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    Parker Owens
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Stories posted in this category are works of fiction. Names, places, characters, events, and incidents are created by the authors' imaginations or are used fictitiously. Any resemblances to actual persons (living or dead), organizations, companies, events, or locales are entirely coincidental.
Note: While authors are asked to place warnings on their stories for some moderated content, everyone has different thresholds, and it is your responsibility as a reader to avoid stories or stop reading if something bothers you. 

Double Concerto - 24. Barcarolle

Chapter Forecast: clear and sunny. Probability of Rita is zero percent; no Heinrich on the horizon.
“You what?” Rick couldn’t believe what he was hearing. “Please tell me you’re making this up.”

Gus smirked at him from the passenger seat of his old pickup truck, the trees along the highway whizzing past in the early morning light.

“Sorry, Rick. It’s true. I hate to disappoint you.”

“I can’t believe I bought you coffee and Danish. I even let you in my truck.”

“You want to turn around?”

The truck hit a rough spot in the pavement; conversation was briefly interrupted by the sounds of fishing rods, tackle, and other equipment shifting around in the back.

“No. Of course not. But the Yankees? Really? You follow the Evil Empire?” Rick sounded pained.

Gus shrugged. “My boyfriend took me to a couple of games when I was at Juilliard in New York.”

“You could at least be a Cubs fan. I’m not sure I can forgive this boyfriend of yours.”

“Ex-boyfriend.”

“Yeah. Ex-boyfriend.” That thought made Rick smile again. Maybe they weren’t dating or anything, but for this bright, beautiful Saturday, Gus and he were together. He still had a hard time believing that this impossibly exotic and beautiful man was riding in his truck.

He glanced to the right. Gus, dressed in khaki shorts and one of the thin, white, short-sleeved shirts he seemed to favor, sipped coffee from a plastic covered cup.

“So who do you follow, if not the Cubs?”

Rick wrinkled his nose. “The Brewers, of course.”

“And the reason would be …?”

“Just because. It’s what you do up here.”

The truck slowed briefly to take a sharp curve.

“Who else could I root for?” Rick continued. “The Twins? The Tigers?”

“How about the Cardinals?”

Rick took a deep breath. “I’m going to forget you asked that question.”

“Aha. The Brewers, by default?”

“Yup.”

“How many World Series have they won?” Gus prodded.

Rick changed the subject to avoid the answer. It was too embarrassing. “I can’t believe a cultured artist like you would be a baseball fan, let alone a Yankees man.”

“Why is that?”

“Well. It’s just that, um … I wouldn’t think someone like you would get into sports.”

Gus laughed. “Oh, man, Rick, what a stereotype. You hear that? Someone like me? Next thing you’ll tell me is that a big strapping plumber can’t possibly be gay.”

“Ouch.” Rick made a face. “Okay, okay, you win. You got me fair and square.”

“You shouldn’t be so surprised. Elgar and Shostakovich were rabid soccer fans.”

“Who?”

“Elgar was an English composer, late nineteenth century. Shostakovich was a Russian composer later on, died in the mid nineteen seventies, I think. And he actually refereed soccer matches, and then invited the teams back to his apartment for piano music.”

“Wow. Hope the neighbors didn’t mind.”

“Juan Diego Florez – you’ve heard of him?”

Rick shook his head.

“Incredibly famous opera singer. He sang for the Peruvian team at the 2018 World Cup.”

“That’s a position on the team? Singer?”

“No, he sang to inspire them. Florez is a big fan. He’s originally from Peru.”

“I figured that.”

“And Itzhak Perlman, the violinist, is a huge Mets fan.” Gus continued.

“He is …?”

“One of the most talented violinists in the world.”

“And a Mets fan. Poor guy.”

Gus laughed. “You can’t help the teams you like. Or the music.”

“So I get that your boyfriend –”

“Ex-boyfriend –”

“— got you interested, but why did you stay interested? And with the Yankees?”

Gus shrugged and raised a hand, palm up. “It’s a pleasant diversion, especially if I’m in some hotel in a strange city over a performance weekend. If there’s cable or wi-fi I can find a Yankees game, live or rebroadcast, almost anyplace. I can just let my mind wander over the game, and zone out. It’s strangely calming.”

Now it was Rick’s turn to chuckle. “My father didn’t feel it was calming. He always cussed out the radio or the TV when a game was on.”

There was a lull in the conversation.

“Your father and mother – you got them to the airport all right?” Gus inquired.

“Yup. No problem. I actually took them to a hotel. They were doing an overnight so they could catch an early flight out.”

“I see. That makes sense.”

“They insisted on going to dinner once they were checked in.”

“That must have been nice.”

