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Islanders

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Islanders
A. Kite (Aug 2006)

It'd been a long time since he'd been this far out on the east coast. When he left Wilby, Duck had headed for the big cities in Ontario. After he figured out city life didn't suit him, he'd gone out west, even down into the States for a while. Now he was east, back in the Maritimes again. He'd stopped to eat at a diner, and the people there had been really friendly. A fellow came in and sat down next to Duck at the counter and started talking to him. "Hello there, what brings you around these parts?"

Duck shrugged and said, "Looking for work. You know of any around here? I do painting, light carpentry, general handyman stuff."

The man took off his hat and scratched his head as looked around the diner. He called to another guy that was sitting at a table. "Hey Talbot, you know anybody needing a handyman?"

Talbot looked up from his plate and gave Duck the once over. Duck guessed he passed muster because Talbot got up and came over. "Matter of fact, I was over to Solomon Gundy the other day, and Gus mentioned something about trying to find somebody to do some work at the church. Guess nobody over there has the time what with the new hatchery and all."

"What's a Solomon Gundy?" Duck asked.

Talbot and the other guy laughed. Talbot slapped Duck on the back and answered, "It's an island. What you do, young fella, is take the ferry over there and ask for Gus Knickel. Tell him Talbot Sperry sent you."

Duck opened his mouth to ask how to find this Gus Knickel, but Talbot cut him off, "Better hurry, though, the morning ferry leaves in about 10 minutes."

Duck paid for his breakfast and drove down to the ferry. The ride over to the island reminded him of home. The wind off the water was chilly, even now in the height of summer. For the first time in a long time, he felt a bit homesick. He fished his jacket from behind the seat of the truck, lit a cigarette and walked around the boat as he smoked. From the stern he watched the gulls following in their wake as the mainland shrunk in the distance. Then he went forward and stood at the bow until he saw the smudge of land they were heading to become distinct. He knew he had plenty of time to get back to even after they landed. It wasn't a big boat, and the crew had to tie up and put the ramp down. Duck got back in just as he felt the bump of boat to dock.

The ferry crew waved him off the boat, and Duck slowly drove away from the pier. The town was a bit smaller than Wilby and much older. By the looks of it, Solomon Gundy had to be settled at least two hundred years before anyone had set foot on Wilby. And one good thing about a town this small was he didn't have to stop and ask directions. The Anglican church was a stone edifice that anchored one of the corners of the town square.

His truck garnered a few curious looks as he drove past the few shops on the square, which included a hardware store to Duck's relief. Now that he was here, he didn't think much of the idea of having to go all the way back to the mainland for materials if he got the job. He found a spot to park and ran a professional eye over the exterior of the church. The stonework could use some tucking and pointing. The vestibule could use a coat of paint too, he thought after he climbed the steps and entered.

He stood blinking and waiting for his eyes to adjust to the dimmer light inside. He saw a figure moving about in the main sanctuary and started to call out. Then his heart stuttered and his breath caught. The man - it was clearly a man - stepped into a beam of sunlight.

In profile he was the spitting image of Buddy French, but as he turned Duck revised his first impression. Unlike Buddy, he looked like an avenging angel that had just stepped off one of the stained glass windows. The only thing missing was the fiery sword.

"Can I help you?" The man moved toward him.

It took Duck a second or two to respond. "I'm looking for Gus Knickel."

The man smiled, and Duck's knees went weak. "Well, you've found him.

What can I do for you?"

"Uh," Duck dredged the name from his memory, "Talbot Sperry sent me over, said you were looking for someone to do some work around here."

"Ah, that I am. That I am, and who might you be?"

"Duck MacDonald," he replied as he held out his hand.

Gus smiled again and took his hand to shake. "Duck? Really?"

Duck had to smile back. "Well, actually, it's Walter, but I've been Duck so long, it kind of stuck."

Gus let go of Duck's hand and made a sweeping gesture with his arm, "Well then, Duck, as you can see, things have gotten a bit shabby around here. There was nothing we could do about it before, but we've got few extra dollars around here these days, and it's time we got this church back up to snuff. Are you up for the job?"

Yes he was, in more ways than one. Duck was glad he had his baggy overalls on. It had to be some kind of sin to get an erection in a church, and over a minister; he'd probably go straight to hell for that.

But he was good at hiding inappropriate attractions and reactions. He had years of practice.

They went into the church office and came to terms quickly, deciding that the church would pay for the materials and pay Duck for his labor. That suited him just fine. Duck wasn't a handyman to get rich. He just needed enough to get him wherever he was going. The only thing left to settle was where Duck was going to stay. "There a place close by where I can camp?"

Gus chewed his bottom lip before answering. "No need for that. You can stay with me. I've got room, plus all the fish you can eat. Come on, let's go over to Swinnimer's and see what Hoagie has in stock."

Duck took a deep breath before following Gus out the door. Hiding this attraction wasn't going to be easy. The work was easy, though, and unlike other people he'd worked for Gus didn't hang around watching him all day and making suggestions.

