Adam stared out the window at nothing as his dad drove the car they’d rented in Little Rock up Allen Lake Road. Literally, nothing besides trees and more trees. His mood didn’t improve when they came out of the trees and saw the lake ahead of them, sunlight dancing off the surface. His mom had said, “Come on, Adam, one more family vacation before you head off to LA,” and Adam hadn’t been able to resist the plea. He might’ve been able to do so if he’d realized that said family vacation was going to take place in the middle of Bumfuck, Arkansas.
Dad pulled the car up in front of the Lodge (Adam refused to call it The Lodge at Allen Lake, even though that was its full name, because it just sounded so pretentious for a backwater resort) and they all got out of the car to stretch and traipse into the (hopefully cooler) interior of the Lodge. Adam stopped on the veranda (there really was no other word for it, the thing rose two stories and stretched the entire length of the building – to the left, tables had been set up, probably indicating where the dining room was located, and to his right, groupings of chairs and swings) and turned around to get his first real look at Allen Lake Resort.
There was a large grassy area directly in front of the Lodge. To one side there was a croquet court set up, as well as a volleyball net. Below them, where the grass met the sand, was a horseshoe pit. To the other side were lounge chairs with umbrellas and a large fire pit area. A small strip of sand separated the lawn from the lake. The water sparkled like diamonds and Adam felt the first stirring of interest.
He’d brought his new MP3, a few books, and the notebook he’d been writing in. There were worse views he could have while working on lyrics, he supposed.
There was a large floating dock that had room for chairs and for towels to be spread out on it. Adam watched as a young girl jumped off the dock, and then swam over to the ladder so she could climb out and do it all over again. Further down, where the bank didn’t slope nicely down to the water’s edge, rocks stuck up out of the ground. Children clambered over them with pails, peering into pools of water for minnows or some other small creature.
People swam or stood talking in the water, others threw frisbees, and still others paddled kayaks, sailed boats with brightly colored sails, or fished out of rowboats. Back on shore, Adam’s gaze found a building that advertized ‘Rentals: Kayaks, Paddle Boats, & Bicycles!’ as well as a food stand offering ‘Ice Cream, Cold Drinks, Hotdogs and More!’. Adam was imagining himself being rolled home like a big red beach ball if he got too much sun and ate too much ice cream when he heard his mom’s voice behind him.
The screen door opened and Adam turned back towards his mom, but it was the boy who had held open the screen door for Adam’s family to exit the Lodge who caught his attention. The first thing Adam noticed was that the boy had really pretty dark brown eyes. He had short dark brown hair that stuck up as if he’d just rolled out of bed, and full, pouty lips. He wore a uniform of khaki shorts, a turquoise t-shirt that had Allen Lake Resort printed on the left breast, and a pair of canvas sneakers that looked like they’d been white at some point. A name tag clipped to the tee proclaimed the boy to be Kris.
“There you are,” Mom said when she saw Adam, but he barely heard her because Kris was saying something about showing Dad where to park the car and his accent was distracting. Adam had expected everyone around here to sound like a country bumpkin, but Kris just sounded . . . kind of adorable, really.
Dad and Kris disappeared with the car around the back of the Lodge where there was a parking lot, and reappeared with all their luggage packed onto the back of a golf cart. Adam lost track of time while they were gone, wondering if Kris liked boys, and whether he’d be interested in Adam even if he did. Kris hopped off and offered the now vacant seat to Adam’s mom.
“We’ll follow along behind, if that’s alright with you,” Kris said. “I can point out some of the attractions along the way.”
Mom gave Adam a look, then assured Kris that would be fine. It was only after Mom and Dad pulled away in the golf cart that Adam realized that there wasn’t enough room for them in the cart with the luggage, and that they’d be walking. Kris started talking, pointing out many of the things Adam had already observed, but it all sounded so much more interesting in Kris’ voice. Adam didn’t even care that he hadn’t put on sunscreen, or that the new sandals he wore were probably going to give him a blister.
Their cabin, number 8, had a small front porch, a picnic table, four wooden Adirondack chairs around a small fire pit, an outdoor shower, and a dock jutting out into the water. Kris wished them a good stay, gave Adam (them – most likely the smile was for all of them, not just Adam) a smile that made his stomach flutter, and then began the return walk back to the Lodge. Adam stared after Kris until Neil bumped into him while getting his bags off the back of the cart.