Rick rolled his eyes. “You’ve never had to sit with my father in a restaurant. He went on and on about how Eagle Lake is standing in the gateway to prosperity, and giving me all this free advice on grabbing onto opportunity with both hands.”

“I guess you didn’t lack for dinner table conversation.”

“I didn’t have to say much of anything. Dad got started while checking out the early bird specials and didn’t let me or Trudy get a word in edgewise until dessert.”

“Trudy?”

“That’s my stepmother. Anyway, I just wanted to get back on the road for the four-hour drive home to Eagle Lake.”

“But you got back all right.” Gus smiled.

“Yup, just before midnight.”

“Remind me where we’re going this morning?”

“Butternut Lake. It’s a little more than an hour from Eagle Lake. We aren’t far now.”

“I just thought we’d go out on the lake by Cedarcrest.”

“We could have. But then we’d be dealing with a ton of vacationers on their Jet Skis and motorboats, not to mention all the other fishermen out there on a nice day.”

“So this place is some kind of wilderness? I mean, more than Eagle Lake already is?”

“Well, I wouldn’t call it a wilderness. But it’s off the beaten track, that’s for sure. There won’t be many other boats on the water even on a day like today.”

“Maybe even have the lake to ourselves, so I can steal a kiss.”

Rick smiled, even as he felt his face flush. He glanced to his right. “I’d like that.”

“Me too.”

A few miles further on, Rick announced: “Here’s the turn.”

The old truck rattled onto a gravel and dirt lane. There’d only been a tiny white marker to indicate the access road. They hurtled along the uneven surface in dense shadow from thick spruces and birches growing lush and tall on either side.

“Where’s the lake?” Gus asked after a few minutes.

“Maybe a mile or so further on.” Rick had to raise his voice over the sounds of the road and banging in the bed of the pickup.

He swung the vehicle around a sharp bend in the road. Occasionally, dappled patches of light showed where the sun leaked through the trees. He slowed a moment at a fork in the road, then bore off to the left. The track seemed to narrow, though it appeared well used.

“Who lives on this street?” Gus asked. “I’d hate to meet some other car going the other way.”

“There’s a couple of fishing and summer cottages back there,” Rick gestured with his head, keeping both hands on the wheel. “I don’t remember if there are any more up ahead. But it’s all seasonal. Nobody’s here in the winter.”

“I think I’m a long way from Chicago.”

“Is that bad?” Rick teased.

Gus rolled down the window. He rested his right arm on the door frame, his elbow out in the open. The air smelled of woods and sunlight. He closed his eyes and inhaled. “As long as you’re here, no.”

The words made Rick’s grin split his face from ear to ear.

An abrupt turn to the right and a downhill pitch indicated the water was close. The trees receded to reveal a boat ramp, a parking area, and beyond that, a broad expanse of sparkling water. The pines and poplars on the far shore seemed very small.

There weren’t any other vehicles in the lot.

“This looks beautiful.” Gus breathed.

Rick smiled as he parked the truck. “Ready to go fishing?”

“Absolutely.”

“Leave anything nonessential in the truck.” Rick instructed, unbuckling his seatbelt. “I usually lock my wallet and phone in the truck and put my keys on a lanyard attached to a belt loop.” He lifted the untucked tail of his checked shirt and pointed.

“Oh. Okay. I didn’t bring any keys.”

“I’m going to swap out my shoes for flip flops.”

Gus frowned. “I just have these sneakers.”

“If you don’t mind going barefoot, that’s okay. We’ll be careful of hooks and tackle.”

“I’m going to trust you.”

Rick seemed to glow as he moved around to the truck’s side and started undoing the tie-downs that held the bright red canoe to the boat rack.

“This isn’t the boat you paddle over to Cedarcrest.” Gus commented.

“No, I take a different canoe for trips away from home. The other one weighs a ton.”

“Can I help?”

“Nope, no need. If you look in my green boat bag, you’ll find some bug spray. You might want some of that.”

Gus found the sack and rummaged for a moment. “Do they get bad here?”

“Earlier in the summer and spring, the mosquitoes can get pretty fierce. They mellow out some as summer goes on.”

The darker man made a few tentative sprays on his arm.

Rick stepped over. “Here, can I?” He sprayed some of the repellant into his hand, then spread it down Gus’ uninjured left arm. Another spritz, and he applied more to Gus’ neck and face. What started as a businesslike movement ended in something very like a caress.

Dark eyes smiled up at Rick. “Do I get to do you?”

He nodded, eyes widening. “Yes, please.”

Gus knelt and copied Rick, cupping his good hand to pool some of the spray in his palm, then applying repellent to the taller man’s arms, neck, and face. He knelt to apply it to one leg, then the next, making sure to cover every inch of exposed skin near the hem of Rick’s shorts. He stood again, an impish smile showing.

