Half An Island Adventure
Dylan Moore angrily pulled his cherry-red 2008 Honda CR-V into the pocket parking spot in his parents’ driveway, got out and locked the door. It was only 10:15 and he was not happy to have to return home directly after watching Battlefield America with his friends. He knew he shouldn’t complain because his mother and father were fairly lenient compared to most. At twenty years old he was too old for curfew, but sometimes they treated him as if he was some irresponsible child who couldn’t tell when it was time to stop playing outside under the streetlights and go in. He’d been having a fantastic time hanging with the crew and didn’t want the night to end. He’d rather have gone to Noah’s with the gang, particularly Marcus and his cousin, Jake Nielsen.
Jake intrigued Dylan, and he found the whole new-kid phenom rather remarkable. For three years he and his two besties… well, four if you included Spencer and Luis… had been tight. Around town, if you saw one boy, you knew the others weren’t far behind. And then Jake showed up, and it was as if he’d been there all along. There was no uncomfortable trial period trying to accommodate him and make him fit in. Jake added an undeniable twist to the mix, like taking fun and enthusiasm to the next level. It was the same premise as inserting a slice of lime and a pinch of salt into a bottle of Corona; they made the flavor pop. Maybe you had never known any better, and unless you tried it you wouldn’t think it was necessary, but once you had that unique taste you could never go back to plain beer without feeling as if you were missing something.
In the past week since he’d met Jake, Dylan had tried to identify exactly what was so special about him. What made him… well, Jake. He was friendly and unquestionably loyal to those he cared about, and his capacity to include Marcus’ friends in that lofty group made you want to be there. He wasn’t given to idle speech just to have something to say, and what came out of his mouth was sincere. He carefully weighed the impact of his words and deeds on others. Maybe he was a little bashful, but it was endearing and natural, given the way he’d been thrust into a whole new social situation without warning. Listening to him and his cousin, Marcus, banter back and forth was almost as entertaining as the mind melding twin-speak Spencer and Sage engaged in.
Dylan thought about what happened at the theater. He couldn’t decide the reasons why Kelsey and Jake were arguing. Okay, that might not be the correct term. Dylan hadn’t seen Jake do or say anything to Kelsey, good or bad. He was people-watching before the film which was one of his favorite pastimes and suddenly he heard three of his friends having it out over the kid. Sage and Noah were accusing Kelsey of hurting his feelings on purpose, and when he glanced down at Jake sitting at the far end of the row, damn if he didn’t look as if someone had kicked his puppy.
True, Kelsey tended to be childish and was immature for her age. She was an only child, and her parents were wealthy and spoiled her rotten. Dylan wasn’t sure how she was going to get along in college, but at least she was going to a two-year community school that was socially only a step up from high school. A little stuck up and used to getting her own way, she was jealous and had a deep possessive streak where Dylan was concerned. She was acting as if Jake was a threat to her, but that was ridiculous.
Kelsey was into him way too much, but he was afraid if he told her to knock off the flirting and touching him he would hurt her feelings. He knew she wanted a committed relationship. They’d gone out a couple of times in high school, and his parents liked her. All of their mutual friends expected them to eventually hook up. But if he was honest, at least with himself, Dylan would admit that he wasn’t as interested in her as it looked. In fact, the best that could be said was that he was sort of fond of her. Like platonic. Not in love. Not with a woman for over two years.
And that was the crux of the matter. A very personal problem had sprung up like an insidious scourge in the zenith of his youth- his last year of high school. It choked him. It made Dylan question every single thing about himself. He couldn’t identify, much less articulate, what had happened. Here he was, a well-liked senior from a good home with a solid group of friends and earning top marks to get a scholarship into his college of choice, a water polo starter and swimming star, and sometimes he felt such crippling indecision and anxiety, he thought he’d go mad.
It hadn’t always been that way. Like most adolescent boys Dylan looked forward to becoming a man because it meant sex… lots of it. Kissing and fondling in middle school turned into full experimentation soon after his sixteenth birthday. What he wasn’t, was a player. He’d been raised better than that by parents who loved and respected each other and laid the groundwork for each of their three children to have healthy sexual relationships. Casual, friends with benies fucking did not attract him. He knew guys who would get into any female’s pants as long as she was halfway pretty and gave him a winning smile and something that resembled a yes, the kind who got bored easily and went through girls like changing underwear. That so wasn’t him. Sure Dylan enjoyed sex, but even at his young age he knew that without some kind of feeling attached, it would be shallow and unfulfilling.
