Well hell. I picked up my son, the boy I hadn’t even known existed until a few days before, and patted him on the back.
“Hey there little guy. I guess I’m your dad. Your mom is…” There I faltered. What was his mom going to do? I had no clue if Martina would be back for him. I didn’t know if I even wanted her to come back for him.
Judging from the behavior that I had observed from Martina, what had been a temperamental issue when we were younger had turned into a full-blown mental disorder. If her sister, Christy, was to be believed, Martina had never caused harm to Homer, but that didn’t mean that she was particularly safe either.
But did I really want the responsibility of being a dad?
I could barely take care of myself and my mom’s silly cat. In fact, I barely had room for myself and my cat in my houseboat. I mean, who raises a baby on a houseboat?
I held Homer while all these thoughts were streaming through my head. I didn’t have anything for him: no crib, no bottles, no diapers, no swing, no playpen, no toys, nothing that a baby would need or want.
“What am I going to do?” I murmured while rocking my son in my arms. “You don’t want to be with me,” I said, pulling back so that I could see Homer. The moment I locked eyes with my son, any desire I had to give him up was forgotten. His trusting eye gazed into mine and his face cracked into a hesitant, trusting smile.
Well hell. How could I let him down? He was my son.
Things had to change in order for me to have Homer in my life. I knew this immediately. The biggest change was moving into a house instead of living on a houseboat.
Of course I couldn’t move right away, so I called my sister Rhea and asked if Homer and I could come stay with her for awhile. She had two children and knew everything I would have to get to meet all of Homer’s needs.
The next call I made was to Christy, Martina’s sister. I let her know that Homer was with me. She hadn’t seen Martina yet, but she was worried since usually Martina didn’t take Homer with her if she went out.
“I can bring him back to your house,” I told Christy, hoping she wouldn’t ask me to, “ but I also made arrangements to go to my sister Rhea’s. We can stay there until I figure out something more permanent for us.”
“That should be fine,” Christy assured me. “I’m just glad that you know about Homer now. I wanted to tell you forever, but Martina wouldn’t let me. You saw how she can get. Anyway, it’s good that Homer has you. Whatever I can do to help, I’ll do it. I hope that Martina doesn’t give you trouble later, but we can work together to prevent her from causing Homer any distress.”
I was relieved that Christy was being so cooperative. She was so much younger than Martina and her other siblings—she’d just graduated from the high school! It must have been hard for her living with Martina as Martina became more unstable. Christy should be out enjoying her life, not babysitting her unstable sister and her sister’s baby.
Getting a house wasn’t such a hardship. Luckily I found one on the beach with it’s own private dock. I may have lost my houseboat, but that didn’t mean I had to give up everything I liked to do. I kept my sailboat and my windsurfing board. And, I have to admit that I added a sweet new jet-ski to my line up, too. I had a free berth at the dock and I thought it would be a good way to get around the islands.
Unfortunately, having such a big house meant I had to spend a lot of time keeping up with it. Boy did I miss how much work my dad had put into the house he and my mom had. I wished that I had even half of the handiness skills that Dad had.
But moving into the house wasn’t the biggest problem I faced. The actual hardship was taking care of a baby. It’s really hard!
I read the baby books my sister gave me and discovered that Homer was really behind in fundamental learning skills. I had to teach him to walk, to use the small potty, and how to talk. Martina hadn’t done anything! Homer was a great kid but I discovered that caring for him ate away at any time I would have for myself! The only time I had to myself was when I was at work.
Sure, I spent my time surveying the beach, saving people from drowning, and making sure people followed beach protocol. But, if the beach was clear, I could pull out my fishing gear. I never cared if I caught anything, but I loved the feeling of relaxation that came over me as I cast my line and drew it in. There is a rhythm to it that is so soothing. When I was fishing, I didn’t have to worry about anything.
And I had more to worry about than ever. Moonie, my mom’s old cat, was getting older. Moving into the new house was hard on him. All he ever did once we moved was eat his food and sleep in his bed. He never played with any of the toys that I had for him. He didn’t yowl at me or follow me up the stairs to my bed when I went to sleep. He didn’t even pay attention to Homer as the boy toddled around. I would have thought that Moonie would resent the boy, but the cranky cat didn’t seem to care.
I knew it was going to happen, but I still wasn’t prepared for when Moonie died. I hadn’t realized how much I really cared about the stupid cat! I guess it was like I was loosing Mom and Dad all over again. Now, the only link I had with them were their businesses. And I barely had any dealings with those. I was just a glorified landlord. Each one had a manager that took care of everything for me!
I couldn’t bring myself to get rid of all of the things I had for Moonie. I didn’t get another cat, but I thought I might once Homer got older.
I don’t know exactly how time passed so quickly with Homer, but it felt like no time had passed and then it was Homer’s fifth birthday. I invited all of my sisters and brothers in law to a party to celebrate.
I also invited Martina.
Despite the fact that she cornered me in the bathroom to tell me that she was sorry for not calling and not stopping by to see Homer, she wasn’t too bad at the party. I would have liked an apology for her not telling me about Homer or for her just abandoning him, but I guess I have to be glad that she didn’t display any particularly crazy behavior. She even smiled as I held Homer over the cake and helped him blow out his candles.
The strangest behavior that Martina exhibited was starring off into space at times. I wasn’t sure what to make of it, but Omar told me that it was a side-effect of the new medication she was on.
“She’s doing a lot better,” he said. “But the new meds leave her somewhat spacey.”