“Kris seemed like a nice boy,” Mom said to no one as Adam passed her with his bags. Adam ignored her and followed Neil into the room they were sharing. Neil dumped his bags on one of the twin beds, staying only long enough to dig through them for a pair of swim trunks and change. Adam carefully hung his clothes in the closet and placed them in drawers. Less because he was neat than because he needed time to think.
When he finally emerged from his room, Adam looked around the small cabin. There were two bedrooms, one shared bathroom, and a ‘great room’ where the kitchen, dining area and living room combined to form one space. Mom and Dad stood in the kitchen, putting away groceries. Adam offered to help, but Mom shooed him outside.
Adam found a spot on the dock that was still in the shade of a tree on the bank. He toed off his sandals and then sat to dangle his feet in the cool water. He looked along the curve of the lake to where the Lodge presided above it. In addition to the attractions he’d already spotted, there was also a gift shop, a spa, and a fitness room in the basement of the Lodge. There were also daily events, like Movie Monday, where they showed a movie on the beach. Kris had also pointed out a town across the lake where they could go roller skating or bowling, watch a movie in the old one-screen theater, browse shops, or enjoy one of the many restaurants. Adam thought that he might like to check out the shops so that he could get a gift for Danielle, but mostly Adam wondered if he’d see Kris again.
“I cut up some fruit,” Mom announced.
They’d stopped for groceries on the way to the resort because Mom had insisted that, at the very least, they would share a family breakfast every morning before they went off on their own, and then get together again in the evening for whatever event the resort had planned.
Mom set the bowl of fruit on the picnic table. She and Dad spooned fruit into bowls and took them to sit in the Adirondack chairs, looking out over the lake as they ate the fruit with their fingers. Adam walked barefoot up to the picnic table because he hadn’t brought a towel to dry his feet. Sand and grass stuck to the wet skin, but he’d seen an outside spigot where he could rinse them off later. Adam spooned up a bowl of fruit and walked carefully across the ground and joined his parents.
“It’s so pretty here,” Mom said.
They lived in San Diego, and Adam had been to the ocean many times. That was grand, a force of nature, but he had to admit that the lake, surrounded by trees, and mountains off in the distance, had its own kind of charm. Still, he hummed a non-committal response.
“Here’s the list of nightly events that was in our check-in packet,” Mom said, handing over the sheet of paper. “You might find some of them interesting.”
Adam took the list and glanced at it without much enthusiasm. He skimmed the list, noting things like Movie Monday and Sunday S’Mores, as well as that night’s Friday Clambake, but he did a double-take when he saw the words Karaoke, and Open Mic, and Talent Show.
“Did you know about this?” Adam said.
“I might’ve read something about it in their brochure,” Mom said smugly.
For the first time since they arrived in Arkansas, Adam felt a frisson of excitement about this vacation. He wondered if Kris would be there to hear him sing.
Neil wanted to check out the resort, and Adam agreed to walk with him back to the Lodge’s private beach. He couldn’t deny that he held some small hope of catching a glimpse of Kris.
Neil left on his damp swim trunks, just added a t-shirt, pair of shoes, and a towel to his ensemble. Adam changed into an older pair of sandals that were well worn in and grabbed his fanny pack. They walked up to the Lodge, passing other cabins to which Adam had paid little attention on the walk down. They all showed signs of habitation, from towels thrown over the porch railing to dry, plastic tablecloths clipped to the picnic table, canoes or inflatable floats tide to the dock or pulled up on the bank, but the only people they saw were the ones walking the same path, to or from their own cabin, and those in the distance, using the private beach and dock, or out in the water.
Neil struck up a conversation with a couple of girls walking their way. Adam wasn’t shy, not really. He had a lot of friends in the music and theater crowd, and he might even be considered a leader of their group, but these girls didn’t look like they’d give Adam the time of day normally, and so he was outside his comfort zone. Neil, on the other hand, was fearless about approaching people he didn’t know. Heck, even asking out girls who’d turned him down in the past on the off chance that they’d since changed their mind.
If Adam could change one thing about himself, it would be that – he wanted to be fearless.
The girls invited them to join their group down on the beach, but Neil turned them down with the explanation that they’d just arrived and were doing some exploring, but said that they’d catch them at the clambake later, if they were going to be there. When the girls had split off to the beach, Adam gave Neil a look.
“I’m just surprised you didn’t go with them,” Adam said.
Neil shrugged. “You’re not gonna be around forever, are you?”
Adam stared at Neil as if he’d been replaced by a pod person, and then Neil assured him that he hadn’t been by saying, “Besides, I want to see if we can find that cute boy who made you blush and go all speechless before.”
