A good game if you care who's playing
Emory and Crandon smoke cigarettes and drink beer on the new deck of Crandon's beach house. A quarter moon slices the bay of Pawley's Island. Crandon grilled tuna steaks here on the patio, and Emory can still smell the sweet mesquite smoke lingering in his clothes. He inhales the salty breeze not strong enough to mask the marsh air. Emory holds these odors, and the memories they draw from the still night, deep inside. He separates the images into individual compartments, like he still does with his food on his plate before eating.
Emory remembers the taste of Crandon's smoky mouth. The relationship had ended over love, Crandon said once in a desperate letter replying to an unsigned postcard from Aspen that said only "Why did we leave each other?"
Crandon said over love.
Emory never responded.
Crandon is still beautiful, but Emory realizes he never loved him. Emory liked him; he still likes him, and he has missed him. Crandon is ruddy, boyish, but thicker, with a young husband's belly. Crandon wears a red corduroy button-down over a South Carolina sweatshirt. Short brown hair sticks out the back of his cap; one leg of khaki pants is caught above a gray sock in a tan hiking boot. Crandon's legs are propped up on the rail of the deck Emory remembers sunbathing on. But it wasn't this deck; it was the first one. Emory remembers rubbing lotion into warm tanned skin. Soft, hairless, boy skin. He remembers sex. Summer daylight sex on the sailboat. On the deck sex. On the dock sex at midnight. Sex in the water. Sex in the old bedroom -- their old bedroom; now it is rebuilt, and Crandon shares it with Scott when they come to the island.
Scott comes to the glass door, and looks out to see what they are doing: just sitting, smoking. It doesn't look they're talking. He slides the door open.
"Miami scored again," he says. "It's 42-21."
"Sorry, hon," Crandon says. "Damn Hurricanes."
They all went to college together, but Scott is the loyal fan.
"Go 'Cocks," Emory adds.
"Come sit with us?" Crandon offers. "It's a beautiful night."
Scott declines. It's only a commercial break, but he'd like to fetch something.
Crandon thanks him but says no. "We don't need anything."
Emory says, "We're perfect."
Scott turns and closes the door behind him, but Emory's words follow Scott inside and catch his breath. He counts to ten before he opens a new beer, exhales and sits on the couch in front of the television. Whether he watches the football game or not, the match will still be played and the newspapers will carry the story in morning, But Scott will not fight for Crandon's attention. South Carolina receives the kick and scrambles to its thirty-yard line before being crumbled by the Hurricanes. Scott glances out to the deck and sees his own reflection between Emory and Crandon through the sliding glass. A black Levi's jacket is slung over the black shoulder of Emory's sweater. His jeans are dyed dark and pulled over his Doc Martens.
Scott had imagined Emory in Abercrombie & Fitch. When he saw Emory's continentally acquired wardrobe, Scott smiled; but he knew Emory was still a threat. Emory had handed Scott the black jacket and kissed the air near Scott's cheek when he arrived that afternoon. "I'm in mourning," he said. "Where's Crandon?"
Scott hears windchimes, but he can't hear what Crandon and Emory are saying. Emory shivers and pulls on the jacket. Emory's late arrival puts him in the fourth bedroom, where they have been having trouble with the heat. Scott returns his attention to the football game.
Emory stares past Crandon to the lot next door. Sea oats grow from the sand-covered foundation and the wind rattles them. "How many houses went down in Hugo?"
"Thirty-six," Crandon replies. "All but one on this block."
"And how many people have rebuilt?"
"About half so far. I'm sure the rest will rebuild this spring."
"You did a great job. This house is amazing."
"Thanks, yeah, it's bigger. Four bedrooms now. Scott helped a lot with the design. We were real lucky this year."
"And Scott said you used some of the original wood?"
"We did. We found part of the roof across the bay. We used some of it in the bedroom."
"Nostalgic," Emory says.
The island feels deserted. The other weekend houseguests have driven back to the mainland to go dancing in Myrtle Beach. Emory should have joined them, he thinks. But he doesn't want to see any more old friends. He enjoys being here with Crandon. Crandon is why he came back. To Emory, it feels as he, Crandon and Scott are the only ones on the island. He looks inside. Scott leans forward on the couch, watching choreographed violence on television, sipping his beer between plays.
