It was a ray of warm golden sunlight hitting my face that woke me up early that morning as I lay splayed out on my bed.  Normally, I would be WAY too lazy to want to get up so early, but since today happened to be the very first day of summer vacation, I definitely intended to make the most of each and every day!

Turning onto my back, I stretched and yawned richly as a grin formed on my 13 year-old face.  I sat up – my light brown hair tussled – and I looked around at my bedroom.  It was a fairly long room; it had large windows on the east and west walls, with bright yellow sunlight currently streaming through the eastern window.  The size of my room definitely suited my two most favorite hobbies in the world; surfing and marine life.

On one long piece of furniture that my dad and I built, sat my collection of surfboards; like an over-sized bookcase, several long shelves each housed a different surfboard, creating not only a practical storage area but a nice display as well.  At thirteen, I considered myself pretty skilled in the sweet art of surfing.  Growing up right in front of the beach, what else would I be?

On the shelves of smaller bookcases, disbursed against the walls throughout the rest of my room, lay my other hobby.  I had tons of books on sharks, dolphins, sea urchins, kelp… you name it.  I absolutely LOVED marine life and I decorated the room to show it.  The shelves that were not filled with books, displayed my wide collection of seashells the size of my head, clamshells with pearly white insides, dried corals that looked like thin branches and twigs, and preserved specimens of various coastal creatures.  I guess you could say I was pretty obsessed with my marine collection, and nothing reflected that more than what hung from my ceiling.  Hanging on several metal wires above my bed – and right below the skylight – was my most prized possession; a complete skeleton of a Pacific bottle-nosed dolphin.  It was the newest addition to my collection, having been my thirteenth birthday present two months ago, and I absolutely loved it!

Yawning once more, I got out of bed and went to the western window to draw the curtains.  A magnificent view of the beach and Pacific Ocean lay before me.  Already, I could hear the rumble of crashing waves calling me.  Yeah, I was pretty lucky to live where I did.

Our house stood on the very edge of a cliff on Thalia Street in Laguna Beach.  The golden-yellow sand stretched from the very base of the cliff to the shore itself, some distance away.  Already the beach was beginning to crowd with beachgoers getting ready for a long day under the Southern California sun.  Houses lined the top edge of the cliff, but ours was among the bigger ones; it had to be since I belonged to a fairly big family. There was Mom and Dad of course, who ran an architect firm together. This meant – among other things – that they could spend a lot of time with me and my siblings.  Joshua was the youngest at four.  He was just starting to get clever enough to become a big nuisance on a daily basis.  Then there was my little sister Daphne, who was eight and considered herself ‘Mom II’. And then there was my older brother, Flynn at nineteen, who’s taught me all he knows about surfing and Zen.

I headed downstairs to the Kitchen after grabbing my favorite pair of shorts – sky blue with bright yellow tropical flowers – and my surfboard.  I could hear the rest of the family already there and they all looked up to say good morning upon hearing the pitter-patter of my bare feet on the cool floor.  Most of the noise was coming from Joshua, who was sitting at the Kitchen’s island table, singing some ridiculous song at the top of his lungs.

“Ready, Yellow–Crab?” said Flynn over Josh’s singing.  Yellow–Crab was Flynn’s nickname for me.  Yellow because it was my most favorite color; and Crab because I had scooped one up from the sand when I was five to save it from a barking dog.  I was furiously protective of my nickname, and everyone who knew ANYTHING about me knew that only Flynn could call me by that name.

“Ready as a pelican in front of a red snapper!” I recited as I carefully leaned my board against the counter.

“That’s my bro,” grinned Flynn, and he tossed me an orange.

“I don’t know how you two can stand that cold water so early in the morning,” said my mom who was currently chopping up some fresh fruit on the counter.

“Can’t start the summer ‘til we do!” I said as I peeled my orange. “And anyway, it’s gonna be like eighty-something out there today!”

Just then, I felt an icy cold wetness slap me hard against my bare back, causing me to let out a ridiculous mixture of a gasp and a moan.

“UUAAH!  Daphne!  What the hell!” I gasped as I quickly turned around to face her.  She stood there, holding a bottle of sunscreen lotion in one hand and a glob of white cream on her other.

“It’s gonna be eighty-something today!  You NEED protection!” she said bossily, and she reached forward to smear more lotion onto my chest.

“AHH!  Mom!  Get her off me!”

“C’mon, Tay…” said my dad laughing, while he leaned against the counter and sipped some tea.  “You don’t wanna end up all wrinkled by the time you’re twenty, do you?”

“Ugh!”

But I let Daphne finish applying the sunscreen while I gobbled down the rest of my orange.  Today was a very special day for me and Flynn.  Every single year for as long as I could remember, my brother and I would set off the summer by surfing together first thing in the morning.  We couldn’t do anything else until we did that.  It was our ritual.

But the best part of it all was spending that time with Flynn.  He was my most favorite person in the house.  In fact, he was my most favorite person period.  But between his college classes and his girlfriend, Flynn and I didn’t spend as much time together as we used to.  So I soaked up every moment we had together.  Flynn… he was wise.  His favorite subject was philosophy, and while my room was filled with marine life books, his room was filled with philosophy books.  I eagerly listened to all the amazing stuff that he was learning through his books.  It was Flynn who taught me that, “If you hear a seagull cry; laugh with him.  But if you hear a man cry; cry with him.”  And “When surfing; elbows level with your nose.  When living; sand between your toes.”

After a quick and simple breakfast, Flynn and I grabbed our surfboards and made for the back door.

“Have fun you two and be safe!” called out my mom as we waved and stepped outside.  Our backyard was really just the last ten feet or so of the cliff edge, and a little path off to the side led us onto Thalia Street.  Thalia itself ended as a cul-de-sac at the cliff’s edge, but here on the very edge was built a picturesque wooden balcony and staircase that zig-zagged against the rocky Cliffside and onto the golden sand.  Flynn and I liked to pause at the balcony every time we went surfing to survey the waves, and this we did now.

“Looks like a good surf today, Yellow–Crab,” said Flynn.  I nodded and took a deep breath of the salty air.  I couldn’t help but grin widely as we stood there.  The heat of the rising sun on our backs, the wind pushing and pulling our hair to and fro, and the sound of crashing waves made my spirits soar.

We wound our way down the wooden steps and onto the yellow sand.  It was a clear day and the horizon ahead of blue sky and ocean contrasted sharply with the yellow sand glowing in the sunlight.  We made our pilgrimage across the beach until we reached the very shore.  And, grinning at each other, we ran into the water, tossed our boards ahead and lunged ourselves onto them and we paddled out to catch the first waves of summer.

It was a wonderfully different world here amongst the waves, and only by experiencing for yourself the sensation of catching a huge wave, of it propelling you forward, could you truly understand on a deep level that saying, “Go with the flow!”

But as Flynn always reminded me, first you had to respect the waves.  Then you had to trust them.  Only then could you appreciate the art of surfing.  And when that happened, you began to learn the flow of ALL things.  Flynn said there were moments while riding a wave… that you felt it.  A connection to the wave, to the wind whirling around you, to the sky, to EVERYTHING. It was a fleeting thing; a moment of utter peace and quiet amid the roaring of the wave, he’d say.  He had experienced it once and only once before, and now he came back each time to find it again.  I yearned to experience what he did, what he described with such vivid detail.  And so we surfed, each forgetting everything else but our search as we rode the waves.

By the time the sun was nearly overhead, Flynn and I were lying on the hot sand, basking in the golden rays. Flynn was softly humming some tune while I watched a group of boys around my age riding the waves off in the distance.  I knew most of them, spending a lot of time surfing with them myself.  But they had kept their distance this morning, knowing full-well that this morning belonged to me and my brother.  Being fellow surfers, these guys knew that some things were sacred.  Some of them were wearing shorts like myself and Flynn.  Those would be the ones – like ourselves – who would be getting out pretty soon.  You needed a wetsuit if you wanted to surf all day.  Flynn and I had our own wetsuits but didn’t wear them often since we usually only surfed for an hour or two at a time.  The other boys wearing wetsuits, they’d be here all day long.  I watched them absentmindedly as they skimmed the waves; their black suits glistening wet on their skins.  I felt that familiar flutter inn my stomach that I always associated with watching them surf.  I always figured that the squirming in my guts was because of my love for surfing as I watched them… but lately the feeling had been getting stronger.

