Title: Kevin Corrigan and Me
Author: Jere’ M. Fishback
Publisher: NineStar Press
Release Date: June 19
Heat Level: 2 – Fade to Black Sex
Genre: Contemporary and Historical, YA Literature, Historical, memoir fiction, non-explicit, Gay, Bi, Cisgender, coming-of-age, friends to lovers, homophobia, in the closet, coming out, athlete
Ever since their boyhood days, fifteen-year-old Jesse has craved something more than friendship from Kevin Corrigan. Athletic, handsome and cocky, Kevin doesn’t seem approachable. But when Kevin spends a summer at Jesse’s family’s beach home, an affair ignites between them, one so intense it engulfs both boys in a emotional tug of war neither wants to give up on.
Kevin Corrigan and Me
Jere’ M. Fishback © 2017
All Rights Reserved
Kevin Corrigan died two days ago, on a Thursday, at the age of sixty-five. I know this only because I saw his obituary in this morning’s Tampa Bay Times. The obit provided limited information: date of birth, date of death, and Kevin’s place of residence, Madeira Beach. It also said Kevin had no known survivors, but that isn’t really true because I’m still alive and I am very much Kevin’s survivor.
My name is Jesse Lockhart. I grew up in the Jungle area of west St. Petersburg, Florida, in a cinder-block home with a fireplace, casement windows, a weed-and-dirt yard, no air-conditioning, and an ineffective furnace. My parents divorced when I was six years old and my father disappeared shortly after that, so he wasn’t a factor in my life. I lived with my mother and younger sister, Lisa.
Kevin was an only child who lived next door to me with his Boston Irish parents. He was a year older than me, and between my parents’ divorce and the time I reached the age of eleven, Kevin became my primary masculine influence.
I worshipped him.
Always half a head taller than me, Kevin was lanky, with curly blond hair and a riot of freckles dancing across his turned-up nose. His blue eyes twinkled, and he was athletic in a way I would never be. He had a cocky attitude; he wasn’t intimidated by anything or anybody, not snarling dogs, rattlesnakes, teenagers, or any type of authority figure: cops, umpires, or the nuns that taught at his Catholic primary school.
Okay, he wasn’t the sharpest when it came to his schoolwork. I was mostly a straight-A student while Kevin scraped by with Cs, and every time report cards issued, his mom compared mine to his. Then she’d say to Kevin, “Why can’t you be more like Jesse?”
But Kevin wasn’t meant for school and textbooks; he wasn’t designed to perform academic tasks. His world was the palmetto and pine forest near our homes, the baseball diamonds in our part of town, a tree house he built for himself, and the streets and alleys of our suburban neighborhood.
It seems hard for me to believe now, but when I was eight and Kevin nine, he and I often rode a city bus, unaccompanied by an adult, from the Jungle all the way to downtown St. Petersburg, a ten-mile journey, just to see a matinee at the Florida Theater. Afterward, we’d visit a magic shop called Sone’s, a quirky place run by a Japanese couple where we bought stupid things to bring home: fake plastic puke, a whoopee cushion, and cigarette loads I snuck into my mom’s Viceroys; they exploded with a bang shortly after she lit up. Once we bought a tin of itching powder, which I think was simply shredded fiberglass, and then on the bus ride home, Kevin surreptitiously sprinkled some of the powder down the backs of two women’s sundresses, causing the women to writhe and scratch while we giggled and jabbed each other in the ribs.
Kevin’s home life was a mess. His father, Colonel Frank Corrigan, was a wheelchair-bound WWII veteran who’d sustained spinal damage in the Pacific theater. He was in constant pain, and this caused him to be cranky and out of sorts. He puffed on Hav-A-Tampa cigars jammed into a holder he’d fashioned from a coat hanger because his fingers didn’t work very well. He drove a black Cadillac with the accelerator and brakes operated by calipers attached to the steering wheel. He was always yelling at Kevin for one thing or another in a barking tone I could hear a block away. His favorite epithet was, “I’m gonna kill that kid, Margaret.”