“Shut. Up!” Adam said, and then tried to grab Neil and wrestle him into a headlock, but even giggling, Neil was squirmy and he slipped out of Adam’s hold and ran on ahead.
Adam put his nose in the air and pretended he didn’t know Neil, even though he followed him. They walked along the beach and onto the dock, just to see how it felt to stand there. They checked out the rental shack, and then went inside the gift shop attached to the Lodge. Adam held up a shirt that advertised the Allen Lake Resort and tried to imagine himself wearing it. He couldn’t. But maybe Danielle would like one.
He put the shirt back and perused the other clothing options (sweatshirts, swimsuits, and t-shirts with a boar on them that made Adam frown in confusion over why anyone would want to wear a shirt that said ‘Woo Pig Sooie’ on it), as well as mugs, frisbees, candles, and handmade soap, which Adam thought might be more to Danielle’s taste.
They got an ice cream and watched a family play croquet, and then Neil started to get antsy. “Go,” Adam said.
“Are you sure?”
“Positive. I’ll be fine.”
Adam watched Neil run off to where the girls and their friends had set up on the beach, and then he went to get a lemonade from the Snack Shack. He sat in a lounger under one of the umbrellas on the lawn and was glad that he’d thought to put his MP3 player in the fanny pack with his wallet and sunscreen.
Adam was listening to ‘Bohemian Rhapsody’ and considering reapplying sunscreen when someone sat in the lounge chair beside him. Adam expected it to be Neil, but when he glanced over it was a girl he hadn’t seen before.
“Hi!” the girl said as if she and Adam were old friends. “Do you mind if I share your shade?”
“Um, no,” Adam said.
The girl held out her hand and introduced herself. “Cindy Lou Sue.”
Adam’s hand paused in reaching out to take hers, and she immediately began to laugh. “Sorry,” she said between bouts of laughter. “But, oh lordy, you should’ve seen your face!”
“I take it your name isn’t really Cindy Lou Sue,” Adam said.
“Heavens no,” not-Cindy Lou Sue said. “Could you imagine?”
“I think I did,” Adam said. “All too well.”
That set not-Cindy Lou Sue off again. She finally collected herself, mostly, letting out a few chuckles, but her attack of laughter seemed to be over. “I like you,” she said.
“Thank you?” Adam said. “Though I should point out, you don’t even know me.”
“I’m good at reading people,” not-Cindy Lou Sue said. She held out her hand again. “Maddy. Short for Madeleine.”
Adam shook Maddy’s hand. “That seems pretty normal after Cindy Lou Sue.”
Maddy chuckled. “I have three middle names.”
“Please don’t tell me what they are,” Adam said.
“And you are?”
Adam felt his cheeks grow warm even though they were already pretty warm from the heat. “Sorry. I’m Adam.”
“Adam,” Maddy repeated. “Welcome to Allen Lake Resort.”
“So, Adam. Why aren’t you down there with all the other young folk?” Maddy tilted her chin towards the beach.
Adam held up his arm, which was already pinker than he’d like. “Sun and I don’t mix well.” Which reminded him that he should put on another coat of sunscreen.
“So, Adam,” Maddy said. “Are you gay?”
Adam choked on his next breath. “What?”
“I know a guy,” Maddy said. “He might’ve seen you and made the mistake of telling me that he thought you were cute. In fact, right now he’s probably plotting ways to kill me and dispose of the body.”
“Oh,” Adam said, “I . . .”
“Not gay?” Maddy guessed.
“Oh, no, I’m very gay,” Adam said, surprised at how easy it was to say the words to this stranger when it had been so difficult to say them out loud to his family for a long time.
That startled a laugh out of her. “Already got a boyfriend?” she guessed.
“That’s great! Except your face says it’s not great.”
“It’s just, I met someone. Earlier.”
“Did you now.”
“It’s stupid. He probably doesn’t even like boys, but I . . .”
“You’d like to see,” Maddy said.
“Yeah. I think. This shit is hard,” Adam bemoaned.
“I’ll see what I can do,” Maddy said.
“Nothing,” Maddy said. “Listen, my break’s over so I’ve got to get back to work. What were you drinking?”
Adam’s head spun at the way Maddy changed subjects. “Lemonade,” he finally said.
Maddy snatched up Adam’s empty cup (he’d been sucking on the ice and putting off getting up to buy another one). “I’ll be right back with this,” she said, and took off with the empty cup.
Adam watched Maddy go, feeling like he’d just been visited by a whirlwind. He glanced out at the water, eyes searching until he found a blob that looked like Neil, and then unzipped his fanny pack so he could get the sunblock.