He did come back around lunchtime with sandwiches and pop for the both of them. Duck had started painting the entryway. Gus looked at it for few seconds, and said, "Looks good. Let's eat outside away from the fumes."

That took Duck back a bit. On most jobs the employer didn't buy you lunch, much less care to eat with you. He didn't argue, though. "Let me rinse out this roller and wash my hands. Be out in a minute."

Gus was sitting on the steps outside, and Duck joined him when he was finished cleaning up. As he sat down Gus said, "I hope you like tuna. I wasn't kidding about the fish; we do eat a lot of it. Got your choice of pop, though, ginger ale or Coke?"

"Tuna's fine, and the ginger ale, I guess."

A variety of island residents came by as they ate. Each of them stopped for a moment to chat. Nobody seemed in a hurry, which was one of the reasons why Duck had decided big city life didn't suit him. Gus called across the street to a fisherman, "How's the catch this morning, Thurgood?"

The fisherman shook his head and walked over. "Low today. When's that hatchery going to be done?"

"In God's own time, old son. Fish only grow as fast as they grow."

Thurgood snorted. "That might be true, but that doesn't make the catch any bigger. Besides, when did you start believing in God?" The man waved his hand in dismissal and walked up the street.

Duck sat there with his sandwich halfway to his mouth. He put the sandwich done and asked, "You're a minister, but you don't believe in God?"

Gus threw his head back and laughed. "Some days yes, but mostly no, but that doesn't seem to matter to my people. They wouldn't have anyone else. Believe me, I've tried. Seems I'm destined to be their leader whether I want the job or not."

Duck looked at him agog, but Gus just laughed again and shook his head. "Never mind me, I'm just being morbid today. Being mayor on top of being God's representative on Earth gets trying sometimes." All Duck could do was shrug and finish his sandwich.

Later that afternoon, Duck finished up the trim work and cleaned his brushes. He sat down outside on the steps again and lit a cigarette. He was tired, but it was a good kind of tired, the kind that came from doing a job well. He spotted Gus coming out of one of the stores with a shopping bag and heading his way. His face lit up when he saw Duck. Duck looked down the street the other way to see if someone else could be causing it, but no one else was around.

"You ready to knock off?" Gus asked when he reached the bottom of the steps.

Duck nodded, not trusting his voice. Gus looked radiant in the late afternoon sunlight.

"Come on then." He gestured with his head and started for Duck's truck. "You drive, and I'll navigate."

Duck scrambled up and followed. Gus hadn't gone in to check his work, and come to think of it, he hadn't locked the church either. When he asked, Gus shook his head and smiled. "No need to."

Gus' house wasn't far and sat right on the water. To Duck's surprise it wasn't fancy. In fact, it was damn messy, inside and out. Duck brought in his duffle bag and dropped it by the door. Gus headed to the kitchen, and bottles rattled as he sat the shopping bag down on the counter by the refrigerator. He pulled out a carton of beer and offered one to Duck.

"Uh, no thanks."

"I think I've got a bottle of whiskey around here somewhere if you'd rather have that."

Duck shook his head. "I gave it up, but you go ahead if you want."

So softly that Duck was sure he misheard, Gus said, "Oh, I want." Then louder he said, "You're probably wanting a shower. The bathroom's back there. Towels are in the cupboard."

Duck grabbed his bag and took a shower wondering the whole time if he'd heard Gus right or if his own desires made him think Gus said he wanted him. He pulled on a pair of jeans and a t-shirt and went to see what was cooking that smelled so good.

It was fish, naturally. As they sat down to eat Gus asked him, "Why'd you give up drinking? You don't mind talking about it do you?

Duck shrugged. "Not much to tell. I drank too much, got into fights. One night about a year ago, in Edmonton, there was a fight in a bar that I wasn't actually a part of, but a piece of glass got embedded in my eye. I decided that if I didn't lose my sight, I'd go on the wagon. I was lucky, damned lucky, and now I don't drink anymore."

Gus reached over and gave Duck's hand a squeeze. "Thanks."

They finished eating and stood up together to clear the table. They worked together as if they'd done it hundreds of times. Afterwards, they sat outside smoking, Duck with coffee and Gus with another beer and talked.

Gus began with, "Isn't it beautiful? Except for college, I've lived my whole life here on Solomon Gundy, and when I die, I'll be buried here along side my parents, my grandfather and Dexter."

"Dexter?" It didn't sound like a local name to Duck.

"He was a friend. Let me tell you a story -" Gus told the story of Dexter Lexcannon, fishing rights and a Russian submarine, and when he was finished, he asked Duck, "So, this is my home, but tell me Duck MacDonald, where's your home?"

Duck lit another cigarette before answering, "Wilby Island, I guess, that's where I was born and raised."

"I knew you were an islander."

Duck shook his head, "No, not anymore. I left Wilby as soon as I got out of school. I went back once when my mum died, but no, it's not my home."

Gus said, "You're still an islander, you just don't know it yet."

Not wanting to argue with the man that signed the checks, Duck went inside and washed the supper dishes. As he let the water out of the sink and dried his hands, he turned to watch as Gus bent over to tie up a bag of garbage. Gus caught him at it and gave him a soft grin. "Like what you see?"

