An English Teen,
Circumcised in the USA

by Riley Jericho

Getting All Fired Up

"Aw...come on Si," Becky whined. With his legs dangling in the water, she pulled at Simon’s swim shorts, embarrassing him as several of his friends looked on bemused as she added, "Come back in…just for a bit!”

In the end, the only way Simon could find to shake off Becky Kear was to suggest that he and Toby were heading across to the patio to go find something to drink. She was bad enough the times they'd visited the Kears place, but to get back in the water with her flirting around wearing next to nothing spelt trouble with a capital T!

Toby had one of those sly glints in his eye. "You guys stay here,” he offered immediately. “I don't mind getting some drinks."

Simon ground his teeth. Damn him, he sounded so sincere.

"What would you like, Becky?" Toby continued, sounding so earnest that butter wouldn't melt in his mouth.

"Anything,” she simpered. “I don't care. Coke’s fine!" She seemed delighted at the attention, whereas Simon gave Toby—who seemed to think it hilarious—a tight glare as he left him in her clutches. Worse still, after more than five minutes, it seemed he’d apparently 'forgotton' to come back!  It was nearly ten minutes before he could escape Becky and a girl that seemed to have tagged along with her and who had been invited to the party, too. For once Becks didn’t seem to be chasing him herself; rather, it was the other girl—who seemed to be a school friend—for whom Becks was making a blatant attempt to get him off with.

Crap! As if he didn’t have enough problems…and she wasn’t even that pretty!

After wandering the garden, he finally found Toby sitting in the shade. As he often did, whatever the occasion, Toby had his pad out and was sketching the garden scene. Nearby on the grass, his watercolors were out, too.

"You’re such a git, you know..." Simon said, his tone conversational and heavily loaded with sarcasm.

Toby glanced up briefly from the art pad that he was beginning to fill with color and shrugged. "It looked like you had everything under control." He stopped and considered Simon with a poorly hidden smirk. "Did she get inside your shorts?"

“Asshole!” Simon stuck up his middle finger to clarify. Then he grinned. "I think her friend fancied me though. I'm going back there in a bit."

"Really?" Toby seemed impressed. "Go for it! You might get lucky!" He brightened further. "Maybe we could make it a three-way? I've always wondered if I might be bi..."

Simon pulled a face. "You're disgusting, you know. Did anyone ever tell you that?"

It didn’t look like his boyfriend was going to show any sign of repentance, so Simon gave up and settled onto the grass, glancing at the art pad. "Watcha doing?"

It was a rhetorical question. Simon didn't particularly expect an answer and never got one. Instead he studied the work in progress. Toby rarely went anywhere without a backpack that was stuffed with papers, charcoal, paints and brushes. In case he got bored, Toby maintained.

Toby bored easily.

Simon stretched out comfortably on the lawn. "That must be new to you," he noted, keeping the grin out of his voice as he studied the sketch. He nipped off a long blade of grass and nibbled at it thoughtfully as Toby looked up from the paper, frowning before going back to developing a deep red out of the watercolors he had to hand. Simon knew he wouldn’t be able to resist the bait when it came to something to do with his passion for art, so he waited patiently.

"Meaning?" Toby said at last, dipping his brush into the can of Sprite that served as a water source.

"Painting naked girls for a change." Simon worked hard, and was successful at keeping the snigger out of his voice. Only recently had Toby showed him the rather raunchy picture he'd painted—done at least a year ago—of Simon jerking off in the shower!

Toby didn't look up, but Simon saw the smug amusement touch his boyfriend’s mouth as Toby said, "I'll paint out the bikinis later, and then sell it on Ebay." He paused and looked thoughtful. "In fact, we could put yours on at the same time. It might up the price."

Simon rolled his eyes and gave up bothering.

He studied the picture again. It was all about light, Toby frequently told him, and on that late afternoon even Simon could see how the ebbing sun had captured his talented eye. “It's good," he admitted. Though the actual scene was the best part of thirty yards away, Toby was depicting a much closer perspective.


