It's the start of another school year, and for Kevin it's another school.
But summer isn't over yet, and Kevin's planning to catch a few rays.
It was weird, but school started on a Thursday. Thursday, August 28th, to be exact. That meant we went to school for two days, then we had three days off. Yeah, three days, because Monday, September 1st was the Labor Day holiday. I guess they needed those two days to fill out the school year, but it seems really strange to me.
So, those first two days of school were sort of meaningless.
Thursday we did stuff like getting our class schedules; finding our lockers and trying to figure out how to work the combinations; spending extra time in homeroom getting told about rules and regulations; going to short sessions of all of our other classes and getting our books; getting the usual yadda-yadda-yadda about having gray shorts and gray tees, sneakers and white socks, and wearing a jock strap in PE; and going to two assemblies to listen to more yadda-yadda-yadda about nothing very important.
Friday it was getting started in every class, hearing about what projects we’d be working on, and getting our first homework assignments. Except in PE, where they gave a “healthy bodies” lecture. The same lecture I’d heard twice before in PE classes.
Oh, yeah, and lunch. For me that was the highlight of both days. Really, it was. I was amazed that the food in the cafeteria at Cabrillo High was not only edible, it was actually good. Maybe even better than good. I should know. This is the third high school I’ve attended in three years, and Cabrillo’s the only one where the food is actually edible.
So anyway, my first two days at Cabrillo High were what you’d call uneventful. I met a few people, but there wasn’t enough time to sort out who might be friends and who might be acquaintances and who to avoid. Whatever.
It's Saturday. I intend to spend my holiday weekend like I’d spent most of the summer days since we moved here: lying on the beach catching some serious rays. That was the benefit of living in the Santa Cruz area. Awesome, truly awesome beaches, totally excellent sunshine, not too hot, not cold at all, and lots of eye candy walking by to keep me interested.
So with Mom’s blessing, and my assurance that I had, indeed, finished my homework — and I really had finished my homework — I pull on some boardies, a T, and Crocs, grab my stuff, and head out for the seven block walk to New Brighton State Beach.
There are lots of beaches in the Santa Cruz area. I like New Brighton because it’s close to my house. I walk along the beach to this section to the west where the beach slopes up at the bottom of the bluff. This is my favorite spot. I lie back against this slope so I’m sort of sitting up and lying down at the same time. This way I get better rays for tanning and it’s easy to read a book and watch the hot guys walking by. Remember what I said about eye candy? Riiiight!
So here I am on Saturday morning. The sun’s nice, a bit of leftover fog in the distance. I have my way cool reflector shades on — that way the passing parade can’t tell that I’m scoping them out. I sit on my huge beach towel with a book — Cory Doctorow’s “Little Brother” — and I have my chill pack with a couple bottles of water, some grapes, and two sandwiches for when I get the munchies.
After a while I begin to drift off. The sun and the breeze make me sleepy. I don’t actually go to sleep, but I’m sure close. A shadow passes over me and I open my eyes. I don’t see anything, so I shut my eyes again, and that makes me yawn.
“Okay if I sit here?”
I open my eyes and look to my right. There’s a guy, looks a little younger than me, squatting there grinning at me. Damn, he’s cute. In fact, he’s totally fine.
“Sure. Free country, it's a state beach, and I’m friendly.”
He cocks his head to one side and looks at me. “Hmmm... you look sort of familiar. You go to Cabrillo?”
“Yes. What grade?”
“I’m a junior.”
“Oh... I’m a sophomore....”
“That a problem?”
“Uh, no, not for me.”
“Not for me, either.”
He smiles, and it’s so bright that I swear it’s brighter than the sun.
“You got a blanket or towel?”
“No. I forgot. Had to exit the domicile fast before I got caught.”
I move over and make room for him, and pat the spot on my towel next to me. He sits the same way I’m sitting, sort of sitting up, leaning against where the beach slopes up. We’re maybe a foot apart.
“Got caught? By whom?”