As if on impulse, Rick put a hand on Gus’ head and pulled him in for a kiss. With a surprised and pleased sound, the shorter man responded, wrapping arms around him. Fine black hair felt like silk in Rick’s fingers, and the taste of coffee lingered in his mouth. When they broke, both were breathing a little more deliberately.

Rick swallowed hard. “At this rate, we’re never going to get the boat in the water.”

“No, I suppose not. What do you want me to do?”

“You don’t have to do anything. I’ve got this.” Rick stood at the back of the truck, and reaching up, slid the inverted canoe backwards over his head.

“Are you sure?” The shorter man’s voice betrayed a little worry.

He grinned as he grasped the center thwart, tipped the boat, and lowered its weight onto his shoulders. “No problem. It’s light. Not like one of those big old wood-and-canvas things.”

Rick walked the boat down to the water’s edge where gravel road gave way to a concrete ramp, which disappeared into the little wavelets. With practiced ease, he turned, flipped the canoe, and lowered it onto the surface of the lake.

“Bravo. Well done,” called Gus.

“I do this all the time.”

“I couldn’t.”

“Not with that cast on your arm,” Rick agreed. “But now we can put our gear in.” He lifted the stern and pulled it up on shore so the canoe partially rested on the grassy bank.

The two men walked back to the old truck.

“Can you manage the paddle and water jug? And maybe this?” Rick handed over a yellow nylon bag.

“Sure. What’s in here?”

“Lunch. Something to snack on if you get hungry. I’m really sorry, but I forgot the beer. I feel incredibly stupid. It’s still sitting in the fridge at home.”

Gus laughed. “That’s all right. I wasn’t expecting any.”

“Really? Everyone knows you fish with beer.”

“And here I thought you fished with worms.” Gus commented as they walked the gear down to the boat.

“Okay. So here’s what we do,” Rick explained, taking charge. “You get into the canoe and sit on the bow seat.”

Gus looked a little confused.

“The seat in the front. You can face back towards me if you want, because you won’t have a paddle.”

“Okay.” Gus started to enter the canoe.

“Wait. You want to wade in a little, then step in.”

“Sorry.”

“Don’t be. There’s just less wobbling and grinding that way.”

Gus took a tentative barefoot step into the water. “Oh! It’s cold! Colder than Eagle Lake.”

“Butternut is deeper. Spring fed, too, I think.”

The darker man deposited his burden in the canoe, then stepped in, lifting his foot high. “I’m getting water in the boat,” he said.

“Don’t worry. Not a problem.” Rick reassured him.

Gus sat on the cane seat.

Now Rick carefully laid in the rods, landing net, and tackle box. He handed a bright yellow rectangular cushion to Gus.

“Am I supposed to sit on this?”

“Not really. I kneel on mine when I paddle. And it’s a float, if you need it.”

“Oh. I see. ‘In the unlikely event of a water landing, your cushion is a flotation device.’” Laughed Gus.

Now it was Rick’s turn to look confused.

“That’s what they say before takeoff on just about every flight,” Gus filled him in.

“Huh. I’ve never flown before. You learn something new every day.” He grinned.

Rick lifted the stern of the craft and walked it off the shore and into deeper water. “You’re right. It’s cold.” He agreed with a smile.

He climbed into the boat, which wobbled a little with the change in weight and gravity. For a moment, Gus looked slightly alarmed. Then the pianist realized the canoe floated on an even keel in the sun.

“Let’s get out on the lake.” Rick said, picking up his paddle. Immediately, he set a brisk pace directly across the water in the direction of the risen sun.

“Where are we going?”

“The far side of the lake. We want to be out of the sun, if we can, or at least along the margins of the shadows. That’s the east side over there.”

The boat surged over the glittering water.

Gus braced himself by grasping either gunwale with each hand. The bright blue cast on his right arm shone in the light. He closed his eyes and breathed in, as he’d done earlier in the truck.

Rick nearly missed a stroke in his paddling, watching him.

“Is the fishing supposed to be really good here?” Gus asked after a few moments.

“It’s okay.”

“So why this lake?”

“A friend of mine told me about a giant pike he caught here. Said it was this huge thing, five, six feet long.”

“Oh. Um, is it dangerous?”

Rick smirked. “Only to your sense of honesty. He may have seen big fish, but I think he was just telling a fish story. On the other hand, it gave me the idea to come here.”

Gus gazed out over the broad waters of Butternut Lake. “Did you go fishing places like this with your father when you were a boy?”

Rick uttered a single sardonic laugh. “Not a chance. Not with Dad. I came to fishing late in the game.”

“I’m sorry. I thought your father would have –”

“No, nothing to be sorry about. He had other worries on his mind than teaching his son how to go fishing.”