The reply was short and lacking in detail, but Simon wasn't put off by the apparent curtness. This was how Toby was—concentrating on his craft as much as he would be if it were a math problem.

He was pleasantly surprised when Toby continued. "It would be best in acrylics, but this will get it started.” Brushing in some pinks, the bodies began to take shape. "Getting the water spraying right is going to be the hardest. I need to ask Daniels what he thinks."

"That blows away the naked chicks then?"

"Pretty much." The tone remained studious. "You could ask him about it for me if you want."

"Sure," Simon chuckled. "Perhaps we all get to paint nudes in class next year. Are you going first?"

"Tomorrow, I mean." Toby didn’t break his concentration from the busy working-in of color and life. "Ask him tomorrow."

"Tomorrow?" Simon frowned, trying to figure out what he'd missed.

Toby raised his eyes briefly. "Yes, tomorrow." He spoke as if it made complete sense. "Daniels is coming to lunch. You're coming, too. Mom thinks I'll be better behaved if you're around."

Simon’s eyes narrowed. "And when were you going to tell me that?" The frown in his tone grew.

Toby studied him as if he were a little simple. "I just did, didn't I?" Perhaps Toby spotted the look of irritated frustration—he had to know it wound Simon up when stuff was badly planned—so he went on quickly. "Look, Mom only mentioned it the other day. She said to ask you."

“The other day?” Simon laid odds that would be more than just a couple, and he gave Toby a hard stare until Toby finally had the decency to appear abashed.

"I forgot, okay. I'm sorry..."

"I'll have to ask Mum." Simon’s tone and the timing were both a little short. Besides, did he really want to sit down to dinner with a schoolteacher?

"No need." Toby returned to his painting, and that infuriating smug look was back on his face. "Mom was going to call her. It's probably already sorted."

Despite the glorious afternoon, Simon felt irritated. This was just the kind of stuff he hated—being bossed around, being told what to do. Stuff that affected him being decided without Toby even bothering to ask him! He'd actually been thinking about going up to the lake the following day, and was tempted to tell Toby to stuff it.

But for what? Just to make a point?

Maybe... And maybe Toby should just back off and stop bossing him around like he owned him! He hated arguing, but there were times when he felt like screaming.

It had remained cool between the two of them for quite a while after it had all got unhinged that day his pubes turned orange. Despite the relief of not having to have an operation, Simon was still pissed off with Toby, and the pain of having his pubes ripped out with wax didn’t go away quickly. To add insult to that particular injury, Toby was just a little too gloaty about the exam results. The letters with the results—and the summer school schedule for the unlucky few—had come the first week of the break. Toby had done well…really well. Not just by pulling one of the top marks in History; Toby had actually scored reasonably well across the board.

Did Simon get offered any thanks for that? Did he hell! And it just rubbed him up the wrong way when Toby seemed to take those good grades as giving him the right to start telling Simon what to do now.

Whatever! They weren’t talking much for a while back then!

Then he, Luke and their mum and dad had gone away on holiday for a couple of weeks. The holiday had been good, and perhaps the break from Toby was what they both needed to calm down a bit.

After he got back, Toby had mellowed. Perhaps the two weeks had felt like a long time to him, but he was a different person again. Or maybe it was the old person back again. He’d said he was sorry, and they’d made up.

Simon had missed Toby, too, and was relieved they were back together, though he put his foot down and was adamant that there should be no more of the weird stuff.

Yeah, right—that promise had lasted less than a week!

And now Toby was getting back into some of his old bad habits yet again.

“Whatever..." Deliberately Simon tuned it out, and leaned back on the grass. He knew he would just keep fuming if he allowed it to get to him and that would ruin a good day. In the distance he could see flames spouting out of a grill that Jacko was tending. On the grass next to him, Toby had lost interest and had retreated to his colors.