“So… what are your plans for the summer, Yellow–Crab?” said Flynn, making me snap out of my thoughts.  I turned my head to find Flynn looking at me with a grin on his face.

“Dunno… I’m thinking of just floatin’ around,” I said as I looked up at the blue sky.  Seagulls were soaring in place overhead.

“Well that’s good an’ all, but I would have thought you’d have something more interesting planned,” replied Flynn,

“What d’you mean?”

“Well, what I mean is… you can’t float around forever,” he answered.

“Well, what if that’s what I want to do?”

“Then by all means, float around!” and he laughed.  But then he sat up on his elbows and eyed me carefully.  “But I don’t know, Yellow–Crab, something tells me you’re meant for more than just floatin’ around.”

“Well, then what should I do?” I asked, sitting up on my elbows in turn.

“Ah…” smiled Flynn knowingly, “Now you’ve asked what everyone else ends up asking sooner or later.  But just like everyone else, you’re gonna have to figure that one out on your own.”

I scrunched up my face and I looked out to sea, mulling over what he said.  I was about to open my mouth to say something when I heard someone shout my name in the distance. I turned to see a small group of girls that I recognized from school slowly approaching me.  They were all wearing short jeans cut-offs and blouses that nearly covered their jeans.

“Taylor!” called out one girl I recognized to be Britney.  She had long blonde hair that she kept moving out of her face as the wind whipped it back and forth.

“Hey, what’s going on?” I said as I casually waved an arm in greeting.  The other girls stopped moving several feet from where Flynn and I lay while Britney walked up to me.  I stood up as she neared, a smile growing on her face.

“Hey so… my older sister is having a party this Saturday…” she began, turning to glance at her friends as she spoke, “and I was thinking that you should come!”

“Oh, uh…” and I turned to Flynn.  He was pretending to be dusting off sand from his board.  I turned back to Britney.  “Yeah, sure.”

“Okay cool!” said Britney brightly. “So… I was ALSO thinking that maybe you could like, come over for dinner tonight and meet my family?  We’re making zucchini lasagna and you can help, it’s fun!” she said.

“That’d be pretty cool, I guess,” I said shrugging my shoulders.  The other girls had been whispering urgently among themselves as Britney and I spoke.  It made me feel weird.

“Okay cool! Well, we have dinner around seven.  Oh, and I’m just down the street from you. One nine seven,” she said smiling widely.

“Okay.”

“So then… I’ll see you later?” she said.  The girls began giggling.

“Seven o’clock,” I said with a grin.

“Cool… so, bye!” replied Britney after some hesitation.

“See you,” I said and gave her another casual wave.

Britney turned and must have made some silly face to her friends because despite their best efforts, the giggling intensified.  But once Britney had rejoined them, she turned once more and waved.  I waved back again before turning to Flynn.  He had a curious expression on his face.

“You wanna head back?  I’m kinda starving!” I told him.

“Sure thing, bro,” he said.  We picked up our surfboards and made our way across the sand towards the wooden stairs.

“She a friend of yours?” said Flynn after some silence.

“I guess,” I shrugged.  I continued looking down at the yellow sand as we slowly walked, but I could tell Flynn was looking at me out of the corner of my eye.  “I kinda just know her from class.”

We were silent for another moment.

“She seems like a nice girl,” said Flynn.

“Yeah,” I replied, but that was all I could manage to say.  Flynn didn’t question me further.

TWO

“Oh yeah, the dentist’s…” I said lamely.

Flynn and I were back home having lunch with the family when I had told everyone about the party invitation, only to be reminded by my mom that I had a dentist appointment on Saturday afternoon.

“How could you forget, Tay?” she said as she picked salad up with her fork.  “I’ve been telling you a thousand times since last week!”

“Can’t you just reschedule it or something?” I asked.

“No I can’t just reschedule it. Josh’s appointment is next week and I’m not gonna keep changing MY schedule to fit YOUR social life all summer,” she said, and she shoved a fork-full of salad into her mouth.  I looked over at Josh angrily.  He narrowed his eyes at me.

“C’mon, Lois, go easy on Tay,” said my dad, “he’s a popular guy… what can you say?”

“Yeah, well I don’t care if he’s the President of the United States.  He’s thirteen now, its high time he learns to be more responsible,” said my mom.

“But I already told Britney I’d go!” I urged.  At this my mom looked at me and – even though clearly upset I had been making my own plans despite certain responsibilities – she smiled.

“Well, you’re right.  You can’t just turn down the poor girl now… so you’re going to have to go to both on Saturday,” she said.

“Aw Mom!  But I’ll miss the WHOLE party!” I whined.

“No buts.  Hopefully you’ll learn to be more responsible this way.  Especially if you’re going to start dating,” said my mom with that odd smile on her face.

“Mom, we’re NOT dating!” I said as I ducked my head just in time to miss the noodle that Josh had hurled my way.  Daphne ran over to stop him.

“Well hadn’t you invited her to your birthday party?” said my mom, as if that settled the matter.

“I invited EVERYONE in my class, remember?” I said.

“Everyone invites everyone to birthday parties in middle-school, Mom,” jumped in Flynn.

“Yeah, well…” said my mom still smiling.

“AH!  You little WEASLE!” I yelled at Josh.  A noodle had just hit my eye, causing it to water.

“Joshua, stop!” said Daphne.

“What awe you gonna do – tell youw gwolfwiend on me?” said Josh as he maliciously narrowed his eyes at me again.

“Ugh!”  And I got up from the table.

“Tay, relax.  I’m just teasing you,” said my mom.

“I’m going to my room…” I said in a low,, moody tone. And I quickly made my way upstairs.

I wasn’t sure exactly WHY the conversation had gotten to me, but it kind of annoyed me that they would say all that when it WASN’T true.  Britney and I were NOT dating and she WASN’T my girlfriend.  In an odd way, the thought bothered me to no end.  I mean, Britney was nice and all… but I just didn’t SEE her THAT way.  Maybe she wasn’t my type of girl or something, but who cared?  Birthday parties tended to be pretty fun and I was used to going to them all the time.  So why was my mom making such a big deal about this one?

I sighed heavily as I threw myself on my bed.  Golden sunlight was streaming down from the skylight down onto my bed, making it warm and toasty.  But it did nothing to brighten my now sulking mood.  So I lay there, staring at nothing, until I heard a gentle knock on my door.

“Can I come in?” said Flynn’s voice.

“Yeah.”

Flynn stepped in and watched me lay on my bed for a second before he went over to my desk and sat down on the swivel chair.

“You alright, Yellow–Crab?” he said.

“Yeah… I just don’t want everyone making a bigger deal about the party than what it really is,” I explained softly.

“I know what you mean, bro.  But try not to fret over it.  I think Mom’s just kinda… expecting you to have a girlfriend pretty soon and –”

“But I don’t WANT a girlfriend right now!” I said, cutting Flynn off.  I said it before even realizing what I had said.  Flynn eyed me carefully.

“I know, bro.  But moms are like that.  Don’t let it bother you,” he said, and he stood up.  You should take a nap, relax, and then take a shower for your dinner.  You’ll feel better.”

“Okay,” I said.

“And listen, if there’s ANYTHING you want to talk about, Yellow–Crab,” said Flynn, pausing here for a moment as if searching for the right words, “no matter WHAT it is… you know you can come to me.  Okay?  I’ll never make fun of you.”

“Uh…yeah, thanks, Flynn,” I replied.  What the heck did he mean by that?  Did he suspect I was dressing up as Batman by night or something?!

With Flynn gone, I decided I was too worked up to take a nap, so I decided to whittle away the time to dinner at Britney’s by reading some of my marine life books.  At six-thirty, I took a shower and grabbed some clothes.  I was toppling into my dark-blue skinny jeans when my mom popped her head through the door.