He was different.
Ask most people back at Aleppo Park High about Dylan Moore and they would throw out that he was smart, quick with a shy smile and had blue eyes so striking they were impossible to forget. He was amusing and sweet-natured for a jock. He didn’t consider himself popular and would’ve given you the shirt off his back if you needed it. People flocked to him because he had a kind hello for everyone.
The girls he went out with called him a chameleon. Dylan was fabulous in bed, careful and considerate. He learned the art of reciprocation faster than most teenagers and, by trial and error, found out what females enjoyed. The key to good sex was pleasing one’s partner, and he made his feel like queens. But starting in the fall when he turned eighteen he began to notice a pattern. Meet a girl, take her out, get to know her. A few weeks of dating later, sparked by the standard courting rituals, their friends were ready to pronounce them in a relationship. Make it official with a romantic outing or two that ended up with them sleeping together, and his interest in the newest flame would begin to fade out. It wasn’t just the sex that felt wrong; it was everything about the relationship. This was not to say he was some kind of Lothario on steroids, but he couldn’t help but compare himself unfavorably to the same boys he looked down on. Sex turned boring, and the answer wasn’t more of it.
Dylan swore up and down that he wasn’t looking for notches on his bedpost by callously luring in the coeds and dumping them as soon as he fucked them. He just couldn’t drum up the emotional commitment to make a relationship last past a month. It felt like he was going through the motions and, what was worse, living in a kind of limbo where he could neither pretend to be happy nor lie about it. The girls could only stand so much discomfort before the subliminal messages told them it was over. Once each got tired of his detachment, she was out of there, leaving her wondering what she’d done wrong. Only Dylan realized that it was all on him. Everyone knew he was much too noble to cheat on his partners, but he still felt like an asshole. It was supposed to hurt when love fell apart, so why didn’t it? All he felt was empty and indifferent.
By this time Dylan was running out of options. Love was meaningless, soul-draining. A few of his lesser mates said he was taking life too seriously and the cure was tumbling into bed with some obscure girl he barely knew. The couple of times he forced himself to do it was so cold and calculating it almost made him physically ill. Neither could he see putting time and energy into a new relationship. Been there, done that. At this point, he had no choice but to give up and admit he was tired of trying. It wasn’t worth it so he hid. He covered a wealth of innuendo and allayed suspicion by taking the casual road and never lacked for partners at social functions. Not if he could look into a girl’s eyes and say he had too much respect to sleep with her and was under too much pressure to commit to any kind of relationship. He blamed his self-imposed celibacy on struggling for better grades and immersing himself in sports to obtain that illusive college scholarship. When his friends teased him about his love-life, he laughed with them and kept his secrets to himself.
But damn, he was lonely.
“Yes, yes, yes.”
It was late Saturday night, and Jake was in his bedroom. He’d spent the morning surfing and the afternoon helping Marcus and his uncle in the back yard, replacing a wooden support column from the patio cover that had dry rot. He was tired and sore. At the sound of the wild hooting, he charged the door to find Marcus whooping it up and dancing enthusiastically around the hallway with his cell phone clasped in his hand.
“What’s going on?” Jake asked, yawning.
“We’ve been invited to spend the whole day tomorrow on the Moore’s yacht.
Jake wasn’t sure he heard correctly. ”Dylan’s family has a yacht?”
“Yes. Well… no.” Marcus laughed at the incredulous expression on Jake’s face. “The yacht belongs to Dylan’s grandfather. He doesn’t use it much anymore because of his health. It’s berthed in Newport Harbor, and Dylan’s parents take it out every chance they get when the weather is nice. Sometimes they let him invite people.”
“Jesus! How rich are your friends?” Jake laughed. He had never seen so much money thrown around in his life.
“Sorry if I attract the right kind of people. It’s a gift.”
Jake ran his fingers through his shoulder-length hair, working them through the tangled curls and feeling the grit from the beach. He needed a shower before he went to bed and it sounded like there wouldn’t be opportunity for a lot of sleep.
“I hope you accepted.”
“Of course I did,” Marcus snickered. “What do you think I am, stupid?”
Jake gave him a wry look. “For the sake of your fragile ego, bro, I won’t answer that.”