Simon heaved himself up. "I'm going to help Jacko."

* * *

It was still bright, though the heat had gone out of the sun. Settling this time at one of the tables adjacent to the grills, Luke watched as Ryan, Jacko and Todd got busy cooking, shoveling burgers onto the racks and turning them regularly. Even Simon was helping by carrying stuff in and out for them.

Out of the back of the house, Owen and Olly reappeared, togged out in swimwear now. As Owen pushed the wheelchair over the tightly-mown grass towards the pool, Luke studied the pair with interest. 

Parking the chariot not far from the steps, Owen knelt down in front of it. Leaning in close, he mouthed unheard words in Olly’s ear. Unhurried, Olly reached around him to wrap his arms around the Welsh teen’s neck. Owen slid his hands under the legs, and with the apparent ease of ones who had done the maneuver many times before, he stood, bringing Olly up out of the chair with him.

For the very briefest of moments, it appeared remarkably tender to Luke, though it was probably the only way to do it without busting a gut! With legs held firmly close and strong arms wrapped like lovers, the pair seemed at ease, wrapped into each other with only the brokenness of disability keeping the coupling from having any other significance.

The brief moment of rest passed, and Owen walked them to the top of and then down the wide steps into the pool. It seemed perfectly made for the disabled boy and, knee deep, Owen lowered Olly with just as much ease as he’d lifted him, until Olly was sitting once more. In control, Olly began to slide down further into the water under his own steam, stopping on a step that seemed a comfortable depth. Around them, several people stared at the paraplegic’s arrival, though if Olly noticed, he didn't appear to care.

Most around them appeared generous and welcoming, but Luke noticed a few faces that were less so—the ones that hinted at 'why is he here; he's going to be in the way. This is a party for normal people, not a spaz!’

Or maybe he was just being judgmental again?

He couldn't even imagine what that would be like: not being able to stand or walk, to have to rely on others for something as simple and as straightforward as getting in the pool. But what was just as much of a surprise was to see how much Owen had changed. Luke hadn’t seen him since the party, and the families hadn’t managed to meet up in the summer. He’d definitely get a moment to talk with him if he could.

* * *

Extract from Luke's notes:

Because of a bunch of circumstances that I won't go into here, in time I got to know Olly quite well. It often made me think about disability and what people made of that.

Once you knew what you were looking for, those negative reactions to disabilities became easy to spot at the mall and other public places: those subtle undertones of aversion and even discrimination that existed not far under the surface.

Maybe it was because kids in the States were brought up to believe in themselves, told that they were always going to be winners, that theirs was a birthright of unassailability—the number one country in the world. Disability didn’t fit. Maybe I was also being a bit unfair, and this kind of thing was the same in most countries, but it felt like that once you got under the skin of the American communal psyche, you found there was a real discomfort with the idea of being second best, let alone a failure. God save us from generalizations, but you tended to get the idea that a significant proportion of the population preferred not to get too uncomfortably close to disability of any kind if they could help it!

* * *

Having seen Olly slide into the water, Luke was just wondering where Stacey was when she appeared out the kitchen door balancing bowls of food to carry out to the long food table that had been set up. She maneuvered stuff with the same skill as she showed at Longhorn, and he had to admit that, even in a one-piece costume covered with a simple, colorful sarong wrap, she was a stunner!

He smirked to himself. She was almost worth deciding he wasn’t gay!

He watched her go in and out several times until he realized he was being an asshole. This wasn’t Longhorn, and he wasn’t here to be waited on hand and foot! He bounded up from his chair to go help. Between them they transported food, more drinks and plenty of disposable plates and cutlery outside ready for use.

Once it was done, she joined him back around the table where he’d been previously sitting. Now that they had nothing to distract them, an awkward silence developed. He was still struggling with how to get the conversation going when it became clear she had more guts than him. Breaking the silence at last, she didn’t bandy words, though her voice was pitched low enough that, though others were passing by, the conversation was only for the two of them.

