Richard's Redemption

Chapter 17

Todd is crying. I can't see him, but I can hear by the harshness in his breathing that he's trying to hold back sobs. Dr. Anderson is berating him. “Five ninety-eight? You're not even worth that much, you stupid little runt! I should have taken care of things like Paige wanted me to, then we wouldn't have had to put up with you. But with the war, she couldn't go abroad to have it taken care of, and the one fellow I knew who would have done it was in the navy and off at Pearl Harbor, so he couldn't help either.”

I choke back a whimper of my own. I have to find Todd. I have to, before his father drives him to do something awful. I can't bear it if that happens. “Todd?” I call tentatively. “Todd, where are you?” His sobs are growing quieter now, I can barely hear him anymore. “Todd... don't leave me, Todd... please don't leave me! Where are you?”

I sit up with a gasp, sweat pouring down my torso. I blink a couple of times, then realize I'm in my own room. It was just another nightmare, just like the others that have plagued me since school let out. I can hear a few birds chirping, although the the sky is just barely starting to lighten with the dawn. I start to lie down again, then smile as I remember what day it is. It's June 30th. The day we set sail for Martha's Vineyard by way of Portsmouth. The day I get to see Todd again.

I squint at my alarm clock, then give up and turn on the bedside light so I can read it properly. 5:18. The alarm is actually set for 6:00, but I know there's no way I'll get back to sleep now. I shut it off and quietly head for the bathroom. Fortunately, my parents' room is at the other end of the house, so I won't wake them, and AJ can practically sleep through anti-aircraft fire. I set the shower to a comfortable temperature and step into it. My thoughts drift to Todd again as I wash, and within moments, my body reacts. I start to change the water to cold, then hesitate and wrap my hand around myself instead. It's been a couple of weeks after all, and maybe a little relief now will keep me from doing anything stupid later. My hand moves faster as I picture Todd's mouth on me, his body pressed against mine. I stifle a moan as I erupt, then sag a bit against the wall as the warm water rinses away any evidence of my activity.

Once I'm done in the bathroom, I head back to my room to dress. I can hear my parents starting to move around, so I finish my last-minute packing and head downstairs with the overnight bag. Mother passes me in the hall, smiling to see me up and ready so early. “Will you start the coffee, Richard, since you're up?” she requests. “That usually gets AJ up faster than anything else.” She slips back to her room as I nod.

Downstairs, I drop my bag with the others, then start the coffee brewing. On impulse, I toss bread into the toaster and start scrambling eggs for the four of us. No one at school knows I can cook, of course, but Mother insisted that AJ and I both learn the basics of food preparation. As she put it to Father, when he questioned it, “What if they marry late, Andrew? Do you want them to starve to death, or waste all their income at restaurants?”

Mother gives me a hug when she gets downstairs and sees breakfast nearly finished. Father loads the car with the bags, then comes inside just in time for the food to be ready. AJ stumbles downstairs a minute later, looking as though he's sleepwalking, but perking up a bit when Mother passes him a cup of coffee. He looks much more awake by the end of the meal, heading out to the car with a grin. “See you all at Oak Bluff Harbor late today,” he calls as he backs out of the driveway. Ten minutes after he leaves, Grandfather pulls up to drive the rest of us to Salem Harbor, where we keep the Evelyn Rose moored.

It's perhaps 9:45 when we nose into Portsmouth Harbor. I'm at the rail with my binoculars, peering along the docks for Todd while Father looks for an open slip at the public moorings. I spot him, alone and sitting on his suitcase, leaning against the bait and tackle shop. I restrain myself long enough to help Father tie up the Evelyn Rose safely, then I take off running to greet Todd.

“Avast, me hearty!” I yell in a silly pirate accent. His eyes fly open and he laughs. We grab each other in a back-thumping hug somewhat reminiscent of football players celebrating a touchdown... about the only way two young men can get away with something like that in public. I really wish I could kiss him, but that would be Bad with a capital B.

“Ahoy yerself, ye scurvy dog,” he grins as we pull apart. “God, this has been the longest two weeks of my life. It's great to see you, Richard. Where are your parents?”

