breaker. “I grew up here in the county but when I was fourteen we moved to Madera. In my sophomore year, they had more pitchers on the school team than they knew what to do with. I could tell if I did straight pitching I’d never start. My arm wasn’t fast enough and my curveball sucked. I had already played at other positions so I didn’t even mention it to them. I enjoy shortstop. It’s never boring.”

“That’s good to know,” Bill replied, appreciating his honesty. “We have two pitching assistants already, but in case one of them takes a day off, it would be nice to have a back-up who at least knows what he’s doing.”

When Jake walked out of the office, he had the position. He was literally jumping for joy as he danced through the front door of his aunt and uncle’s house. “Text Dylan and tell him thank you for me,” he crowed to Marcus, his jade eyes sparkling. Omigod, he was going to see the Moore kid every day for the rest of the summer. Every day! It felt like he was rounding third base and scoring the winning run of the championship game.

“Text him yourself, homey,” Marcus replied, pulling Jake’s cell out of his shirt pocket and programming in Dylan’s number.

Jake did better than that. He called him.

“I hope it’s okay that Marcus gave me your number,” he said after hellos were exchanged.

“Sure, that’s solid,” Dylan answered, smiling broadly at the optimism in Jake’s voice. “Did you get the job?”

“Yes, and thank you so much for suggesting me.”

Dylan grinned, pleased to have brightened Jake’s day. He hadn’t made a friend this fast or with such little effort since first grade. Jake was really a wonderful guy. Their personalities were in sync, they got each others’ jokes, and it was like they’d known each other forever. He was thinking of having somebody he knew to eat lunch with at the recreation center on week days between their morning and afternoon sessions.

“It was nothing, one of those right place, right time things. So what’s your schedule like over the next couple of days?”

Jake groaned. The other camp assistants had been training for two weeks, and he was expected to catch up in three days. It was going to be grueling, but he knew he shouldn’t complain. It was what he wanted, and he had a real job, thanks to Dylan.

“I’ll survive,” he said once he itemized his workload. “And I’ll be ready for Monday when camp opens.”

On Tuesday, Jake was up bright and early, arriving at the stucco and brick recreation center at 8:30 on the dot. He met Coach Abel, filled out reams of paperwork registering him for the program and getting him insurance. He was sent to the sheriff’s department substation in San Clemente for fingerprints and given a long list of dos and don’ts with the kids before they came back clean. “Be here dressed to play ball tomorrow,” Coach advised him. “I’m going to put you through your paces to see where you fit and if I need to teach any bad habits out of you before you can work with the kids.”

Tamping down on his minor irritation, Jake realized the wisdom behind his words. Okay, if that’s what Coach wanted, that’s what he’d get. He didn’t think he had much in the way of detriments, but in the meantime he might learn something useful.

No sooner had he arrived home than Marcus was pounding on his bedroom door. “Get changed into your board shorts. We’re all grabbing some fast food for dinner and going up to Dana Point to surf. The radio surfline says it’s shoulder-high with a southwest swell.”

Jake sighed. He really was tired but he didn’t want to give up an opportunity to get in the water. Who knew when he’d have another chance now that he was working steady?

They grabbed Subway sandwiches and soft drinks and met up with Noah and Luis at the breaks at six. Jake was happy to also see Dylan there, and they talked about the day camp as they ate. They were just about ready to put the food away and take their chances with the high waves when Spencer, Sage and Kelsey arrived.

Everyone greeted each other, the guys with hand signs and Sage with hugs all around. Kelsey waved from the rear as if she was afraid of coming in contact with them. Jake wondered if this was her normal or if she was subdued because of him. He grimaced at the dirty looks she was shooting him when she thought nobody else saw and looked away.

Sage and the men wriggled into their wetsuits and ran to the water. They rode barrel after barrel until a change in wind direction combined with a weak groundswell dropped the corners and turned them soft and inconsistent. By then the sun was just a mild salmon glow below the horizon and the water was empty of everyone but them and a few sun-wrinkled gonzers in their forties who never met a wave they didn’t like.

They regrouped on the beach, casting off their neoprene and heading for the outdoor showers to rinse out the sand. Kelsey, the only one who had not gone into the water, struck an alluring pose when Dylan returned and trained her eyes to make it look as if she was glancing at something over his shoulder when she was actually staring right into his beautiful face. Jake smiled to himself at how artless she tried to be without much success.

