Aaron stood watching the waves take away his dreams, held captive in the mind of the boy he used to be. His life seemed void of the things that made it a life. His was a life numbed by the passing of time, and now a childhood crush was reborn. He remembered how it was back then, and how it was now.
While growing up, Aaron craved Nathan’s attention. He felt a stream of light rip through his subconscious when he was alone at night. Frustrating dreams would wake him in the secrecy of his room, where darkness allowed his mind to wander. He felt safe because no-one could witness his thoughts and desires. He would stroke himself, thinking of his best friend’s brother, hoping the sounds he made would not be heard when he finally came. Nathan’s touch was always out of reach, but his presence was constantly there.
Now Nathan was visiting, looking at Aaron as he always had—as his brother’s best friend. Every time Aaron was around him, Nathan seemed untouchable. Time always stood still, inevitably making it seem that much longer because of the gut-wrenching knowledge that he would never have Nathan. Now Nathan was back with his partner Greg, and they seemed happy most of the time; in love and content.
Aaron thought of this as he watched the waves crashing upon the shore. The heaviness of need thrashed and crushed his heart, which felt full of loss. He was restless, confusion plunging him into the waves of uncertainty; they almost called to him, spurring him on. Out here he was free, challenged by the elements. On dry land, he was sinking fast but safe on solid ground.
He wanted to feel Nathan’s touch, warmth, and breath against his skin. Even with the ocean’s constant flow, he knew that Nathan would be swept away by the undulating undercurrents and be the island always out of reach.
He wondered whether he should stay away and not keep going back to Dan’s house whenever he could. The night before, beers were drunk, stories told around the campfire on the beach. Nathan sat huddled up far enough away from Greg for Aaron to notice something wasn’t right. Dan made jokes about the hot women wanting his body every five minutes and how he needed a rest. But Aaron said very little, rendered speechless as always whenever Nathan was around.
At times Aaron felt Greg’s eyes piercing straight through him: he would look up and wonder what Greg’s problem was. They were looks that could shoot down a fighter plane. Last night had been no different. The party at the beach turned out to be nothing more than a silent fight for territory, where uncharted waters lay ahead to be conquered.
However, he couldn’t stay away no matter how hard he tried; he always found his way back. To be near Nathan was better than not seeing him at all.
“Hey, I dropped by to see Dan.”
“That’s cool; I think he’s on the phone. You want to come in?”
Nathan had opened the door with nothing else on but a pair of faded blue jeans, slung low on his hips, coupled with his incredible smile. Aaron was fully aware that at some point he would have to speak, but Nathan’s body—along with his light blond trail down to unseen treasures—rendered him completely speechless for the umpteenth time. Aaron’s fight to regain control came at a price, as his eyes lingered far too long on the area where it was rude to stare.
Dan thumped down the stairs two at a time, waking Aaron out of his treasure-trail fantasy. Nathan saw shock and confusion written all over Aaron’s face as he continued to stand behind the threshold that came between them. He recognized that look in his brother’s friend, Aaron’s deep brown eyes showing an unforgotten longing, plain and simple. There was a fleeting look at each other before Dan smacked Nathan on the back, oblivious to anything.
“Hey Aaron, let’s go get us something to eat, I’m starved. Later, bro.”
Aaron followed Dan and chanced a glance in Nathan’s direction before he looked away quickly. Nathan felt the warmth building up within him again. He knew the feeling only too well as he watched Aaron walk away, watching the way he moved. He was left with those uneasy feelings again which he wished he didn’t still have. Each time they saw each other, the knot in Nathan’s stomach was more difficult to ignore.
“Something to eat” was normally Harry’s Good Food Restaurant near Jacksonville Beach, Florida, and good food it was. Aaron and Dan saw some of the old crowd headed in the same direction. It wasn’t the same though—it had been years since Aaron had felt the sweet breeze of life sweep over his body with carefree abandon, like when he was sailing. That relaxed young man had been lost years ago, leaving just an ache, empty and deep—that was the only way to describe it. He had been seventeen years old, the age where things were irreversibly set into play.
Aaron recalled the years spent at the restaurant as they walked toward the entrance. Harry’s was a restaurant that he had taken Ginny to many times, but not anymore. Those were times when responsibility was left up to the grownups. Time passed them all by, and Aaron knew just as much now as he did then. There was nothing new, because new would mean that he had to accept change. He was more than ready when he was seventeen, desperate in fact, but now, well, he didn’t know how.