The next morning both boys were jarred out of bed by their alarm clocks just after six. Jake dressed in a pair of tan cargo shorts, a band t-shirt and Vans and met Marcus in the kitchen to grab a quick cup of coffee and a slice of toast. His duffel bag held his board shorts, shortie wetsuit, a beach towel, sunscreen and a CSLB ball cap. Running his arm over his drowsy eyes, he asked, “So what do you do all day on a yacht?”
An hour and a half later he found out.
They were waiting in the parking lot at the marina by eight o’clock as instructed. There, they met up with Spencer, Sage, Noah and the Moore family. Mr. and Mrs. Moore welcomed them warmly and introduced Jake to their youngest daughter, Erin, who was seventeen and soon to be a senior at Aleppo Park High. She gave Jake a barely-disguised ‘come hither’ look, causing Noah to snicker. Luis Gonzalez was unable to attend due to a prior commitment and everyone else was strangely tight-lipped about Kelsey’s whereabouts. Jake was just thankful he wouldn’t have to look at her scowl all day.
Talking excitedly, Dylan led his friends onboard the Dare 2 Dream. Marcus hadn’t exaggerated about it, leaving Jake suitably impressed. The Moore’s ship was a sleek forty-five foot Cruisers 4450 Express built in 2001. It had 840 hp twin inboard diesel engines and all the bells and whistles a proper captain could want. As far as comfort went, the huge cockpit amid-ship had space for six, and there was a luxurious outside dining area with extensive aft seating and a snack galley. Carpeted steps led down to the cabin and a larger indoor galley with microwave and full refrigerator along with a salon and a dinette. There were two heads, one with a jetted tub and three good-sized staterooms, the largest tucked into the stern with a queen bed. The ship even had laundry facilities. Access to the big sun pad on the bow was provided by a ladder and pop-up hatch.
“You can leave the top battened down if the weather is bad,” Dylan explained as he was giving Jake the grand tour prior to getting under way. “Or, like today, we’ll remove the bimini and store the eisenglass to open her up. There’s nothing like the spray of salty fresh air.”
It was like home away from home, Jake had to admit. “So where are we going?”
Dylan smiled at him and the shorter boy found it was dazzling, like the sun coming out from behind a dark cloud.
“Catalina Island. Mom and Dad go over at least once a year, but it’s been a while for me. I thought it would be a nice day trip. There’s a lot to explore.”
Jake laughed. “I think I went to Catalina for a weekend once with my Scout troop when I was eleven, but that was damn! Eight years ago? We were working on an environmental badge of some sort and we spent a day in town.”
“Glass-bottomed boat tour, right?” Dylan asked, noticing for the first time that Jake had a small gap between his two front teeth and thinking it did nothing to detract. “We lived in Anaheim back then, but our troop did the same thing.”
“You know Scouts; one council probably does the same thing as the next.”
Dylan was about to answer when his father called them to the deck and began giving instructions. Jake quickly learned that part of the requirements for being a guest for the day involved crewing on the ship, and he set to work helping Spencer wash down the cushions on the sun deck and the outside lounge. Soon they had the yacht ship-shape.
Jake was sitting cross-legged on one of the large foam pads on the bow. Next to him, Noah and Sage were discussing whether to change into swimwear. While the day had started off foggy and cool, the early June mist was already burning off by the time they left the harbor behind. Dylan poked his head up through the hatch.
“Hey, there you all are. Mom brought pastries, lattes and orange juice for breakfast if you’re hungry.”
Sage, who had a tremendous sweet tooth, jumped to her feet, dragging Noah with her. “Come on, big boy. I’m starved.” They scooted down the ladder, leaving Dylan to settle down beside Jake, and they stared out into the rippling water for a few minutes of comfortable silence. Seagulls wheeled above them, and porpoises played alongside the yacht.
“Do you sail… uh… drive or whatever… the boat?” Jake blushed at how stupid he sounded.
Dylan didn’t laugh at him. “It’s called ‘piloting’, and yes, I do sometimes. I’ll probably take the wheel on the trip home this evening because Dad says I need to work on putting the Dare 2 Dream back into its slip in the harbor. I hope by the end of the summer I can take her out by myself.”
“You mean pilot her alone?” Jake’s jaw dropped. “That sounds like a lot of responsibility.”
“I’ve been learning how to run her since I was thirteen,” Dylan said without sounding boastful. He shrugged. “Dad says I only need a little more skill behind the wheel before going solo. Maybe when I do all of us can go to Catalina for a weekend and stay overnight in the harbor. Now that is an experience. The nightlife in Avalon on summer weekends is crazy.”