“So you learned later then.”

“After my mom died.”

For a few moments, there was silence, apart from the sound of Rick’s paddle and of water gliding under the hull of the canoe.

“You never talk about her,” Gus said. “When did that happen?”

Rick continued paddling. He wasn’t sure he could talk about it, revisiting the pain. But then, this was Gus. If he couldn’t trust this man with his hurt, then there wasn’t anyone.

“It was in high school.”

Gus waited, saying nothing.

“She was a great mom. She could make you smile and bring out the sunshine even on the worst day. She could even make my dad laugh.”

“You can remember her, then.”

“Yes. I always will. She could play the piano. And sing. She used to sing. I still have her upright in my living room. I wouldn’t let Dad sell it.”

For an instant, Rick let his mind wander. Even over the fresh scents of pine and lake, he could faintly detect the odor of baking bread.

“You had no brothers or sisters?”

“No, just me. I have cousins – relations who got out of Eagle Lake while the going was good – but I’m the only one left.”

“Can I ask what happened to your mother?”

“She had cancer.” The words sounded so empty. “It didn’t take very long. Two, three weeks.”

“It must have been horrible.”

Rick nodded, even as a tear came to his eye, unbidden. He stopped paddling to wipe it away.

“I’m sorry I asked.” Gus spoke as soft as the breeze stealing across the water.

“It’s okay. I don’t mind talking about it with you.” He managed a weak smile and picked up his paddle again. “Anyway, the outdoors was my escape after she, um, passed on.”

“Escape from …?”

“From my father. From work. From life. I used to spend hours on College Hill – you know, the place we hiked before the fireworks – just getting away. And I’ll tell you something, but you have to swear not to say anything. No one knows.”

Gus raised his eyebrows, but said nothing, waiting for what Rick had to say.

“Some of my mom’s ashes are scattered up there. Dad kept the urn at home; he didn’t want to pay for any funeral director to hold onto them before the burial. One night I snuck out. There was a bright moon, and there were stars, too. Mom would have loved that. Anyway, I took some ashes with me and climbed Prospect Rock. And under the moon and stars, I scattered her ashes off the rock and said goodbye.”

The boat glided over the water in quiet.

At length, Gus broke the silence. “That’s lovely. Your mother must have been a remarkable woman.”

Rick nodded.

“Did she teach you to fish, too?”

“No, no. One of my teachers in school got me interested in fishing. Mr. Heinemann.”

“You were lucky to have teachers like that. I’m not sure any of mine would have done something as human as that.”

“Well, speaking of fishing, we’re about where we want to be.” Rick laid the paddle in the boat.

Gus turned, peering at the east shore, which loomed much closer now. “How do you know this is the place?”

“Look over there; to the left. There’s a stream flowing in. See it? The cold water from the stream will flow out to the bottom this way. Fish like that. Out here, the sun is just changing into shade from the trees. Bigger fish can hide in the dark, preying on little ones that like the sun.”

“Oh. I see.”

“But first, we have to get lures on the line.” Rick reached forward and opened the tackle box. “Here, I have a bunch of different ones we can try.”

Gus examined the different lures on display in the tray. He picked one up tentatively. “This just looks like a piece of metal with a hook on it.”

“That’s called a spoon. To a fish, it looks like a minnow flashing in the light.”

“The fish will go for that?”

“I’ve caught a bunch that way.” Rick nodded. “So. Here’s what we do. Let’s use your spoon.” He took the lure from the pianist’s fingers. “Now I grab the end of the line from your rod and tie it on.” He took a couple of seconds and a few deft movements to make the knot.

“Why aren’t we using your rod?”

“I promised to teach you how to fish. You need a rod of your own.”

Gus looked apprehensive.

“Don’t worry. If I could learn it, you can.” On his knees, Rick moved forward in the canoe, closer to Gus, keeping his weight low.

“You’re sure about this?”

“Of course. Okay. You’re going to want to take this in your left hand.”

Gus grasped the cork-handled rod awkwardly.

“First, you want to grip it like this.” Rick instructed, his meatier hand placing tapered brown fingers in the right places. He crept a bit closer. “Now, turn the reel so this piece – that’s the bail – is right there. See?”

Gus bent his head to look. Rick caught a scent of heat rising from his neck.

“You okay?”

“Fine. Just a little nervous.”

“I get it. But don’t worry. It’ll be fine.” He tried to give Gus his most reassuring smile. “So. Next what you do is use your finger to check the line. Like this.” Again, Rick reached in and demonstrated. “You flip the bail up. This way.” If fishing meant he could stay this close to Gus, he’d do it all day.

The other man nodded.

“What you want to do is toss that lure out and away from the boat. To do that, you draw your arm back and snap the rod forward, like you were throwing a baseball.”

