My Favorite Season

For recent high school graduate Eric Sterling, the summer of 1980 will be his last. He wants to spend that summer alone, but new neighbor Jayson won't let that happen.
Jayson has also just graduated, and is seeking his own final summer adventure before college and "adulthood" change him forever--a change he fears more than he lets on.
For reasons he doesn't fully understand, Eric is reluctant to tell the truth about his leukemia to his brilliant, capricious friend. Will Jayson pity him? Avoid him?
However, Jayson finds out anyway... and their real summer adventure begins...

[Thirty Chapters]

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11. Chapter Eleven

               Aye, lads, here is where storms begin:

               Where pirates live—what did ye think,

               They came from scorned hearts?

               Ha! Lads, storms give fair warning...       

 

                                             Unorchestrated Songs

                                                                      

     Jayson continued: "Why don't we walk down to the Bay?" He moved, and the rest of us followed mechanically.

     What just happened here, I wondered. Philip and Roxanne were still trading loaded glances. Jayson, however, didn't even appear to remember the last two minutes.

     We had soon covered the 500-foot stretch of Scotland West's shoreline, and had come to a set of old wooden steps leading up to a boardwalk. At the bottom there was a sign warning visitors that Scotland West was a private beach.

     I asked, "Do you get much of a problem with trespassers?"

     "No." Jayson and Philip shared a smile. "The man who actually owns the place isn't as tolerant as I am."

     "Amen," Philip said.

     We climbed the steps and continued walking. The boardwalk soon gave way to the wharf and the cluster of buildings of the marina.

     "Anyone for ice-cream? There's a little stand down here."

     We all agreed. He continued. "This is the northern marina; there's another on the other curve of the bay. The part in the middle is just beach—well, beach and condos, and restaurants."

     Nearly all the slips were occupied; as we passed, someone on board would wave to Jayson and he'd return it with a greeting.

     We stopped at the ice-cream stand. It was run by a black man in his twenties.

     "Hello, Nat," Jayson said.

     "Jayson. I saw the flag. Last one?"

     Jayson shrugged, then introduced Roxanne and me.

     He smiled. "How about free cones?"

     Philip raised a hand. "With ice cream?" He said to Roxanne, "I've fallen for that before."

     Nat laughed. "Okay, with ice-cream."

     He handed Jayson his cone last, and said to him, "You also have a message."

     Jayson took the slip of paper and glanced at it. With the proper maneuvering, I just happened to see the message: "Shakedown. She sang."

     Jayson smiled and stuffed the paper into his pocket.

     Philip asked, "What is it, Jayson? Fan mail from some flounder?"

     "Close, Philip."

     Philip glanced at me, and I nodded to show I'd seen it.

     Roxanne asked, "Some beach bunny's telephone number?"

     I looked at her expression. That's that last thing she thought it was.

     Jayson laughed. "No, just a piece of good news."

     We continued walking, and more people waved—and some of them were beach bunnies. Jayson pretended not to notice. Philip and I took no such pains. For awhile, our conversation consisted of such erudite phrases as "Wow!" and "Would you look at the size of those—" and so on.

     Roxanne did not rise to the bait, so Philip touched my arm, and we pulled back. When Tristan and Isolde were out of earshot, he asked about the message. I told him, and he frowned.

     "Just those words? No symbols, or drawings?"

     "That's all. What do they mean?"

     He paused, then sighed. "I really don't know. I thought I did...but this ...'shakedown'? That word doesn't have too many fun meanings. Still, we are at the marina..." He shook his head.

     "Philip, what is the Great Adventure?"

     He raised his shoulders. "Excitement. Danger. Some experience and place he's never seen before. That all I know."

     He couldn't keep the hurt out of his voice.

     "Maybe I could ask him."

     He shook his head. "Jayson likes to keep things to himself until he's ready to spring them on you."

     "Philip!"

     We looked up. Jayson and Roxanne had stopped a few yards ahead, and he was pointing toward a grey and black sailboat, skimming across the bay. "There she is!"

     We moved to join them.

     "That's the Whistler's Mother, the fastest boat in the bay."

     We watched it for awhile, then continued, passing several yachts. One had two young men on deck who waved to us. "Ahoy, captain!"

     Jayson saluted, and we moved on.

     Roxanne said, "They look kind of young to have a yacht."

     "A trawler, actually," Jayson said. "They salvaged it and rebuilt it. It looks great inside, too."