“Do you want me to drop you off at Britney’s, sweetie?” she said.

“No, I think I’ll walk,” I said as I put on a mustard yellow t-shirt.

“You sure?  Well, take a sweater.  It’s gonna be chilly tonight,” she said.  I could tell she felt guilty about making me feel bad earlier, and I rather enjoyed seeing her squirm.  But I grabbed a black hoodie and put it on over my t-shirt, keeping it unzipped.

We went downstairs in silence and everyone told me to have a good time at the dinner.  I hadn’t even walked past two houses when I heard Britney call from behind me.  Apparently, she had spent all day at the beach but was now alone.  I waited for her to catch up and we started walking together to her house.

“Okay, so my mom’s name is Cynthia.  She’s a biologist.  And my dad’s name’s George.  He’s a sociologist.  Or is it the other way around?” began Britney in one long breath, “Anyway, they hate talking about Republicans, so don’t mention THEM…”  Huh?!  But she went on and on in the same vein until we reached her house.

“And there’s Julian – he’s almost our age, twelve – but he hates video games so don’t bother talking to him about THOSE.  Oh, and Sarah – she’s my oldest sister and it’s HER birthday party on Saturday – she likes…” she went on but by that point I was so lost I felt my head spin.  So I was glad when we reached the door.

She led me inside and to the living room where what appeared to be her mom, dad, and older sister were currently lounging around.

“Mom, Dad… this is Taylor,” said Britney with an awkward smile.  I distinctly felt like a pedigree dog being presented to a bunch of judges.

“Oh my gosh!” said Britney’s mom as she got up and gave me a hug.  “Britney’s told us so much about you!”

“Mom!” whined Britney, turning beet red. I however, stood there dumbly, not knowing what to say.

“Taylor!  Nice to meet you, bud,” said Britney’s dad as we shook hands.

“Oh!  Hello Mr. Henderson,” I replied politely.  And after I greeted Sarah we all sat down into an awkward silence.

“So Brit tells us that you’re a pretty good surfer,” said Mr. Henderson after the brief pause.

“Oh uh yeah,” I grinned sheepishly.

“I’ve seen him and his BROTHER surfing…” said Sarah smiling while she tapped away on her smart phone.  She had the same long hair as her sister’s and mother’s.

“So tell us a little about yourself Taylor.  What else do you like to do?” asked Mrs. Henderson.

“Well, I like to collect –”

But at that moment, someone came bounding down the stairs and I turned my head back just in time to see a boy – about my age – stop dead in his tracks at the foot of the stairs.  The moment I sought him, I felt like this giant wave had slammed into me followed by an immediate flutter in my guts.  He had blond hair that covered his ears and part of his forehead and bright green eyes.  He wore a red t-shirt that clashed with his dull-grey skinny jeans.  I could feel my heart beat faster in my chest.  Before I could even begin to consider all the strange feelings, the boy looked from me to Britney and then back to me.

“Oh… sorry,” he said in a very soft voice.

“Julian!  Come meet Tay –” began Mr. Henderson, but Julian was already running back up the stairs, “–lor.”

“Don’t mind him.  He’s just a little… shy,” said Mrs. Henderson in a reassuring sort of tone.  And sure enough, I didn’t see him again until dinner time.

In the meantime, I actually ended up having quite some fund would Britney and her parents while I helped them cook dinner.  Britney’s parents seem to be pretty cool and laid back, sorta like my parents and it was easy to talk to them once we got going.

Yet the whole time, my mind kept wandering back to Julian from the moment he had gone back upstairs, I had the strangest sensation that I was like… missing out on something.  Like the feeling you’d get if you came home to find that your whole family had gone to Disneyland and left you all alone.  But I did what any sensible person experiencing new and strange feelings would do – I ignored them as best I could.  Besides, the last thing I wanted for Britney and her parents to think that I had the attention span of a flounder!  But this became increasingly difficult as we finished setting the table and Julian was called down for dinner.

I looked up just as I was placing a large bowl of rice topped with green olives on the table to find Julian slowly descending the stairs.  I felt that odd squirming in my guts, yet something compelled me to smile at him as he slowly approached the table.

“Hey…” I said, feeling an ache in my chest.

“Um… hi,” he replied shyly, giving me a little hand wave and a shy smile.  Julian didn’t seem to know what to do with his hands and he rubbed them up and down his pockets in a slow and nervous fashion.

“Taylor, we just need the lasagna,” said Britney as she approached the table with another plate.

“Oh, uh… yeah,” I said, still looking a Julian.  For some reason I added to Julian, “Uh, I’ll be right back.”

“Um,,, okay,” said Julian.

I ran back to the kitchen and grabbed the zucchini lasagna and followed Mr. and Mrs. Henderson back to the table.  They and Sarah – who had been on her smartphone in the living room up to that point – sat at the table while Britney went back to the kitchen to grab the jug of watermelon juice.  Julian appeared to be having difficulty picking a seat.  Finally he picked the middle seat and sat down.  Without thinking, I sat down next to him on the edge seat.

But when Britney came back carrying the jug, she immediately noticed the seating arrangements.

“Julian… you sit over HERE and I’ll sit right THERE,” she said, and she walked around the table to where Julian sat.  Mr. Henderson looked like he was about to say something when Julian got up and took the other seat without any argument.  Britney smiled and was saying something as she sat down, but I looked over to Julian without really paying attention to her.  Julian had an upset expression on his face.  He looked at me and I smiled, but he only smiled back briefly before it quickly faded.  I began to feel anger towards Britney for kicking him out of the seat like that.

“Alright Taylor.  You’re going to have to tell us more about this marine collection you have!  I think it’s incredible that you’re doing that,” said Mrs. Henderson.  Being a marine biologist, she took much interest in my collection.  We began helping ourselves to the food.

“Oh, well, my newest piece is a complete skeleton of a Pacific bottle nosed dolphin…” I said, and I kept looking over at Julian as I spoke.  He would look at me for half a second at a time, as if he thought it’d be rude to look at me longer than that.

“Wow.  So you must have a pretty big room, to fit a dolphin in?” said Mr. Henderson.

“Oh well yeah.  But it was a juvenile, so it’s not that big.  I think it’s a male,” I said.  I caught Julian staring at me this time.  He had an oddly glazed look and he was half smiling as he listened to me speak, his fork full of food still in mid-air.

“You can usually tell by the hips.  Males tend to have smaller hips than females,” said Mrs. Henderson.

“But how did your parents GET one?” asked Britney.

“They know a lot of artists and art collectors,” I began, and Julian perked up, “one of them had gotten it from some fishermen.  I guess it had been found dead.”

“Omigod that’s horrible!  Poor thing,” said Britney.  I distinctly sensed that she said that because she thought it an appropriate response and not because she truly felt bad about the animal.

“More animals are born than can possibly survive, Britney,” said Mrs. Henderson between fork-fulls of food.

“Charles Darwin,” I said automatically.  Mrs. Henderson looked at me stunned.

“Taylor… do you know how many of my college students couldn’t tell me what you’ve just said?” she said after a moment’s pause.  She was eyeing me with real interest now.  I felt my face turn red as I smiled sheepishly.

“I’ve read On The Origin and his book on barnacles,” I said, my eyes moving back to Julian.  He was staring at me again.  But this time he didn’t look away, and he eyed me with curiosity.

“That’s some heavy-duty reading, Taylor,” said Mr. Henderson, “you are ONE fascinating young man!”

“Oh, thanks,” I said, abashed.

“Well I could have told you that too, Mom,” said Sarah suddenly.

“You mean with or without your iPhone?” said Mrs. Henderson and everyone laughed.

“We finished eating while everyone broke up into separate conversations; Britney was intent on keeping my attention on her.  But since she did all the talking – gossip, mostly – I was free to nod here and there while I kept stealing glances at Julian, who seemed to be doing the same.  I wanted to get to KNOW him.  SOMETHING about him fascinated me, and I couldn’t put my finger on what it was.  But next thing I knew, everyone was clearing the table and Britney was dragging me to the living room.  Since their kitchen and living room had an open floor plan just like at my place, I was able to continue watching Julian as he helped his mom take the plates to the sink.  After a few minutes of listening to more gossip however, Mr. Henderson came over to let us know it’s getting late.