"At my birthday party," she began.. The tone was honest, through even she was unable to look him in the eye. “I shouldn't have...well, I’m really sorry."

“Sorry?” Luke raised his eyebrows and tried to appear in the dark. “What for?” It was either chivalrous or cowardly. He preferred the former! Even so, his neck prickled, as they both knew what she was referring to concerning that uncomfortable evening—uncomfortable in more ways than one—when she'd basically made a pass at him.

Stacey shook her head and leaned forward, not willing to let it lie. “Please, you don’t have to. We both know it was me that made a fool of myself.” Discomforted, she adjusted herself in her seat and played with the drink in front of her.

“Stacey…” he began, but he didn’t know how to continue. He’d been completely dreading this conversation, sticking his head in the sand and avoiding Longhorn for a month or more.

“My dad called you, didn’t he?”

Luke hung his head and nodded. It meant she probably knew what they'd said, and he felt desperately guilty, even though he hadn't actually done anything. What was it that people said? ‘It’s not you, it’s me?’ Maybe it was just best to be honest?

“Stace..." He hoped it was alright to call her that, despite the fact he felt like a mean bastard. "I’m sorry if I did anything to upset you. I guess I’m not really looking for a girlfriend.” That in itself was true, the rest she didn’t need to know.

She let go the slightest of flinches in response. “Oh…” Turning her can of Sprite, she seemed deflated and he couldn’t help but feel sorry for her.

"I’m really sorry,” he added. “It was probably my fault." Shit, how fucking awkward was this? The more so because he was unwilling to go into any detail as to why she'd encountered a less-than-subtle lump in his jeans while dancing that night. She wasn't to know it was a Smartklamp, and if that hadn't led her on, then she would have been inhuman! He couldn’t win, so perhaps it would be better to just change the subject.

“Owen seems a lot better these days,” he said, switching track and trying to sound upbeat. They both looked across to the pool at where, using a buoyancy aid, Olly was drifting around comfortably. Owen was nearby watching Stacey’s brother like a hawk to make sure nobody landed on him, and Luke couldn’t help but think they were an interesting pair, particularly as he'd never have classed Owen as some kind of community do-gooder.

Before she could respond, Ryan pulled up a chair to join them. Beyond him, cooking was well under way, and Jacko was concentrating on flipping burgers with Todd. Luke wasn’t at all sure whether having Ry in the conversation was a good thing or not, but introduced them anyway. “Stacey, this is my friend, Ryan.”

“Hey there,” nodded Ryan. His eyes were immediately full of interest, but Luke was grateful he didn't make any unsubtle comments. Ryan took a long swallow from the can he was holding, before adding, “I gather Olly’s your twin?”

"He sure is." It came with a wry glance in the direction of the pool. “Why—has he run over your foot yet?”

Seeing Ryan frown, not really understanding, Luke chuckled. "Trust us, Ry. He does that!"

"And him and Owen?" asked Ryan as they watched the pair laughing and talking.

"They're both at Creek," Luke explained.

"The same class, actually," Stacey added.

"And you?" Luke asked. "Same class as well?" They were twins after all.

She burst out laughing. "Heavens no, thank goodness—I'd probably throttle him by morning recess! How Owen manages to put up with the little toad is a minor miracle to the rest of us!" Her eyes continued to twinkle, and then she became more wistful. "Almost as much a miracle as Olly being able to walk again.” Her voice turned a little melancholic, and she frowned, appearing to lose her footing.

Luke remembered the antics of the painfully annoying wheelchair-bound teen, but by what he’d seen that day, Owen seemed quite in his face with what he allowed Olly to get away with. Still, he felt for her and said, “He seems to give as good as he gets—Owen I mean.”

“Maybe," said Stacey. "Anyway, enough of us. What about you, Ryan?"

"What about me?" Ryan took another swallow, and Luke knew him well enough to pick up the cautious tone.