Margaret was Kevin’s mother, the Corrigan household martyr who endured Kevin’s mischievous behavior and her husband’s unceasing demands. A bulky woman with auburn hair and a narrow, thin-lipped mouth, she bathed the Colonel, helped him in and out of bed, got him dressed, and cooked the family meals. She washed clothes in an old-fashioned ringer-style washtub, then hung them to dry on a clothesline in the Corrigans’ backyard. She always seemed tired and dispirited to me. I rarely heard her laugh, and I often wondered whether the Colonel and Margaret had once enjoyed a happy marriage, back when the Colonel was healthy and Kevin wasn’t part of their lives.
The Corrigans’ social life revolved around the Madeira Beach Moose Lodge, the VFW, and St. Jude Catholic Church. Every Sunday they piled into their Cadillac to attend Mass with the Colonel’s wheelchair loaded into the trunk by his wife. Once I went with them; I was curious to see how a Catholic service might differ from those at my Methodist church. Much to my surprise, the St. Jude Mass was conducted in Latin; I couldn’t understand a word the priest said. Money was collected from parishioners through use of a metal basket attached to a telescoping aluminum pole operated by an usher. The day I was there, Kevin pretended to put money in the basket, but instead he stole a dollar when his folks weren’t watching, then stuffed it into his pocket after giving me a wink. I felt appalled by his behavior, but of course I didn’t snitch; I wouldn’t have dreamt of it.
Kevin was a natural athlete; he could play any sport—baseball, basketball, or football—with agility and grace. But he couldn’t get along with other players; he constantly got into scraps with members of opposing teams, or even with his own teammates. He had a way of needling guys with sarcastic remarks about their lack of athletic prowess or even their looks. (“Is that your nose or are you eating a banana?”) In fact, he seemed incapable of forming true friendships with anyone other than me.
For reasons I didn’t understand at the time, Kevin was drawn to me just as I was drawn to him. He never teased or threatened or taunted me like he did other boys in the neighborhood. He never called me an insulting nickname. I was by nature a gentle boy who lacked self-confidence in the masculine world, so I never tried emulating Kevin’s miscreant behaviors on my own, but I loved serving as his sidekick and sycophant. I relished my role as abettor.
Many of our neighbors had citrus trees in their backyards: oranges, tangerines, and grapefruits. One night, at Kevin’s suggestion, we snuck into the neighbors’ properties to fill two paper grocery sacks full of grapefruits larger than softballs. Across the street from my house, a huge live oak grew in the right-of-way. One of the oak’s limbs stretched across the road like an arm reaching for a box of crackers in the cupboard. Toting our sacks of grapefruits, Kevin and I scaled the tree and perched ourselves on the limb overlooking the road. When a car passed beneath us, Kevin or I dropped a grapefruit on the car’s windshield, which always scared the bejeezus out of the car’s occupants. Women screamed and brakes squealed. Men cursed. But of course no one could see us up there in the darkness.
Every Halloween Kevin and I dressed as hobos. We scavenged the neighborhood, collecting candy in our pillowcases while pulling the occasional prank. My favorite was one where Kevin scooped up a pile of dog turds using a Sabal palm boot as a shovel. He dropped the turds on someone’s doorstep, soaked them in lighter fluid, and set them on fire. Then he rang the unsuspecting homeowner’s doorbell. The result, of course, was never in doubt. The surprised resident stomped the fire out with his shoe, only to belatedly discover what sort of material flamed. Kevin and I hid in a nearby bush, watching and chuckling so hard I think I might have peed in my pants.
Kevin liked to spy on people at night, on weekends or during summers when we could stay out until nine or ten. We peeped on women undressing, on an old guy who picked his nose and ate the boogers, on a pair of men who slow-danced together in their underwear to Johnny Mathis records, on a high school boy who often pleasured himself while leafing through a girlie magazine. I, of course, had never seen such things before. Kevin’s spying opened up a whole new world for me, one I knew I would never discuss with my mom or sister or anyone else. How could I possibly?
