This is Part 1 of Chapter 92 in the "Queer Theories" series.
Go back to "Cruising -- Part 2", the previous chapter.
The narrator is Brian Kinney, featuring Justin Taylor, Melanie Marcus, Earl.
Rated R and contains no warnings or spoilers.
Summary: Brian has an early morning visitor to the boat. August 2002.
Disclaimer: This is for fun, not profit. Watch Queer As Folk on Showtime, buy the DVDs, videos, and CDs. Read the stories and enjoy.
For the first few seconds after I wake up, I have no idea where I am. I'm totally disconnected. Of course, with me, that is not all that unusual.
But I'm outside. I think. It's still quite dark and my eyes are heavy, trying to focus. And I feel damp. Not wet, but a moistness in the air around me.
Justin feels me moving around and turns over, flinging his arms across me in his sleep. Reaching instinctively for the warm, solid spots. I feel the deep bounce of the bed as he shifts. The air mattress.
Shit. The boat. The back deck. I was sure I'd wake up in the middle of the night -- as I always do, without fail -- and put up the canvas. But now it's getting light out and everything is covered with the fine mist that blankets the lake and shore.
I sit up and look around. Except for the gulls constantly keening overhead, I don't hear a thing or see anyone. I have no clue what time it is, but it's early. Very early. I pull myself out of the sleeping bag and look around for my jeans. I put them on loosely and then take a piss off the side of the boat. Ordinarily I wouldn't do that -- it's bad 'boat etiquette' -- but a hike to the public john on the other side of the parking lot doesn't appeal to me right now.
I notice that most of the boat slips are empty on a Monday morning. The weekenders have taken off and the weekday vacationers haven't arrived yet. Which is good. Because Justin and I have been sleeping together out in the open in a State Park. Probably NOT a smart strategy.
I plug in the two-burner stove and put on water for coffee. Instant coffee. Awful, but I don't have much choice. While the water is boiling, I collect our clothes, which are scattered around the deck and now clammy with the mist. I hang up my gauze shirt and shake out Justin's 'First Mate' tee and shorts. It's chilly, so I dig around in my bag, looking for a suitable sweater, but everything is either too heavy or too fussy for a wet morning on the boat. I end up pulling a PIFA sweatshirt out of Justin's dufflebag. It's too short and pulls in the shoulders, making me look like an over-grown twink, but it will have to do for now. I should probably buy myself a decent sweatshirt the next time we go into town.
Which is probably today. Right. The Mommies are taking Gus to the beach. And Justin wants to go up to the top of the Perry Memorial and take some pictures. Justin and his camera -- it would be a fucking nuisance if he didn't come up with so many good pictures. It's his eye. A real artist's eye. Yes, we can easily find a way to waste a whole day doing this kind of thing. A nice way to waste a day, I think.
But now I have to consider whether to leave Justin sleeping on the deck or to move him into the cabin. There's really no reason to wake him up this early just because I'm awake, but he might catch another chill out here before the sun finally burns off this fog. I decide he's better off inside.
"Okay," I say. "Up you go." And I lift him into my arms, sleeping bag and all, and carry him into the cabin. He's not that heavy, but he's solid. Solid and soft at the same time, so you know that you have hold of something real. I ease him onto the bunk, wrapping the thick quilted material of the bag around him and tucking a pillow under his head. He is in a deep sleep because he hardly even stirs, just sniffs a few times with his face against the pillow, like Gus does before he wakes up.
I go out onto the back deck and let the air out of the mattresses, folding them and stowing them away. By this time the coffee is ready. Even with plenty of sugar in it, it's barely tolerable, but I guess bad coffee is worse than no coffee.
I sit for a long time by myself, looking out at the water. The gulls are soaring lower across the lake now, and a few duck scramble around underneath the pier. The sun is coming up in the east, behind us, so even as it rises the boats are still halfway in the island's shadow.
"Hey! Brian! You're up early!"
I look over and see Earl standing on his back deck in his underwear. It isn't a pretty sight.
"Oh, yeah. I'm used to waking up early."
"You got coffee over there?"