"You're at the same place as Luke, I assume?"

"School you mean? The Academy?" Ryan shrugged. "For my sins, yes—and my priest tells me I've got plenty!"

Luke grinned. "Ry's a regular churchgoer. You two would get on like a house on fire!"

Just then, something caught his eye. Across the other side of the patio, Todd had gone indoors, leaving Jacko alone with the grills. Flames had sprung up on both of them, leaping high into the air, and Jacko was looking panicky. “And talking of fire, Ry, you might want to go and rescue the burgers from getting incinerated—”

Ryan looked across, muttered a curse, and hurried off.

Alone again, Luke backtracked on the conversation with Stacey. "So, what actually happened to Olly?" It was out there before he could stop himself, and he immediately felt bad. "Sorry, that's really none of my business."

She studied him, her mouth turning in crooked humor as she murmured, "Why do you have to be so unbearably nice?"

The humor became a teasing grin and Luke burst out laughing. "Me? Nice?" Even now, he could tell she was unashamedly flirting. "If you really knew me, you'd never say that. Trust me!"

"Maybe," she chuckled. The look in her eyes didn't give him any sense that she believed it was over between them, but she went on, "He had a skiing accident. Years ago. They said everything had mended, but..."

"Some nerve damage?" Luke hazarded.

She shook her head. "No, that's the weird thing. He was pretty badly hurt at the time—and it was touch and go for a while whether he'd even make it—but he pulled through and recovered."

"But he still can't walk?" Whatever 'recovered' meant, it obviously wasn't that.

"No," she shrugged and grimaced. "He can't. And nobody knows why."

"I don't understand."

"Neither does anyone else," Stacey admitted. "The doctors are convinced there's nothing wrong, and Olly's seen his fair share of them. They say it's a confidence thing."

Luke had to smother a surprised laugh. Confidence? That was the one thing Olly seemed to have in shed-loads!

Maybe Stacey could read his mind, as she grimaced. "Hard to believe isn't it—and certainly Olly doesn't. Maybe that’s his problem?"

Luke didn’t understand and didn't really know what to say.

“Sorry,” Stacey said. “Didn’t mean to dump on you.” She grinned suddenly. “Damn you, Luke Summers! You're just too easy to talk to!"

He got the feeling she was still prodding at the door as though with a rapier, wondering if he might be willing to open it—even just a crack—so she could skewer him. He scrunched up his nose and said nothing. Giving her more than that would be dangerous.

Finally, she sighed. "Friends?" The sword dropped as her demeanor accepted the defeat, though knowing her it would only be an impasse.

He breathed in relief. “Am I allowed back into Longhorn?” he asked. He got a kick for that.

They were soon joined on the patio by Kieran and his girlfriend. Trailing them was Joe Wong and the unknown Asian girl. Kieran scrubbed his hair dry with a towel as they pulled a few more chairs up to the table and settled into one of them.

Luke started in on the introductions. “Stacey, this is Kieran,” he began. However, it was actually the first time he’d met Kier’s girlfriend himself—she was a pretty girl, for sure. Of course he knew her name, but he was suddenly struck with one of those awkward moments of brain freeze, and couldn't for the life of him remember it!

Fortunately, the dilemma was short lived.

“Stace and I know each other,” said the girl. The glance she threw Luke’s direction was coy and unmistakable. “Are you two together?”

Stacey took it in her stride. ‘Oh gosh, We’re just friends! We've known each other a while." She filled in the gaps for Luke, adding, "Trish and I are at Creek."

Trish. That was it. "Ahh...gotcha..." It made a lot more sense now.

As Joe and the girl with him scraped chairs into the group, Luke introduced Joe, but was totally stumped with Joe’s newly acquired plus one.

Stacey came to his rescue again. "Hey, Jenny," she said, and from it, Luke guessed she was from Creek too. Jenny appeared shy and hadn't even donned a bathing costume. Small and lithe, she was pretty, but she said nothing as she offered a simple chest-height mini wave in greeting.