“Say-ya,” Luis hailed the group as he headed in, the last to rinse off. “How was Sunday on the Moore’s yacht? Where did you go?” The question was innocent, and the Hispanic kid flicked them all a curious glance as he re-braided his damp hair. Kelsey hadn’t appeared to be paying attention, but she had quickly picked out the words ‘Moore’s yacht’ and grasped the truth right away, especially when everyone around her froze in shock.

Whipping around to stare at all of them, she shouted, “The yacht? You guys went out with Dylan on Sunday and didn’t invite me?” Her rage was met by dead silence.

Noah decided it was time to man up since it was his idea. “Kelsey,” he began. But he didn’t get a chance.

The tiny girl whirled on Jake. “This is entirely your fault, you fucking bastard. You showing up here and wheedling your way in with my friends and taking them away from me. Why don’t you go back to wherever the hell you came from!”

Jake opened his mouth and shut it again, unable to say anything that would settle the situation and willing himself not to give in to her irrational anger. He felt like an insect specimen pinned to a display board and unable to escape. What he was most aware of was six pair of eyes swiveling between the two of them, and he glowed an uncomfortable shade of crimson.

“Stop, Kelsey…” Sage started over.

“Fuck off, Sage!” the brunette shouted. “I’ll deal with you all later, but for now I want to know what Jake has to say about this. Do not make apologies for him. I want to listen to this whiny bitch spout his lame-ass excuses for why he got to go with you and I didn’t.”

Jake stared at the girl with misgiving in his heart, feeling sick about the disagreement he didn’t cause but knowing he’d never convince her. Somehow he had to calm her down before she spewed all over everyone and turned her friends into enemies. He was going to lose them anyway- all of them- once they were forced to take sides and make a choice. Even worse, he was going to lose the camaraderie of the person who meant the most to him. Dylan!

“I am truly sorry,” he answered softly, staring frankly into her hazel doe eyes. “I had nothing to do with Sunday…”

“Oh sure you didn’t,” she said mockingly, flipping her hair back. “What did you do, Jake? Refuse to go out on the yacht if I was invited? Because you’re a little prick who can’t take some teasing?”

“Hey,” Spencer interrupted darkly. “That isn’t what…”

“Kelsey, that’s enough.” Sage’s voice was outraged.

“Can we dial this down a notch?” Dylan entreated. He was just as guilty as Noah was; he’d given the okay to leave Kelsey behind, and it stung him to watch her light into Jake who, although he was guiltless in this debacle, was turning pale and looked as if he was going to fall over.

But Jake’s voice floated over all of them. “No, I’ve got this.” He faced Kelsey directly with a determination to make this right no matter how much at the moment he felt like throwing up. He wasn’t going to let her walk all over him, but he wasn’t going to stand back either and watch this group who had been friends forever quarrel and fall apart because of him.

“You can believe whatever you choose, Kelsey, and I don’t much care either way. I didn’t tell any of them not to invite you, but before you go blaming me, maybe you should look at the pleasant way you’re acting right now. They have been your friends for much longer than mine.” He said the last without a trace of irony and let the words sink in for a few seconds before he continued.

“I don’t get why you chose to hate on me before you even knew me but you did. I would like to get along. If anything I said or did hurt you, I’m sorry. The last thing anyone wants is you all fighting because of me. Maybe I’m just in the way here and it would be better…”

Jake felt himself beginning to lose control and he certainly was not going to break down in front of Marcus’ friends. “Uh… that’s all, I guess. I’ll talk to you later … or maybe not.” And he leaped away from them, breaking into a fast sprint within a few yards of their gear to get down the beach as fast as possible.

Marcus twisted so fast in the sand to face Jake’s accuser that nobody saw him move until he was right in her face, and his green eyes were furious. “Kelsey Burns, you’re lucky you’re a girl, or I’d beat the crap out of you for what you just said. Jake never did anything to you even though you deserve it. He’s right; nobody asked you to go on Sunday because of the way you dissed him at the movies, but instead of learning from your mistakes you just made everything worse.”

By this time Marcus was thoroughly worked up and not even thinking about much beyond his anger and the hurt he’d seen blazing out of Jake’s eyes. “If you truly had any idea of what my cousin’s gone through this summer and why he is in Aleppo Park in the first place instead of at home, you’d feel so awful for making more trouble for him. That is, if you had any kind of sympathy for someone besides yourself.” Marcus balled his hands into fists and took a step backwards because he felt a strong desire to hit her, regardless of her gender.

“All he wanted was a few friends to hang with. Instead he’s left fending off wild, untrue accusations because you decided to be a bitch. It just goes to show what a classy guy he is to blame himself for your mistakes. Something your tiny, narrow mind cannot begin to understand, and that’s your jealousy and pettiness. You just better learn to deal with it now, princess, because Jake is more decent than you’ll ever be.” He addressed the rest of the crowd. “Now if you will excuse me, I have to find my cousin.”