I can't very well deny it when I have the fucking cup in my hand. Boat etiquette again. I think. Do I really want to have an early morning heart-to-heart with this guy? Then I think that maybe I better. Do it now rather than later when I might lose my temper. When I might have to confront him or one of his pals over some remark made about Justin or about me. I'm always bracing myself for the casual homophobic comment even more than the direct insult. And then I might have to be an asshole. A huge asshole. But if I can forestall the expected moment...
"Sure, Earl. You want some?"
"I'll be right over." He gives a little salute and disappears back into his cabin.
I only pray now that Earl will spare my eyesight and put on some clothes before he graces me with his presence. And he does. Plaid Bermuda shorts and another golf shirt, this time yellow. The guy must have an entire wardrobe of them.
I find another cup in The Colleen's little galley and pour some of the coffee for my guest. "Sorry I don't have any cream. I usually drink it black."
"That's okey-dokey. I just need the caffeine jolt to get me going!" Earl eases himself into the other deck chair, making himself at home. "We're cruising up to Pelee today to have lunch and look around. The women have the agenda already set. I just do the driving."
"Isn't that the Canadian island? Is it far?"
"Nah, not at all. Look at that sky," he says. "No trace of red. You know the saying -- 'Red sky at night, Sailors delight. Red Sky at morning, Sailors take warning'?"
"I think I've heard something like that."
"Did you see that sunset last night? Like a forest fire! Just beautiful. And this morning -- clear as a bell. In this weather, with the water so smooth, we'll be up there well before lunch and be back in time for dinner."
"Maybe we'll try sailing up there later in the week." I give myself a refill, too. "Where did you say you were from?"
"Chardon. But I dock at Fairport Harbor."
"Is that in Ohio?"
"Yeah. East of Cleveland." Earl cocks his head at me. "You're not from this area, Brian?"
"Pittsburgh. But I've been living in Los Angeles."
"So, how did you end up here?"
"Lindsay -- the blonde -- her aunt has a cottage here. That's where the girls are staying with Gus. He's my son."
"Right. The baby. Real cute. How old is he?"
"Two years old! Shoot! My kids are all in high school. God, I don't envy you having to go through all that crapola! Elementary school, then high school. Driving. Dating. And I have three girls! Now THAT is bad news." Earl shakes his head. "That's why I got my boat. You need a getaway, you know what I mean?"
"I know what you mean, Earl. You have to escape sometimes." I pour him some more of the horrible coffee; he seems to like it.
"This your first boat, Brian? It's kinda small for a family."
"It's just a rental. You know Mr. Finn over at the main harbor?"
"Sure, I've heard of him. He's a local man."
"This is one of his boats. I'm just trying it out to see how I like it."
I look down into my coffee cup. "I admit that I could get used to doing this. There are a lot of places to keep a boat out in L.A. It's something I'm thinking about seriously. Like you said -- for a getaway." Another escape. Another way to avoid my problems. My middle name should be fucking Houdini!
"What's your racket, Brian?"
"I was in advertising. Still am -- to a point. Consulting and things. But I'm in the middle of a slight career change. Yeah, career change. You might call it that."
"I'm a contractor myself. Mainly single family units. It's an up and down business, lemme tell you. But my boat is a godsend. If times got tough, I'd let them take away my car before I'd give up my boat!"
"Maybe it's the place where you can most be yourself? Part of how you define your identity?"
Earl smiles. "You could be right about that. Never thought in those terms before. 'Dad's Dream' -- that's my tub. Yeah -- you could be right."
"I'd definitely need a boat bigger than this one, though. I can scarcely fit my legs into the bunk in there!"
Earl taps my arm, confidentially. "I'll give you one hint, Brian -- let the little woman pick it out or you'll never hear the end of it! The women want a boat that fits THEIR comfort level. What looks good. Nice colors. Comfortable bunks. Big cabin with a nice galley and fridge. Yeah, it's easier than spending the next ten years arguing with them because they hate the boat, that's for sure. I learned THAT the hard way!"
I lean forward in the deck chair and set my coffee cup down. "It's this way, Earl -- Lindsay doesn't live with me out in Los Angeles, so her input about the boat wouldn't really matter. She and Gus live in Pittsburgh." I pause. Why am I fucking telling this guy my life story? I guess, because I want to. I guess -- because I need to?
"Oh. You and her seem awfully friendly. You thinking about getting back together? Or you two have one of those joint custody things with your kid?"