Adam was just putting sunscreen on his nose when hairy legs and dirty white sneakers blocked his view of the lake. Adam raised his eyes until he saw Kris standing there. His heart started to pound. “Hi,” Adam said, breathless.
Kris shifted nervously from one foot to the other, then shoved a cup at Adam. “Here.”
Adam looked at the cup, which looked like an awful lot like the one Maddy had taken with her.
“Maddy made you a lemonade, but her break was over so she asked me to deliver it.”
Adam thought Kris sounded annoyed by that. “Sorry,” he said. “You didn’t have to . . . .” He trailed off.
“No!” Kris said. “I mean, I didn’t mind.”
“It sounded like you minded,” Adam said.
“I didn’t. I don’t.”
Kris stared so intently at Adam’s face that Adam began to wonder if Kris was the boy who Maddy had been talking about. Then Kris said, “You’ve got some sunscreen . . . right here.” He pointed to a spot on his own face.
“Oh!” Embarrassed, Adam ducked his head and reached up to wipe away the sunscreen. When he looked up, Kris was still watching him intently.
“No,” Kris said, reaching out. “Can I?”
Adam couldn’t speak, so he just nodded. Kris completed the move, swiped a finger along Adam’s nose. He looked at his finger, then smoothed the sunscreen across Adam’s cheek.
“Are you going to the clambake?” Kris said, staring at Adam’s freckles instead of into his eyes.
Adam could only nod.
“I’ll be there, too,” Kris said. Someone called Kris’ name and he jerked his finger away from Adam’s face as if he’d just realized what he was doing. “I’ve got to get back to work.”
Kris took a step away, and then apparently realized he still held the cup he’d brought out for Adam. He shoved it at Adam again and Adam took it, fingers fumbling when they touched Kris’.
“I’ll see you later,” Kris said, glancing quickly at Adam’s face to see his reaction, and then he hurried away without giving Adam a chance to answer. Not that he could’ve.
Adam absently took a sip of whatever drink Maddy had sent him (it turned out to be lemonade with fresh strawberries in it, and it was delicious) as he watched Kris walk, half run, back to the Lodge. Adam was still trying to figure out what had just happened when Neil showed up. He shook himself like a wet dog, spattering water droplets all over Adam, and then snatched the cup out of slack fingers and took a long drink.
“Wow, that’s good,” Neil said. “You ready to head back?”
“To the cabin,” Neil said. “Bri said it gets cold when the sun goes down, so I want to change out of my wet suit before the clambake.”
“Yeah, alright,” Adam said. He wrapped the headphones cord around the MP3 player and tucked it back inside the pack. Neil handed the much lighter cup back to Adam when he’d gotten to his feet and Adam absently reached out to take it.
Neil gave Adam a look, but didn’t say anything until Adam nearly got run over by a golf cart because he’d noticed people setting up tables for the clambake and hadn’t been able to look away, wondering if he’d catch a glimpse of Kris.
“Did something happen?” Neil said after he pulled Adam out of the path of the cart.
Something had happened; Adam just wasn’t sure what it meant. He took a distracted sip of lemonade as he glanced back over at the lawn.
“Do I need to punch someone’s lights out?” Neil said, clearly not believing Adam.
“No,” Adam said. “Besides, if anyone needs their lights punched out, I can do it myself.”
Neil grinned and held up his fist. “Dude.”
“Don’t call me ‘dude’,” Adam said, but he bumped Neil’s fist.
Neil claimed the bathroom as soon as they returned to the cabin. Adam might be gay, but Neil took the award for taking longest in the bathroom, so Adam used the outdoor shower. He felt a little bit decadent, showering outside under the setting sun. He washed off the sunscreen and checked the pinkness of his skin before slathering on lotion.
Adam changed into a pair of jeans with rhinestones on the back pockets and the ‘There Will Be Drama’ t-shirt Danielle had gotten him for his birthday that year. He stuffed his wallet and MP3 player into the back pockets and tied a windbreaker around his waist in case it got cool later. Neil was still fixing his hair when Adam went outside to join his parents. He would’ve thought they hadn’t moved from the Adirondack chairs, except the fruit had been put away and they’d both changed their clothes for the evening.
Adam felt silly at first, riding on the back of the golf cart, but he was grinning along with Neil by the time they reached the Lodge. There were about a dozen carts parked in the area set aside for them, and guests from the cabins and the Lodge gathered on the lawn for the clambake. Some people still wore their suits (and a few diehards were still on the beach), but many had done as Adam and Neil had, and changed into something warmer. Or at least, drier.