“My mom. She’d have had a list of about a million things she’d want me to do today, so I had to plan my escape.”
There’s that smile again, and he giggles. Oh, my god, he actually giggles!
“Looks like you were successful.”
Laughter. His laughter. It’s like how I imagine chimes in a Tibetan monastery sound. Tinkling and bright, soft and inviting.
“Yeah. Well, until I get home. It’ll be like the Inquisition.” His voice changes to a higher pitch. “‘Where have you been? Who have you been with? You left without permission! You didn’t do your chores. You are SO grounded, Raymond!’”
I bust up laughing. And now I know his name. Raymond.
“I’ll probably be grounded for the rest of the weekend. That’ll make escaping a lot tougher. But I’m resourceful.”
“Damn, I’m glad my mom isn’t that way. I mean, having tons of chores to do. We have a cleaning person who comes in every week. It’s the one luxury Mom says she thinks is worth the money.”
“What about the yard? Don’t you have to mow the lawn and pick weeds and trim the bushes and rake and sweep and all that?”
“No. We’re renting a house. The landlord takes care of the yard.”
“Wow. Just wow. You are so freakin’ lucky. Man, I wish I lived with you. No chores. Sweet.”
Oh, yeah. I wish Raymond lived with me, too. But no use dreaming about something that’s never going to happen. Not the way he means it. And especially not the way I mean it.
“I didn’t see you at school last year. You new here?”
“Yeah. My mom’s a consultant for the University of California, and each year she’s got an assignment at a different campus. This year it's at U.C. Santa Cruz, so we moved here to Capitola. Worst thing, I go to a different school each year. Makes it tough to get to know people, to make friends. At least we move in the summers, so I start and finish a school year in one place. This year it's Cabrillo High School, and I get to start the whole ‘new kid at school’ bit all over again.”
“That’s tough, not being able to make friends that last more than a few months.”
“Yeah. Well, nothing I can do about it. What’s your mom do?”
“She’s a charge nurse at Redwood Hospital. She works the 11 p.m. to 7 a.m. shift. She gets home in time to get me up, eat, and out the door for school. Then she goes to bed. She gets up after I get home from school. It works out pretty good for both of us.”
“You told me your name, Raymond. My name’s Kevin. Kevin Porter. Glad to meet you, Raymond.”
“Call me Ray. Please. Ray Larson. I hate Raymond. That’s what Mom calls me when she’s yelling at me. Seems like I hear that a lot.”
“Okay, Ray it is. You can call me Kev.”
“I like Kev. I like Kevin.”
I grin. “I like Ray, too.” We both said something that has a double meaning. “So, what do you do around here for entertainment?”
“The beach, swimming, getting a tan, sleeping, reading. Have you spent any time in Santa Cruz?” I shake my head. “Well, then we should take the bus into Santa Cruz. A very cool place, lots of weird people like old hippies and stoners, but lots of eye candy too. It’s fun to just sit and people watch. And the Beach Boardwalk is an old fashioned amusement park with lots of retro rides, and the Giant Dipper roller coaster that’s this great old wooden coaster, it’s a blast.”
“Let’s do it. Tomorrow or Monday?”
“If I don’t get grounded, how about tomorrow. Monday’s the holiday and there’ll be a bigger crowd then. Can you make it tomorrow?”
“No problem. Mom will want to meet you, and talk to your mom. She’s very protective. But that’s okay, I still have lots of freedom to do what I want.”
“So what have you been doing? When did you move here?”
“We moved here the first week of July, just before the 4th. On the 4th Mom drove us up into the hills and we got to see the fireworks show. I love to watch fireworks. Otherwise I’ve just been chilling, doing some reading, catching some rays, improving my tan, doing a little swimming.”
“So, do you think you caught me?”
“Huh?” I don’t understand what he’s talking about.
“You said you were catching some rays. I’m a Ray.” He starts laughing, and I catch on and then we’re both laughing like fools.