“Sweet,” Jake exclaimed, hoping to be part of the group that got to accompany him.
The voyage to Santa Catalina Island was uneventful and took a little over an hour. Jake was still on the bow when the bowl shape of Avalon’s pretty bay came into view, and the others crowded around him, gawking and pointing. The chalky white of the rocky soil sloped steeply upwards from the very edge of the town into scrub vegetation made a verdant green by the spring rains. The coastline was ringed by shops, hotels and restaurants of the town proper above the narrow beach. There were outcroppings of rock rising from the ocean floor to form a habitat where seals sunned themselves.
There was no line to enter the harbor, and the harbormaster gave them directions on where to drop anchor. Mr. Moore joined the semi-circle rows of sailing craft of all sizes, some day-trippers like themselves and others who lived in the harbor year-round. After docking and the requisite visit by the harbor patrol, he tuned into one of the local radio stations and called up a water taxi to take everyone ashore.
Dylan and his friends split from the adults at the dock, and Sage was glad to have another female in Erin to walk around with. Bypassing the expensive organized tours, they explored the hilly town on their own, ducking into places that looked intriguing. Almost every establishment offered souvenirs, but most were the typical fare that, save for the cheap token place name, were identical to any beach community in California. Seashell necklaces, fat colorful pencils with tassels, a mug with ‘Santa Catalina Island’ written in bold block letters- none of the teenagers wanted to buy that crap.
But that didn’t mean their browsing was completely wasted. Jake discovered a book on surfing on Catalina that offered up some choice trivia, including the fact that very few automobiles were allowed on the island. A fourteen-year wait list was in place, meaning virtually nearly no traffic. They visited the island museum, located in the huge art-deco casino and indulged Erin and Sage’s need to check out the various shops which, if the boys had been truthful, weren’t boring at all. They found the Three Palms arcade which set them all back some money but allowed them to compete against each other in games.
Jake had one of the best days of his life in Avalon. He no longer felt as if he was encroaching on Marcus’ friends; they had become his also, and he held his own when the other men chose to rib him about his skeet ball skills. It didn’t hurt him that he racked up a higher score than everyone except Noah. Jake gave his winning tickets to Erin, prompting more teasing from the Caldwell twins for being sweet on her. Marcus smirked at the misplaced sentiment when he turned bright red.
By early afternoon everyone was shopped out and ready to return to the ship for snacks, sunbathing and swimming. “Wear your wetsuits,” Dylan’s mother advised the kids when the water taxi dropped them off. “Avalon’s water isn’t the cleanest.”
They started with flips off the back of the yacht into the deep, rather murky water and progressed to tricky dives. Holding their breath, they swam as far down as they dared watching colorful fish flit around them. After they tired, they paddled back to the Dare 2 Dream and climbed aboard to rinse off on the bow under a hose. The warm sunlight felt good.
Everyone was in a lighthearted mood and poking fun at each other. “So where is your girlfriend today,” Spencer mocked Dylan gently. “I thought you and Kelsey were joined at the hip.”
It was like a nuclear bomb had gone off with that statement, so many things happened at once.
“Uh, I’m responsible for that,” Noah began gravely, nodding in Dylan’s direction. “See, I asked Dylan…”
At the same time, Erin’s face scrunched up in a mixture of amusement, disbelief and sarcasm. “Girlfriend! Kelsey isn’t his girlfriend. Dylan is…”
They were both shouted down by the tumult of Dylan’s horrified roar as he came up out of his seat and half-lunged at her. “Erin, shut the fuck up!” He turned five shades of red that would’ve put an apple to shame.
“Dylan. And. Erin.” The last was Mrs. Moore and she had everyone’s attention with her clipped, you-are-so-dead tone of voice and the cold, steely glare aimed at her two children. “I want to see both of you in the salon. Right now!” She managed a quick, stilted smile at the other now-silent teens looking around in shock at everyone but the Moore kids and their mother. “I have to apologize for their bad manners. We’ll be right back.”
Jake peeked at Erin’s angry, closed-off face and Dylan’s retreating back slumped in defeat before sliding his eyes in Spencer’s direction when he heard him speak minutes later. “Wow,” the twin whispered quietly to the assembled group. “What was that about?”
“I don’t know,” his sister answered under her breath. “I’ve never seen Dylan lose his cool over nothing.”
“Me either,” Marcus agreed quietly. “And he doesn’t normally curse like that. He was really angry at his sister.”