     "You've been aboard?"

     "Oh, sure, I've been aboard most of them. So has Philip."

     "I've been aboard some of them."

     "Semantics, again." He stopped. "Here we are."

     The motorboat Satori was a green and white 1962 Starlite Razor, nineteen feet long, and could seat six.

     "We're in luck, there aren't many sail boats out yet." He helped Roxanne aboard. "We ought to have time for a few turns around the bay."

                                                *                  *                   *

     Chameleon Bay was one mile across; even from the southern marina, I could see Scotland West and the blue flag. It was still early enough in the day so that the sun was not murderous.

     Jayson had kept the Satori to a moderate speed. I was surprised that he had not opened her up, especially with Roxanne sitting right next to him. If I were in the driver's seat with my girlfriend, I'd have this tub moving so fast, the only part left in the water would be the propellers.

     I smiled and shook my head. Jayson and I watch too many cartoons.

     Roxanne sat on Jayson's left, and the windshield could not keep her hair from waving behind her. She and Jayson would occasionally look at each other, smiling.

     The Satori had a stereo, that was presently playing a cassette of Handel's Water Music, which reached across 263 years to pull us around the bay.

     After one lap, Jayson brought the Satori to a stop.

     "Would you like to try, Roxanne?"

     "I don't know; I've never done that before."

     Philip grinned. "That's sort of a motto of yours, isn't it?"

     She made a great show of ignoring him. "Well, okay."

     Now, Roxanne Coriander is no fool. She said, "But only if you sit next to me and show me how."

     Philip rolled his eyes, but Roxanne had a point: you had to use the obvious ones on the Professor.

     The driver's seat was not big enough for two people; it was certainly unsafe to do so, and probably illegal, but Jayson Murdock is no fool either. "Great. Yeah, there's plenty of room."

     Philip gasped. "Roxanne's really going to drive? Man overboard!"

     He and I headed for the gunwales.

     "You guys ought to be on stage...sweeping. Now sit still."

     Much to our disappointment, Roxanne's turn at the wheel went smoothly. Then it was my turn.

     I batted my lashes at him. "Aren't you going to sit next to me?"

     He smiled, mouthed a two-word response, and led Roxanne to the rear seat, which ran the width of the boat. That really was big enough for the both of them.

     When Philip took a turn, I glanced back at them. The morning air was chilly, and this time Jayson had taken the hint. Neither of them wanted a turn at steering after that.

                                                *                  *                   *

     Philip suggested a trip into Chameleon Bay to get supplies. Roxanne decided to stay and call home.

     It was Jayson's idea to walk, since it was such a nice day. The sky was clear and bright, and the cool sea breeze met us as we stepped outside.

     A sandy path led from the bluffs, around balding dunes, to an empty lot, which opened onto Chameleon Bay's main street. The sunlight simmered over the white buildings. We met few people on the road or the sidewalk.

     A couple passed us, holding hands and laughing at secret whimsies.

     When they were gone, I said, "Now that was true love."

     Philip shrugged. "Either that, or they're married."

     "Married," Jayson said, wistfully, "I saw their rings."

     "Well, how could you miss his, dangling from his nose like that."

     "Lighten up, Philip," I said. "Don't you want to be married?"

     "Sure, but all the good ones are taken: June Cleaver, Harriet Nelson, Edith Bunker..."

     "Never mind. At least you guys still have a chance to be married."

     Jayson shook his head. "One of things I find attractive about Roxanne is her intelligence. I'm afraid she's too smart to marry someone like me."

     Philip nodded. "Good point."

     "I think," Jayson said, "that if her name weren't Roxanne, it would be something more exotic, like...Storm.  I think she has one inside—or is one."

     The poet spoke. "I think it would be Autumn—she reminds me of wind and colored leaves."

     "How perceptive, Eric. That's her favorite time of year."

     Philip said, "I think 'Roxanne' fits her just right. Remember the story about a girl named Roxanne and that guy with a honker that wouldn't quit?"

     "Thank you for your input, Philip. You may self-destruct at any time now." He slowed. "I'm going on to the post office. My mail has been forwarded here starting a few days ago." He hefted the knapsack.

     "And get out of carrying groceries?" Philip frowned.

     Jayson was already moving up the street. "Just tell them to deliver it. Order whatever you want, we have an account at Stuart's." He turned a corner. 