“They're still aboard the Evelyn Rose,” I tell him. “When I said you were alone, Father said that you didn't need the full committee to escort you to the proper dock, and that since my back is younger than his, I could just help you with your bags while he relaxed with Mother.”

Todd grimaces. “Yes, well. Father dropped me off down here a couple hours ago, on his way to work. No point disrupting everyone's schedule, he said, since it isn't raining and I could wait out here without any problems.”

I shake my head, once again left with no words by the casual disregard Todd's parents have for him. I pick up his big suitcase before he can protest, leaving him with the two small overnighters. He follows me back to the Evelyn Rose, where my parents welcome Todd aboard. Mother directs him to the cabin to stow his bags while I cast off the mooring lines, jumping lightly aboard as Father begins pulling away from the dock.

Todd emerges from the cabin, gazing around the boat in some wonder, his eyes alight with happiness. I'm trying to keep from showing how much his smile is making me melt. Luckily, Father decides to launch into a lecture about sailing. I've heard it before, but Todd obviously hasn't. He's soaking it all up, even asking a few hesitant questions when he doesn't understand something.

The day passes fairly easily. Mother has, as usual, packed enough food for an army. Todd and I eat lunch first, then Father has me take the wheel so he can eat with Mother. A few minutes after the cabin door closes behind them, I feel Todd's arms slipping around my waist. “God, I've missed you,” I tell him, leaning back into his embrace.

“And I've missed you,” he says, his breath warm against my ear. He stays there for a long moment, then reluctantly pulls away. “I won't risk your parents catching us,” he says with a sigh.

“But I'll give you a proper greeting tonight,” I promise with a smile.

He grins at that, then blinks as it occurs to him that I'm actually controlling the boat at the moment. “Is it hard to sail a boat like this?” he asks.

“Not very,” I say. “I don't have a pilot's license yet... I have to be eighteen for that... but since this is a private vessel I don't actually need to have one. Would you like to take the helm for a bit? It's nice open water here, so there's no need to worry about hitting anything.”

“Um... okay,” he agrees a little nervously. I hand him the wheel and show him the controls for the throttle and explain the various dials and gauges to him. Out of the corner of my eye, I see Father emerge from the cabin and grin, then go back inside. He spends at least a couple of hours inside, not coming back out until we're approaching the high-traffic zone near the Cape Cod Canal.

“Okay, boys, good work,” he tells us cheerfully. “But neither of you have the experience to navigate the canal, so I take over from here.”

“Of course, Mr. Cameron,” Todd says politely, stepping aside to let Father take the wheel.

“It'll be a couple more hours yet, Todd,” I tell him. “Do you want to sit inside or stay up on deck?”

“On deck, definitely,” he smiles.

I lead him towards the benches at the stern. “This is always my favorite relaxation spot at sea,” I tell him.

“I need to relax,” he says with a sigh. “I was right, thinking things were going to be worse than usual this summer. Thinking of this is the only thing that kept me going.”

“What can I do to help?” I ask quietly.

“You already have,” he tells me, giving my hand a quick squeeze since no one is looking in our direction.

Todd and I hastily drop each others' hands as Mother comes out on deck and heads in our direction. For a brief and frightening moment, I wonder if she noticed, but she sits down across from us and starts talking about the Fourth of July clambake and fireworks. She seems to be trying to draw Todd out a bit, but he's in his tense and silent mode, as usual when there's an unfamiliar adult talking to him. Still, she's good at putting people at ease. He starts to loosen up a little when she starts talking about sending the two of us blackberry picking tomorrow or the next day, so she can make a cobbler for the clambake. He asks a few questions about what to expect, since he's never been on a clambake before. That sets Mother off and running, her stories lasting until we enter Oak Bluff Harbor.

I help Father get the Evelyn Rose moored at our dock, then Todd and I get his bags from the cabin. Mother and Father are already greeting AJ when we reach the dock. Todd staggers a bit and I chuckle. “It'll take a few minutes to get your land legs back,” I tell him.

“I wish you'd warned me ahead of time,” he laughs ruefully as he wobbles.