I remember one summer when the Colonel traded in his Cadillac for a two-toned, cinnamon-and-cream Rambler station wagon. The Corrigans took a month-long cross-country trip in the Rambler, all the way to California, where Kevin sent me a postcard from Disneyland. He sent me another from the Alamo in San Antonio. Both were places I’d always dreamed of visiting, but figured I’d never see. That was a miserable month for me. I felt jealous of Kevin’s travels and as lonely as I’d ever been in my young life. I think I was nine then. Of course there were other boys in the neighborhood and I did my best to pass the time with them, but it wasn’t the same as being with Kevin. I longed for the day the Corrigans would return.
The Corrigans’ house stood north of ours. Kevin’s bedroom was at the southwest corner, while my bedroom was at the northwest corner of our house, so Kevin and I always slept about twenty feet apart. If we’d wanted to, we could have tossed a football back and forth between our bedroom windows. But I never spent the night with Kevin and he never spent the night with me because Kevin was a chronic bed-wetter. His mother kept a fitted rubber sheet on his mattress at all times, and this went on for as long as Kevin lived next door. I didn’t know anything about the reasons behind bed-wetting, but even then I suspected it was caused by emotional distress of one sort or another, probably linked to his poor school grades, his father’s withering tirades, and the Colonel’s very obvious disability that surely must have embarrassed Kevin. But I always kept his bed-wetting problem to myself; I never even mentioned it to my mother or sister. I figured I owed it to Kevin to keep his habit a secret from the rest of the world.
When Kevin and I were boys, Catholics were not supposed to eat meat of any sort on Fridays: no beef, chicken, or pork. So every Friday Mrs. Corrigan prepared a dinner featuring Mrs. Paul’s fish sticks. These were tasteless little rectangles of processed and frozen cod you heated up on a cookie sheet, and Kevin detested them.
“They taste like cardboard,” he told me, “even when I cover them with tartar sauce.”
At our house, my mom prepared a fried chicken dinner every Friday—the tasty meal was a ritual—and every Friday Kevin would sneak over to our house to dine on fried chicken, unbeknownst to his parents. Of course, my mom knew what was up, but she never told Kevin’s parents he violated God’s law every Friday night. She let him gnaw on wings and legs with abandon because Mom was that way. Within reason, she believed in giving kids the freedom to do whatever they chose.
The summer before my sixth-grade year, I was nearly eleven and Kevin was already twelve. He was almost as tall as my mom at that point—he’d put some muscle onto his frame as well—and I remember very clearly an incident involving Kevin, a truly cathartic experience for me. I had just finished my breakfast and brushed my teeth, and I walked over to the Corrigans’ house to see what Kevin was up to. Their garage door was open, and I heard someone rattling about inside, so I walked into the garage’s shadowy interior where I found Kevin rummaging through the contents of a cardboard box. He wore nothing but a flimsy pair of briefs that clung to his buttocks and displayed a randy bulge in front.
Kevin might as well have been naked.
Right away my mouth grew sticky and my knees wobbled. I lived with two females—I had never seen another boy in his underwear—and the sight of Kevin’s lean physique captivated me in a strange way I hadn’t felt before. There in the garage, I thought Kevin was the most beautiful thing I’d ever seen. I felt so stunned I couldn’t speak. I just clenched and unclenched my fingers at my hips while I kept my gaze focused on Kevin.
When he finally noticed me standing there, Kevin gazed at me with his eyes narrowed and his forehead crinkled, as if to say, “What are you looking at?”
