When you’re young and the summer nights are warm, romance fills a young man’s dreams.
All that’s needed then is someone to share the moments.
Sean was waiting for me when I got to the stand. I’d told him to wear his swimming trunks and bring a towel. Swimming at night when the beach was usually deserted and the water was as warm as or warmer than the air was one of the things I’d liked best about living here. The moon was a little fuller that last night, throwing off a bit more of its silvery light, and we could see fine.
He was a bit reluctant to enter the dark water, but once in, I could see his face light up. He liked it as much as I did. We simply floated a lot, not making noise, not being at all rambunctious. We stayed in for about fifteen minutes before getting out. As we were drying off, I asked if he wanted to go where we’d been last night. His face suddenly darkened.
I quickly spoke. “Sean,” I said, “I really like you. I mean, it’s only been today and last night, but I like being with you. I like your sense of humor, how dry it is, and that you’re quiet; kids that talk all the time bug me. You’re calm and seem to take in what’s going on around you without interfering with it much. I’m kind of like that, too. I think we get along great together.
“I hope this turns into something—you and me, I mean. I hope we can be friends, good friends. And I’m not going to do anything or ask you to do anything that would prevent that.”
He was watching me, his face very serious. I could see I needed to say more. “Look. I know Marta told you I’m gay. She told me you are, too. But that doesn’t mean anything unless we want it to. What I’d like is for us to be friends. That’s all I’m looking for. If that’s what you want, then we’re fine. Let’s just get to know each other.”
His posture seemed to soften. I thought I might be on the right track. I went on, saying. “Right now, I just like being alone with you, just the two of us. I liked it last night, just sitting there, talking. That’s all I want to do tonight, too. I don’t want to do anything that you’d rather not. OK, I’m babbling a little now, repeating myself. So I’ll stop.”
And I did. I waited for him to say something.
And he did. Finally, the serious expression on his face lightened up. He actually grinned at me, then came out with, “What you just said.” I waited for more, but that was it. It took me a moment, but then I realized this was his sense of humor; I really liked his sense of humor.
The worry had left his face. He started walking down the beach, the way we’d gone last night, and I hurried to catch up. Where we needed to, we waded into the lake. At that point, my hand brushed his. Feeling unsure, but not thinking it was too much of a risk after saying what I’d said, I brushed his hand with mine again, and then, when he turned his head, I looked into his eyes. I didn’t see a ‘no’ reflected there, so I brushed his hand a third time. He didn’t pull his away, and so I took his hand in mine. He sort of blushed but squeezed mine, and we waded hand in hand the rest of the way to the private place where we’d talked the night before.
I was surprised because this time, Sean talked. He talked for a long time, and I felt he was saying things to me he hadn’t been able to say to anyone before, sort of opening the dam. He talked about what it felt like to be him: small, non-athletic, smart and not really fitting in at school with the other boys; he didn’t mention ‘gay’ with those other deficits, but it sort of sat there, unspoken but real. He wasn’t bullied much—the school and having an acid-tongued sister prevented that—but most of the boys ignored him because he wasn’t like they were. Some of the girls were friendly with him, so he wasn’t alone, but it was embarrassing having only girls hanging around him when it was pretty apparent they were just friends and nothing more.
He talked about being glad Marta was around to protect him yet embarrassed that he needed it. In everything he said, I could hear his loneliness, his self-doubt. Lately, I’d begun feeling the need, the pressing need, for a boyfriend. Sean had an even greater need for a friend who was a boy, a friend who liked him for who he was.
I wanted to be that boy. We talked about getting together when we were back in the city. He really liked that idea. He said he liked being with me, too, but wasn’t ready for anything but friendship yet. Then he blushed and said, well, he was ready to think about other things, just not do them.
I told him I’d already started thinking about them, and he blushed harder, and nodded.
Leaving him that night was even harder than the night before. I had the urge to kiss him, an urge so strong it was almost impossible for me to let him simply walk away. But I did. It wasn’t worth the risk.
I wasn’t scheduled to work the next day. But Dad would be home, and I knew we’d have a talk. I was worried, but not all that much. I knew him. He could be strict, but I’d never known him to be anything but fair. He and I never really had had a go-around with each other. I tended to agree with him on most everything and for the most part was a pretty compliant kid. I’d never rebelled before, however, and this time I had. If there was a line, I’d stepped across it.
So we’d talk. I knew he’d listen to me, at the very least. And we’d see what was what. One thing was certain: I was going to spend the day with Sean, and nothing was going to stop that.
    
I came down to breakfast at 7:30. I could have stayed in bed longer as it was my day off. But when you get used to getting up early, it can be hard to sleep late. Besides, I had a lot on my mind. Seeing what Dad had to say was at the very top of it.
Everyone was at the kitchen table. When I walked in, five faces turned in my direction. Silence. The sort of silence that means someone has been talking about you.
I grabbed a bowl of cereal, dumped in some milk and sat down. Silence. I buttered the last piece of toast on the table, took a bite of it, and looked at the faces still turned in my direction.