"What do you want to do?" Emory asks.
"I don't care. What do you want to do?"
Emory raises his eyebrows.
The moonlight catches the scar on the right side of Emory's face when he smiles. Crandon wants to reach over and touch it, but he stops himself. "Want to walk down the beach?" he asks.
Just then they hear a car drive by.
"We're not alone," Emory says.
Crandon goes inside the house and tells Scott he is going for a walk with Emory. Emory watches from the deck. He knows Scott doesn't like him being here. Emory knows Scott doesn't like him anymore period. Emory stands and turns and leans over the rail. It has been three years since he has seen them. Scott was Emory's fraternity brother at USC.
Emory had been in Spain for a year. He was surprised to be invited to the beach house, the first Boys Weekend since Hurricane Hugo.
"Time to put away grudges," Crandon had said over the telephone.
"Your idea or his?" Emory had asked.
"Doesn't matter," Crandon said, "but mine."
Crandon returns with two new beers. "I brought you a pair of gloves."
"No, my gloves. Are both of you going to act like children?"
Emory ignores this; he doesn't like being compared to Scott. He takes the gloves and one of the beers. They walk down the steps to the beach.
"How much time do we have?" Emory asks.
"For our walk?"
"Yeah. Before you have to be back."
"How much time left in the game?"
"It's third quarter. Maybe forty minutes."
"What's the score?"
"SC kicked a field goal. We're down by eighteen."
Emory wants to reach over and grab Crandon's cock. They played a game in college where whenever the Gamecocks scored, Emory would give Crandon head for one minute for every point. A field goal meant three minutes.
Neither of them watch football much anymore.
They turn right when they reach the water and follow the shore.
Crandon points out the new houses as they walk down the beach, the lots where he knows people are rebuilding, other lots that are for sale. Emory thinks about buying one of them, and building on the island, but he promised not to ever move back to the South. "I'd like to have a house out here," Emory says, playing along.
"I'd like to."
They think about that. The tide is moving in, and a broken wave rushes over Emory's left boot. It draws back to the sea, pulling the sand from beneath his feet and leaving his boot wet, shining like patent leather.
"So how did you talk him into inviting me anyway?"
"I said I wanted you to come. I said it'd been too long since we'd all seen each other."
"And he didn't put up a fight?"
"Of course he did. But I said, 'It's my beachhouse and I'll invite who I want.'"
"And he let you?"
"He didn't want to stay in Charleston."
"Well, it's not like we're going to start dating again or anything."
"Scott hates you."
"He hates me? Why does he hate me?"
"Because I told him I loved you."
Emory stops walking; he pulls Crandon to face him. They are beyond the houses now. There is only Crandon, Emory, the sand, the moon, water, stars, and scrub-oaks.
"Why did you tell him that?"
"Because." Crandon reaches out and touches the scar on Emory's cheek. "I do love you," he says.
"But you love Scott, too. You told him that?"
"Scott knows I love him. But he knows it's different with you."
Emory and Crandon kiss. They kiss again and once again for the first time since the storm. Standing beneath the moon, now directly above them, Emory and Crandon kiss. Crandon hears the wind in the sea oats. Emory hears the water lapping at the sand. Emory and Crandon kiss, and Emory tastes again the smoky mouth; he remembers the smooth skin as he reaches his hand up Crandon's sweatshirt; he remembers Scott in front of the TV.
Emory breaks the kiss and pulls away. "I'd like to do more than kiss you," he says.
Crandon steps toward him.
Emory backs up, leaving perfect imprints of his boots in the sand. "What about Scott?"
"He's on his way back to Charleston."
"To Charleston? Why is --
"I told him to go," Crandon says.
"Why the hell did you do that?"
"He didn't want me to walk down the beach with you. He didn't want me out of his sight with you. He said if we went walking on the beach he would leave."
Emory steps back into his footprints.
"I turned off the TV, handed him my keys, and said, 'Leave.'"
"What about the game?"
"He knew how it was going to end."
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