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MAURA OSTRYDER had always loved the autumn, and to her way of thinking nothing was finer than a lazy Sunday afternoon. Since it was a mellow Sunday in mid-October, she found herself expressly happy as she sat at the kitchen table listening to the coffee maker's hiss and chug as it brewed a pot of decaf. Matt, her lover and best friend, drowsed in the living room. The sounds of the football game from the flat screen television had tranquilized both of them. In the pause and deep breath before their hectic work week began, they both were content simply in each other's company. Their lives were as neatly arranged as the bowl of red apples on the dining room table.
After lunch, Maura curled up on the sofa as Matt burrowed himself into an Eero Saarinen Womb chair with his feet up on its matching ottoman. Though the iconic modern chair was very comfortable, he still joked it was the closest Maura would ever let him to a recliner. Her home was finally done now, redecorated after many years' residence. Maura had been gently urging Matt to start work on his own house in Lighthouse Point, though he could sell it as a teardown and still make a fortune. Even though at this point Matt and Maura essentially live together, they still deny this fact in many ways small and large; soon enough, that will have to change.
Just a month earlier, Maura discovered she was pregnant again, at fifty. After the initial shock wore off, she decided she was quietly pleased. Though Matt was older than she was by a few months, he'd taken her news excitedly, and now, shopping for baby furniture was more on his mind than remodeling his own house. Now, Maura looked through the Ikea catalogue, poring over the pages Matt had folded the upper corners of to mark the range of cribs, bassinets, and other items m the baby section.
It made Maura smile. She lightly dropped her hands to her still unswollen abdomen and felt the small bump growing there. "Hello, Junebug," she whispered. Soon she knew she'd have to pick a proper name, but as the baby was due in June, her private nickname would suffice until she'd had the amniocentesis that would reveal the infant's gender in addition to answering her fears about this late-in-life baby's health. Carefully, she put her fears away and studied the descriptions of cribs, reminding herself to be thankful for the surprise of the baby's advent.
When the phone rang, it startled Maura and brought an exasperated groan from Matt in the other room. Maura slid from her chair and stepped twice to catch the phone mounted to the kitchen wall. "Hello," she said cautiously.
"Hey girl," Rhett replied. "How's it going?"
Maura was surprised to hear from her ex-husband. Though they were pleasantly separated, they really didn't have anything to talk about anymore except their son. Immediately she thought the worst. "I'm good, Rhett Is everything up there okay? How's Kai?"
"That's what I called you about," Rhett answered, then added rather peevishly, "I'm fine by the way."
"I'm glad to hear it, Rhett," Maura said gently; the niceties had to be observed despite the fact she was now alarmed about Kai. "How's business?"
"Slack," he replied and sighed deeply. "This mortgage crisis going on right now has just about shut down the beach. I got a house going up in Duck, but after that, it looks like it's going to be a hard candy Christmas."
"I'm sorry, baby" Maura said, slipping into her natural role with Rhett. "Things down here are slow as well. We haven't done any subdivision work in ages. It's all in-fill now. We've just won a bid on some sewer rehab in Tamarac, but that's about all we have going on." Maura took a deep breath and chose her words carefully. "What's up with our son?"
Rhett laughed, but Maura could tell his heart wasn't in it. "When was the last time you talked to him?"
"About two weeks ago," Maura answered cautiously. "Why?"
"He didn't say anything to you about coming down, did he?" Rhett asked after a long pause.
"No, not a word. I thought he was coming for a visit at Christmas," Maura told him.
Rhett coughed and Maura pictured him standing by his truck in the parking lot of the Avalon Pier looking out over the waves. She could hear beach noises in the background. Whatever this was about, it was bad enough Rhett had left the cottage he shared with his girlfriend to call her in private. "Maura, he's ... well, there isn't any other way to tell you but flat out."
"Is he alright?" Maura felt as much as heard the note of panic slip into her voice.
"Yeah, I guess. He stopped by my place with his truck packed and his dog in the cab about an hour and a half ago to tell me he was moving back down to be with you." Rhett laughed again, as if in the hope that this would in some way come as good news to Maura.
"What?" Maura pleaded. "Out of the blue? He didn't say anything to me about this."
"Well, it kinda caught me by surprise too, but I figured he'd paint himself into a corner sooner or later the way things have been going," Rhett said evenly.
"How has he painted himself into a corner, Rhett?" Maura asked, forcing herself to speak calmly.
"Well, he never came right out and said anything, but all you had to do is take one look at that boy he's been living with for the past year and you'd know he's been a lot more than a roommate," Rhett said baldly. "There's been a girlfriend in the picture too now for the past few months. Her name's Linda and she works as a home hospice nurse. She got popped last week for stealing heavy duty painkillers from her patients. Evidently she's been doing it for awhile."
"So what's the surprise??" Maura asked. "We know he's always been bisexual, but he usually manages to keep his lovers apart."