He couldn’t remember a time when he didn’t feel different, and he was so tired of the constant pain twisting at his heart. There were seven years where Ginny had always been so close by to make him feel normal. Now, Nathan—and he felt as if he was back to square one and on his own more than ever.
Aaron remembered how hurt Ginny had been. His unwanted memory of six months ago, when they had finally had “that talk.” When she had seen in his eyes everything that she had suspected all along but had been unwilling to accept.
“Saw Ginny the other day. I take it she’s still mad at you, because she ignored me.”
Knocked sideways by Dan’s adept capacity to read his mind, Aaron took a deep breath. This wasn’t the first time, and it probably wouldn’t be the last, where Dan was able to jump into his very thoughts. Sometimes Aaron believed Dan was a secret agent ready to unmask him.
“Yeah, you can say that again. She doesn’t talk to me anymore. Feel so bad about how I treated her over the years—just wonder whether she’ll ever forgive me.”
“Can’t think like that—you just have to let go and move on. Why’d you break up anyway?”
“Because things became difficult.”
“Oh... difficult.” Said more under his breath, but Aaron also knew that Dan wouldn’t even attempt to understand, which was fine by him. He didn’t know how to explain it anyway.
“I think she knew it was coming. Doesn’t make it any easier though; we just drifted apart.”
“In what way?”
“In every way. Something was missing. I don’t know, just....”
“I don’t think it’s possible for Ginny to have anything missing.”
“Shut up. Jesus, all you think about is sex. That’s my ex you’re talking about.”
“I’m just messing with you, chill out. I need food, and I’ve just seen Shelly go inside—I’d like to give her my number if you know what I mean.”
“Jesus, you are so sick.”
“Yeah, and she loves it.”
Heads turned at the sound of the ding of the old wooden door when Aaron and Dan walked in. Aaron allowed himself to be welcomed and enveloped in past and new conversation for a while at least. Inevitably his thoughts were drawn back to Ginny but for the wrong reasons. They had everything to do with who he was and how hurt she had been because of it. Their last real talk had been about their flagging relationship, which ended with the realization that they had been pulled apart because of their inability to talk to each other about what was wrong. He knew Ginny had seen something in him, something which he wasn’t willing to admit, but he knew it to be there all the same. Admitting that he only went out with Ginny because it was easier than admitting what he really wanted and had lost didn’t seem to be the obvious choice.
However, that night, Ginny had done it for him. She said it out loud, asked the inevitable question. Aaron’s only response was to nod, still so scared to see it for what it was. Now, old wounds were being re-opened, scrubbed, and left to bleed. Those familiar temptations, strong and unyielding, to scratch an eternal itch were knocking at the door. It scared him to death because he knew, in spite of everything, that once the itch was scratched he wouldn’t be able to stop.
Now, Aaron lay awake unable to sleep—something he did a lot lately. Just staring into empty space, he wondered what things could have been like if his life path had been different. He turned down college after graduating in favor of looking after his mother, who was sick with cancer. His father had left them when he was very young, never to be seen again. Aaron really had no other choice, and after his mother’s death two years later, it took him a long time to put the pieces of his life back together again. He managed to get into teaching college, struggling between working and getting to class to further his education. Through his love of boats and water, he was guided into the yachting world by a close friend of his mother’s. He thought it was a perfect life, becoming a deckhand, enjoying the freedom that the open water offered him. Where no one asked questions and he could remain invisible. Then months at a time escaping on yachts of all sizes, sailing rough and smooth waters around the world.
It was the ideal life for him to hide from who he was, to run away from the world he didn’t feel he belonged in. With no mother or father to guide him, he felt lost, alone. He would leave Ginny for long periods of time, thinking that she would get tired of him, but she would wait for his return, hoping that whatever was wrong with him would finally be right. But that was always the problem—it never would be. So he kept sailing until running away became harder because the ghosts of something lost years ago haunted his days and nights and everything in between. The ocean became lonelier the more he had no one to share it with. That’s when he made the decision to settle, give Ginny time, and work towards the Royal Yachtmaster certificate to become an instructor.