AJ comes over to meet him, giving him a grin and a hearty handshake. “Jeffrey Anderson's brother, hmm? Good to meet you, Todd, and I hope you're not the same kind of pompous peabrain your brother is. But I'm sure you're not, or Richard wouldn't have asked you out here. He's the pickiest guy I know when it comes to choosing friends.”

Todd just blinks at that. “You do know Jeffery then?”

“Yeah, I know him,” AJ replies. “He'd be a lot nicer if he wasn't so convinced that his shi... well, that he's too good to be true,” he reddens a bit as Mother gives him a Look at what he almost said. “We're in the same frat, though, so I'm civil to him.”

Todd appears to be mulling this over as we stow his bags in the trunk and arrange ourselves into the car for the short ride to the cottage. I help Todd with his bags, leading him to the room we'll be sharing for the next month. AJ was nice enough to bring the family's bags inside when he arrived earlier, so my things are waiting in the room for me to unpack.

By the time we're done putting everything away, Mother calls us to dinner. It smells wonderful, steak and jacket potatoes cooked on the charcoal grill, and a salad with lots of tomatoes. Afterward, Father gives me a dollar and suggests that Todd and I walk down to the ice cream parlor for some dessert and says that he and Mother will be over at the neighbor's playing bridge. AJ has already vanished, saying something about meeting up with his friends.

I smile. “I'll be sure to bring back some change,” I say.

“You'd better,” Father chuckles. “Even at your age you shouldn't be able to eat fifty cents' worth of ice cream apiece coming on top of that dinner.”

Todd hesitates, then asks diffidently, “Would you like some help cleaning up before we go, Mrs. Cameron?”

I can tell Mother is pleased by the offer. “Why, thank you, Todd, but you boys go along tonight. There's not much to clean since we cooked on the grill... the dishes won't take me long at all, with no pots and pans to worry about. Go on, go enjoy.” She makes little shooing motions at us with her hands, as though we're a couple of puppies or something, so we head out.

We stroll down to the ice cream parlor, which is crowded with people around our age, both native Islanders and summer people like myself. I introduce Todd around to a few people that I recognize, then we decide on root beer floats. Todd is less talkative with so many strangers around, not that I blame him. We mostly just sit quietly, listening to the buzz of conversations around us, although I put in a word or two when the talk turns to the Fourth of July clambake. Most everyone is pleased to hear that Mother will be making a cobbler for it.

It's growing dark as we head back to the cottage. Here and there, families are gathered on porches, and the shadows are punctuated by the laughter of little kids chasing fireflies. Mother's left a light on for us in the living room, so we don't kill ourselves falling over any of the furniture when we come in. I let Todd wash up first, then join him in our room, closing the door.

He's in my arms almost before I can turn around. “Richard... I've missed you... missed this... God...” His voice is thick with emotion and unshed tears.

I hold him close, stroking his hair. “And I've missed you, Todd. What's wrong, love, what happened since school ended?”

“Everything. Nothing. I don't know...” He shivers, pulling me closer. “I think... I had it shoved in my face once too often, that they could care less about me. We were all at dinner, celebrating Jeffrey's graduation and his acceptance at Yale med school, when Jeffrey asked Father what I would be doing this summer. Asked Father, even though I was sitting right there next to him. And Father said... 'One of his classmates apparently took pity on him and decided to befriend him. He'll be staying with that boy's family this summer, which spares me from having to hire a housekeeper. Your mother and I can relax and enjoy ourselves for once.' I wanted to crawl under the table and die, I really did...” He can't hold back the tears any longer, sobbing against my chest.

I wish I could kick Dr. Anderson into the middle of Massachusetts Bay. “Shh, Todd. I'm here... I'm here for you. I'll always be here for you.” Not letting go of him, I nudge him gently in the direction of the closer bed, tugging him down into my lap once we shuffle over to it. I continue to hold him, stroking his hair and murmuring reassurances as his sobs slowly quiet. “Do me a favor, love, if it ever gets that bad again, telephone me. You can reverse the charges if you need to, I don't mind. But if you ever need to hear my voice, call me.”