"No, we were never married. But we're... good friends. I try to see my son as much as I can, but it isn't often enough. I'm out of town a lot, especially lately. That's one of the reasons I'm up here with them. To spend some time with Gus." And as I say it, I really feel it. How much I DO miss him. How much I do feel it when I'm not there for all the special moments. How I won't be there for his birthday....
"Damn, that's a tough one, Brian. Real tough. Not seeing your kid much. Especially a little boy." Earl frowns over his coffee cup. "Things are sure different than when I was young. You went to school. You got a job. You got married. Then you worked like a dog until you retired. I guess that seems pretty uncomplicated, now."
"Yeah, things aren't all that simple any more. At least for a lot of people." I say. Christ! That's the understatement of the fucking year!
"That's for damn sure!" Earl echoes my thoughts.
Of course, this is the cue for Justin to come stumbling out of the cabin. Luckily, he's got on his little white briefs, so he doesn't offend -- or tempt -- poor old Earl with his pink young cock and his creamy young ass. Of course, I'm a different story. I can already feel my cock stirring around inside my jeans, almost as if it can see him stepping out onto the deck, looking all rumpled and golden in the light.
Meanwhile, Justin stands there, blinking, wrinkling his nose at the smell of the coffee. "Brian -- what time is it?"
"Too early to be up."
"What's going on?" He squints at me, smiling sleepily.
"Nothing, Justin. Drinking coffee. You can have some if you want, but it's instant. And we don't have any milk for it."
"Is there any juice?" he says, yawning.
"Only if you walk down to the cottage. I'm sure Lindsay has stocked every form of juice known to man. And milk, too. You and Gus can share." I get up and guide Justin into my deck chair, keeping his body between Earl and myself. It wouldn't do for old Earl to see my obvious hard-on.
"Justin, either sit down here or go back to bed. He's not at his best this early in the morning," I explain.
"I'm with you, kid. That's why I need all the coffee I can get!" Earl guffaws.
"Who are you?" asks Justin, guilelessly. He blinks at my guest.
"From the next boat. Earl? Remember?" I prod. It's still too early for all this shit.
"Oh. Right." He yawns again.
"Justin, go back to sleep. I'll wake you up later." And, with that, he stands up and stumbles back into the cabin. I follow him, closing the door so we don't wake him up again. My cock is settling back down now with Justin's retreat. This is what comes of getting my dick too used to an early morning fuck.
"If he tries to stay awake now, he'll never get through the day."
"Oh, I don't know," says Earl. "At that age, kids are pretty damn indestructible. They just keep going and going."
"Tell me about it." I think of just how many ways Justin IS indestructible. And totally vulnerable. And how I often feel like a fucking pussy next to him. I stare at the cabin door, where I've shut him in. Of how he gazed at Earl with flawless, open eyes. Of how I'm always standing in a fucking corner somewhere, facing the wall, while he's looking out at the world.
"Earl -- you were asking about my son and his mother, Lindsay."
"The blonde gal? She's a doll. You must have made a cute couple. Too bad."
"Lindsay is my friend. Has been for years. Since college, actually. But Justin's the one I live with. He's my partner."
Earl stares at me. I always imagine that it's my old man staring at me whenever I talk to a man who is this age. The age Pops was when I was a teenager. When it really got out of control. And Earl's a guy like my old man. Maybe more successful. Maybe more easy going. But everyone's drinking buddy. Like my father. I can't help flinching a little bit, thinking of him.
"Partner? You mean, like a boyfriend? That kid?"
"Yup." And I wait for what I always assume will be some homophobic meltdown. It never happens -- or almost never, unless it's a member of my own family. Or Justin's. But I'm always waiting for it. Expectant and wary, like an animal ready to bolt -- or attack.
"Jeez." Earl ponders this for a few minutes. "You got any more coffee?"
"Sure. You're not going to throw it at me, are you?"
"I don't think so. I mainly want to drink it."
So I pour him another cup. And sit back down on the other chair. "I didn't exactly mean to spring that on you, Earl. I'm sure you didn't come over here to listen to True Confessions at this hour of the morning."