Dad said, “When you’re done, Perry, I’d like to see you in my office. You too, Alex.” He got up, dropped his napkin on the table, stepped over and kissed Mom on the cheek, and walked out.
Alex was repressing a smile, but his eyes couldn’t lose the triumph he was feeling. I suddenly lost my appetite. I stood up, leaving the toast and cereal, and headed toward the office. Better sooner than later. Alex jumped up and followed.
Dad was sitting behind his desk. The office was small. Dad didn’t spend much time there. He had an accountant in town to do paperwork and that kind of thing for him. He was more a hands-on, get-involved sort of boss. I sat in one of the chairs in front of his desk, and Alex took the other.
Dad gave us each a quick stare, then turned to me. “As you’re both involved, you should both be here for this. Perry, can you tell me what happened? I only have Alex’s version. I’d like to hear what you were thinking.”
There was no emotion in his voice, only the question. It was as I thought: Dad was going to listen. That was as fair as it could get.
I ignored Alex, who was sitting in his chair as though he had been promoted to some high rank and was seconding the commanding officer, about to berate a lowly private just before sending him off to hard labor in the stockade. “I guess I just got fed up, Dad. Fed up with being treated like an employee instead of a brother. Fed up with orders being barked at me with no chance of any input on my part. Fed up with not having any say in anything. Fed up with rules that don’t make sense. Fed up with no privacy. I don’t get angry very often; you know that. But I did, and I snapped.”
I stopped. I wanted to drop my head but didn’t. I was looking at Dad, looking him in the eyes, and managed to remain doing so. I wanted him to see I wasn’t ashamed about what I’d done. I didn’t think it was wrong.
He stared back, then asked, his voice still gentle, “And when you said you quit? What did you mean by that?”
I felt a lump in my throat. I swallowed it down and resisted the urge for my eyes to water, too. Somehow, from the way he asked the question, I had the impression he was asking if I had meant I was quitting the family. There was no way I had meant that. I loved my dad and mom and sisters. Perhaps not my brother, not lately, but the rest. I wasn’t quitting on them.
Dad was waiting for an answer. I don’t know why I did it, but instead of answering, I jumped up, rushed past the desk to where he was sitting, and hugged him. Hard. Then I may have spilled a tear or two, despite the fact I was sixteen and kids my age, if they have any pride at all, don’t do that.
“I quit on Alex. I don’t want to work for him. But not on anything else.” I sniffed and wished I had a hanky.
Dad was hugging me back. He let go, patted me on the back, smiled, and pointed at my chair, handing me a Kleenex from the box on his desk. I went and sat again.
Dad looked at Alex. “Alex,” he said, “for a while now I’ve asked you to fill in for me when I’m not here. You’ve run the operation in my absence. We didn’t talk about it, really. I just asked you to do it. You knew what the job was, the responsibilities. You watched me do it for years. You’d done all the jobs you’d be supervising, just as Perry has. You knew how everything works. So, tell me. Why do you think I had you take over when I was gone? I could have assigned several people, older and more experienced people, to do that. I chose you. Why do you think I did that?”
Alex thought for a second. He’d never been impetuous. Rigid and dogmatic and inflexible, yes. Impetuous, no. He thought, then said, “Because I’m your oldest son, I’m more responsible than Perry, which you can see from the way he’s behaved the past few days, and I suppose because you’re planning to assign the job to me fulltime when you’re ready to stop doing it or when I graduate from college and you know I’m ready to take over.”
“Mmmm.” Dad was watching him. He didn’t look entirely satisfied with the answer he’d heard. He moved in his chair, thinking. Then he sighed.
“Did it ever occur to you that maybe it wasn’t for those reasons? What other reason might I have had?”
Alex wrinkled his forehead. He thought, then said, “I don’t know. I knew everything I needed to know. I didn’t need any more experience or training than I already had from watching you.”
Dad shook his head. “That isn’t true, son. You had something very valuable to learn. And you haven’t learned it.”
Alex looked confused. My father’s voice got softer. “What I wanted to see, Alex, was how you went about managing people. Most anyone with some intelligence can learn to manage a facility, an operation. It takes a special kind of talent, however, to manage people. I was hoping you’d see that. I was hoping you’d realize that that didn’t come naturally to you, and you’d ask questions about how to do that better. But not only have you never done so, you haven’t even seemed to notice the problems you have in that area.”
Alex was shaking his head. “I run the place fine when you aren’t here. I know everything I need to know to do that. You can take off whenever you want, and you know the place will run well while you’re gone. The people all do what I tell them to. Except Perry, and that was just this once.”
“But this once, when he didn’t, you had no idea how to handle that, did you?”
Alex’s face reddened. “No,” he admitted. And then his voice rose. “Perry wouldn’t do what I told him to. He knew what I’d assigned him, he knew that was his job, and he refused. He was totally irresponsible. Then he said he quit. I don’t know what you’re going to do about that, but it should be something… something he’ll remember.”
“And what would you recommend?”
That stopped Alex, but only for a moment. “I’d cut his salary, put him on notice, and then fire him if he repeated that behavior. In the meantime, you should ground him. Make him stay in his room when he’s not working.”