It was then, of course, I realized something about myself that I’d never before suspected: I felt a physical attraction to Kevin; I wanted to touch him in ways that weren’t allowed in the world we dwelt in, and the realization that I harbored these urges frightened me out of my wits. I didn’t know what to do or say, so I turned on my heel and ran back to my house as quickly as I could. I went to my room and closed the door behind me. Then, after I sat on my bed, I rocked back and forth while wagging my knees and cracking my knuckles. My stomach roiled and my heart thumped. Between my legs, I felt a stiffening as I recalled exactly what I’d seen in the Corrigans’ garage. My viewing of an almost nude Kevin had seared his sex appeal into my brain, and I was never quite the same guy after that morning. There in my bedroom, I knew I was somehow different than other boys, and though I couldn’t yet articulate how I was different, I was certainly on my way to finding out. Neither Kevin nor I ever mentioned the incident in the garage after it happened. In fact I suspect Kevin had no idea what it had meant to me or how that moment had altered my view of myself.
But I knew.
DAYS AFTER MY ninth-grade school year ended—it was the last summer I didn’t work full-time—Kevin’s mom phoned mine to ask a favor. Mrs. Corrigan was scheduled for heavy-duty surgery requiring ten weeks of convalescence. She would place the Colonel in a nursing home during that period, but she didn’t know what to do with Kevin. Was it possible Kevin could live with us? If so, Kevin’s mom said, the Corrigans would give my mom a check to cover the extra food and incidentals Kevin would consume during his stay.
When Mom raised the question with me, I wasn’t sure what to say. My first thought was, I wonder if he’s still a bed-wetter, but that wasn’t my main concern. I didn’t really know Kevin any longer. What was he like now? If I said yes, then I’d share my bedroom with Kevin and likely spend every day with him during his ten-week stay. What if we didn’t get along?
Despite the abrupt ending of our friendship and Kevin’s lack of communication over the past three years, I still felt a sense of loyalty to him. If I said no, I would hurt his feelings. And I wanted to help Mrs. Corrigan with her dilemma. She’d always been kind to me. Shouldn’t I do something to help her?
So I told my mom, “Sure, it’s fine. Kevin can share my room with me,” and a week later, Kevin arrived with his things: clothes, shoes, a fishing rod, and a tackle box. Mrs. Corrigan brought Kevin to our house in the Rambler station wagon, which wasn’t quite as shiny as it had been when they’d driven it to California. She looked pale and she’d lost a good deal of weight since I’d last seen her.
Kevin had changed as well. In fact, he didn’t look the same at all, save for his wavy blond hair, twinkly blue eyes, and freckled nose. When he exited the Rambler, my heart skipped a beat. He was taller than his mother now. His shoulders were broad, his limbs sinewy. His calves and the tops of his feet were dusted with golden fuzz, and his voice had a rasp to it when he greeted my mom, my sister, and me with a smile that showed off his big teeth. His cheekbones were craggy, his chin square, and I immediately knew that the boy who’d shared life with me in the Jungle was gone. Kevin was well on his way toward manhood.
When he greeted me, we didn’t shake hands. Instead Kevin hugged me and mussed my hair, and for the first time that summer, I smelled his skin. His body odor reminded me of the scent of wet pine needles. I, of course, hugged Kevin back. I threw my arms around his slender waist and squeezed.
Right there, in our sandy front yard, with the Rambler’s engine ticking and afternoon sunlight reflecting off the car’s chrome bumpers, all the distance between me and Kevin and all the resentment I’d felt toward him since he’d moved from the Jungle disappeared like a puff of smoke from a campfire. Kevin was there, holding me. I was holding him and everything was okay.
After the hug, Kevin looked me up and down. Then he said, “What’ve you been eating? You’re as tall as me now.”
During my ninth-grade year, I’d shot up nearly four inches. Now I was three inches shy of six feet, and I’d put a bit of muscle onto my frame as well. Light brown hair grew on my calves and other places, and peach fuzz dusted my upper lip. I was on my way to manhood too.