“I don’t want your parents to start worrying. C’mon, I’ll drop you off bud,” he said.

“Maybe I’ll see you before Saturday?” said Britney.

“Uh, sure,” I replied, but looked over at Julian.  He was now standing in the kitchen, staring moodily at a stool while his mom whispered something to him.  Whatever she was telling him didn’t seem to be cheering him up.

I wanted to talk with him before I left but Mr. Henderson was already walking to the door, Britney dragging me along.  Just when I thought it’d be too late, Mrs. Henderson came over to say goodnight.  Julian was walking over to the stairs, looking really down about something.  I couldn’t stop myself.

“Goodnight Julian!” I called out.  He turned his head quickly, as if not expecting anyone to acknowledge him and our eyes met.  He gave me a sad sort of smile and a half-hearted wave before he made his way upstairs.

Britney stood at the door looking expectant, but I simply said goodnight and followed her dad to the car.  I figured that she probably wanted me to give her a hug or a kiss… but I definitely didn’t feel like doing that.  And while the slight drop of her shoulders as I passed made me feel guilty in a way, it wasn’t enough to compel me to do anything.

The rest of the night became a blur.  Mr. Henderson dropped me off, telling me I was always welcome in their home.  And once I had finished with the obligatory retelling of the night’s events – leaving out my thoughts of Julian – to my family, I went up to my room feigning tiredness.

I HAD to leave out my thoughts of Julian to my family… because – I thought was I lay on my bed in utter confusion – if there had been anyone I wanted to hug and give a kiss to that night… it would have been Julian.

THREE

I ended up not seeing Britney over the next few days.  But this was due to my own contriving than to any sheer luck.  Any time I saw her approaching at the beach, I would duck away and make a run for the house.  Twice Flynn was with me and noticed this odd behavior.  And thrice Britney had actually come looking for me at home.  On these occasions, I would do the reverse and duck out of the house.

It was on this third time that I found myself walking alone on the beach, deep in thought.  I knew I couldn’t keep this up forever.  For one thing, the birthday party was tomorrow and I wouldn’t be able to avoid her THERE.  For another, I was going to have to confront her eventually… there was no way around it.  I just DIDN’T like her.  And eventually I had to tell her so.

At the same time, I was thinking about her brother ALL the time now.  At first, I was frightenly confused about Julian.  But the more I thought about it… the more comfortable I became with the idea until eventually I realize that it even FELT right.  I would lay on my bed at night hugging my pillow thinking of him, and I yearned to see him again.

So it was with mounting nerves that the day of the party arrived and I was getting dressed as best I could in my room.  Once I said goodbye to my family I headed down Thalia with growing tension at the prospect of seeing Julian at last.

As I neared their house I began to hear music, laughter, and splashes of water – all the sounds that accompany a good party.  I knocked on the front door but when no one answered, I decided to check the wooden fence to the backyard.  Spying over the fence, I saw more people in the backyard and I had expected.  The fence door was unlocked so I let myself in.

No one paid me any attention as I made my way across the crowded backyard.  Adults and teenagers were bunched up in groups all around chatting away happily, and little kids were running back and forth and swimwear clearly enjoying the pool.

Then, out of sheer coincidence, Julian suddenly popped out of nowhere, looking startled to see me.

“Oh!” he said softly upon seeing me.

“Julian!  Hey!” I said brightly.  Here he was at last.  My insides squirmed and my heart rate picked up instantly.  I couldn’t help but smile widely.

“Um… hi,” he replied.

But before I could even open my mouth, I heard Britney’s voice and my insides did an uncomfortable flip.

“Taylor!” she said smiling as she came up to me.

“Oh, hey,” I said. Dammit!

“So a couple of my cousins are heading out right now to catch a movie…” said Britney expectantly.

“Oh uh… I’m REALLY sorry Britney, but I had totally forgotten that I’ve got a dentist’s appointment a little later today and my parents only let me come over for a little while,” I said.  Britney immediately looked crestfallen.  But apparently her desire to go to the movies was greater than staying here with me.

“Oh… okay.  Well I’d better go.  They already got the tickets,” and without another word, she took off.

Well, I guess that COULD have gone worse…

It was then I realized that Julian had disappeared, too.  I stood on the spot and looked around for him.  I couldn’t find him but I did notice his mom lounging by the pool with some grownups and decided to check with her.

“Taylor!  How are you?” she said as I approached.

“Hi Mrs. Henderson,” I replied politely.

“This is Taylor,” she said to everyone around her, all of whom nodded and smiled at me, “he’s a friend of Britney’s.  Very smart boy.”

Then she looked at me again as if for the first time and said, “Wait.  Aren’t you going to the movies with Brit?  I think that they’re leaving right now.”

I quickly explained why I couldn’t go.

“Oh that’s too bad, hon,” she said.

“Yeah… but um, I was wondering if you’ve seen Julian around?” I asked tentatively.

“Hmmm… I think I just saw him heading into the house.   He’s probably in his room.  First door upstairs to the right, if you want to say hello,” she said.  With that information, I thanked her and made my way to the house.  But I stopped suddenly, a wonderful idea hitting me like a ton of flying-fish.  I looked around again, this time for the grill and I spotted it being manned by Mr. Henderson.  Grinning at myself over my own cleverness, I went over to him.

“Taylor!  Glad you could make it, bud!  You feelin’ hungry?” he said, but then he furrowed his eyebrows and added, “Didn’t Brit invite you to the movies?”

After explaining everything, I asked him if he knew if Julian had eaten yet.

“You know what, I don’t think he has,” he said, looking around for him.

“Well, maybe I could grab him a plate?” I suggested hopefully.  Mr. Henderson turned back to me and eyed me carefully for a moment.

“That’s a good idea Taylor.  Here…” and he loaded two paper plates of delicious looking food.

“This is vegan.  Julian’s vegan, you know.  You ever try vegan?” he asked as he handed me the plates.

“Um no.  But I don’t mind trying it,” I said.  This explained what I noticed a few days ago at the dinner; Julian hadn’t touched any plate with meat on it.

“You’re a good kid, Taylor.  It’s really nice of you to do this for him.  He ah… he doesn’t have a lot of friends,” said Mr. Henderson.

“Oh, no problem Mr. Henderson,” I replied.  And not wanting to give myself away, I thanked him and made my way to the house.

The sliding glass door leading into the kitchen was wide open but it was completely empty inside the house.  So carefully balancing the plates, I headed up the stairs.

My heart hammered when I reached Julian’s door which was slightly ajar.  I clumsily tried knocking with my knee, but this only achieved me opening the door wide.  Julian was sitting on the floor, his back against the side of his bed.  He stared at me, clearly surprised to see me standing there with two platefuls of food.

“Hey,” I said as I stepped in and gently closed the door with one foot, “I uh… thought you might be hungry, so I brought you some food.”

“Oh… um… thanks,” he said.  His cheeks began to turn pink.  But he made to stand up when I stopped him.

“No, stay.  Here…” I said and I handed him his plate and sat down right next to him.  He looked at me searchingly.

“I thought you went to the movies with Britney…” he said softly.

I’ve got a dentist’s appointment later, I couldn’t go.  But um… I didn’t really feel like going anyway, you know?” I said.  I took in the sight of him so close to me.  He was so… beautiful.

“You didn’t?” he asked, his green eyes scanning my face.

“Nah,” I said, shrugging my shoulders.  It was difficult to read his expression but I somehow sensed that this was big news to him.

“Oh!  The food’s all vegan, too.  Your dad said you’re vegan?”

“Oh yeah.  I don’t eat meat,” said Julian.  I looked down at my plate.  There was something that looked an awful lot like ribs on there, complete with BBQ sauce.

“It’s soy,” said Julian who was watching me carefully, “try it.  It’s good.”

He grabbed his ribs and took a big bite, smiling sheepishly at me. I grabbed mine and took a bite.  I was very surprised to find that it tasted really good.  Not quite like real ribs, but good nonetheless.