Gus turned to him with an expression somewhere between a smirk and a frown. “You realize that I watch baseball. I can’t play baseball.”

“I suck at baseball, too. But you can throw one.”

Gus shook his head. “Sorry. I’ve never done that.”

“Oh. Okay.” He gently took a sinewed dark-skinned arm in his hands, one at the wrist, the other at the elbow. There was something oddly more intimate in this than the kiss they’d shared on the shore. “So, you’re going to draw back the rod, and snap it forward. Kind of like this, only faster.” Rick moved Gus’ arm through the motion in a slow, easy gesture. “See how when you snap forward, your finger comes off the line? That’s so the line pays out, and the lure sails over the water to where you want it to go.”

“Yes. I see. But how do you aim?”

“The lure will pretty much go where you point the rod at the end of your snap.”

“Really?” Gus sounded dubious. “I’m afraid of sending a hook into your hair. Or worse.”

“You won’t. Just keep your cast nice and easy.” Rick hadn’t let go. He continued to help Gus get the feel of the movement needed. “Now, ready?”

Before Gus could object, Rick drew the pianist’s arm back and helped him snap it forward. The line paid out five or six yards from the canoe and the lure plopped into the water.

“Oh! Just like that!” Gus said with a happy smile.

“You’ve got it. The next part is reeling the line back in. When you do that, the lure will swim and weave in the water like real prey. Flip the bail back and turn the handle here.”

With the fingers of his injured hand, Gus could easily bring the lure obediently back to the end of the rod.

“Is that all there is to it?”

“For now.” Rick grinned. He sat back a little. “Now let’s see you do it on your own.”

He watched Gus work his way through the procedure. He wore a look of intense concentration on his face, which somehow only made him more attractive. Rick was so distracted, he nearly missed Gus’ first real attempt.

His graceful arm leaned back, then cast the line forward. Again, the lure left rings in the calm water where it fell.

Rick felt a surge of pleasure that was only amplified by Gus’ grin. “How was that?”

“Perfect.”

Gus flipped the bail again and began to reel in the line.

“No, wait a little.” Rick stopped him. “You want to give the lure more time to sink farther down. A fish is often waiting in deeper water, where it’s cool.”

Five or six seconds passed. “Now?” Gus asked.

“Sure. Go ahead.”

Again, the reel spun and the lure returned.

“Okay. So now you want to practice your casting for a while,” said Rick.

Gus laughed. “Oh, you sound so much like one of my piano instructors.” Gus assumed a deep Russian accent. “Excellent, Gustavo! Now you practice two hours, yes?”

“Who was that?” Rick laughed.

“Alexsei Kozlov. Magda and Zoltan had me study with him.”

“I took piano lessons, but I don’t think they were anything like yours.”

“And lucky it was for you.” Gus readied his reel to try casting again.

“Was this guy brutal?”

“No, just a tough taskmaster. I learned a lot from him.”

Rick nodded. He could relate to that. He watched Gus go through the motions with his rod again. Again the brown arm went back, again it snapped forward sending the shining spoon lure sailing out over the water.

“Wow. It went a mile that time,” the pianist exclaimed.

“You’re a natural.” Rick grinned.

When Gus wound the line in again, Rick proceeded to ready his own gear. While he tied on his lure, he could see the man getting ready once more out of the corner of his eye. The slight whoosh of Gus’ cast gave Rick an outsize pleasure. He’d actually taught someone else a skill he treasured.

Rick held his reel in his lap and watched Gus practice. He admired the supple arms, subtly muscled and almost golden in the sun; grinned a little at the concentration on his face.

“Aren’t you going to fish too?” Gus asked.

“In a second. I’m just admiring the view.” Rick couldn’t believe he could say that. But with Gus, he felt more like himself than he could ever remember.

“Very funny. Am I doing this right?”

“You’re doing fine. Just don’t hurry your retrieval. Give the lure time to sink down to where the fish are.”

Rick lifted his own rod and with a few deft movements, sent his own lure out into the lake. He was careful to cast well away from Gus’ line.

The water sparkled and rippled as they fished in the morning sun. A puffy cloud or two appeared on the western horizon over the trees on the far shore. As the sun rose and the shadows retreated, even those few gauzy threads dissipated, and the sky overhead turned a bright blue. The world and its cares seemed a million miles away. From time to time, Rick glanced at Gus, occasionally taking a moment to help his friend adjust the reel or to refine his technique.

For a long time, he and Gus lost themselves in the gentle rhythm of fishing. It didn’t seem to matter that the fish weren’t cooperating. Again, he glanced over to his right. The pianist sat, watching his line sink, head cocked to one side, as if listening.

“What do you hear?”