No sense in lying, the evidence was right there in his tented jeans. Duck nodded.

Gus straightened up and moved to stand in front of him. He stroked the side of Duck's face once before leaning in for a kiss. It was soft and gentle, and Duck moaned when Gus pulled back, leaning into Gus not wanting to let go.

Gus held him close again, his mouth bushing Duck's ear. "I was going to offer you the spare bed, but I'd really like you to share mine - tell me you want it too."

Echoing Gus' earlier words, Duck said, "I want," with conviction, though he couldn't quite believe his luck.

They moved to the bedroom, and Duck started to take off his clothes, but Gus stopped him. "Let me - I need to touch you." His voice so thick, so dark, so deep with wanting that Duck had no desire to do anything but go where Gus led him and do whatever he wanted.

Sex with Gus was extraordinary, unlike anything Duck had ever done. He'd had sex, all right, in the woods at Wilby Watch, and in dirty bathrooms, and even in smelly alleys behind ratty bars, and he was used to being as quiet as possible. With Gus he couldn't help making noise.

Because, he thought, dazed, with Gus, for Gus, it was making love, not just sex.

Gus touched him softly, gently; later when he thought about it, the word 'reverently' came to mind. And Gus would not be hurried. It seemed to take hours for his hands, his mouth, his words to travel down Duck's body, leaving Duck writhing in his wake. Duck actually whimpered, please, when Gus bypassed his cock to run his hands down Duck's legs, because it had never been like this, never been this slow, this unhurried, this good.

Gus chuckled against the skin of Duck's thigh and brought one of his hands back up to fondle Duck's balls. Then, in a move of feline fluidity, Gus rose up and took Duck's cock into his mouth.

"Fuck!" The feel of it, the wet warmth, the sudden suction, shocked the curse from him.

Unable or maybe just unwilling to continue lying there passively, he ran his fingers through Gus' wild mane of hair and pushed up into his mouth, finding Gus’ rhythm easily and moving along with him. It wasn’t that he wanted to push or guide Gus in any way, but wanted this, he'd wanted this all day.

And so had Gus, he thought, a little mystified and maybe a little flattered. Gus was sucking him down and then bobbing up to look at him again, his eyes dark and liquid. And Duck had to curse again when Gus’ finger took him by surprise. God, it felt good, even though it was just spit, because Gus was just as gentle. He worked that finger in and sucked Duck down until Duck felt like he couldn’t breathe anymore. But he didn’t want to. He just wanted to come, maybe as fast as Gus was finger-fucking him or maybe as gentle as Gus was sucking him. Either way would work.

But Gus wasn’t having that either. Duck whimpered again when Gus pulled that finger out, but when Gus pulled open a drawer in the table by the bed, Duck almost moaned out loud. Gus, stroking on a condom, was something out of a porno, or even better, because he was real and warm and... and he was smiling, not victoriously, not even knowingly, but just because he liked this, liked Duck. And Duck found himself smiling back, leaning back, even, letting Gus push his legs apart and up. He’d never done it this way but with someone like Gus it didn’t matter. Gus wanted what he wanted.

And when Gus pushed into him, smooth and hard and still gentle, somehow, Duck wanted it too.

It didn’t surprise him, not now, that Gus took his time here too. It didn’t surprise him either that Gus leaned in to kiss him, braced himself on one hand to stroke him, even told Duck in a rough whisper to stroke himself. The only thing that really surprised him was coming when he didn’t mean to yet, all at once and without warning and all over the two of them.

Gus held on a while longer, maybe ten or fifteen more seconds, and Duck enjoyed even that, coming down with Gus still hard inside him and being able to feel Gus surging against him, dropping his forehead down so hard it thudded against Duck’s, and holding onto Duck like he was a life preserver when he came.

*****

Two weeks later:

It was early when Duck woke, so early it was still dark out, but he knew he wouldn't sleep again. Besides, his bladder was clamoring for attention. He slipped from under Gus' arm and went to the bathroom. When he was finished, he quietly pulled on some clothes and went outside to sit at the end of Gus' dock.

He lit a cigarette and watched the bobbing lights of the fishing boats going out with the tide. He didn't want to, but it was time to think about moving on. The work at the church was done. He'd been dawdling for a couple days.

"You miss it, don't you?"

Gus' voice from behind made him jump. "Miss what?" Duck half turned and saw Gus shaking his head.

"The sea, old son, the sea. You should go home."

"No. I can't. Gus, it's too hard to live that way. Always hiding who I am." Duck turned back to the water and drew his knees up, resting his arms atop them.

He felt Gus' hand on his back. "Then don't. Don't hide it."

Duck snorted. "Right. You don't know Wilby."

"You're right, I don't know Wilby, but I don't image it's much different from here. It's your home. They'll accept you."

Gus sat down beside him, and they watched in silence as the sun turned the sky pink and gold before cresting the horizon.

Later, when Duck had packed his few belonging and kissed Gus goodbye, he took the ferry back to the mainland. Instead of going north along the coast as he'd planned, he turned his truck toward Wilby.