Mrs. Corrigan wagged a finger at Kevin while warning him of dire consequences should he misbehave in the coming weeks. Then she drove away with her muffler growling. I helped Kevin take his belongings to my room, all except the fishing pole and tackle box. Those went into our garage. Kevin stored his socks and underwear in a bureau drawer I’d cleared out for him; the rest of his clothes, along with his shoes, went into my closet. After I told him which bed was his, he sat on it with his forearms resting on his knees and his hands hanging.
“So,” he said while his gaze traveled about the room, “what’s a guy do for fun around here?”
I explained about the beach, fishing at the bridge, pool-hopping at Treasure Island’s multitude of motels, and a mini-golf course within walking distance. “And there’s a pinball machine at the Surf Motel,” I added. “The cabana boy showed me how to play it for free by sticking the end of a coat hanger in the coin slot; it works every time.”
“Any chicks in the neighborhood?” Kevin asked.
My mood plunged at his question, and I didn’t know how to answer him because girls didn’t interest me. “Maybe one or two,” I answered, “but I don’t know them.”
Kevin nodded. Then he asked, “Do we have time to visit the beach before dinner?”
I glanced at the clock on top of my bureau. “Sure, ’cause we won’t eat till six thirty.”
I closed the bedroom door, and Kevin and I changed into our swim trunks. After three years of showering with my classmates in PE, I’d lost all sense of modesty and I guess Kevin had as well, since neither of us seemed uncomfortable about getting naked in front of the other guy. I’ll admit I stole a few glances at Kevin’s private areas when he dropped his briefs to his ankles, and what I saw made my mouth grow sticky. The thought we’d sleep in the same room for ten weeks had my pulse racing.
As always, the cries of seabirds and the Gulf’s briny scent stirred my senses when we strolled toward the shore with our bare feet squeaking in the powdery sand. Overhead, the sun burned like a yellow coin in a cloudless sky. We both waded into the Gulf’s warm and placid water till we were up to our waists in liquid, and then Kevin pointed westward to a sandbar that had risen above the waterline, about a quarter-mile out.
“Is that always there?” he asked.
I nodded. “It’s up several hours at a time, whenever the tide’s low.”
“Let’s pay a visit,” Kevin said, and then we swam out there, both of us doing our personal versions of the front crawl. The water we swam in wasn’t deep at all; we could have walked to the sandbar with our heads above water if we’d wanted to. But at our ages, we had boundless energy and preferred to swim. I wasn’t even tired when we reached the sandbar, the crest of which was maybe two feet above the water surrounding it. When we crossed to the west side of the sandbar, Kevin whistled. Then he pointed to a wave maybe three feet high, rolling toward the bar. The wave’s face was glassy and sunlight glistened in its curling lip.
“Do you get that kind of wave out here often?” he asked.
I bobbed my chin while I ran my fingers through my damp hair. “It’s like a machine pumps them out. Sometimes I come out here to body surf. You can do it for hours if you want.”
“Ever ride a surfboard?” Kevin asked.
I shook my head.
Kevin rubbed his chin with a knuckle while he kept his gaze fixed on another incoming wave, this one identical to the last. “I have a board at home, a Gordon & Smith. Think your mom would take us to my place so we could bring it here?”
“Sure,” I said. “She wouldn’t mind.”
Kevin turned his gaze to me. Then he looked me over from my forehead to my feet, as though I were an item he pondered buying in a store. “I can teach you to ride,” he said. “It’s not easy—it takes practice—but you’re built like a surfer. You’ll pick it up fast, I think.”
I felt heat in my cheeks when Kevin’s gaze traveled over me a second time. Then I swung my gaze to the Gulf. I tried to imagine myself gliding across the face of a wave like the surfers in California I’d seen on TV. Could I possibly do it?
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Meet the Author
Jere’ M. Fishback is a former journalist and trial lawyer who now writes fiction full time. He lives with his partner Greg on a barrier island on Florida’s Gulf Coast. When he’s not writing, Jere’ enjoys reading, playing his guitar, jogging, swimming laps, fishing, and watching sunsets from his deck overlooking the Intracoastal Waterway.
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