“Mmm… hey!  This is pretty good!” I said, nodding my approval at him.  Julian beamed.  It was the most wonderful sight I’d ever seen.  Suddenly, I had visions of leaning forward and giving him a kiss.

Instead, we spent the next few minutes eating our way through all the food, with Julian explaining to me all the different foods on the plate.  I became enthralled by his enthusiasm as he spoke, and all the little mannerisms that I began to notice.  He used his hands a lot, when explaining things.

It was then that I really looked around at his room and noticed for the first time that it was covered in all kinds of paintings, small statues, and craft pieces of all sorts.

“So… you like art, huh?” I asked as I looked around his room.  “You do any of these?”

“Oh!  Um, yeah.  All of them,” he said as he sucked sauce off three of his fingers.  I stared at him and raised my eyebrows.

“You’re kidding me!”  I put down my plate and quickly stood up to look at his art.  “All of them?!”

“Um, yeah,” he said shyly, standing up himself.

“Julian… these are INCREDIBLE!” I said, now walking around his room to have a closer look at each piece.

“Really?”

“Yes!  I mean, look!” I said, and I walked over to a shelf where a life-sized statue of a seagull rested, “This looks SO real it looks like it’s about to blink at me!”

“Um,, yeah.  I made that one about a year ago,” he said walking over to me.  “I was gonna paint it but then decided it looks better stone-gray because sometimes they’ll stand on rocks like that for ages.”

“You go to the beach often, then?  I don’t think I’ve seen you there before,” I said as I wandered around, looking at more pieces.

“Sometimes.  That’s where I do most of my paintings,” he said as he followed me around the room.  He pointed at one wall that was covered in paintings of abstract beach scenery.  The splash of vivid colors along with the bold brush strokes made the scenes come alive with movement.

“Julian… you really have an amazing talent,” I said, truly awed.

“Thanks…” said Julian softly.

“And look!  That looks like it could be me and my brother catching a wave!” I said as I neared one particular painting.  There was a moment’s pause during which Julian looked like he was seriously considering something before he spoke.

“Actually… that –”

But he was cut off when my smartphone suddenly started ringing loudly.

“Oh damn!  Is it time already?” I said as I pulled out my phone from my pocket.  Sure enough, it was my mom.

“Ugh!  Mom!  Do I have to go??” I pleaded the moment I answered, “I’m having soo much fun right now!”

Julian smiled brightly at me, making me want to squirm on the spot.

“Sorry DUDE.  But you need to take care of your teeth,” said my mom.

“But my teeth are fine!”

“And why do you think that is?  Now get your butt outside, I’m picking you up in a minute,” she said.

“Wait!  Can my friend Julian come with me?  Please??” I said suddenly.  I looked at Julian, who nodded his head vigorously.

“Fine, just BE outside!” she replied.

“Yes!  Thanks Mom I love you!”

“Tay!  What’s gotten into you!” she said.

“Nothing!” and I hung up.

I looked at Julian who appeared to be happier than I ever seen him yet.

“Let’s go tell your parents!”

Looking back now, that afternoon turned out to be one of the happiest days of my life.  Julian intrigued me in a way that no one else had before.  He and I clicked so instantly that several times that day I couldn’t help but stare at him awed that there could exist such a person as him.  And when he smiled shyly and blushed during those moments, I wondered in my mind… this is meant to be.

~

“No, No!  Keep your head low!  Hahaha!”

“Wo – WOAH!” yelped Julian, and he slipped off his surfboard and splashed into the water.

“Hahaha!  Aw!  You look like a sea otter!” I laughed as I lay on my own surfboard.

“Don’t laugh!” sputtered Julian when he resurfaced.  But he was grinning at me.

It was a couple of days later.  I was showing Julian the very basics of surfing while he borrowed one of my boards.  Today: paddling.

“You gotta lie all the way down on your board.  Not crouch over it,” I explained patiently.

“Well, that’s KINDA hard to do when there’s a seven foot wave coming at you!” he said, his voice shivering.

“Waves,” I said sagely, “are like whale sharks.  Scary until you get to know them.”

“You know a whale shark, then?”

“Nope!”

We burst out laughing.

After some more instruction during which Julian became progressively better, we decided to take a break by lying down on the hot sand and let the sun warm us up again.  It was then that my little sister Daphne came running towards us.

“Tay!  Mom wants you two back home,” she said and without waiting for an answer she ran back home.  I quickly stood up and offered my hand to Julian.  He hesitated for a second before taking it.  I pulled him up and we stood close together for a moment.

“Um,” said Julian with a faint smile.  It was only then I realized that I was still holding his hand.  We quickly let go and grabbed our surfboards in silence.

Back at my kitchen, my mom – ever the bearer of unwanted news – informed us that Julian’s parents wanted him home.  They were going out.

“Aw man… well, can Tay come along Mrs. Cooper?” asked Julian pleadingly.

“Oh I’m sorry Julian hun,” said my mom, and she did look it, “but I really need to run some errands and I can’t drag Joshua around all day.  He’s a handful.  Tay needs to stay and watch him and his sister…”

Julian’s expression dropped along with his shoulders as he looked over at me.  I was starting to hate seeing Julian upset in any way.

“We can hang out later, okay?” I said, and I put my hand on his shoulder and gave it a gentle squeeze, hoping it would cheer him up.  My mom looked from me to Julian.

“You two have ALL summer to hang out,” she said reassuringly.  I followed them to the car so my mom could drop him off before she went on her way.  But when we got to the car I stopped Julian.  He looked at me curiously.  And, my heart pounding in my chest, I gave him a hug.  For a second he stood there, hands to his sides, before he returned the embrace.  I closed my eyes, savoring the moment.

“I’ll see you later, okay?” I said when we parted.  Julian had both a dreamy and stunned look on his face.  And, once he stumbled cutely into the car, I watched them drive away.

With a sigh of both happiness and frustration, I went back inside to the living room and threw myself on the couch.  Josh was sitting on an armchair with a huge picture book propped open on his little lap.  Stupid Josh, this was all HIS fault.  I narrowed my eyes at him.  He looked at me from the top of his picture book and narrowed his eyes back at me.

“What awe YOU thtaring at…” he said in his lisp.

“Ugh!” and I slid further down the couch and sighed.

FOUR

As it turned out, I didn’t get to see Julian again until the next evening when our parents decided to have an informal backyard dinner at his place.  Britney had largely giving me the cold shoulder once she saw how much time I had been spending with Julian.  If our parents thought anything about the change and dynamics, they said nothing.  But since I was spending so much time with Julian, our parents had started to get to know each other nonetheless.  But the dinner turned out to be a pivotal moment in all our lives.

We were all lounging around in Julian’s backyard eating in chatting while the sky overhead slowly turned navy blue, then dark.  Julian and I were sitting close together on the grass while Flynn recounted the story of how he gave me my nickname.

“You should have seen them!” said Flynn as we all laughed, “the dog kept jumping up and down around Yellow–Crab, but Yellow–Crab kept the poor little crab hidden behind his back!  And he lectured the dog!”

Everyone chuckled at the story, and I laughed sheepishly even though I barely remembered the event.

Omigod!  That’s SO adorable!” said Julian, and he placed a hand on my knee and squeezed it gently.  The joy of his touch overpowered my fear and I beamed at everyone, noticing many eyes lingering on Julian’s hand even though they continued to chuckle.

But I woke up the next morning at home feeling like I was on top of the world.  I shuffled down the stairs well whistling some aimless tune, feeling like a glass of cold orange juice to start the day.  Opening the fridge, I grabbed the orange juice carton and as I closed the fridge door the living room came into view, revealing my parents and Julian’s parents standing there… all eyes on me.

“Uh…” I said dumbly, holding the carton in one hand.

“Taylor, can you come over here for a minute?” said my dad.  I felt my insides boil uncomfortably.  Suddenly not feeling very thirsty, I placed the carton on the kitchen’s island counter and slowly walked over to the living room.  What the HELL was this all about?!