     Philip and I continued east.

                                                *                  *                   *

     I had not realized how warm it had become until we entered Stuart's Market, and the air conditioning surrounded us.

     The market was more like a general store, with wooden shelves along the walls and running lengthwise across the floor, overflowing with more than food. I found almanacs, butter churns, handmade brooms, quilts, cribs, and an entire wall of fishing gear. All the place needed was a potbellied stove.

     A sign on the wall behind the counter said, "If we don't have it, you don't want it."

     Stuart was shorter than me, and almost as thin; his plaid flannel and blue jeans hung loosely. He had to be sixty-something, according to his spotted hands and wrinkled eyes, but his hair was reddish brown. I wondered if those were his real teeth as he grinned at us.

     "Philip! I saw the flag. Good to see you again." He turned to me, as Philip introduced us.

     His gaze shot back to Philip. "So this is the summer, eh?"

     "Looks like it."

     Stuart smiled at me. "A friend of Philip's, eh? Well, suit yourself." He laughed. "Phil, Sarah Allen just brought in this year's first crop of preserves—left two jars special for you and Jayson."

     Philip smiled, too. "Great!" Then he frowned cautiously. "Did...ah..."

     Stuart coughed politely. "Well, yes, her daughter was asking about you."

     Philip closed his eyes.

     "And she's changed, this year." Stuart coughed again, only it was more of a chuckle. "She's...blossomed."

     Phil opened his eyes, and raised a brow. "Oh?"

     Stuart nodded, and his eyes sought the ceiling. "So have her ambitions."

     Philip Stone groaned.

     "In fact," Stuart said, "I do believe she's on her way back."

     Philip followed Stuart's gaze to the huge front window. "I don't see her."

     "She went behind that truck. Trust me. It's her."

     Philip closed his eyes.

     Stuart pointed to the back of the store. "Phil, I put the preserves on the rear shelf, behind those tall racks."

     "Thanks, Stu. I'm gone." He moved quickly, and ducked out of sight as the front door opened.

     Denise Allen, brown-haired, freckled, stepped into the store. She, too, wore overalls and a red plaid shirt, but, as Stuart King had hinted, she gave them a marvelous shape.

     I turned to the nearest shelf quickly, so as not to be caught staring.

     Then she spoke, and I heard what I had been waiting to hear since we moved to Belltown: an accent.

     "Mornin', Mr. King."

     "Mornin', Denise. What can I do for you?"

     "Well, I saw the flag, which means Jayson Murdock is here—and that means Philip Stone is here."

     "How do you know he came this year?"

     She shook her head, smiling as if this were a waste of her time. "The professor is here...I saw him going into the P.O. Have you ever heard of Sherlock Holmes without Dr. Watson?"

     He shrugged.

     "Now, has he been in yet to pick up his preserves?"

     I moved to the pillow display.

     Stuart said, "As a matter of fact, Denise, he's already stopped by for them."

     I stole a look. She smacked the countertop with her palm. "Well!"

     "I don't think it matters...I believe there's a young lady with them this time."

     She waved her hand. "Oh, I know all about her. Her name is Roxanne. She's with Jayson. I'm surprised he got his nose out of a book long enough...oh, and there's someone else, too...Eddie. Eddie Silver, or somethin' like."

     "Somethin' like."

     I turned back to the pillows. A feather pillow was one of the things I'd left behind when we moved. I chose a large one, and moved back to the counter, handing it to Stuart. He put it in the box. Avoiding the girl's eye, I turned and wandered towards the rear displays.

     Philip was examining the jars of preserves as I turned the corner. He looked up, startled, then relaxed. "Well?"

     I picked up a fishing rod, and examined it nonchalantly. "Well, what?"

     "Well, do you think there's too much violence on TV... what do you think?" He moved past me and peered around the racks. "A quick glance ought to—" He stopped. He glanced for a full minute. He walked slowly back to me. "Don't get me wrong: I'm not the kind of shallow jerk that likes a girl just for her body, but—" He blinked, and looked back toward the corner. "My God. A year ago she looked like Olive Oyl."

     "Do I hear wedding bells, Popeye?"

     "Get real. She's just fun to be around. When I come out here, we date a few times. She's nearly as witty as I am. Well, let's get it over with."

     We approached the counter. Denise smiled. "So, Philip Stone; you are here." She looked at me. "And you must be Eddie Silver. Why didn't you say anything?"