Phillip went into a lengthy explanation of the medication and why it was prescribed for Martina. He started to give a long-winded scientific dissertation about the side-effects and why Martina was experiencing them. We all rolled our eyes at him, begging him to stop.
“Sorry,” Phil said, looking sheepish.
“Not everyone is such a medical nerd,” Rhea laughed at him.
Regardless of the reasons, I was happy that Martina was more stable. I knew that Homer liked having her at the party. His memories of her from when he was little were vague. I did my best not to speak badly about her. Homer understood that she was sick and that was why she couldn’t live with us or see him very often. Still, Martina was his mom, and part of Homer wished that she was a bigger part of his life.
Now that Homer was in school, he didn’t need me as much as he used to. We still spent time together, and I helped him with his homework and other things when he needed it, but I found myself with a lot more time on my hands.
I remembered how annoyed I was when Homer first came to me, and I had no time to myself. I had to chuckle at myself. Now that I didn’t have to spend every waking hour taking care of my son, I didn’t know what to do.
What’s worse, my normal refuge at work wasn’t doing it for me anymore. I mean, I still felt good saving people. I liked being outside, too. But I was beginning to realize that unlike David Hasselhoff on Bay Watch, I was getting too old to do my job. I mean, people make fun of David Hasselhoff for a reason…who stays a lifeguard past the age of 30?
This was especially brought home to me when I happened to catch a glimpse of a pretty girl practicing her windsurfing on the wave machine near the shore.
She had on a yellow bikini. I couldn’t help but watch her from the shore wondering if she was old enough for me to ogle. How much of a creeper would I be if she was a teen? That was a sobering thought! I had to run past her to save a young man who got a cramp and was screaming like a little girl. I couldn’t help giving her a longer look as I waded out into the surf.
Yellow bikini. Tan skin. Dark hair. Not a teen. All good things.
As I pulled the young man to shore, I was distracted wondering if she had noticed me. Did I look heroic? Was she impressed? Would she come up to me after I saved him and tell me that I was the best lifeguard ever?
I was being ridiculous and I knew it. Lifeguarding is not like the movies. Girls really don’t surround a lifeguard and hang on his every word.
Still, I was really distracted as I attended to the young swimmer. He had passed out once we reached the beach. I know I was supposed to be focusing, but all I could think of was the girl behind me who had moved off of the wave machine and was now just playing in the shallow water.
I needed to concentrate. Who was she? Was she looking at me?
Once the young man had revived and I had gotten him on his way to the hospital to be checked out, I was completely surprised that my distraction actually approached me. I know it was what I had hoped would happen, but I was still shocked. When I got a good look at her, I realized that I actually knew the girl—woman. It was my old friend, Emilee Hamada!
“Ares, I thought that was you!” She said as she approached.
“E-Emilee?” I stammered.
“Hi. I didn’t realize you were still lifeguarding. Didn’t you go off to college a few years ago?”
I groaned. There it was. Even Emilee recognized that I was too old to be a lifeguard.
“Yeah, I went to Sim U,” I said. “but I never graduated.”
“Oh. Well. It’s great to see you,” Emilee said awkwardly. I could tell that she thought my job was ridiculous. Maybe she thought that I was dumb not to graduate from college, too. What the hell had I done in my life? Emilee must think I was a complete loser!
“Actually, I am not going to be a lifeguard for much longer,” I said. It was a total lie, but as I said it, I realized that maybe it should be true.
“Oh, what will you be doing next?”
“I’m also a writer,” I said. “I have been thinking of pursuing it full-time.”
“A writer? That’s a surprise.”
It was a surprise to me, too. I had written a few short stories about sailing that had been published in a sailing periodical. I’d been writing off and on since I was a teen, but I’d never really considered it a pursuit. It was more of a hobby.
“I’ve had a few things published,” I said. “It’s doesn’t make me a lot of money, but I thought if I tried doing it full-time, that might change.” I had never considered writing full time. Or at least I hadn’t thought I had considered it. Maybe subconsciously…
“That’s great Ares,” Emilee said, smiling. She leaned in to give me a big hug. I lost the internal monologue running through my brain as she pressed her body against mine. What was I talking about??
“It’s been nice seeing you. I better go. I am in town taking care of my parents’ estate.” Emilee pulled away from me and gave me another big smile.
I frowned. I hadn’t realized that the Hamada’s had passed. I didn’t read the paper or keep up with local gossip. Maybe if I spent more time at the businesses I owned, I’d know more, but I hardly had to do anything but collect money and read emails from the managers.
As a lifeguard I used to hear all kinds of things about the people of Isla. The fact that I hadn’t heard a thing about the long-time residents, the Hamadas, might be just another clue that I needed a career change.
“I’m was sorry to hear about your parents,” I said, lamely.
“It’s ok. They were old.”
“I’m still sorry for your loss. I remember when my parents passed. It’s hard to get over.”
“Thanks Ares. I’ll see you around.”
“See you Emilee.”
“Bye.” Emilee said over her shoulder as she went over to her beach towel and slipped on a pair of flip-flops. I watched as she pulled a yellow sundress over her head. She rolled up the towel and put it into an oversized tote. Then she slipped on a pair of sunglasses and pulled out a set of car keys.
I found myself running across the sand toward her as she made her way to where her car was parked.
“Hey, do you want to get a drink some time? Catch a movie or just hang out?”
“Sure Ares.” There was that smile again. I forgot how pretty Emilee was when she smiled.
“How about tomorrow night. I can pick you up at 7?”
I couldn’t wait for the next night. For the first time since college, I was going on a date. It was crazy. And even crazier was the fact that I was going on a date with Emilee Hamada.