“Don’t worry Tay, you’re not in trouble or anything,” said my dad noticing the look and my face.  The words didn’t ease my heart beat.  He gestured me to sit on the couch.  I looked around at everyone.

“Um… what’s going on?  Where’s everyone else?” I said, meaning my siblings.

“They ah, went out for a bit,” said my dad.  Then he cleared his throat.  “Taylor.  We’ve noticed that you’ve been spending a lot of time with Julian lately…” he paused, “and ah…” but he trailed off and glanced at the others for support.

“Taylor.  You’re a very smart, likable, and handsome young man,” said my mom, “and you’re popular and it’s very easy for you to make friends.”

“And Julian… well, he’s also intelligent and very… mature for his age,” said Julian’s mom.

“…Okay?” I said looking back and forth at everyone.

“Well, it’s just that Julian’s also a little… different,” said Julian’s dad, emphasizing the last word.

“I don’t get it,” I said stupidly.

“Oh there’s no point beating around the bush,” said Mrs. Henderson, “Taylor.  Julian’s gay.”

Silence.

The words hit me like a twenty foot wave.  But before my poor head could process this information, they went on.

“We wanted to talk to you before Julian gets hurt,” said my dad.

“Wait what?!  What do you mean?!  I don’t care if Julian’s gay!  I’d never hurt him!” I shouted as I stood up.  They all looked at each other.

“Well, that’s kind of the problem, Taylor,” said Mrs. Henderson.  My mind was racing a mile a minute.  Julian was gay?!  But… this meant that I was gay too!  Why hadn’t I SEEN it before??  Why hadn’t I given it a name before?

“Taylor.  Like we’ve said,” my mom went on, “you’re a VERY friendly guy.  And we’ve begun to notice that Julian seems to be taking your natural friendliness in a… different way.”

Wait a minute.  So they DIDN’T suspect ME??

“Julian’s become… well… smitten with you,” said Mr. Henderson, “and we’re worried that he might do or say something to you that you will obviously reject because you’re just not like him.  That kind of rejection might do a lot of damage.  Especially since he’s still very insecure of his feelings.”

“So… what are you saying?  I can’t see him anymore?!” I said, a panic rising in me.

“No, of course you can see him.  We just think that you should be more careful about how you… behave… around him so he doesn’t get the wrong ideas,” said Mrs. Henderson.  I could have so easily told them right then and there the truth.  And for a split second I almost did.  But a horrible lump in my throat stopped me.

“But I’d NEVER hurt him…” I said instead, my voice now trembling.  And, this being too much for me, I burst into tears.

“Oh come here honey,” said my mom as she embraced me.  Ironically, the four of them were now consoling me.  But as I cried, the new and dreadful thought had occurred to me.  What if it was the other way around…?  What if I was the one falling head over heels in love with Julian when he was just being nice and friendly?!  Through this horrible panic however, I vaguely understood what I had to do next.

Later that day, my mind made up, I asked Flynn if he’d take a walk with me on the beach.  He quickly agreed, sensing that something was wrong and we headed outside.

“So what surfing through your mind, Yellow–Crab?” said Flynn as we strode across the sand.  I sighed, looking up at the stretch of beach ahead of us.

“Taylor?  Is everything all right?”

“Yeah,” I said automatically, then, “No… it’s just like we’re REALLY hard to say it.”

“Best thing to do when something is bothering you is to talk about it.  But you know that already,” he said.

“Yeah, I know…” I replied sadly.

“Would you mind if I stab a guess at what’s bothering you?” Asked Flynn.  Curious, I nodded as I kept my eyes down on the scene and.  “You can’t stop thinking of Julian.”

Stunned, I stopped walking and faced my older brother.”

“How did…?” I began.  Flynn laughed.  It wasn’t a mocking, but a warm laugh.

“The times I’ve seen your eyes wander over to other boys, Yellow–Crab.  You only had eyes for them,” he said with a warm smile and a piercing luck.  Despite my shock and embarrassment, I grinned.

“No I don’t!”

“Haha!  Sure do!  You just hadn’t realized what you were doing or what it meant until recently, I suppose,” said Flynn.

“Does this mean I’m gay then?” I asked a as we continued walking.

“Only YOU can answer that question.  But I WILL say this… it changes NOTHING.  You are still you,” he said.

“I think I am, Flynn,” I said a little sadly.

“Well I feel honored if told me bro.  But why the sad look?  He should be happy.  You’re finding out who you TRULY are.  It’s sad to say… but many people live long lives never knowing who they truly are,” he said.

“I’m… I’m scared Julian won’t like me back,” I said finally.

“What?  Are you blind?” said Flynn.

“Huh?”

“That boy’s in love with you, Yellow–Crab.  Don’t tell me you haven’t seen it.  I can sense the deep connection between you two.  I might venture to say that you two are kindred spirits.  I can’t think of anyone better for you than Julian.  The vibe you two give off when you’re together is a good vibe.  Good vibe indeed,” he said, nodding.  We walked, and I thought for a moment.

“I’m worried about what Mom and Dad will think,” I said, voicing more concerns.

“You shouldn’t.”

“But it won’t be like with you.  I feel like I can tell you anything,” I said.

“No, you’re right.  It won’t always be like with me.  But you’re gonna have to learn how to do it.  But if you ask me… you should give most people credit; most will be perfectly fine with it,” said Flynn.  I nodded.

“Flynn?  But how do you know that Julian’s in love with me?  What if we’re wrong?” I asked, still worried about my main concern.  This time it was Flynn’s turn to stop walking.  He eyed me carefully.

“He told me something the other day,” he said.  My heart hammered.

“What?”

“He said that he had never gone into the water in his whole life until you started showing him how to surf.  He’s always been deathly afraid of the sea.  That boy will follow you to the ends of the world, Yellow–Crab.”

~

“No, THAT’S a hermit crab,” I told Julian as I pointed to a small crab wearing a shell on its back.  It quickly scurried between a crack in the rocks.

“Oh!  It’s so cute!” said Julian, examining it closely before it disappeared.

We were in Crystal Cove, a large rock outcropping that jutted out to sea for about two hundred feet, and shaped like a peninsula.  I was showing Julian around, describing all the animals as we climbed around and over large rocks and boulders.  At first glance, it looked like one large, dead, rock, but in reality, it was teeming with life.  Here and there, tide pools of clear sea water filled the variously shaped basins formed by the rocky surface.  These were home to crabs, purple spiked sea urchins, soft-bodied sea anemones, and nursery fish.  Deeper still, between the wide and deep fissures inundated by water, live much larger fish, barnacles, and corals.  It was a magical place.

“And look!  Over here is a colony of sea anemones,” I said, moving over to another tide pool of crystal clear water.  Julian and I got on our hands and knees to observe the anemones closer.

“Ok!  They look like short tubes with hair on top!” said Julian, his nose almost touching the water.

“Put your finger in the water and touch one!” I said.

“Won’t I be poisoned?” said Julian, his green eyes on me now.

“No, these won’t hurt you.  Just touch one gently, go on!” I encouraged.  Julian stuck his index finger in the cold water and – after hesitating – touched the body of a sea anemone.  As quickly as Julian pulled his hand away, the sea anemone curled in on itself at his touch.  It now looked almost like a pebble stuck to the rock surface under it.

“Oh!” said Julian, smiling brightly.

“It’s a defense mechanism,” I said proudly.

The crashing of foamy-white waves against the hard rock surrounded us as we wandered around the boulders, creating a ceaseless roar in the air.  It was a beautiful day.  The sun was high in the air, heating our bare upper bodies, and the winds pushed our hair back and forth as we continued our exploration.

“TAY! What IS that?!” said Julian suddenly, pointing down a fissure filled with rushing water.  In it swam what appeared to be a two foot long fish.

“Oh!  That’s a baby tiger shark!” I said, as we leaned forward carefully.

“Omigod!  There are SHARKS here?!” said Julian, amazed.  He used one hand to keep his blond hair out of his eyes as we look down.