     "What?" Philip frowned at me. "Who?"

     I started to speak, but Denise went on. "Philip, I knew you couldn't resist another summer with me."

     "You misunderstood me, Denise; I said I enjoy visiting the beach every summer."

     "I'll have you know, many men have asked me out. But I always thought of you...which made dating them so much easier."

     "I'll never understand why one of them hasn't swept you off your feet ...and into the bay."

     She waved her hand. "Many call, but few are chosen. Where are you taking me tonight?"

     "I'm busy tonight."

     "Tomorrow, then."

     "I'm busy until doomsday."

     "What's our honeymoon got to do with it?"

     Philip smiled. "Denise, you've still got it. But we do have to go. Did you get everything on the list, Eddie?"

     I glared at him, then said to Denise, "I'm Eric Sterling."

     "I know." She smiled. "Denise Allen. I wish someone had had the decency to introduce us."

     "What a coincidence," Philip said, "I just wish someone had decency. Can you have all that delivered, Stu-man?"

     "No problem."

     Philip turned as we were leaving. "I'll call you, Denise."

     "That is my name. Tell Jayson I said hello."

     "Sure. Thank your mother for me—for the preserves. 'Bye."

     "Good-bye, Philip. Nice meeting you, Eric."

     "You, too."

     We left.

                                                *                  *                   *

     We met Jayson a block from the store, coming to join us. His backpack was bulging, and he was carrying a small, flat package that apparently had not fit.

     He greeted us as if he had not seen us in months.

     "Hi, guys!"

     Philip indicated the backpack. "A pretty good haul today, Jayson."

     "Average, old man. You're in luck, Eric. I think I saw a Popular Photography somewhere in the stack."

     Philip said, "you look pretty cheerful, Jayson. Did the National Geographic come today, too?"

     Jayson threw a laugh back at him.

     With a start, I realized that his expression was exactly like the one I had seen only two hours earlier: when Roxanne greeted us this morning. And I finally remembered what it was: the look of someone who had resolved a difficult decision.

     He said, "I saw Denise walking towards the store earlier. At least I think it was her."

     "It was her."

     Jayson shook his head. "She gives new meaning to the word 'metamorphosis'."

     "She gives new meaning to several words."

     The three fellows-well-met continued home. Jayson, who moved faster than real people anyway, was soon some distance ahead of us. 

     Philip said, "I don't like that look of his."

     I had felt a little uneasy myself; I said, "I saw the same look on Roxanne's face this morning. Do you think that they've finally decided to..."

     "To resign from the demi-vierge? Not likely. Jayson is Roxanne's first boyfriend, and vice-versa. Just kissing seems to take a lot out of them."

     "I guess he's just sappy-eyed, as usual."

     "Well, yeah, but he doesn't need Roxanne for that; he's auto-neurotic. No. I know what Jayson is working on."

     "What?"

     "I... can't tell you. I like to be sure of my facts before I jump to a conclusion. It's got something to do with that package."

     He wouldn't say anything more about it. Instead, we tried to catch up with Jayson.

                                                *                  *                   *

      Jayson had reached the kitchen before us, and was examining a long box tied with a huge ribbon, lying on the table.

     He set the box on the table. Philip stared at it, then at Jayson with open approval.

     "Nice move, Jayson. Flowers. Women eat that stuff up."

     Jayson touched the box. "They were just delivered."

     Philip nodded, adjusting the bow.

     Jayson continued, emphasizing the point we had missed: "I did not send them."

     Philip looked up sharply. "What?" He turned to me, shocked. "Eric?"

     "Don't look at me. I'm afraid of Roxanne. I wouldn't send her flowers...she might find a creative vase for them."

     Philip rolled his eyes sympathetically, then turned to Jayson. "Looks like she's got another minnow on the hook."

     Jayson's expression showed how absurd that idea was, then melted to doubt. He snatched at the card, read it, and smiled.

     "They're for me," he said, and I have never seen him look more surprised.

     "What?" Philip turned to me, again shocked, this time somewhat repulsed.

     I stopped him. "Don't even..."

     "Okay." Back to Jayson. "From who?"

     "'Whom.' And who do you think? Roxanne."

     Philip blinked. I stared. Jayson laughed.

     "Women," Philip said, "Do not send men flowers. Period."

     Jayson grinned.

     Philip went on. "This is too much."