"Oh for God's sake, Maura. Use your head. Kai ain't never been scared of a pill. My bet is he was fucking this Linda chick for the fringe benefits," Rhett said easily.
"You're probably right," Maura admitted. Her son had a history of casual drug abuse, though it had never gotten out of control, so far. "You don't think he's got a problem with painkillers, do you, Rhett?"
"Naw," Rhett said dismissively. "He's been working steady and his butt-buddy doesn't have the reputation around here as a druggie. That's more than I can say for some of the other guys Kai hangs out with up here."
"What about his real meds? Is he still taking his real meds?" Maura demanded.
"Girl, it ain't like he's still a kid," Rhett said belligerently. "I don't ask him if he's taking his medicine. That's one thing I can say nice about that boy he's been with, while he was with him, Kai's been on the up and up. Like I said, he's worked steady. God, he's done some beautiful stuff Maura, you should see the cypress paneling he did in ..."
"Is he in any trouble with the law?" Maura demanded.
"Naw, none I imagine. They don't care about who Linda might have been getting high now they have her. My buddy with the sheriff's department says she swears she hasn't been dealing. She was just stealing the stuff for herself. But no bail. She's in bad shape," Rhett told her dismissively.
Maura's mind had moved with rapid speed past this point of the conversation to embrace the fact that Kai was on his way down I-95, quite probably in a full-blown manic episode, heading home to her. "Well, thanks for the heads up Rhett," she managed.
"No problem," her son's daddy told her easily. "Look, Maura, he's probably okay. He wasn't wild-eyed or especially amped. I think things up here just got too tight for him. Robin, that's the boy's name he's been living with, he's the one who's going to be messed up. You could tell he really loves Kai. But you know our kid, he doesn't love anybody more than himself; except maybe you and that dog of his. Anyways, Maura, he's got all his tools with him and he'll find work. He just needs a place to land right now."
"God, I hope you're right, Rhett." Maura sighed.
"Oh I know I'm right. The guy who can work with his hands will always find work," Rhett said proudly.
"That's true," Maura offered as a balm to his pride. Rhett had gone to work banging nails straight out of high school in an effort to support Maura and his first and only child. "What does a good trim carpenter make these days?"
"He can ask for thirty an hour and get it if he's working for himself. Kai's been doing that for two years now. I taught him right," Rhett assured her.
"Well, that's comforting," Maura admitted. "Still, he has to find work. Do you suppose he's coming home stone broke?"
"I don't think so," Rhett told her confidently. "I offered him some money for the road, but he told me he was all right. He would have taken it if he needed it. You know Kai."
"Yes, of course. Hopefully he's got some socked away. I'm not exactly rich," Maura said off-handedly.
"Look sweetheart, I got to go. Give me a call and let me know he got there okay, will ya?"
"How long do you think it'll take him to drive it, Rhett?" Maura asked. She had not driven that far since she'd moved down to Florida when Kai wasn't quite six years old. Twenty-one years later, she only knew it was a hell of a long drive.
"I don't know, maybe eighteen hours or less. He said he was going to drive straight through," Rhett told her gently.
"That means he's off his meds," Maura said hopelessly. "He couldn't drive straight through if he was taking his meds."
"Don't worry about him, Maura," Rhett encouraged her. "He ain't so crazy he can't drive. Probably he'll drive better in fact, if he's all manicky."
Maura laughed. When he was in a manic phase, Kai could go days without sleep.
"That's my girl, go on and laugh. You can handle him and get him straightened out. Look, his boyfriend Robin asked me for your phone number, I gave it to him. I hope that's all right," Rhett admitted.
"Sure," Maura said, eager to connect with someone who loved Kai, someone who lived with him and could give her some clue as to what was going on with her difficult son. Concerned about Kai's tendency to make some pretty poor choices in friends, she asked, "Rhett, this Robin? Is he a good kid?"
"He seems alright enough," Rhett said. "He sells real estate. He looks like he's about sixteen, but he's twenty-four. And, to tell you the truth Maura, he reminds me of you. Blond hair, green eyes, about your height. They say men look for their mothers all their lives, right?"
"Yeah, that's what they say," Maura said, flattered in an odd way.
"Babe, I got to go," Rhett repeated aimlessly and paused. Then, "You know I still love you, don't you?"
Maura glanced over her shoulder toward the living room, suddenly conscious of Matt so close by. "Yeah, I know. And I still love you too, even if you did make the strangest kid in the world with me. We really made one unique child, didn't we?"
Rhett laughed, satisfied that some bonds are only ever loosened, never broken. "You'll call me to let me know he's home safe, all right?" As complicated as his relationship was with his son, he always had genuinely loved him.
"Sure thing," Maura said and sighed. "Take care of yourself, surfer boy."
"You too, surfer girl," Rhett said and thumbed the off-button on his cell phone.