Marcus took off in the same direction that Jake went, knowing he was down the coastline somewhere even if he couldn’t see him in the dark. “Hey, Marc, wait up,” called Noah, preparing to follow. “I’m coming too.”

Behind them, Kelsey’s brain went into overdrive, calculating quickly as she surveyed the damage that Jake had caused. It left her with one option to restore the battle in her favor before all was lost. She burst into tears. “I’m sorry,” she sobbed, burying her head in her hands. “I’m just so confused by why this is happening to me.”

“Shut up, Kelsey,” Sage ground out, taking an unusual stance against her best friend. “This isn’t ‘happening’ to you; you caused it. All of it.” She tied the sash of her light mesh cover-up and ran off looking for the boys.

“You believe me, Dylan, don’t you?” Kelsey was peeking at him from out between her fingers. But Dylan wasn’t paying attention to her. Luis was apologizing over and over for his misplaced remark, and Dylan was looking rather dazed and telling him that everything would work out all right.

“Everyone’s just tired,” Dylan explained soothingly. “Saying things they don’t mean.” It was the only line he could take because his mind refused to admit what his eyes had just seen: Kelsey viciously turning on Jake for no apparent reason and sending him rushing down the beach as if he was being chased by demons. But why was she acting like such a spoiled brat and climbing up his ass? Kelsey had always been a nice girl. Maybe selfish and melodramatic at times, but not acting out in this kind of mean, vindictive fashion.

”You’re right, Dylan,” Kelsey moaned, shifting quickly to get back in his good graces. “It’s been such a bad week, and I didn’t mean…”

Spencer frowned at her scathingly and saw right through her act. “Why won’t you shut the hell up! Didn’t you cause enough mischief with your big mouth? If I don’t have to listen to you for the next two weeks it won’t be long enough.” He looked between Luis and Dylan apologetically. “I’m out of here. Marcus is right- this is all her fault, and I’d rather hang with them.”

Luis, who by now was feeling like a total snake in the grass for accidentally starting the feud, gathered his board and surfing gear. “It’s been great, really,” he grunted in scorn. “Let me know the next time we decide to have this much fun.” He made it halfway across the sand and turned around, exasperation pouring off him. “You know, Dylan, the least you could’ve done was let me in on the secret. Like, tell me you purposely didn’t invite Kelsey so I don’t stick my foot in it.”

Except for the noisily crying Kelsey, Dylan was by himself surrounded by his friends’ surfboards. Deserted and unsure about how the night had gone so wrong, he felt helpless, caught in the middle of an argument that was anything but necessary. How was he to reconcile what his eyes saw- Kelsey enjoying herself tormenting Jake- with what she was claiming? It didn’t add up. The problem was the tension that had been building between them ever since he had moved to the area, setting them on a collision course, but why? The two brought out the worst in each other, like throwing gasoline on an open flame. If only he had resisted Noah’s suggestion and invited Kelsey along on the trip to Catalina, but would that have even been wise? It was like she wasn’t even trying to coexist peacefully.

Kelsey, who noticed that she was alone with her Dylan and happy with the outcome if not exactly with all the earlier drama, tucked her head and coyly threw herself in his arms to cry loudly on his bare shoulder. Snuggling closer and puffing out little bits of fake apology, she never failed to stick the knife figuratively into Jake and lay the blame at his feet. He was the one causing strife and breaking up the group. Jake hated her and wanted to take her friends away.

And Dylan just stood there, his arms full of sobbing girl, feeling like a heel and automatically patting her on the back. He hoped what he said to Spencer and Luis was true. They were all tired and on edge; soon everything would calm down and be back to normal. Unfortunately, he already realized this was pie in the sky. What he wanted to do most was follow the rest of the teens and make sure Jake was okay. Assure him that this wasn’t his fault and they’d work something out. Do anything to take the misery out of those vivid green eyes. But he couldn’t. Not with Kelsey holding on to him as if her heart was breaking. It would be cruel to abandon her. But damn if he didn’t feel trapped between the two sides. And how did this get resolved in a way that didn’t mean ditching one of them as a friend?

Jake sped down the shore as fast as his legs would carry him, but running in the deep sand was soon killer on his calf muscles. He couldn’t see the dips and rises beneath him and stumbled several times until he finally slowed to a walk. His lungs burned with the effort to pull in air and he bent over, placing his hands on his knees and breathing raggedly. Maybe if he passed out from lack of oxygen he wouldn’t hurt so badly over what he’d left behind.