“Yeah!  Well, mostly the females come here to lay their eggs here.  There called pods instead of eggs, though,” I told Julian, and I looked around us, “tidal areas like this one are great nurseries.  You could think of this whole place as one giant nursery, actually.”

“You know so much about sea life, huh?” said Julian, looking at me now with an awed smile.  I smiled and blushed bashfully.

“Hey, c’mon!  I wanted to show you something!” I said, and without thinking, I took his hand in mind and I led him further out on the rocks.

We had to take each step much more carefully out here, and so holding his hand had a practical reason as I guided him around.  But inside, I was soaring.  I felt so close to him, holding his hand in mine.  And Julian, I noticed, had a permanent grin on his face.

The spot I took him to was a wide and shallow bowl-like basin in the rocks.  Reluctantly, I let go of Julian’s hand and jumped down effortlessly.  Julian stood on the ledge and hesitated.

“Here, lemme help you,” I said, reaching out an arm.  Julian sat on the edge and took my hand.  Slowly, he slid off the rock and landed right in front of me.  I placed both my hands on his hips as he landed to steady him.  We stood there like that for a moment.

“Um… what’s over here?” said Julian in a soft voice.  I grinned and let go of his hips.  “Look,” and after searching around the various pools I found it.

“A starfish!” exclaimed Julian as he back down, “Wow, it has beautiful colors!”

“It’s the last one,” I said sadly.

“What?  What do you mean?”

“It’s the last starfish of its species on this stretch of coastline.  A beach ranger told me the other day.  They had an epidemic, and they all died,” I said looking at the lonely starfish.  There was a lonely silence where I thought Julian had been looking down at the starfish like me.  But he had been studying me closely.

“You really care about these animals, don’t you?” he said.  We looked at each other.  I had that sudden urge to do something.  To lean forward and kiss him.  To tell him how madly in love he’s made me.  How he makes me feel so… so… I don’t know.

But the moment was ruined when a group of older teenagers loudly appeared over the rocks.

FIVE

“The mall?  I don’t know Britney…”

I’d just gotten out of the water when Britney had flagged me down.  I have been surfing with Flynn when she spotted me.  Her group of curl friends stood off to the side.

“Why don’t you ever want to hang out with me?  You hang out with Julian ALL the time…” said Britney and are hurt and whiny tone.  I didn’t know what to say.

“You know he’s GAY, right?” she said in a tone that made it clear she expected me to be disgusted by it.  A furious rage welled up inside me.

“So WHAT if he’s GAY?!  He’s my FRIEND!” I said angrily.  Britney clearly wasn’t expecting this reaction, for she stood there dumbly, eyebrows raised.  But she quickly composed herself.

“Well… let me know when you’re done hanging around fags,” she said viciously, and stormed off to join her friends.

I wanted so bad to grab my surfboard and smacker over the head with it but I held back and settled on standing there breathing hard as I watched her leave.

“Everything alright, bro?” said Flynn’s voice.  I turned to find Flynn coming out of the water holding his board.

“Yeah… it was just Britney… being a stupid brat,” I said moodily.

“She’ll get over you.  But I keep an eye on her if I were you,” he replied

Back at the house, we learn that Julian and his family were joining ours that night for a bonfire on the beach.  And so, thinking I’d change into my favorite blue shorts with the yellow flowers, I ran upstairs but halted abruptly when I saw my little brother Josh standing right outside my door.  I narrowed my eyes at him.  He narrowed his eyes back at me.

“What are YOU doing heoh?” said Josh.

“What do you mean what am I doing here?  This is my room!” I shot back.  “What are you doing here?!”

“Nothin’,” said Josh, and he placed his little hands behind his back trying to look innocent but failing miserably.

“Oh no…  What have you DONE?!” and I ran into my room to find one of my surfboards off of its shelf and on the floor… with the fin broken.

“YOU LITTLE WEASEL!!  I rounded on him as I shouted, pointing a finger at him.

“Uh oh,” said Josh, and he took off running.

“HEY! GET BACK HERE!” I shouted angrily and I chased after him.  Predictably, he ran to the kitchen where mom was preparing snacks for the night’s bonfire and he hid behind her.

“Mommy!  Tay wanths to kill me!” cried Josh with no tears.

“Tay leave your little brother alone,” said my mom absently as she chopped something up.  “THAT LITTLE MONSTER BROKE MY BOARD MOM!!” I yelled.

“Joshua!  Did you break his board?” said my mom, now paying full attention.

“He thoodn’t leave thingth lying around,” said Josh with his heavy lisp.

“IT WAS IN MY ROOM ON A SHELF!!” I shot back.

But it was no use.  I have to leave the punishment to my mom now.  Hoping he’d get locked in his room for the next ten years, I stormed back to my room and sulked.  I almost wanted to cry.  My surfboards were like a part of me!  Josh knew better than to play with them.  And with a frustrated sigh, I picked up the board.  I’d have to just get it fixed at the shop, later.

I tried not to let the surfboard ruin the rest of my day.  That was easier to do that today than any other day since I had spending time with Julian to look forward to.

So it was with a joyful heart that I settled myself on the scene and next to Julian that night.  Julian and I said a little away from the roaring bonfire and the main circle where everyone else talked and laughed.  Britney kept stealing loathsome glances at us but eventually ignored us.

It was incredibly cozy.  The sun was almost below the horizon across the ocean, casting everything and a dark red glow.  The sky over us was already darkening, and the wind gently whipped the huge claims of the bonfire as it cast its own brilliant glow of warm light, more so now and the fading sun.  The whoosh and crash of the waves intermingled with the crackling of the fire and as I looked over at Julian who was smiling peacefully at the flickering flames, I felt a calmness surround me and I sighed happily.

“You still bummed out about your board?” said Julian, in a concerned tone.  He must have mistaken the reason for my sigh.

“What?  Oh, yeah,” I said. Julian took a deep breath as if making up his mind about something.

“I’ve been meaning to um… give you something.  Maybe it will cheer you up a bit?” he said with a slight nervous quiver in his voice.  I looked at him curiously.  Julian reached into his pocket and pulled out what appeared to be a necklace.

“I um… I made it.  For you,” he said in a barely audible voice.  He handed me the necklace, I stared at it, and a POWERFUL emotion swept over me and gripped my heart and soul.  The necklace was strung with thumbnail-sized crab pincers, painted bone white with bright yellow flowers also delicately painted over the white.

Between each pincer was strung a wooden bead colored sky-blue.  The twine string seemed to glitter golden-yellow in the firelight.

“The twine has a bit of my hair meshed in it,” said Julian quietly.  I looked up at him just as a tear rolled down my cheek.  He looked up at me anxiously.

“Julian… I… this… this is the BEST gift anyone has EVER given me…” I said, feeling a thick lump in my throat.  Overcome with joy, Julian leaned forward and hugged me, his arms around my neck.  I hugged him back fiercely.  After we broke apart, he took the necklace back.

“Here…” he said, and he clasped it to my neck.  The sound of crashing waves seemed to fade.  The laughter in the background disappeared.  The sun sank below the sea and at that moment I felt at peace with the world.  I felt a part of it.  And in that glorious moment – that same moment of oneness Flynn had described – I looked into Julian’s eyes as his face glowed in the flickering flames… and I leaned forward and placed one gentle kiss on his lips.

“…Oh…” sighed Julian in the softest voice, imaginable the moment we parted, our noses still touching.  Before I knew it, we were sitting together, my arm around him.  His head resting on my shoulder.  We said nothing, staring at the dancing flames with content looks on our faces… not caring who was watching, or what they thought.

~

“What the HELL do you think you’re doing Taylor?” said my mom angrily.  It was later in the night and Julian and his family had already gone home.  My whole family stood around the kitchen utterly silent, even Josh.

Apparently, no one had seen the kiss, but EVERYONE saw Julian and I cuddle together.

“Mom, I –”

“No!  How dare you play with that poor boy’s heart like that just because you’re too afraid to tell him you don’t like him like that!  I swear to God Taylor!  If that boy so much as sheds one tear –” but Flynn cut her off.

“Mom… maybe you should listen to Taylor,” he said, looking from my mom to me.  My heart thumped in my chest.  It was time.