Luke shifted his attention back to Trish. He knew that Kier had been dating her for quite a while now, and he’d spotted them in and around the pool a few times during the afternoon. They fitted well together and he saw Kieran in a different light. He could also see that he seemed quite smitten with the milky-skinned African-American girl. Trish seemed bright and confident and was wearing a hot orange—and rather skimpy—bikini that would get most guys looking twice.

During the afternoon, the couple hadn't seemed to feel the need to hide the fact that they were physically close, openly kissing and engaging in more than the odd touch. From what Kier had hinted at before the summer, Luke guessed they were deep enough in their relationship that they were doing a lot more than that in private. The truth was, in this day and age, nobody really cared, and Luke was happy for them. Still, it was frustrating that guys who liked other guys were never going to be accepted in the same way.

“Something to drink?” Kieran asked.

“Coke, please." Trish reached out and touched her boyfriend's leg—a small gesture of affection to repay his attentive nature.

Kieran stood. “Can I get you guys anything?” he asked. Luke smothered a grin. She had him well trained already!

"Not for me, thanks," said Joe. Jenny seemed to take her cue from him, and shook her head too.

"I'll come with you," Luke offered quickly. He didn't really want to get stuck between chattering girls!

Before long, he and Kieran were alone by the drinks table. "So who's the girl?" Luke flicked his eyes back towards the group. "With Joe?"

"Jenny Kuo, you mean," smirked Kieran. "That's all I know…but I bet you Joe's hoping she plays chess!"

“What? I thought she was his sister?” Luke did a double take. “No…you don’t think…”

Kieran laughed. “Oh, for God's sake. Come on, he’s almost drooling!”

Secretively, Luke sneaked a peek at the pair. Joe did seem quite attentive. Kier was right, but how come he never noticed things like that? Sometimes stuff went on around him and he felt like he was just watching from the sidelines, never really getting into the game. Suddenly Kieran sniggered. Bemused, Luke watched as it developed and the Coke bottle shook.

"What's up with you?" he demanded, beginning to laugh too.

"You remember when we all scraped?" Lowering his voice, Kieran had a real fit of the giggles and had to put the bottle down.

"Yep…so?" Luke was amused. Along with others of his school friends, he’d hung out with Kier several times over the summer. More than once they’d reflected on ‘scraped’—and done a lot of laughing, too! To them, it wasn’t as awkward a topic as it might seem to others.

"So, what the hell's that got to do with Joe?" Luke said.

"Nothing. What I mean is that I kind of had to explain it to Trish—if you know what I mean!” Kieran shook his head, laughing, and didn't seem the slightest bit coy with revealing that his girlfriend apparently saw as much of him as did the guys at school under the showerheads!

They were probably having sex, but Luke shrugged. For God's sake, who cared anyway? They were all going to be seventeen soon! 

"And?" he prompted, trying not to get too caught up with a vision of the two people in bed.

"Well, I ended up telling her that a whole bunch of us were shaving it all off in a push to raise funds for an orphanage in Guatamala!" Tears were leaking from Kieran’s eyes as he cackled quietly.

"Holy crap!" Luke's mouth dropped open and he burst out laughing again. "You never did!" Out of the corner of his eye he saw others in the vicinity turn and glance curiously in their direction.

"Keep your voice down a bit!" giggled Kieran. Clearly, he wasn't keen on everyone knowing what he and his girlfriend got up to under the covers!

Luke smirked and lowered his tone. "Come on. She didn't honestly believe you, did she?"

"She gave me twenty bucks as a donation…and then offered to up it to forty if I kept 'em shaved!" Kieran grinned, and looked well and truly smitten. "Hell—she's something else!"

Oh my God! Luke creased over. Unbelievable. "So..." He couldn't help glancing down past Kieran's abs.