     "Indeed?"

     Jayson left with his booty, walking with a swagger that could only come from a having a girl send you flowers. I wouldn't know.

     Philip touched the box. "Some guys get hooked and never know it." He turned to me. "I think we have to do something about him."

     I wasn't paying close attention, because I had been thinking how good it was to hear Jayson laugh again. Philip repeated his statement.

     "Like...?"

     "I don't know...but he definitely needs help, romance-wise."

     I remembered the scene from last night, and I could tell that Philip did, too.

     "Okay," I said. "You're right. But what do we do? They don't sell love potions anymore, or I'd be using one."

     "I don't know...yet." He walked away, happy now that he had something new to plan.

                                                *                  *                   *

     I went up the our room. Jayson was not there—visiting Roxanne, I guessed—so I sat down on his bed and flipped through huge pile of magazines he had retrieved. I saw the expected science magazines, but also ones aimed at women, mechanics, musicians and so on.

     I found the promised Popular Photography, and Petersen's Photographic.

     Jayson had put the roses in a vase on the nightstand. I had never seen roses in those colors before: half of them were a pale purple, and the others were light orange. The combination was oddly attractive.

     As I moved to my bed, I saw something else on the nightstand. It was the package Jayson had received, torn open. I couldn't see any address, but at least a dozen bright, foreign stamps decorated one corner of the brown wrapping paper. Inside was a book.

     It was a thin, very old book, bound in stiff, cracked leather. The title on the cover was faded and unreadable. I touched the cover, intending to open it—delicately, it seemed so fragile—but I heard Jayson returning.       

     I replaced the book and looked up as Jayson entered, looking stunned. I asked him what was wrong. He sat down on the bed.

     "Roxanne just showed me her new swimsuit."

     "Yeah? Was she wearing it?"

     "No, it was just lying on her bed."

     "What did it look like?"

     "Well, of course it was purple, her favorite—"

     "Damn the details, man...was it a one- or two-piece?"

     "Actually, it was closer to three."

     I stared at him. He was sweating. I said, casually, "So it was a string bikini?"

     Jayson blinked. "Somewhere in the world, there is a sad old fisherman who can't go fishing because his line is holding her suit together."

     "Yow." I moved to the window and stared down at the beach. "When is she wearing it?"

     "She isn't. I asked her not to wear it."

     "You what?" My voice had unexpectedly gone up an octave, so I took a deep breath. "Why did you do that?"

     "Are you nuts? You didn't see that thing. I've got moles that cover more skin."

     "Me, crazy? Look at the pot calling the—well, look who's talking... you're the one who told her not to wear it."

     "I didn't tell her...I asked her. She still can if she wants. She still might."

     I returned to the window. "From your mouth to God's ears."

     Jayson joined me. "Maybe it was a mistake."

     I groaned. "Maybe! Think about it. She's lying on the beach. You walk by, and she says, 'Oh, Jayson, would you rub this suntan lotion on my back?' and you say in a husky, Harlequin Romance voice, 'Why, certainly my dear,' and as you begin, the camera slowly pans away, to the incoming surf..."

     "All right, calm down. It's amazing how you can show so much and so little imagination at the same time."

     I shrugged, and pointed to the vase. "I've never seen those kinds of roses before."

     Jayson was still staring through the window, distracted. "They were developed by a friend of mine in the Bay. He lets one of the flower shops down there sell them for him. The magenta ones are called Classic Heathers, and the orange ones are called Grand Mariniers. They've won some awards..."

     He sighed, and moved to the bathroom, leaving the door open. After a moment, I followed him, and found him staring at the bathroom mirror.

     "Eric," he said, "Would you be attracted to me?"

     Of course I knew what he meant, but no one, not even Jayson, should give me a straight line like that.

     "I'll be honest, Jayson. They just don't print that much money."

     He didn't turn from the mirror, but his upper lip curled. "I meant if you were a girl, you sapling."

     "Oh. Any particular girl?"

     He sighed. "You're right; it was a stupid question."

     "It was just the wrong one." I knew he wasn't used to asking questions. "Just ask yourself what kind of guy would attract Roxanne. You're obviously that kind of guy. As for Roxanne—"I grinned "—she's obviously the kind of girl who'll bring stray animals home as pets."

     He took a deep breath. "I lied back there."

     "What about?"

     "Her suit. She was wearing it. Eat your heart out."

 

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