“Well?” said my mom.  I looked at everyone.  I looked at Flynn, who nodded.

“Mom, I’m gay.”

Silence.

To make matters worse, Daphne clasped her hands to her cheeks in shock and Josh said loudly, “Mommy!  What’s gay!”

Silence.

“Flynn, listen.  Can you take Josh and Daph to their rooms?” said my dad calmly.  Flynn nodded and ushered them upstairs, coming back quickly.

“Taylor ah… are you sure?” said my dad.  “I – we thought you…”

“Dad, I AM.  And I like Julian,” I said.

“You have to understand.  We’re a bit confused… I mean, when did this happen?” said my dad.

“It doesn’t just happen, Dad,” said Flynn, “he only just REALIZED it.”

“Well… if what you’re saying… Taylor I’m sorry for yelling at you,” said my mom.

“Listen, Tay.  If this is who you are,” said my dad, placing a hand on my shoulder, “if this is what makes you happy… then we’ll support you one hundred percent.  There’s nothing wrong with being gay.”

“Can I still see Julian, then?” I asked weakly.

“Of course you can,” said my mom.  I ran to her and hugged her.  And, out of joy, out of RELIEF… I burst into tears.

This rollercoaster of a day wasn’t over just yet, however.  Once I was alone in my room, I saw a missed call and text from Julian.  After reading the text – call me back? – I called Julian.  The moment he picked up he burst into a speech worthy of Britney.

“…And my parents said that I need to be more careful who I open up my heart to and that you’re a nice boy but that you don’t like me that way but that you’re just too shy to tell me because you don’t want to hurt my feelings and then Britney said that you asked her to be your girlfriend and Taylor… is all that true?!” he said the last part weakly.

“Julian!  Julian, NO!  Britney is LYING!  I NEVER asked her to be my girlfriend and I don’t WANT her to be my girlfriend and your parents just don’t know the truth yet Julian, I like YOU,” I said quickly.

“…Really?”

“YES.  Julian, I want US to be boyfriends,” I finished.   I sat on the edge of my bed.

“Do you really mean that, Tay?” said Julian softly.

”YES.  With all my heart,” I said firmly.  There was a pause.

“I want us to be boyfriends, too,” he said finally.

“Good.  Because I wasn’t going to take no for an answer!” I said.

“Heh… okay,” and I could hear the smile in his voice.  And after spending several minutes saying goodnight to each other, we hung up and I tossed myself back onto my bed, sighing heavily but contentedly.  Today had been a whirlwind of emotions and I was exhausted.  But there existed now a bubble of absolute happiness in my heart that felt impenetrable.  If THIS is what falling in love felt like, then no wonder men went to war over it, I thought.  And… gently touching my necklace clasped to my neck, I grinned and fell asleep.

SIX

I rubbed some more sand between Julian’s toes.  He burst out laughing.

“Quit squirming!” I said.

“I can’t!  You’re tickling me!” laughed Julian.

“Just hold still! I’m almost done!”

“How is having sand in my toes supposed to teach me how to live anyway!” Julian continued giggling.

“I – well… you see…” I muttered.  Julian stared at me with a raised eyebrow.

“You have NO clue, do you?” he said and we burst out laughing.

Just then, we heard Flynn calling.  Julian and I leaned towards each other for a quick kiss and we stood up.  We were relaxing on the beach all afternoon, and so it wasn’t really surprising that someone had come looking for us.  But the look on Flynn’s face when he approached immediately told me something was up.  He looked both excited yet in a pained way…

“Bro… I just got this,” said Flynn, and he handed me a letter he was carrying.

“What’s this?” but instead of waiting for an answer, I read the first few sentences.  My heart began to race and my stomach dropped with each word.

“But…  This says you’ve been accepted to Berkeley…!” I said in alarm.  Flynn’s smile… already strained… faded.

“I know… I’m going to be leaving.  I’m starting my life Yellow–Crab…” he said.  And I saw tears forming in his eyes.  This wasn’t happening.  This COULDN’T happen!

“But you can’t leave me!” I said and my lip quivered.  My eyes watered over.  This wasn’t happening.  Not Flynn…

“Little brother… come here,” said Flynn.  And I threw myself to him and held him as I cried harder than I had ever cried before.

“You can’t leave me!  Not now!  I need you!” I cried.  I felt Julian’s gentle hand on my shoulder.

“Yellow–Crab… we all have to keep moving forward.  I can’t stay forever.  But we won’t stop seeing each other because of this, you know?  Just… less,” said Flynn.

“But you still haven’t helped me figure out what to do with my life yet…” I sobbed, looking up at him.  There were tears going down Flynn’s cheeks.  But he looked at me firmly and gently pushed me back.  He looked from me to Julian and he took Julian’s hand and placed it in mine.

“You don’t need me anymore,” he said, a single tear streaming down his cheek.  But he smiled at us.  “I think you’ll be just fine.  Julian, Taylor’s your Yellow–Crab now.  Take care of him for me, okay?”

I looked into Julian’s deep green eyes and I felt that calmness wash over me once more.  The calmness between two waves.

Epilogue – Ten Years Later

“So there are currently over five hundred endemic species along this coast alone that need our expertise in order to survive.  We’ve already brought back one hundred from the brink of extinction… but with your help… we know we can save the rest,” I finished.  Julian and I glanced at each other then back at Mr. and Mrs. Nair.  Mr. Nair stared at me for one long moment.

“I definitely like what I see here.  I definitely like it,” he said in a thick Indian accent.  Julian and I chanced on another glance at each other, and excitement bubbling in us.  But we maintained our professionalism.  He hadn’t said “yes” just yet.

Mr. Nair moved his eyes around the grounds.  The well-manicured garden we currently stood on, the large marine museum ahead, and the work facilities.  Guests visiting the museum were entering and exiting the glass doors, everyone with a smile on their faces.  Children running back and forth.  Over the entrance to the museum was painted our logo: a coastline receding into the distance with the silhouette of a large yellow crab superimposed over the coast.  Finally he looked back at Julian and me.

“Yes.  Yes, we will give you the grant,” he said.

Julian and I – all pretense of professionalism gone – burst out cheering and laughing.  We ran into each other and hugged.  I lifted Julian up and spun him around once.  When we ended our show of excitement, we saw Mr. and Mrs. Nair smiling.

“Yes.  And I will tell you why, too,” continued Mr. Nair.  He turned to the buildings and waved a dismissive hand and the air at them, “fancy buildings, top of the line equipment… it means nothing if that does not have people like YOU two.  People with passion.  People who care.  YOU two… you two are the reason I am giving you the grant.”

“Thank you.  Thank you so much sir,” was all a Julian and I could say.

“Now.  Show us what you can do,” said Mr. Nair.

A little later, Julian and I were walking across the grounds at a leisurely pace.  Julian had my arm wrapped around his with his head on my shoulder as we walked.

“This is just wonderful, Yellow–Crab,” said Julian, “wait until we tell Flynn about this.  He’s gonna flip out!”

“Hahaha!  Yeah, he will.  But I couldn’t have done it without you, baby,” I said.  We stopped for a kiss.

“I love you Yellow–Crab,” said Julian.

“I love you too, baby,” I said.

“Um… excuse me?”

Julian and I nearly jumped in surprise.  We turned to find a young teenage boy standing there watching us.

“Oh, hey!  What’s up?  How can we help you?” I said to him kindly.

“You two started this place, right?” he asked shyly.

“Yes, we did,” said Julian, smiling over at me.

“Um… it’s just…” he fidgeted for a moment.

“Yes?” I said, not impatiently.

“It’s just… how did you two meet?” he finally asked quietly.  Julian and I glanced at each other, comprehension spreading on our faces.

“We?” I said, looking at the boy with a warm smile, “we met because we were lucky.  But sometimes you have to get some sand between your toes when you’re not so lucky.”

“What does that mean?” asked the boy looking from Julian to me.

“It means what you just did,” said Julian.

“Yeah.” I added, “c’mon.  I’d think there’s someone you’d like to meet.  His name is Josh.”

The End.

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