Noah drew nearer to them and explained, “I’m the one who asked Dylan not to invited Kelsey.” He lifted his chin in Jake’s direction. “After the way she acted Friday night at the cinema, I didn’t want her around.”
“She’s just immature, Noah,” Sage remonstrated. “I don’t think she means anything.” But her boyfriend shook his head in disbelief. It was more than Kelsey being bitchy because she didn’t get her way. It was her obvious aggression, but Sage, being her best friend, was blind to it.
Jake felt sick. All of a sudden, the wonderful day was ruined. He wasn’t sure what he’d done to cause it, but he had managed to come between this cheery band of people who were Marcus’ best friends and split them up through jealousy. Leave it to Kelsey to cause an uproar, he thought, and she didn’t even have to be present. Well, that wasn’t exactly fair; she’d had nothing to do with the fight between Dylan and his sister.
He wondered what Erin had been about to say and concluded that Dylan was embarrassed because the closeness of his relationship with Kelsey was about to be exposed. He surmised that he was a very private person who didn’t want his feeling bandied around, especially by a younger sibling. It just went to show how serious he was about the missing girl, and that hurt him more than he was willing to admit.
The Moore kids returned, chastened and miserable, a few minutes later, and Jake was dismayed to see that Dylan looked as if he’d been crying. He was at a loss to know what to do, considering that had he been in similar circumstances he would’ve wanted to tumble into the ocean and disappear beneath the foam. Jake stared out into the harbor and pretended to pay close attention to the water taxi depositing a bickering liquored-up couple back at their yacht, and when Dylan joined him at the railing he deliberately didn’t say anything at first. Then Dylan gave a small sigh and when Jake looked up, he was staring at him. The two of them locked eyes and Jake gave him a compassionate smile. The corners of Dylan’s mouth lifted just slightly and he seemed to calm down.
“My mom told me to tell you guys that I’m sorry,” Dylan sighed again, pushing his damp white-blonde hair out of his eyes. “I mean, I am sorry I lost my temper and swore at Erin. I know I acted like an ass, but damn, she deserved it.”
“Believe it or not,” Jake muttered encouragingly, “older brothers are worse for teasing than little sisters. At least, that’s my experience. Do you have any? Brothers, I mean.”
Dylan shook his head. “No, but I have an older sister, Brooke, who is married and lives in Oregon.”
“I have two, both in their twenties.” He grinned at Dylan conspiratorially. “I wouldn’t want either of them anywhere near my friends because of the shit they have on me. It would give me nightmares for weeks.”
“Thanks,” Dylan chuckled, raising his hand and gripping Jake’s shoulder in a friendly way. “For not getting all weirded out, you know? You’re okay for a non-native.”
Jake broke into a huge grin, his good humor and faith in the world restored. “Thanks,” he mumbled, hearing himself as from a distance. “But I’m more native than you’ll ever be, Anaheim.”
Jake listened to Dylan laugh warmly and deeply, and it sounded like music to his ears. He felt a tingling warmth where Dylan had rested his fingers, radiating outwards into his chest and down his arm. Dylan said he was okay. Dylan liked him. Even if all they would ever be was friends, it felt great to be admired and appreciated by someone he held in such high esteem. It was almost a shame, actually, as well as they complemented each other, that they couldn’t be more, but Jake was learning not to hold out hope for miracles even if Dylan was the man he would give his virginity up to in a second.
The rest of the voyage passed uneventfully. There was cold fried chicken, fruit and a variety of salads for dinner, and then it was time to clean up the galley, stow all the toys and swimming gear and begin heading back towards home. Jake stood in the stern of the ship with Marcus and Noah watching the sun set behind him and marveling how different it looked on the ocean. Crisper with clean lines and the colors more vivid.
Dylan, as promised, took them into the marina, although his father almost didn’t let him because of the squabble with Erin. Jake perched near him in the wheelhouse watching has he checked gauges and carefully steered around the slow-moving harbor traffic of other ships entering after their own adventures. All too soon, the Dare 2 Dream was gently nudging the floating dock, and Dylan shut down the engines with a victorious flash of his eyes.
“See you later,” the kids called to each other in the parking lot with hugs for Sage and Erin and fist bumps all around. They had already helped with the final crewing assignments to get the yacht ready for its next outing and thanked their hosts. Jake and Marcus climbed into his mustang, tired, sunburned and happy and went home.
(To be continued...)