"No, I didn't," he concedes. "But I admit I did come over here to find out a little about you. You're new and I'm kind of a snoopy guy. Most of us on the boats are. See, this is a small lake, really. You see the same people, year after year, all over it. You come up to the Islands. Cedar Point. Go around to the different harbors and yacht clubs. Everybody knows everybody's business. The family with young kids. The divorced guy looking for babes. The retired couple. The fella trying to get away from a crummy marriage by sailing away for a couple of days a week. But you're a new twist, Brian. At least you are to me."
"I'm a pretty old 'twist,' actually. I bet it isn't as new as you think, Earl. I bet you know a ton of queers. You just don't KNOW you know them."
"Maybe not. I'm no big expert, but you don't look like a fag to me. No offense. I'm just saying."
"Perhaps you just don't know what to look for."
"Never thought of it that way, I guess." Earl sips his coffee. "How old is the kid? If you don't mind my asking?"
Yes, the loaded question. How come it sounds loaded even when your best friends ask it, let alone possibly homophobic total strangers? "He's nineteen."
"Isn't that kind of young?"
"Well, Earl, let me put it this way. If I was over here on this boat and I was cruising around the lake with a nineteen year old blonde college student, female variety, what would you say to that?"
Earl tosses his head back, laughing. "I'd probably say, 'the lucky bastard'!"
"There you go." I look again at the closed door of the cabin. "The thing is, I want this week to go well. It's... important to me that it goes well. And Justin -- he's naturally friendly and naturally open. He doesn't hide a fucking thing -- excuse my language."
"I'll give you a pass on that one, Brian."
"Thanks. You seem like an out-front guy, Earl. And, like you say, a bit of snoop. I'd rather let you know the score from the start than have you think that I'm trying to cover up something. Because I'm not. Or to have Justin say something to one of these guys that they might take the wrong way -- which could lead to something unpleasant. And that's the last thing I'm looking for. Anything unpleasant."
"I see where you're coming from. But people are pretty laidback around here. Live and let live, you know?"
"Right. People say that, but when it comes to certain things...." I rub my eyes, suddenly feeling the inkling of a headache. "I just want you to level with me. If there's a problem with me -- or Justin, or Lindsay and Mel -- I want to know. I'm not here to make a fucking political statement. I'm just here to relax, sit in the boat, play with my son, the usual stuff."
"Lindsay and Mel?" he says. "Those women? Are they gay, too? Even the blonde? Damn!"
"Even the blonde. It's okay, Earl -- you can still think she's a 'doll'! They are raising Gus together."
"Damn!" he repeats.
And I look at Earl, trying to gauge him. He seems the kind of guy who is the self-appointed spokesman for every group or club. President of the fucking Rotary Club. The guy who takes it upon himself to set the rules. To let me know 'the drill.' And the others follow his lead. I've dealt with these guys everywhere, from the elementary school playground to the soccer field, from the Debate Club to Ryder Associates, and right into Hollywood. It's the same game everywhere.
Earl nods his head and plays with his coffee cup. Then he looks right at me. "It won't be a problem, Brian. Not at all."
"Are you sure?"
"As sure as I can be. No one can guarantee people, let's face it, Brian. You probably know that better than anyone. But you won't have a problem with me. Long as you follow the drill and don't throw your garbage on the dock." Earl pauses and looks at me slyly. "Or piss off your boat, Brian."
"Shit! I didn't think anyone was awake then."
"I don't miss much around here. Or... at least I didn't think I missed much. But this thing... I have to say that it throws me. But I like you, Brian. You're a good kid." I have to smile at being called a 'kid' -- especially with Justin within spitting distance. "And I'll take care of the other guys. Clue them in kind of gently, so there won't be any surprises. And there shouldn't be. Like I said, we're loafing up here. No one is looking for any trouble."
"I'm glad. I'd like to last out the whole week without having to arm wrestle anyone."
"Not ME!" Earl eyes my shoulders and arms, which are stretching out Justin's old sweatshirt. I knew there was a reason I've been doing those extra reps.
I'm trying to decide whether to make more coffee when a familiar car pulls up at the pier. It's Melanie. "Hey, Brian! Lindsay is making enough breakfast for the entire U.S. Navy, so she sent me over to pick up some sailors! You guys up for it?" Melanie walks down the dock and stands next to 'The Colleen II.' I've actually never been so happy to see Melanie.
"Sure, Mel. Let me wake up Justin. What about you, Earl? Hungry?"
"No, thanks, Brian. I'm waiting for my wife to bring mine over. Then we're cruising to Pelee today, remember?"