The darker man started a little and smiled. “Nothing. Everything. Just paying attention to the music of the world.”

“Yeah. I know what you mean.” Rick smiled in return.

“The little waves, the birds, a puff of wind – they play a kind of melody.”

“You hear it, too, then.”

Gus nodded. “Composers have tried to imitate things like this.”

“Maybe they’re not meant to be copied.”

The pianist reeled in his line. He worked his fingers on the line and spinner and cast again.

Rick set his rod down in the boat and picked up his paddle.

“We’re not finished, are we?” Gus asked.

“No, not at all. But the sun is getting higher and nothing’s biting here, so I thought we might try over by that point.” Rick gestured up the shore with his paddle.

Gus started winding in his reel.

“You don’t have to do that. You can just leave it in the water while I paddle. That’s called trolling. You can get yourself some water or a snack in that yellow bag if you want.”

“Oh. Right. Thanks”

Rick divided his attention between steering for the point and trying not to spend too much time watching Gus. Yet even so, he felt an enormous peace. There was no urge to pretend to be someone or something else, or to prove anything to anyone. In that moment, on that remote, wild lake, Rick felt at ease.

He could be himself without apology, and Gus seemed perfectly okay with that.

Rick took care to give a wide berth to the sunken carcasses of a pair of spruces at the tip of the point, before letting the canoe glide again.

Gus reeled in and cast; the man seemed more and more confident. Rick timed his casts so Gus reeled in as his own line sailed out over water. Again, his line sank, and he considered changing lures.

With a sudden tug, and an angry clicking of the reel’s mechanism, a fish struck. “Got one,” Rick said.

The other man watched with interest.

“I don’t think it’s a big one.”

“Why aren’t you reeling it in?”

“It’s trying to swim away. When it’s checked and turns back or to the side, that’s when I reel in. You always want tension on the line.”

As if on cue, Rick sensed the pressure on the line change. He quickly began to wind it in. Again, the fish swam outward, causing the mechanism to grate, but changed direction a moment later. When Rick worked the reel again, the fight seemed to have gone out of the fish. He drew it alongside.

“Would you hand me that net?” He asked Gus. “It’s a sunny. I thought as much.” He said, slipping the net under the small, oval shaped creature.

“Sunny?”

“A sunfish.” With an easy movement, he took a gentle hold of the fish and removed the hook. “Sometimes it’s just called a panfish, ‘cause it fits in the pan.” Rick leaned over the side and let his catch go. A moment later, it flipped its tail and darted below and out of sight.

“I like that you release them after you catch them. I’m not sure I could eat a fish I caught.”

Rick shrugged. “Just seems right to me, that’s all.”

Gus smiled, and returned to fishing.

They chatted quietly about nothing and snacked a little as they cast. Rick moved the canoe again to a spot opposite an open, marshy spot where a brook meandered into the lake. The sun grew warmer as it rose overhead. Rick tried to be inconspicuous as he undid a button or two on his shirt. Gus possessed none of his inhibitions; his shirt hung open, exposing smooth caramel skin.

Another boat, powered by a trolling motor, stole into view in the distance.

“I thought we were alone on the lake,” Gus commented with a smirk as he cast his line out.

“There are a bunch of cabins down at the south end.” Rick pointed behind them. “Behind that island.”

A long, low, hollow, haunting cry rose and fell in the distance.

“What was that?” Gus asked, his face betraying both curiosity and alarm.

“That’s a loon. He’s a fisherman, too. They dive to catch smaller fish.”

The loon called again; Gus listened, eyes bright and alert. “That’s beautiful. Eerie and a little uncanny, but beautiful.” He breathed. “It was worth the trip just for that.”

“I don’t hear them as much as I used to. We’re lucky.”

“Definitely.” Agreed Gus. For a moment, their eyes met and held. “Very lucky.”

At that moment, the rod in the pianist’s hands came to life. “Rick! It’s a fish!” He cried. “What do I do?”

“Let it run, and keep the line tense,” Rick instructed as he reeled in his own line and stowed it.

“That noise,” said Gus over the ratcheting sound of the reel, “is the pole going to break?”

“No, no, don’t worry.” He tried to reassure him as he crept closer to help.

A moment later, his own left hand joined Gus’ on the rod, to guide and assist.

“Oh, wow, there’s some size on this one.” Rick commented, keeping his voice even as the pole bent into a tense arc. “Don’t pull; just hold it in place.”

Gus strained to comply.

“Okay, now when the fish changes direction, reel in.”

An instant later, Gus moved his right hand to the reel. His fingers fumbled at the crank.

Rick moved closer, reaching around him to help. “That’s it. You’ve got it,” he said low into Gus’ ear.

“It’s going right.” The rod bent toward the bow of the canoe.