The relationship with Ginny remained stable for a while, but finally, and long overdue, he couldn’t hide who he really was from her when he was finally around long enough for her truly to see him. For Aaron, Nathan was always present in his memory, and he wondered what his mother would think of her son and his secret thoughts, whether she would be proud of the thing he found difficult to accept but even more difficult to ignore. He cried long and hard on those days because he would never get to find out. He missed his mother’s love and warmth, wishing over and over again that he could have been honest with himself but more importantly with her. Knowing the life he yearned for, and the things he wanted out of it, kept him from going insane.
Aaron looked beyond the darkness of the room and wondered what his life would have been like if he hadn’t run away from Nathan that night on the beach seven years ago. He felt his skin tingle as it always did when he thought of that time long ago when, for the briefest of moments, he had been free to give into his feelings.
“Hey, Aaron, what you doing all the way over here? The party’s over there.”
Aaron looked over to see the flickering fire; his friends were laughing, seeming to be having a good time. He was sitting on a rock overlooking the calm of the water, hoping that Nathan would leave the group to find him. Something had happened between them that summer, something unexpected. The need Aaron had to be around Nathan all the time left him unable to think of anything else. Shoulders rubbing together when they walked back from the beach, rapid and excitable conversation about music, art and writing, were moments he cherished. Underlying it all was the desperate understanding that Nathan was heading to new pastures after the summer, moving to New York where he would take a piece of Aaron with him. Aaron had been so scared of what he was feeling but even more scared to not feel it at all. That night he wanted to be on his own with Nathan, if nothing more than to “just be,” because time was running out. All his confusion, his hopes, and his dreams were moving away, leaving him all alone with feelings he didn’t know what to do with.
“Just needed some time to think, you know.”
“Ahhh, thinking’s overrated!”
“Yeah well, seems I’m doing a lot of it lately.”
Nathan sat down beside Aaron, rubbing shoulders, which by now was as familiar to Aaron as feeling the sea washing over his skin on a hot summer’s day.
“So what’s got you thinking, little dolphin?”
He swallowed hard. Little dolphin was Nathan’s endearment given to him years ago because of his love of the ocean. He couldn’t stop the blood rushing to an area of his body that was hard to ignore.
He tried to concentrate on the view ahead, unsure what to say, his heart thumping.
“You think you’ll come back for visits and stuff?”
“Of course. I might be back before you guys know it! I might crash and burn out there.”
“I doubt it.”
“Why d’you say that?”
“Because you’ve got talent, real talent.”
Nathan leaned his bodyweight briefly against Aaron, pressing their shoulders harder together.
“Thanks Aaron, I appreciate that. You know, you have a special something too. I see how you come to life when Richard invites you to race his yacht with him. You look so at home. I can see real peace in your eyes, an amazing contentment when you’ve been out on the ocean all day. Promise me you’ll do something with it, keep sailing, do something worthwhile with the love you have for it.”
They looked at each other then, the swell in Aaron’s heart superseding anything that the sea could produce. He could feel Nathan’s breath, see the longing in his eyes; he was sure of it. Aaron was seventeen and knew nothing but found everything when he finally took that small step between fantasy and reality. It was so much better than good, so perfect. The sweet, chaste kiss that followed encapsulated Aaron’s wants and desires. As their lips touched, he felt Nathan pull back from the unexpected sweep of Aaron’s tongue against his mouth gently seeking entrance within. The resistance lasted no more than a second, and then Nathan allowed Aaron to explore.
Aaron moved one hand around to gently cup the back of Nathan’s head. Breathing grew in urgency as their kiss deepened, tongues tasting each other for the very first time. Aaron’s inexperience showed in the urgent need surging within him, pushing his tongue further in. He heard deep, lustful moans before Nathan suddenly pulled back, the older man shaking and holding onto Aaron’s face with both hands. Aaron tried to kiss him again, searching for his mouth, demanding the kiss back. The last intimate touch was the brush of Nathan’s lips against his own before Aaron heard the words that would haunt him for years afterwards.
“No, Aaron, please, I can’t.”
Lying in bed now, those words could still bring the numbness of time and loneliness into his very soul if he allowed them to. He had left Nathan on that rock and had run away, confused, uncertain, and desperate. The truth was, not much had changed since then.