“Whatever,” Tim says, his hand still held out.
I reach into my pocket for the key and hand it to him.
“Make sure to let me in,” I tell him.
“Thank you,” he says, backing off. “Darlene, Patty, it has been a … um, uh. I’ll see you later.” He stalks out of the bar.
“What’s wrong with him, Les?” Patty asks, her smile faltering.
“Problems at school,” I say drunkenly. I reach for the Mai Tai, bringing it to my mouth, not drinking. “His mother.”
I wake Tim early and tell him that we’re going to play tennis before breakfast. Tim gets up easily, without protest, and takes a long shower. After he gets out I tell him to meet me down at the courts. When he gets there, fifteen, twenty minutes later, I decide that we should warm up, hit a few balls. I serve, slamming the ball forward. He misses it. I serve again, this time harder. He doesn’t even try to hit it, ducking instead. I serve again. He misses it. He doesn’t say anything. I serve again. He hits the ball back, grunting with exertion, the bright-yellow ball hurtling at me like some kind of fluorescent weapon. He tumbles forward.
“Not so hard, Dad.”
“Hard? You call that hard?”
“Well, uh, yes.”
I serve again.
He doesn’t say anything.
After I’ve won all four sets, I try to be sympathetic.
“Aw hell, you win some, you lose some.”
Tim says, “Sure.”
For some reason it’s better on the beach. The ocean calms us, the sand comforts. We are polite to each other. We lie side by side on chaise longues beneath two short, wide palm trees in the sand. Tim reads a Stephen King paperback he picked up in the gift shop in the lobby and listens to his Walkman. I read Hawaii, every now and then looking up, concentrating on the sun’s warmth, the sand’s heat, the smell of rum and suntan lotion and salt. Darlene passes by and waves. I wave back. Tim lowers his sunglasses.
“You were pretty rude to them last night,” I tell him.
Tim shrugs catatonically and pushes his sunglasses back up. I’m not sure he heard what I said, due to the Walkman, but he realized I spoke. It is impossible to know what he wants. Looking at Tim, one cannot help feeling great waves of uncertainty, an absence of aim, of purpose, as if he is a person who simply doesn’t matter. Trying not to worry about it, I concentrate on the calm sea instead, the air. Two of the fags walk by in thin French briefs and sit by the open bar on the beach. Tim motions for suntan oil. I toss it to him. He rubs the lotion over tan, broad shoulders, then sits back, wiping his hands off on muscular calves. My eyes ache from reading small print. I blink a couple of times and ask Tim to get us a couple of drinks, a Mai Tai maybe or another rum and Coke. He doesn’t hear me. I tap his arm. He jerks up suddenly and takes his Walkman off. It falls to the sand.
“Shit,” he says, picking it up, inspecting it for sand or damage. Satisfied, he puts it back around his neck.
“What?” he asks.
“Why don’t you get your dad and yourself a drink?”
He sighs, gets up. “What do you want?”
“Rum and Coke,” I tell him.
“Okay.” He pulls on a USC sweatshirt and walks listlessly toward the bar.
I fan myself with the copy of Hawaii and watch Tim walk away. Once at the bar, he stands there, not trying to get the bartender’s attention, waiting for the bartender to notice him. One of the fags says something to Tim. I sit up a little. Tim laughs and says something back. And then I notice the girl.
She’s young, Tim’s age, maybe older, and she’s tan, with long blond hair, and she’s walking slowly along the shore, oblivious to the waves breaking at her feet, and soon she’s moving toward the bar and as she moves closer I can make out her face, barely—brown, placid, eyes wide, unblinking even with the brightness of an afternoon sun that is total and complete. She moves languorously, sensually, to the bar, next to Tim. Tim is still waiting for the drinks, daydreaming. The girl says something to him. Tim looks at her and smiles and the bartender hands him a drink. Tim stands there, they talk briefly. She asks him something as Tim begins to walk toward me. He looks back at her and nods, then jogs away, almost tripping. He stops and looks back, then laughs to himself and walks over and hands me the drink.
“Met a girl from San Diego,” he says absently, removing the USC sweatshirt.
I smile and nod and lie there with the drink, which is clear and bubbly and not what I ordered, and when I close my eyes I pretend that when I open them, when I look up, Tim will be standing in front of me, motioning me to join him in the water where we will talk about minor things but he’s spoiled and I don’t care and ignore him and to ask forgiveness is pretending. I open my eyes. Tim dives into a breaker with the girl from San Diego. A Frisbee lands on the sand next to my feet. I spot a lizard.