"Where's that?" asks Melanie.
"Island north of here," Earl turns to Mel. "On the Canadian side."
I leave Melanie to chat with Earl while I open the cabin door and then close it behind me. I bend over and uncover Justin's shoulder, pressing my lips against his cool skin. "Hey, Sunshine. Lindsay wants to know if you want any food?"
THAT gets his attention. He lifts his head up and shakes the sleep out of his eyes. "Food? What kind of food?"
"Knowing Lindz, everything under the sun. Melanie's here to drive us over to the cottage." I run my hand through his hair, smoothing it. "We can use their shower, too, I bet. So bring some clean clothes."
He stretches out his arms, touching the low bulkhead. "I really slept good."
"It's being on the water. It makes you sleepy and hungry. Or so I'm told."
He catches my hand and pulls me onto the bunk. There isn't a lot of room, but he squeezes over to make room for me. "Didn't you sleep well, Brian? Even out here?" He's concerned.
"Like a log. How could I not sleep tight when you fucking wear me out?"
"I did NOT! I haven't even STARTED doing that!"
"Promises, promises!" I say, starting to get out of the bunk. But he holds me fast. Pulls my hand under the sleeping bag and over to the front of his briefs. "Isn't it a little tight in here? Space-wise, I mean?"
"You didn't fuck me last night. I fell asleep."
"I also forgot to put the canvas up. We almost had an audience this morning."
"So what? I don't care who sees me. I don't care who knows. And neither do you, Brian."
"But I'm responsible for your safety, Justin. I've been talking to Earl about... a few things. And he's cool with everything. But I don't think he'd be too happy to look over one morning from his back deck to see you riding my dick with your head thrown back." And I'm rubbing his cock through his briefs. "Or to listen to you yell for mercy as I leaned you over the side of the boat and drove into your ass again and again and again!"
"You better stop that now, Brian -- or I'm going to...."
"Going to what? Come? Why don't you? Go ahead. Come in your little white pants. The ones you were parading around in out there on the deck. The ones that got me so hard...."
"Brian... stop... I'm... I...."
"Come. Do it, Justin. Come in my hand." And I plunge my hand under the waistband of his briefs just as he lets go. Squeeze his cock as it releases, twitches, and then relaxes. I squeeze it once more and then pull my hand out. "What is this? What have you done? Bad boy."
"I know. I'm so bad."
"Maybe later we can see just how bad you are. After Lindsay and Mel take Gus to the beach. There's that fold-out couch at the cottage."
"I forgot about that. Fold-out couch, huh?"
"We'll see when we get over there." I reach under the bunk and pull out a towel, wiping my hand. "Now we HAVE to go over to the cottage so we can get cleaned up. So, get your sweet ass in gear."
I come out of the cabin to find Earl standing on the dock with Melanie, yakking it up. They are talking about motorcycles, of all things. Apparently Earl is a classic motorcycle enthusiast, and Melanie, of course, is a former Bike Dyke. How they discovered this about each other, I have no clue, but they are talking about the subject like old war buddies.
"Yeah, I've got a 1947 Indian. Overhauled it myself," says Earl.
"That one's a real beauty."
"Oh, it's sweet. And it runs great. Too bad I don't have it up here, you could give it a try."
"I'd love to do that sometime, Earl." Melanie looks up at me and smiles. It's a staggering smile that makes me understand once more why Lindsay is in love with her. She's in a good mood! What do you know. "You guys ready to eat?"
"Justin will be out in a minute."
Earl steps back. "I've gotta wait for my wife to show up so we can get cracking. I'll see you guys around." He starts back to his own boat, but then halts. "Oh, Brian. Game tonight again. Same as last night. Come over and bring some snacks. I provide the pop and beer. And bring the kid, too, of course. Can't leave him behind."
"You sure it's okay?"
"It's my boat, isn't it? I'm the captain, I make the invites."
"Another game, huh, Earl?"
"Hey, Brian, buddy! -- It's a man's world! There's ALWAYS a game!"
And I guess there is. In a man's world there is always another game.
Continue on to "What's the Story, Morning Glory? -- Part 2", the next section.
©Gaedhal, October 2002
Pictures of Gale Harold and Randy Harrison from Showtime.
Updated October 3, 2002