Maura heard him click off and sighed. Rhett's news came at a time when things had been going so well for her. She liked to think Kai finally had his act together. She'd never dreamed he'd pull a stunt like this. Though she would admit to being a free-spirit herself, she liked to think of herself as a practical dreamer. Her extravagances were small and it didn't take a great deal to make her happy. Now fifty, she had lived a life that forced her to consider many things ahead of herself. Finding herself pregnant for the first time, at twenty-two, she had to face hard facts early on and find a way to be happy with her choices. She'd been pretty successful overall, despite the lack of wisdom in her only experience with throwing caution to the winds.
After working her way through college, dutifully treading a path that promised every success, her world had been suddenly bordered by the reality that she would have a child to bring up with a man who was scarcely more than a child himself. It had all started happily enough. Having made good on a childhood dream to live at the beach, which she'd always loved, she'd found a promising job with an engineering firm in Nags Head, North Carolina, fresh out of East Carolina University. She'd also managed to find a year-round rental of a tiny beach cottage built high on pilings within walking distance to the beach. Her parents had reluctantly helped her move her few belongings to the long strip of sand called the Outer Banks, thinking that after a year or two of living in such a deserted lonely stretch of nowhere, she'd come to her senses and move back to Raleigh, Greensboro, or Charlotte, cities big enough to dream large dreams in and make a life that was as promising as they believed their child to be. Maura had impatiently waved them goodbye as they made their way off the beach on toward the four and a half hour drive back to her hometown. She had stood on her empty deck facing east with the sea wind blowing back the carefully blonded streaks of her shoulder length hair from her face. It was Sunday afternoon, and she didn't have to go home. She was home.
May hadn't even turned to June that first spring on the beach when she met Rhett at the gym. She had no way of knowing the flirting eyes of the nineteen-year-old surfer that caught and returned her admiring glances would be replicated in a baby boy's eyes within a year. Rhett and Maura's romance was epic that summer. It stretched itself in the sun and grew all out of proportion to what they thought they were about. When a stolen day in warm October found them naked on a quilt quite out of sight on a dune somewhere north of Rodanthe, Kai was conceived. Thinking back on it again and again in the years to come, a large part of what Maura could recall was how guilty she had felt about calling in sick so she could spend the glorious fall day on the beach with Rhett. There was absolutely no guilt associated with the fact they'd made a baby that day. That part of it was perfectly fine with Maura. In fact, she felt that for her first pregnancy she couldn't have planned it any better if she had given it any thought at all.
By Christmas, she'd known she was pregnant. There was never any discussion of not having the baby. Maura had been raised in a strict Catholic home and what was even more decisive was the fact that she felt what she was doing was right. On the face of it, she had a good job, she had a good-looking stud of a boy-man who seemed utterly delighted by the fact that he was going to be a father, and she had made herself a home on the beach. Maura was happier than she'd ever been in her life.
Maura and Rhett married quietly in the small Catholic church on the beach road in Kill Devil Hills in January. Rhett managed to stay employed all winter building a large house up in Corolla and Maura's office noted she was never even once late from morning sickness, and that she worked dutifully throughout her pregnancy. When she delivered a healthy grey-eyed boy the following July after an unremarkable pregnancy she felt herself blessed. She named him Kai, which meant "sea" in Hawaiian or Japanese—she wasn't really sure which. What she was sure of was the delight she found m the tiny tangible proof of her love for Rhett and her power to make her own way in the world.
It would have been idyllic if reality hadn't set in. Pride and love aside, it was too difficult to make a twenty-year-old man out of Rhett and Maura found that being the strong one, the one who made rent and put groceries on the table consistently, to be overwhelming. She still loved Rhett, but when Kai wasn't quite three Maura finally decided it would be better to let Rhett find his own way toward becoming a man. She managed to make it two more years on the beach with Rhett walking in and out of her and Kai's lives with all the fondness of a lover and a brother and assuming no more responsibility for either of them than a casual friend.
Just before Kai turned six, a happy set of coincidences led to Maura being offered a job in Fort Lauderdale with a much bigger salary and much better prospects to grow with the firm. She took stock of her options, her meager savings and the promise of some help from her parents, and decided to make the move off the beach and on toward a better life for her and her son. The love she still felt for Rhett was as familiar and real as he was often absent. The thought of trading their tenuous yet resilient relationship for nothing held her back but she had to face facts. She packed what she had in a rented U-Haul truck driven by her brother and shot-gunned by her father. She put Kai and their yellow lab Buddy in her car and guided the little caravan of her life south on I-95.
Excerpted from The Boomerang Kid by Jay Quinn. Copyright © 2008 Jay Quinn. Excerpted by permission of OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIA.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Posted February 4, 2009
Jay Quinn has written some of my most favorite gay novels. TBK should be renamed The Cigarette Kid. I would have loved to do a word count for the word: Cigarette. The story had such great potential, yet it missed the boat. I didn't find a novel about smoking interesting. Where was the proof reader? Probably out smoking. Full of editing errors and again too many cigarettes. Order a copy of The Beloved Son and leave TBK on the shelf. The Good Neighbor was also a very enjoyable read.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.