Again the fish changed direction, and this time Gus was ready on the reel to exploit the momentary slack.

“Great. You’re doing great,” Rick encouraged. “Keep it up.”

The rod bent to the left, but the line was shorter now, and the fish couldn’t run as far. Once more, Gus reeled it further in. A few yards away from the boat, the fish broke the surface, thrashing and splashing. But this seemed to tire the creature out, and Gus was able to reel it in smoothly.

“Looks like you got a pike,” Rick said as the fish was drawn close to the boat. He grabbed the landing net.

“I can’t believe I caught something.” Gus grinned, pleased and excited.

Rick reached into the net, grabbed the fish behind the head and held it up for inspection. Its white speckled green skin shone in the sun. “Nice size northern pike. Maybe eighteen inches.”

“It’s beautiful. What about the hook?” The spoon lure’s barb marred the lower lip of the pike.

“Can you open the tackle box and grab the pliers? They have a yellow handle.”

Gus opened the box and handed the tool over.

Rick removed the hook with a quick, practiced motion, plopping the lure back in the water. “You want to release it?”

“I’d better not.” Gus raised his injured hand in its cast. “Wait a second, though.” He dug in his pocket and drew out his phone.

“You didn’t leave that in the truck?”

“No, I forgot. How about a pic?”

Rick held up the fish.

“No, no, get over here. I can get us both.”

Rick moved close, grasping the pike while Gus held out the phone for the photo. Suddenly, Rick became aware of the other man’s closeness. He broke the spell, saying: “I guess I’d better let it go now.”

“Oh, yes, of course.”

Rick put the fish over the side of the boat and held it upright while it revived in the water.

“It’s not hurt, is it?”

“No. Just recovering.” With a powerful kick of its body, the green-blue creature returned to the depths of the lake.

“So now I’m a real fisherman, even if I didn’t get the monster fish your friend talked about.” Gus grinned as he worked his phone.

“What are you doing?”

“Sending myself this picture. I can’t believe I’m getting cell signal here.”

Rick picked up the paddle and pointed the canoe back across the width of Butternut Lake. Gus’ pleasure at catching a fish warmed him more than the sun could ever manage. It was such a perfect day.

“Rick?” Gus broke into his thoughts. “Can you stop paddling?”

“Sure. What’s the matter?” He set the paddle down.

“Nothing. Come here.”

Rick shuffled forward on his knees in the bright sunshine, a smile growing.

“You need something?”

Gus wrapped his arms around Rick’s broad frame and drew him in for a kiss. His own hand cupped Gus’ neck, deepening their connection. Rick inhaled the now familiar, and yet intoxicating scent of the man. He didn’t care it was broad daylight out, or that they were in view of other boats on the lake. The only thing that mattered was kissing Gus, in that place, in that moment.

They broke for air. “I’ve been hoping to do that for the last hour.” Gus breathed. “Now I’ve caught you.”

“Don’t let me go.” Rick murmured.

“Oh, you’re a keeper.”

They kissed again. Rick opened his lips to Gus’ tongue and delighted in the touch of his long fingers reaching under the hem of his shirt. He gripped the smaller man to bring him into his body, who hummed in appreciation. Gus moved his weight to press them closer still.

And in that moment, the pair shifted and unbalanced the canoe. In one instant, Gus and Rick were locked in embrace; in the next, they found themselves in the icy waters of Butternut Lake.


My thanks continue to @AC Benus and @Carlos Hazday who helped make this story far better than I originally imagined. Please do take the plunge and add a comment or observation. I'm happy to read anything you might have to say.
Copyright © 2020 Parker Owens; All Rights Reserved.
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Stories posted in this category are works of fiction. Names, places, characters, events, and incidents are created by the authors' imaginations or are used fictitiously. Any resemblances to actual persons (living or dead), organizations, companies, events, or locales are entirely coincidental.
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Chapter Comments



3 hours ago, CincyKris said:

This was a wonderful peaceful chapter.  Probably the best vacation Rick has ever taken, he even got to go swimming!

Rick would agree that this vacation day would rank as the best ever. I'm glad the peace on the water came to you. Not sure that swimming was what Rick and Gus had in mind, however. Thanks very much for reading, and for your response.

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3 hours ago, weinerdog said:

Excellent chapter I'm liking Gus more and more but jeez a YANKEES fan???Well nobody's perfect.

When I saw the title of the chapter I pictured Gus singing on the boat like a gondolier but I guess the connection is how the surrounding sounds of the lake are like music.

If Rick had remembered to bring the beer maybe more would have happened.Kidding😄 Actually it still might.

Two chapters without whatshername but  all good things must come to an end.