Adam hadn’t realized how hungry he was until he smelled the food. As they stood in line, he looked around the area. Tiki torches had been set up around the tables, and a fire had been started in the fire pit. The servers had done this plenty of times and the line moved smoothly and quickly. In addition to the advertised clams, the tables groaned under the weight of burgers, hotdogs, chicken, and a handful of different types of salad. There was also a dessert table.
Adam was surprised to see Maddy in the serving line. She was busy refilling a bucket of potato salad, but she spotted Adam and gave him a wink. Adam’s hope that no one had seen was dashed when Neil said, “Who was that?”
“Maddy,” Adam said. “She works here. She made the lemonade you liked so much.”
“You know her name?” Neil said, but Adam pretended not to hear him and Neil was quickly distracted with filling his plate.
They found spots at one of the tables and Mom and Dad were soon in conversation with another couple. Neil was on the lookout for Bri and her friends, which left Adam free to search the people carrying trays of food for Kris without anyone noticing. Kris had said he’d be there, but there was no sign of him. Adam refused to be disappointed; it had been a long shot, anyway.
Adam finished eating most of what was on his plate with little enthusiasm and let his eyes wander over the gathered crowd, both guests and servers. He spotted Maddy again, and this time she was talking to a boy a few inches shorter than her. It took Adam a moment to recognize Kris out of uniform. He now wore a pair of jeans ripped at the knee and a t-shirt. While he was staring, Maddy turned and pointed right at him. Kris turned his head and his eyes locked onto Adam’s. Adam was mortified at having been caught staring, but right behind that was the realization that Kris was there, and that he’d been looking for Adam.
Kris ducked his head, breaking eye contact. He said something to Maddy, and then he walked away from her. Maddy grinned in Adam’s direction and gave him a thumbs up. Still in shock, Adam searched the crowd until he found Kris again. Kris wasn’t walking straight for him, but he was taking a path that would lead him around the row of tables where Adam’s family was seated.
Adam’s cheeks burned, and he knew the heat had nothing to do with the sun he’d gotten that afternoon. He shoved back his chair and stood. “Excuse me.”
“Where are you off to?” Mom said.
Adam grabbed his empty plate. “Garbage.” He also grabbed Neil’s plate, even though it still held two bites of cake.
“Hey, I wasn’t done with that!”
Adam ignored Neil and hurried to the trash cans. He dropped the plates and plasticware, and turned to see Kris standing beside him. Adam nervously wiped his hands on his jeans. “Hi.”
Kris ducked his head and smiled. He rubbed the back of his neck and looked up at Adam through his lashes. “Hi.”
“Hi,” Adam said again. Up this close Adam could see that the t-shirt was emblazoned with the logo of a band he didn’t recognize. Kris’ hair was wet (Adam tried to ignore the flutters in his belly at the idea that Kris had bothered to shower before coming to find him), but it still stuck up as if Kris’ preferred method of styling was just to push his fingers through it and call it done. It was kind of adorable.
Kris dropped his hand and grinned. “I need to fix a plate,” he said, gesturing towards the tables. “Do you wanna . . . ?”
“Yes!” Adam said. Adam knew he was being too eager, but Kris didn’t seem to mind. As they walked over to the food tables, Adam realized that if his mom or dad looked up, they’d see him with Kris. He made a point of not glancing in their direction.
Adam watched Kris fill a plate and was tempted to grab a plate of his own just to give his hands something to do, but he knew he wouldn’t be able to swallow a bite. He did take the cup Maddy shoved into his hand when she suddenly appeared beside them.
“Did you like the lemonade?” she asked.
“Yes,” Adam said, at the same time Kris said, “Aren’t you supposed to be working?”
Maddy didn’t seem to take any offense at that. She left, tossing a, “Be good, boys,” over her shoulder.
Kris led Adam to the end of a table where guests had already cleared off – some wandering back down to the lake, while others settled in around the warmth and comfort of the fire pit.
“Where are you from?” Kris asked before he bit into the chicken leg he held.
“San Diego,” Adam said.
“What’s that like?” Kris said after he swallowed.
“Not like this,” Adam said, which earned him a smile. “Where are you from?”
Kris gave Adam a look. “Right here,” he said. “Arkansas born and raised. Tell me about San Diego.”