What he’d left behind was the most incredible man on the planet who was probably as confused as he was over Kelsey’s accusations. Unless of course, he believed her more because that was what boyfriends did for their girls- trust them. Which Jake wouldn’t blame him for one bit. It seemed to be his lot in life to fall for beautiful guys who weren’t gay and had loads of hang-ups. It didn’t matter, they were all unattainable.

Once Jake got his breath back, he realized he didn’t want to walk anymore. Instead he looked out to sea where it was so dark under the overcast night sky that he could barely see the phosphorescence in the tips of the whitecaps. Low tide had been over four hours ago and the cold water was rushing around his feet and causing him to sink into the damp sand.

Jake knew that Kelsey’s behavior bordered on clinically narcissistic and tried to reason that she was just upset knowing she’d been left behind on Sunday. He was already taking note that his response to her had been less than stellar, extending his claws rather than showing her his vulnerable belly which, he was sure, she would have gleefully ripped out. The only thing he had ever done to her was show up out of the blue, be introduced as Marcus’ cousin and hope his friends took to him. He never expected someone to dislike him so harshly without giving him a chance.

He’d had such hopes after the pool party - was it really only eleven days ago? He’d fallen in love with Dylan, but he would settle for being friends, if that was possible. Being at the beach and surfing with him, working at the recreation center, motoring on his yacht; they had all become part of the most intense and enjoyable summer he’d ever experienced and it was only the first week of June. If he had to give it all up and find other people to hang out with…

“Jake!” He looked up to see most of the tribe running at him. Marcus, Noah, Sage and Spencer all smiling in relief as they surged around him, slapping him between his shoulder blades and forming a protective squadron at his back. Marcus wrapped his arms around him fiercely and then made room for Sage to give him a gentle hug. Everything they felt for him was in her eyes. Trust, belief, sorrow, compassion. His own filled with the long-threatened tears.

“Don’t take her shit seriously,” Marcus advised. “Kelsey is a real whack-job.”

“Jake, just to let you know,” Noah told him sincerely, gripping his bicep and staring into his eyes. “You’re solid. Still a solid guy after four years, is what I guess I mean. What went down tonight was totally skeevy and all her doing.”

Jake shook his head. “But that’s just it. I don’t want to come between you and her. It shouldn’t be this way. You’ve been friends with her for a long time. And then I come in and…”

“To be honest,” Spencer chimed in, “it was good seeing Kelsey taken down a peg tonight. Well, uh, not that it will make a difference to her.”

“I think she’s going through a rough time at home right now too,” Sage offered.

Her brother looked at her in disbelief. “Stop making excuses for her.”

But Jake wasn’t really listening to them. He was peering down the beach in the direction they’d come from hoping to see a tall blonde boy in a pair of blue board shorts strolling towards them to offer his own support and say it wasn’t his fault. Straining his eyes, Jake stared fruitlessly into the darkness. But Dylan wasn’t there. All Jake saw was sand.


Like most upsets between friends of this age, the episode blew itself out over the next couple of days. Jake worked his butt off at the recreation center conferring with Coach Abel and showing off his baseball skills. Coach was impressed and only needed to tweak a few things with his batting stance that even Jake realized gave his swing more power. When quitting time rolled around on that last afternoon Jake was positive he was ready for Monday’s first day of camp.

Early on Friday, Noah woke Marcus up with a cell phone call informing him of excellent conditions on the breaks at Doheny State Beach, and did they want to try to head out there for a couple of hours? Marcus conferred with Jake who thought it would relax some of the week’s tension away.

“Who is going to be there?” Jake’s face took on a pinched look. He had told the crew that he was steering clear of Kelsey, and Noah had informed him it wouldn’t be a problem. Sage had yelled at her for most of the fifteen mile trip home on Tuesday night and told her a repeat of her behavior wouldn’t be tolerated again.

“Just the four of us,” Noah explained. “You, me, Marcus and Dylan.”

Jake was still hurt over Dylan not coming to find him on Tuesday. He knew he was being petty and taking everything too personally. But if Dylan believed Kelsey’s story over his own, they had little chance of even sustaining a friendship. However, he had been looking forward to a chance to surf with Dylan for more than just a quick evening since he met him, and today would be a perfect opportunity.

When the boys arrived at the beach, the first thing they noticed was that the waves were breaking farther out from the shore than usual. The sets were good and the surface, glassy, so Jake and his friends headed for deeper water. Tube after clean tube rolled towards the beach, and they were whooping it up with wild abandon. These were the best breakers they’d seen all season, and a grin wreathed Jake’s face as he sat in the channel, lined up his markers and waited his turn.