 

No, not even Gus is perfect. Perhaps it's a good thing that Rick discovers that, so he won't idealize Gus so much, or put him on some kind of pedestal. Perhaps Gus can try the Gondolier role when his cast is off. Gosh, there's no telling what might have happened if Rick had remembered to bring the beer. On the other hand, he might have been a little flustered in getting out of the house. Rita definitely does not go fishing, at least not in the literal sense. That's a great mercy. Thank you very much for continuing to read, and for your thoughts.

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6 minutes ago, pvtguy said:

In words, you have created the feeling I get when listening to the Barcarolle from Tales of Hoffman...from the rustling of the waves, to the light, the sounds of nature  - all highlighted by the growing love between Gus and Rick.  Story wise, I guess this might well be the calm before the storm!  Absolutely lovely.

This has been a delightful outing for both Gus and Rick. At least, it was until they tipped into the lake. Butternut Lake is very beautiful, and I’m glad you enjoyed the music of the world with Gus and Rick. However, they just discovered how cold it is! Thanks very much for your thoughts and for reading! 

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2 minutes ago, Parker Owens said:

Well they’re cold enough now. Kinda changes the whole day, doesn’t it?

Maybe maybe not. Now they need to warm up. 👀 😉 

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26 minutes ago, drsawzall said:

Somehow I don't think the impromptu dip in the lake will cool their ardor, while they may be wet, I don't think they were over their heads...gear will be retrieved and the canoe up righted, and passion ignited.

The following, while hard to accept, is barely tolerable...a frigging Yankees fan???  This from a life long Red Sox fan...Boo...hiss..jeer...Jeter is a class act but still...

The following is a master class in wordsmithing to all of us aspiring writers...

For a long time, he and Gus lost themselves in the gentle rhythm of fishing. It didn’t seem to matter that the fish weren’t cooperating. Again, he glanced over to his right. The pianist sat, watching his line sink, head cocked to one side, as if listening.

“What do you hear?”

The darker man started a little and smiled. “Nothing. Everything. Just paying attention to the music of the world.”

“Yeah. I know what you mean.” Rick smiled in return.

“The little waves, the birds, a puff of wind – they play a kind of melody.”

“You hear it, too, then.”

Gus nodded. “Composers have tried to imitate things like this.”

“Maybe they’re not meant to be copied.”

Even Gus has imperfections; he’s a Yankees fan. But notice Rick forgives Gus even that. Such are the things we do for love. And Gus’ observation on the subtle music of the day around him and Rick must make him grow ever lovelier. 
 

Your comments were very kind and encouraging. I’m very happy the description of their morning on the lake resonated with you. Many thanks for reading and for your response. 

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Beautiful chapter, Parker, and you made me want to go fishing. :) Like others, I felt the peace that permeated their outing, and I'm so happy for Rick. Cheers!

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58 minutes ago, Headstall said:

Beautiful chapter, Parker, and you made me want to go fishing. :) Like others, I felt the peace that permeated their outing, and I'm so happy for Rick. Cheers!

Get out your rod and reel; there’s a great deal to be said for spending a quiet morning on a sparkling lake, especially if someone as attractive as Gus wants to be there with you. Rick felt incredibly fortunate. But just at this moment, he’s feeling the shock of cold: Butternut Lake is spring fed. Thanks for joining Rick in the canoe, and for your kind comments. 

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For some reason out of the blue I was thinking of this story and then this thought came.I don't know why I didn't mention this and I checked nobody else did as far as I can see.After the mishap what about Gus cast?Eh maybe it was due to come off in a few days anyway.I have no idea why that popped into my head.

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On 2/13/2021 at 2:05 PM, weinerdog said:

For some reason out of the blue I was thinking of this story and then this thought came.I don't know why I didn't mention this and I checked nobody else did as far as I can see.After the mishap what about Gus cast?Eh maybe it was due to come off in a few days anyway.I have no idea why that popped into my head.

Gus still has that cast on, you’re right. And it won’t make it easy for him in the water. You may also remember that Gus isn’t much of a swimmer, either. 

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Yes I thought about the cast but more importantly Gus not being a swimmer!  This will be tricky for Rick but I have faith in him.  After all "love conquers all"!   Wonderful chapter and a very descriptive painting of their budding relationship.  Thanks Parker! 

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2 hours ago, KayDeeMac said:

Yes I thought about the cast but more importantly Gus not being a swimmer!  This will be tricky for Rick but I have faith in him.  After all "love conquers all"!   Wonderful chapter and a very descriptive painting of their budding relationship.  Thanks Parker! 

Gus and Rick have professed to the point at which they are sharing more and more of themselves and their lives.  If nothing else, Rick will have wonderful memories of this day, at least until the boat capsized. Your faith in Rick is admirable, given how little he has in himself. Thank you very much for reading, and for your encouraging comments. 

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