Adam had never thought that San Diego was super exciting (he was planning to leave for LA, after all), but it probably seemed that way to someone who hadn’t grown up there. As he told Kris about some of the attractions San Diego offered – the zoo, museums, the aquarium – Adam realized that he had maybe sold his hometown short.
“After you’ve seen the ocean, this lake must seem pretty dull,” Kris said without any rancor.
Adam was embarrassed that he had thought that. He looked at Kris and dared to say, “This place is growing on me.”
Kris didn’t laugh, as Adam had feared he might. He looked Adam right in the eyes and said, “I’m glad.”
There was only so much of Kris’ brown eyes and red lips that Adam could be expected to take without breaking. He broke their gaze and said, “Why are there shirts with pigs on them in the gift shop?”
That did make Kris laugh.
Kris discarded his plate and explained to Adam about the Arkansas State Razorbacks as he led Adam over to the fire pit. He started laughing again at Adam’s horrified expression when he explained the tradition of ‘calling the hogs’.
Adam didn’t know where he acquired it, but Kris spread out a blanket on the grass and they both sat. Adam crossed his legs while Kris leaned back on his hands, his legs stretched out in front of him. Adam looked over at Kris to see Kris already looking back at him. His belly did a slow roll and heat crawled up his neck. They weren’t doing anything, not even holding hands, but he felt giddy and a little bit light-headed.
The moment was broken when Maddy plopped down on the blanket between them.
“No,” Kris said immediately. “Go away.”
“You don’t mean it,” Maddy said.
“I really do,” Kris said. “Anyway, aren’t you supposed to be working?”
“I am working,” Maddy said. “They moved me to crowd control.”
“We don’t have crowd control,” Kris said.
Maddy gave Kris a grin that made him groan. “What did you do?”
“Me?” Maddy said with so much innocence that even Adam could tell it was fake. “Nothing.” She glanced over at some activity near them, and said sweetly, “Don’t you have to get going?”
Kris growled at Maddy, then leaned around her to address Adam. He sounded kind of embarrassed. “Actually, I do have to go do something right now. Will you please stay?”
“Yeah, of course.” Adam would’ve said yes even if Kris hadn’t said ‘please’ like that.
Maddy smirked at Kris. “Don’t worry, I’ll keep Adam company.”
“Don’t let Maddy chase you away,” Kris said to Adam.
“I won’t,” Adam said, at the same time Maddy said, “Hey!”
“Okay.” Kris hesitated. “Thanks.”
Before Adam could respond to that, Kris pushed himself up and gave Adam one last look before threading his way through the guests who’d gathered around the fire pit. Adam was distracted from watching Kris walk away (his ass really did look amazing in those jeans) by Neil dropping onto the blanket in front of Adam.
“You disappeared quick,” he said.
“Apparently not well enough,” Adam said dryly.
“Hi,” Neil said to Maddy.
Neil held out his hand. “I’m Neil, Adam’s brother. And you are?”
“This is Maddy,” Adam said. “Maddy, my annoying brother Neil.”
Maddy politely shook Neil’s hand and said, “Hi, Adam’s brother Neil.”
“Annoying brother,” Adam corrected.
Maddy lightly punched Adam in the shoulder.
Neil’s expression said he knew that something was going on, but he couldn’t figure out what, exactly. “So, are you here with anyone?” he said to Maddy.
Maddy laughed. It wasn’t a cruel laugh, but it was clear that she was amused by Neil’s question. “No,” Maddy said. “But you’re way too young for me, jail bait.”
Neil shrugged good-naturedly. “Won’t know until you ask.”
Maddy gave Neil an impressed look. “I like that attitude, jail bait.” She held up her fist and Neil bumped it with his own.
“How old are you?” Adam asked Maddy. She didn’t seem that much older than him.
“Twenty-one,” Maddy said easily. “I’m the oldest cousin.”
“Cousin?” Adam said.
“Yeah,” Maddy said. “Kris isn’t the youngest, but he’s close.”
“You’re Kris’ cousin.” Adam repeated the information. Everything was starting to make more sense now. “I thought you two just worked together.”
“Nah,” Maddy said. “Though being related to the owners does give me a better chance of being hired,” she added with a grin.
“Owners?” Adam said.
“It’s starting,” Maddy said, pointing to where the activity had been taking place. There was a man standing at a microphone now.
“Good evening, everyone,” the man said.
There was a smattering of applause and returned calls of ‘good evening’.
“If we haven’t met yet, my name is Neil Allen. This is my wife, Kim.”
Neil Allen gestured to a short, blond woman standing behind him, and she smiled and waved at the guests.