The anxiety in Jake diminished quickly as he saw Dylan treating him the same as ever. There was a lot of good-natured teasing stemming from that first afternoon when they’d issued surfing challenges to each other. Still, both boys were responsible and knew the difference between having a good time and being foolhardy.

Sighting a large swell Jake began to quickly paddle, maneuvering into it as the lip climbed and formed. It was going to be a bomb. He carefully faded back a little and angled inside, hopping into a crouch. He knew he would be able to drop into the slot right on time. He cut away from the shoulder and angled for the face as he stood tall and cheered.

Instantly, he knew something was wrong. His position. Perched too far forward, the momentum of the powerful wave was lifting the lip steeper than he could manage. He tried taking a few cross-steps back, but he was already nose-diving as the tail of his stick rose up and over him. His foot still tethered by the leash, he was being drawn down into the huge crashing wave that flung him straight into the impact zone. The water pummeled and sucked at him violently as he was dragged along underwater. He felt his head, neck and shoulders make hard contact with the sandy bottom and his vision went gray.

Watching Jake get thrown off his longboard, Dylan, Noah and Marcus broke into hearty guffaws of laughter. “Dude, he got axed,” Marcus crowed.

“Totally drilled,” Noah agreed, leaning back as his own perfect swell came out of nowhere and began to build. He went to meet it. “Rib him good for me, guys.”

Dylan had watched the whole sequence in awe. One moment, Jake was poised in the barrel’s lip on the cusp of a perfect ride, the next he was getting worked in the sharp pitch and disappeared underwater. In a matter of seconds, the familiar yellow and two-toned blue epoxy fiberglass popped free. Dylan shook water out of his face and opened his mouth to let the teasing fly as soon as his friend’s head broke the surface. All he saw was water.

Where was Jake?

A few seconds went by. Dylan’s eyes casually swept back and forth across the soup, expecting to see the black wetsuit-clad body stagger out of the ocean closer to shore. Nothing. With the force of a sledgehammer, understanding hit Dylan. Jake was still down there.

”Jake,” he screamed frantically as he dug his hands into the surf to make his board slice across to where he’d last seen the nineteen-year-old. “Jake!”

Marcus’ head whipped around and took stock instantly of the situation. Oh my god, what… He didn’t see Jake either. Paddling madly, his peripheral vision caught Noah pulling up as soon as he heard Dylan’s anguished voice and begin to kick his way over to them.

It wasn’t easy, but in what seemed like minutes but was only seconds, Dylan caught up with Jake’s floating board. He slid his leash off his ankle and fell sideways into the sea, reaching out to grab the second tether and use it to guide his way down. There, in front of him, neoprene and brown curls drifting with the wake of the combers above him. Jake seemed to be unconscious… or dead. There was no telling what kind of injury he was suffering from or whether he’d swallowed any water and no time to finesse the rescue. Dylan grabbed him up quickly by his torso and pushed him upward.

Noah was already there and waiting when they broke the surface. ”Here, take him,” Dylan ordered. “Carefully.”

Grabbing Jake’s arm and gently lifting, Noah slid Jake’s longboard under his upper body as Dylan quickly moved around them and took the position at his head. He knew he should immobilize his neck in case of spinal cord trauma, but there were other, more pressing problems. While he could detect a weak pulse on the side of Jake’s slender throat, it didn’t look as if he was breathing. Time counted here urgently, and he quickly helped maneuver the helpless boy’s limp body so he was fully lying on the hard shell that would give him purchase if CPR became necessary.

But here or wait until they reached shore? The four of them were still in deep water where they couldn’t touch bottom and were using their boards to keep them afloat and together. Ideally, Dylan knew he should have solid ground beneath his feet if he needed to perform rescue breathing, but if they swam Jake any closer in they would be fighting the breakers. It was not an easy choice.

”Wave!” Noah called. The barrel hadn’t begun to form, so they rose harmlessly with the swell and settled back down.

Dylan glanced up at the beach and noticed for the first time that a crowd was gathering. One lifeguard stood ankle-deep in the wash talking on a cell phone, probably calling emergency services. Two others had launched a small rescue craft but they were fighting heavy waves. It would take too long to get here. He could hear Marcus openly sobbing next to him, his hand stroking his cousin’s still fingers and his voice, wobbly and heartbroken. “Jakey, wake up. Please wake up.”

There was no time to lose.

(To be continued...)