When I finally calm down I look at him with my nasty grin and wiggle my eyebrows. “‘Well, you’re here aren’t you’, as the spider said to the fly. It looks like I did catch you, doesn’t it?”
Ray grins, turns to face the ocean, and leans back against the blanket. I turn and look out at the ocean, too. After maybe 30 seconds of silence he replies, and his tone is more serious.
“I think you did. I hope you did.”
Oh, my god. Does he mean what I think he means? That I hope he means? Now it’s my turn to be silent as I think about what we both just said. I decide to go for broke. If he freaks, such is life.
“I hope I did, too. I think I did.”
More silence. Then I feel his left hand grasp my right hand. His hand feels so good holding mine. I rub his index finger with my thumb. That feels even nicer. I let out a sigh.
“I like holding your hand, Kev.” His voice is soft and a little breathy.
“Me too, Ray. Holding yours, being held by yours.”
“Uh, are you, uh...?”
Ray scoots over so our arms are pressed tightly together between our bodies.
“This is very nice. Being here with you. Holding hands. I think I’m going to like living here. Being friends.”
“Absolutely. Yes. For sure. Positively. Definitely best friends.”
“Have you ever had a best friend before?”
“No. All of our moving around, there was no way to meet someone....” I stop and think about what I just said, and chuckle. “Wait a minute, nothing’s changed for me except I actually met someone, this awesome guy I’m lying next to and we’re holding hands, and now we’re going to be best friends. Amazing.” I squeeze his hand.
“I guess it just depends on who you meet. It’s sort of like finding a fifty dollar bill on the sidewalk. Almost never happens, but when it does it’s very special. Just like us meeting each other. Becoming best friends. My first one, too.”
We’re silent for about a minute. Then I think of a question that’s sitting in the back of my brain.
“Ray, why’d you decide to come over and talk to me? I’m curious.”
“I saw the sun reflect off your sunglasses. I saw how you looked, sitting here. I saw your orange boardshorts. I love orange, it’s my favorite color. As I got closer you looked so awesome I decided to talk to you. Weird, because I’m not that way, I’m really very shy. But there was something about you....”
“When you came over and asked me if you could sit here and I looked at you I thought you were cute. Cute and really fine.”
I adjust myself so our shoulders are pressed together. It feels nice. More than nice, it feels awesome. I think this is the best feeling ever.
We sit like this for about an hour. Then my stomach rumbles, and we both laugh.
“You want a peanut butter sandwich? I brought two of them. And I have water and some grapes.”
“Sounds good. Thanks”
I pull open the chill pack and hand Ray a sandwich and a water. He takes a bite of the sandwich and looks at me, his eyes big as saucers.
“Wow. What’s in this sandwich?”
“Oh, sorry. I should have told you. I like peanut butter sandwiches with cheddar cheese, really sharp cheddar cheese, on rye bread. Is it okay?”
“I love it. It’s delicious. I never thought of doing this. So I’ve learned something else today.”
“What’s the something else you learned today?”
“That you’re a great guy, Kev. That I like you. Like you a lot. And that I think you like me, too.”
“I do like you. A lot. You’re my Ray of sunshine.” We both laugh at my silly pun. But I mean what I said.
We finish our lunch and put the water bottles back in the chill pack. It probably won’t keep them cool much longer, but it’s better than leaving them out in the sun. We get up and walk together, holding hands, down to the edge of the water. We stand there looking out at the ocean.
“Ray, when we leave can you come to my house to meet my mom? She can phone your mom about tomorrow. If she does that and talks to her and tells her that you want to show me Santa Cruz and it’s okay with her, then maybe you won’t get grounded.”
“Hey, I think that’ll work. My mom’ll be up around four o’clock. That time good for your mom?”
“Yeah, that's perfect.”
We both face the ocean, holding hands. I’m catching some rays. But now it’s only rays of sunshine. I already caught the best kind.
Thanks to Cole Parker for editing, and to Nexis Pas for valuable suggestions that improved this story!
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