“My family and I would like to thank you all for choosing to spend your vacation here with us at Allen Lake Resort.”
Adam swallowed hard when he saw Kris standing beside the woman Neil Allen had introduced as his wife. Mouth dry, he said, “What’s Kris’ last name?”
“If this is your first time staying with us, or you just arrived today, you’re in for a real treat.”
“Allen,” Maddy said, her tone surprised that Adam had needed to ask.
“My son Kris is going to play some music for us tonight.”
The applause washed over Adam, who barely heard it. He had a difficult time catching his breath when Kris stepped forward, his hand wrapped around the neck of a guitar.
Kris sat on a stool and settled the guitar on his lap. He lowered the microphone to his lips. “Hello,” Kris said.
“Hello!” the crowd chorused back.
Kris smiled and picked out some notes on the guitar. “I always start with this one because it’s my Mama’s favorite.” The random notes became a chord . “Feel free to sing along if you know it.” Kris’ gaze found Adam’s across the heads of guests seated between them, and then he closed his eyes and began to sing. ‘Make You Feel My Love’ flowed into ‘Ain’t No Sunshine’ became ‘Man In The Mirror’.
The crowd sang along, even Maddy and Neil, but Adam couldn’t. All he could do was watch Kris – his expressive face, the way his fingers moved on the strings. Adam wondered how it was possible that he’d managed to find the one boy at Allen Lake Resort who liked football and music.
“I don’t usually do this,” Kris said, “but tonight I thought I’d take a request.” His gaze moved over the crowd and stopped on Adam.
Adam jerked in surprise. He pointed to himself and mouthed, ‘Me?’
Kris smiled and gave a little nod of his head. “Make it something I know, or there’s going to be a lot of humming,” he said, and drew some chuckles from the crowd.
Adam’s brain spun. He couldn’t think of the name of a single song. Finally he said, “Something by the Beatles?”
Adam had performed in front of audiences much larger than this one, so there was no way his voice cracked on the words.
“The Beatles,” Kris said, sounding both pleased and relieved at the selection, his fingers already strumming out a tune. “Paul McCartney is my musical idol, man.”
Adam was too busy feeling swamped with relief that he’d gotten anything out, much less a request that Kris could work with, that it took him a few seconds to recognize the opening notes of ‘Come Together’.
Neil Allen joined Kris for the final song, a country song Adam didn’t recognize, but that a lot of the guests apparently did given the number of them singing along. It was over after that, but Adam was still caught in a hazy time bubble where nothing seemed real.
Some of the guests remained around the fire pit – someone broke out a bag of marshmallows – while others picked up their blanket and wandered away. Maddy and Neil were talking, but Adam didn’t hear a word they said. He watched Kris gently place his guitar in a case, and then help his dad with the microphone.
Finally, Kris gave Adam an almost shy look, and headed back over to where they’d been sitting. Adam quickly got up and moved to meet him. He didn’t want this moment to be observed by Neil or Maddy.
“Do you want to go for a walk?” Kris said.
“Yes,” Adam said. He grabbed Kris’ hands and squeezed them. “That was amazing! Your voice . . . I just want you to know that I find you ten times more attractive now, and I already thought you were pretty attractive,” he blurted out.
Kris smiled at that, but it looked a little bit strained, and Adam was afraid that he’d said too much. Kris’ eyes went wide in a silent apology when a throat cleared behind Adam.
Adam closed his eyes, mortified that he’d spoken those thoughts aloud, and that someone had overheard him. He squeezed Kris’ hands again. “Tell me that’s not my parents,” Adam said. “Or, god forbid, yours.”
“Sorry,” Kris said. “Yours.”
“Kris, sweetheart,” Mom said. “That was wonderful.”
“Thank you, Mrs. Lambert,” Kris said politely, with no sign that Adam was probably cutting off the circulation in his fingers.
“Yes,” Dad agreed. “Though you remain just as attractive to us as you were before,” he added dryly.
“Eber,” Mom hissed.
“Jesus Christ,” Adam moaned, wishing a sink hole would open up. They had those in Arkansas, didn’t they?
Kris squeezed Adam’s hand, and he dared to open his eyes. Kris was still smiling at him, so there was that.
“I have to agree with Adam,” Neil said. “Definitely more attractive now.”
Adam moaned. “Make it stop,” he said.
Kris snorted a laugh that somehow made Adam feel better.
“Nah,” Maddy said in disagreement. “I changed his diapers, so . . . .”
“You were five!” Kris said. “You couldn’t possibly remember that.”