Dad shook his head. “But what if he were just one of the employees here? One who quit. You couldn’t do any of those things you just said. You’d have just have lost a trained employee with experience and skills. You’d have to replace him, and his services would be lost while you were hiring and training someone else because of the way you had treated him.”
Dad’s voice became gruffer. “Perry quit because of the way you treated him. Do you think you had anything to do with that? Was any of that your fault? Your responsibility?”
“NO! I told him what to do, and he refused. Then he quit. It was all his fault! Everyone else does what I tell them to do.”
Dad sat still for a bit, looking at him. He slowly shook his head. “You just don’t get it,” he said, sorrow coloring his voice.
“Alex, you’ve been a puppet boss when you were in charge. You told people what to do, you ran the place, but you had no real power. Everyone who you supervised knew that. It seems the only one who didn’t was you.
“I put you in that position for only one reason. I wanted you to learn to manage people when you didn’t have the power to affect their lives. Anyone can manage people if the people are afraid of the boss, if their livelihood or that of their family depends on their subservience. That isn’t management, however. That’s tyranny. I’ve experienced bosses like that. That was the way men were taught to manage back early last century and probably before that. Rule with an iron fist. That was the message. That was the norm.
“I experienced that when I began working. And I hated it. I wasn’t asked to make decisions, to solve problems, to find new and better ways of doing things, to correct inefficiencies. No, I was told to do what I was told to do and only to do that. It demeaned me as a person. I never lasted in any of those jobs, and the bosses seemed surprised when I quit.
“But I learned a lesson. If people are going to work for you, they’ll be happy and creative and stay with you if they feel they’re part of the success, or even the failure, of the enterprise. They want to feel important, that they’re valued, and having a say in their job gives them that.”
He stopped and leaned back in his chair. He’d been watching Alex the entire time. Now he asked him, “You say you watched me. Is the way you went about managing the place and the staff in my absence what you saw me doing?”
Alex wasn’t made of weak stuff. He stuck his chin up a bit and said, “I got the same things done you got done, made the same decisions you’d have made. The place ran just as well without you here as it did with you.”
Dad gave him a wan smile. “Alex, do you know what usually happens when puppet regimes actually come into power?”
I could see Alex didn’t like the question, but he simply said, “No.”
“Usually they get toppled. People don’t like the leaders. Do you think perhaps the reason this place ran so well in my absences is because the staff knew I’d be back? Because they loved their jobs here and were willing to wait till I returned? And maybe they were willing to overlook your obnoxiousness, your dictatorial style, because of that?”
Alex didn’t like that one bit! “I wasn’t obnoxious!”
Dad’s voice was sterner than it had been. “Then why did Perry quit?”
Alex didn’t have an answer right away. But then he thought of one. “He was jealous.”
I couldn’t help myself. I laughed. Well, it was more of a snicker, and I choked it off as quickly as I could. Dad never even looked over at me.
“So you don’t think it might have been because you weren’t treating him like a man, an independent soul who deserved his own dignity? You don’t think how he reacted was in any way due to the way you treated him?”
Alex was silent.
Dad bored in. “What Perry did is just what I did when I was younger. He quit rather than be made to feel less than how he saw himself. I’m proud of him. And I’ll bet you that he’d never have treated you or any of the rest of the staff the way you’ve been acting. You, I am not proud of. You didn’t learn the things I wanted you to learn.
“I wanted you to learn how to get people to work with you to get the job done and to do it in a way that they felt good about themselves and the job. I always want them to go home at night feeling they’ve accomplished something worthwhile, happy about themselves and happy to come back tomorrow. But you didn’t learn. You never saw them as people—just as a means to an end, a self-satisfying end.”
His voice had risen. Now he lowered it. “I’m not going to let you do this any longer. Summer’s almost over. When it is, you’ll go off to college. I’ve built this place so my sons and daughters can take it over eventually. If you want to be part of that, you still can. But not managing it. Not managing people. That isn’t your forte. I’d suggest you look into some other aspect that’s needed. Maybe accounting. Maybe legal work. Maybe advertising. Whatever interests you. There’s a place for you here, but not one managing people.”
Alex finally looked shaken. He understood. He slumped a bit in his chair. Dad motioned for me to go. I got up silently and left the office. I was shaken, too. I knew Dad could be firm. I’d seen it before. But I’d never seen this before. Dad hadn’t pulled his punches, and I found it difficult to look at Alex.
I was glad Dad had never spoken to me like that.
Mom was in the hall, near the office door. When I came out, she opened her arms and hugged me. How did she know I’d need that? How did she know?
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This story may contain occasional references to minors who are or may be gay. If it were a movie, it would be rated PG (in a more enlightened time it would be rated G). If reading this type of material is illegal where you live, or if you are too young to read this type of material based on the laws where you live, or if your parents don't want you to read this type of material, or if you find this type of material morally or otherwise objectionable, or if you don’t want to be here, close your browser now. The author neither condones nor advocates the violation of any laws. If you want to be here, but aren’t supposed to be here, be careful and don't get caught!