It was in the summer of '01 when we moved to The Lake. Dad said that there wasn't anything for us in the city anymore. I never really agreed with that; I had my friends and Becka. But I didn't complain, because I knew what he really meant was that he had nothing left in the city, and that was true. So on a rainy June Saturday, we packed our things into the back of a U-Haul truck and left Manhattan behind for good.
The first few weeks in Fairborn were painful. I guess it had to do with not having anyone to talk to about mom. Sure dad was there, but he always seemed to be avoiding me as best he could those days and it wasn't until a year later that I found out why. The daily calls I made to Becka slowly thinned out to one every other day, and then one each week, until the reluctance to bother her with my problems and woe became so much that I never bothered anymore. And so then it was just me.
I slowly learned to occupy myself. I managed to tear myself away from endless days of FreeCell and Solitaire and began exploring. Having seen, heard and breathed the city for sixteen years, I found Fairborn to be quite fascinating. It sat right on the edge of The Lake, which looked more like a sea at times.
And then there were the woods, right in my backyard. The closest thing I had known back in Manhattan was Central Park. But this was nothing like it. The trees were different, thicker, greener and taller, and the wildlife was more alive. It was commonplace that I would spot a squirrel scrambling compulsively to and from his cache or a rabbit springing merrily off to assault my new neighbor's garden, and from time to time I would see a deer grazing not too far away, or a skunk strolling lazily along the forest floor.
Eventually I found a lagoon about a half-mile into the woods from my backyard. The water was crystal clear, and sparkled beautifully when the sun was in its prime. It was deep enough for me to take a swim, and sometimes I did. Other times I just sat on the bank and sketched.
That was how I met Sean. It was late August, and I was sitting on the bank practicing my craft when I felt a sort of tension behind me. I almost had a heart attack when he spoke rather suddenly.
"You're that guy who moved in with his dad down the street, huh?"
I turned around. The first thing that caught my eyes was a pair of faded jeans, but perhaps because they were in my direct line-of-sight. I squinted up at him and got a better look. He was about my age and build, except instead of short red hair, his was black and rather lank with bangs covering half of his face.
"Yeah…" I said, turning back to the lagoon.
"You know, that's pretty good," he said. I felt him move from behind and come around my side. "That drawing."
"Hmm," I muttered. Saying thanks was beyond me.
He stood right next to me and stared out beyond the lagoon, as though trying to relate it to my sketch. We both did for a while until he decided to break the silence.
"You know, that's Michigan," he said.
"What?" I asked, somewhat confused by his sudden dialogue.
"The land far beyond The Lake," he said. "It's Michigan State. Pop took us to Ann Arbor when my sis went to college last year; pretty cool over there."
I nodded, but he didn't see me. Getting to my feet, I snapped my sketchbook shut and wiped my hands on my trousers, since they'd become muddy from the bank.
"I'm Charlie," I said, outstretching my now reasonably clean hand.
He turned to me, but didn't take my hand. His eyes were gray and shone in an odd way. I've never met anyone whose eyes sparked quite like his did. For a while he just stood there and grinned like some lunatic, until he finally decided that I was worthy of what he had to say.
"Well, Charlie, you're in my spot," he said. "And in case you're one of those people who get offended easily, or some kind of homo, I think you should leave—or at least turn around."
Deciding in my mind I was neither of those things, I fought the urge to ask why and turned to the woods. I didn't have to wait long to find out though, because soon after I heard what could only be the sound of clothes hitting the ground. I heard him yell some oddity and then run into the water, and it was then that I decided that it was safe to turn around again. Boy was I wrong.
I had always imagined that the lagoon's water was crystal clear for some reason or the other, I just never thought that it would be to spite me on the day when Sean Finley (of course I didn't know his name then) decided to go full-commando in it. Maybe something more scientific. He laughed when he saw my expression, whatever it was.
"You're a homo aren't you?"
And that was how our friendship started; him asking me if I was a homo.
I scowled and headed back into the woods. "See you around." I called back as I entered the forest again.
"Yeah Charlie, see-ya," I heard him say.