“Adam, dear,” Mom said.
“Yes,” Adam said, desperately hoping for a change of topic.
“We just wanted to let you know that we’re headed back to the cabin.”
“Oh,” Adam said, unable to hide the disappointment in his voice.
“I’m sure we can trust Kris to ensure that you make it back to the cabin safely,” Mom went on, and Adam felt light, as if the relief coursing through him was made of helium.
“Yes, ma’am,” Kris said.
Maddy gave them a little wave and wandered over to the golf cart with Neil, and they were alone. Adam realized that he was still grasping Kris’ hands. He loosened his hold. “Sorry.”
“That’s okay,” Kris said. “So. You still wanna go for a walk?”
“Yes,” Adam said fervently.
Kris started walking, and Adam fell into step with him. “Where would you like to go?”
“I don’t know,” Adam said. “Show me something that most guests don’t see.”
Kris gave Adam a look that made him blush. “I didn’t mean . . . .”
Kris chuckled. “I know.” He looked like he’d made a decision. “Come on.”
Kris took them around the Lodge. Adam thought he was headed for the woods, but he was headed for one tree in particular.
“A tree house?” Adam said.
“You wanted to see something nobody else got to see,” Kris said as he climbed the ladder.
Adam tried really hard not to stare at Kris’ ass.
There was a walkway around the tree house and they sat, leaning against the railing as their feet dangled off. Kris pointed out Adam’s family’s cabin, and then told him about a waterfall further along the lake that they could bike to one day, if Adam wanted to, and a hiking trail that offered several magnificent views of the lake.
Kris saw the way Adam was looking at him. “What? Too much?”
“This feels like a dream,” Adam said honestly.
Adam had known that he liked boys for a while now, but this was the first time he’d been brave enough to do more than think about what it would be like to act on it.
Kris ducked his head. “I’ve never been anyone’s dream before.”
Adam wondered if Kris wanted Adam to kiss him. Instead he asked Kris about his music, and Kris told him about the summer he’d broken his leg and taught himself to play guitar. Adam told Kris about performing in the theater.
“Want a piece of cake?” Kris said.
Adam hesitated; he really shouldn’t. “I don’t know. Isn’t the kitchen closed?” he said.
“Luckily, I know how to sneak in,” Kris said, grinning. “Come on, we’ll share a piece.”
“Alright,” Adam agreed.
They climbed down the ladder and snuck back to the Lodge, though there was no longer anyone out there to see them. Adam waited on the veranda while Kris snuck into the kitchen. He returned minutes later with one piece of cake on a plate and two forks. Adam felt a little thrill at the idea of sharing the dessert with Kris. They sat together on one of the swings and watched the moon cast its light upon the water.
Finally Kris said apologetically, “I have to work tomorrow morning.”
“Oh! Sorry, I . . . .”
“No,” Kris said, touching Adam’s hand. “I wish I didn’t.”
They stared at each other for a few moments, and Adam wished he could work up the nerve to just lean in and kiss Kris.
“Come on, I’ll drive you back,” Kris said.
Kris left the plate and forks on a table, saying he’d take them in when he got back, and led Adam around the Lodge to where a half dozen golf carts were parked. Kris chose one and Adam self-consciously got on next to him. The drive back to their cabin was quite, and much too short. Adam still didn’t know what to say when Kris brought the cart to a stop.
“Thank you,” Adam said, falling back on the politeness his mom had drilled into him. “I had a good time tonight.”
“Me, too,” Kris said. “I have to work in the morning, but I have the afternoon off if . . . .”
“Yes,” Adam said eagerly before Kris could finish, earning a smile.
“Then I’ll see you tomorrow,” Kris said.
“Yeah,” Adam said, feeling as if someone had sucked the oxygen out of the air he was breathing. A moment later he realized that they were both still sitting there staring at each other. “I should probably let you get back.”
“Yeah,” Kris said, but he didn’t sound like he wanted to leave any more than Adam wanted him to.
Finally, Adam climbed off the cart. “Thanks for tonight,” he said again.
For a moment, when Adam turned back to face him, he thought that Kris looked disappointed, but then it was gone and Adam wondered if he’d actually seen it. “See you tomorrow,” Kris said.
Adam watched Kris turn the cart around. Kris stopped again next to Adam. “In case it wasn’t clear, I find you pretty attractive, too,” Kris said, blushing, and then he was gone. Adam stood red-faced as he stared after the puttering golf cart, wondering what it would’ve felt like if he’d been brave enough to kiss Kris in the tree house.