Summer Song – Published in Love Anthology by Pure Slush – October 2021
Remember our blind date when my dad answered the door and called you Mike? You didn’t know he called every guy Mike who showed up asking for me. I stood by biting the inside of my cheek, but you were cool, confident, straight-faced and my picture dictionary definition of sexy. Tall, muscular, dark hair perfectly mussed, weathered jeans, grey t-shirt emblazoned with the silhouette of a guitar, and that thumb ring I knew my dad would not forget.
“Adam,” you corrected him, while reaching out your right hand that he thankfully grasped with just a hint of a smile.
We went to a movie. I don’t remember what we saw, but afterward you invited me back to your house. You had a surprise.
“Mm, hmm,” I laughed at the obvious unspoken message.
“It’s not what you’re thinking.” Your stoic dark eyes stared me into silence.
After introducing me to your mom, you took my hand in yours and pulled me up a short flight of stairs— second embarrassing parental moment of the evening, being taken to your bedroom in front of your mother. But when you opened the door I released a tiny squeak of relief, and I think I even saw you break a smile. An empty stool sat in front of a microphone and an electric acoustic guitar leaned against an amp.
“Have a seat,” you said pointing to a club chair before taking your place on the stool. After strumming a few bars, you began singing and your gentle voice and warm eyes never leaving mine lured me in like a baited fish.
After a few songs, you paused to pull a joint from your pocket, lit up and sucked in the euphoria I was already feeling. As the sweet scent filled the room, and I declined your outstretched hand offering me a shared toke, you rocked your head from side to side like a small boat encountering rough water, forecasting our future. We each had just graduated from college and returned home for the summer. I would soon be leaving for my first fulltime job upstate New York, and you were going nowhere.
But our inseparable days followed and you wanted me to meet your dad. We took two trains and a bus to Sloane Kettering Hospital in New York City. A terrible place to meet someone for the first time. But I think you wanted him to see you with someone he’d approve of. He was dying. I felt your pain and the love shared between the two of you with few words and glassy eyes.
My dad stopped calling you Mike and instead referred to you as “thumb ring.” A constant reminder of his disapproval, though I was lost in magical days and nights as we shared our stories and you touched my soul through song. I’m sorry it all had to end so soon.
It was that night after a quick stop at your friend’s place to pick up a package, the one you stashed in the trunk of the car without explanation before we headed into Manhattan to visit your dad once again. With hesitation we inched our way through a maze of antiseptic scented hallways to the intensive care unit, where beeping, whirring machines seemed to be the life source behind your dad’s weak smile. The room smelled of death, and I couldn’t wait to leave, but you held his hand and cried. You both cried, and I found myself struggling to breathe.
Later that night, we were sharing drinks at a comedy club. Laughing, laughing like the hours before had never happened. Until you stopped hearing the humor, folded up inside yourself and said, “Let’s get out of here.”
I felt the pain on your face and reached for your hand, but you were unavailable. We drove home lost in our own silent thoughts until the siren and the flashing red lights in the rearview mirror screamed for our attention.
“Shit,” you said pulling over.
“License and registration.” The officer held out his hand and you passed both through the open window. You were so cool and polite, like that first night when my dad tested your patience. I chewed the inside of my cheek, until an iron taste filled my mouth as I imagined the tearful call to my dad, telling him I’d been arrested.
And then the officer said, “Your left tail light’s out. Better get that fixed.” And he passed the cards back to you.
You thanked him, and as we drove away, you laughed. You laughed and I cried, cried from relief and sadness. You teased me for being scared and you wouldn’t let it go. But I knew it was because you were scared too, scared of being caught with what was in the trunk, scared of losing your dad, and maybe even scared of losing me.
I’m not sure why I wasn’t bold enough yet to say take me home, but we got back to your house, and I followed you up to your crooning studio. This time though, instead of the usual music and shared love, you opened the package you’d carried in from the trunk. With two hands you lifted a large purple candle from the cardboard box onto newspaper you’d already spread on the floor. With a hammer and chisel and one hearty blow, the wax treasure chest broke open. Packets of weed spilled onto the floor. The excitement on your face was as palpable as my disappointment. I asked you to take me home. We kissed good night, but I knew it was the last time our lips would touch.
Weeks later I moved on to my job upstate New York. But when I heard your dad had died, I returned to grieve with you, and with my romantic side imagining us one once again. We reminisced, shared a few tears and laughter, but when you pulled a joint from your pocket and invited me up to your room, I knew it was time to go. I kissed your cheek and said good-bye.