His friend smirked and patted over the top of his boardshorts. "I can't help it—this homie’s become a smoothie junkie!" He shook with laughter and continued pouring the drinks. His eyes flicked over to their table and his tone became provocative. "So, what's with you and Stacey?"

"Not you, too?" Luke rolled his eyes. "Nothing. We're just friends!"

"Yeah, right." Kieran smirked as they made their way back with several plastic beakers.

Luke ignored the teasing, but he couldn’t help wonder yet again why it was that relationships could end up being so simple for some people but not others? Kieran had certainly got a catch, and who knew, maybe even Joe was going to strike it lucky, too. Even Ryan, though he kept saying there was nothing between him and Mel—surely he was going to pick up a date soon? Luke realized he seemed to be surrounded by guys getting hitched, and part of him wondered why he didn’t just ask Stacey out, just to see what it was like. At least he’d be getting out there.

Because you'd be messing her up.

As they reached the table, Ryan joined them again, pulling up another chair. Simon had decided to join the cooking team, and Ry appeared happy to let him and Jacko get on with it.

"How was San Diego, Kier?" Ryan asked, pushing into the conversation. Kieran had only recently got back from a couple of weeks on the West Coast.

"So-so,” Kieran shrugged. “You know how it is…when you’ve seen one dolphin, you’ve seen ‘em all! Back to school in two weeks. I gotta get that school work started soon."

"Me too," Luke added, sipping his drink, relieved he wasn’t the only one still with a shed-load to get through.

"Not me." Ryan looked smug. "All done. Which is a good job 'cos I'm away for the next week or so."

"You even did the 'Mice and Men' essay?" Luke asked. He was jealous as he hadn't even started the four thousand-word review that had to be in on the first day back.

"Sure did—all typed up!"

"You know you have to write it by hand, right?" queried Kieran. "Not just hand in pages off your printer?"

Ryan's face fell and Kieran drove it home. "It's for Keynes remember—he said he wanted it in legible handwriting."

Ryan grimaced and muttered something unprintable under his breath, and then said, "It's gonna take ages!"

All of it made Luke feel even more self-satisfied, knowing that even Ryan Alexis wasn't perfect! "You'll have to take it to the camp and do it there," he said.

"What camp?" Kieran asked.

"The tennis camp Ry and a few others are going to." Luke knew about it, but couldn't remember the details other than Ryan was on a flight the following evening, and wouldn’t be back till the start of the school year. It was a bummer!

"Cool!" Kieran seemed genuinely interested. "Where?"

Trish was aghast and interrupted. "You could be at the beach, and you go to a tennis camp?"

"Not just any camp, Trish,” Ryan shot back. “This is one of the Nike organized setups. They bring in top-seeded players to coach for the week. It's up near Charlotte." He nodded towards the pool where Todd's brother was larking with his friends. "Mason and Jacko are both on it, too."

Trish didn't seem any more impressed, and Luke thought he would have taken the beach option, too, but each to his own.

“You’re taking your break to attend a tennis camp?” said Jenny, speaking for the first time. Her tone was soft, but she sounded fascinated. “That's so cool!”

“Jenny plays a lot of badminton,” said Joe, an intriguing edge in his voice.

For someone he'd only just met, Joe seemed to have found out a lot about the girl, and there was a gleam of something in his expression. Something that, to Luke, looked like…Joe Wong…you dog! Even Luke could now see he had eyes for Jenny. He could see Kieran about to pounce on it, too, so moved it along.

"Aren't your grandparents up that way, Ry?"

"Near enough," Ryan replied. "I'm staying with them for a while after the camp. I'll not see you guys 'til school."

They chatted some more, and soon it was time to eat. Luke hung by the grills helping out until the last of the burgers had been cooked. Under the radar, Todd appeared with half a dozen slices of steak, cut thin and easy to grill.

"For the chefs," he grinned. "And helpers!"

The burgers looked good, but the steaks were awesome, and four minutes each side later, Luke and Ryan settled into a corner to chew with satisfaction.