“You mean that, Richard? You really don't mind?” Todd lifts his head, looking hopefully into my eyes. “I kept thinking... maybe my father was right, maybe you were just taking pity on me...”

“Never, Todd, never,” I interrupt him. “I love you.”

“I love you, too,” he breathes before pressing his lips to mine in a burning kiss.

I quickly lose myself in the kiss, tasting the lingering sweetness of the root beer float on his lips. After a while, Todd pulls back, looking at me with eyes that seem glazed in the moonlit room. “Richard, I...”

“Shh,” I tell him. “We need to get more comfortable, I think.” I lift him to his feet, then slowly draw down his pajama bottoms and undershorts. It's not the first time I've seen him naked, we've been in the showers together with the rest of our section after PE at school. But it is the first time I've been able to look at him, to admire his slim musculature and finely sculpted flesh. “You're so beautiful,” I tell him.

Even in the dimness of the room, I can see the blush staining his cheeks. “You're biased,” he murmurs. “And I want to see you now.” He tugs me up, then hooks his fingers into the waistbands of my pants and shorts, dropping them to the floor. Now it's my turn to blush, embarrassed by my fishbelly white redhead's complexion as he looks at me. “You're gorgeous,” he breathes, lifting a hand to caress my chest and shoulder. “Like a marble statue of some ancient god, only warm flesh rather than cold stone.”

I can feel my blush deepening at his words. “You definitely have the silver tongue of a poet,” I tell him as I pull him close. I step carefully out of the fabric trap around my ankles and lift him up, carrying him the two steps to the bed and laying him down gently before I join him there.

We hold each other, kissing and caressing, reveling in the sensation of each others' touch after being apart. After a while, Todd breaks a kiss to murmur huskily into my ear. “Richard... I love you...”

“I love you, too,” I whisper, sliding around to concentrate on offering him pleasure. He whimpers as I take him in my mouth. He curls around to return the favor as we lose ourselves in the pleasure of each other. Afterward, we snuggle together to go to sleep.

In the morning, we hastily rumple the second bed for Mother's benefit before we get dressed and join the family for breakfast. Mother suggests that I show Todd around the Oak Bluff area today since she'll need us to go berry picking tomorrow. AJ tells Todd that he's welcome to use his bicycle, since he'll be busy beating Mother at tennis. Mother grins at that, and Father tells AJ not to put any money down on that. Todd just looks from one to another as they talk. It's painfully obvious to me that he's never seen what I consider to be normal family interaction.

We ride off after breakfast, and I show him around the stores, the beach, the park, and the harbor. On the way back, we decide to stop off for cokes and drink them in the park. “Is your family always like that?” Todd asks me suddenly.

“As long as things are going well, yes,” I tell him. “About the only time things were different was when Mother was so sick that year. And if either AJ or I got into trouble or brought home bad grades.”

Todd can't help but chuckle. “You, Richard, get into trouble? I have a hard time picturing that.”

I grin a little sheepishly. “Well, I only did once, back in first grade. I socked a kid in my class for making fun of my hair. AJ did a few times, though. For some reason, it never seemed to bother him much, how... disappointed... Father was whenever it happened. Me, I hated it... Father would get so cold. After that one time, I always tried my best to avoid trouble, so that Father would be proud of me.”

“And yet... you know it's going to be a disappointment when... if... he finds out about... about us.” Todd gives me a searching look as he speaks.

“I know. But you're worth it to me, Todd,” I say, meeting his gaze squarely. “You've seen the worst of me and you still gave me a chance. For you, I'll face any trouble that comes. Just as long as we're together in the end, that's all that matters to me.”

Todd reddens, looking both pleased and humble. “You're incredible, Richard, you really are.”

I want to kiss him, but we're in the park, with a few little kids and their mothers at the swings and a few other teens lounging around. I drink the last of my coke instead, and scramble to my feet. “Let's get some lunch and then go fishing down at the pier,” I suggest.

He grins, jumping up as well. “Race you back to the cottage,” he hollers as he hops on AJ's bike and takes off.

I laugh and pedal hard to catch up.


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