Kevin swayed bonelessly in the back seat as the truck bounced along the old country highway; his shoulders and back slightly burnt from too much sun. Ken and Jess were talking in low, easy tones about upcoming jobs as the radio twanged out the country songs the men liked.
Feeling at peace, he let his mind play back the events of the day. Ken had called him telling him they were going to a pool party and asked if Kevin wanted to join them. Kevin had thought the day would be full of boredom, stuck in the group home with little to do. Being offer the chance to spend time with the two men he’d come to look up too, of course he jumped at the chance.
Kevin had thrown on a pair of cut offs, grabbed a towel and wondered if it’d be too lame to wait for the men out on the front step. Deciding he didn’t care, he slipped on his tennis shoes and went outside.
The men must not have been too far away, as less than thirty minutes later, their truck came into view. Jumping into the truck as soon as it came to a complete stop, Kevin grinned at Ken but after looking at Jess, didn’t say a word. Jess looked hot and angry. That was a bad combination that Kevin had experienced before and contrary to most people’s opinion, teenagers were not stupid.
“Hey Kevin,” Ken greeted him. “The heat’s gotten so bad, we quit early.”
“It’s not that bad, we could’ve put in a few more hours.” Kevin heard Jess mumble, not quite under his breath.
Kevin sat back against the seat, out of firing range, as Ken shot Jess one of his patented “don’t fuck with me” looks.
Jess apparently wasn’t ready to back down as he shot out, “You’re wanting to take a day off and go swimming, in this economy? We should be finishing up the Whitmen contract. Or bidding the next job.”
“Or we could be in the hospital with heat stroke,” Ken said, then continued a little more firmly, “Give it up. Now.”
Kevin was glad he’d kept quiet in the back seat. Ken was usually an easy going guy, but there were times he used a voice, or a tone, that had Kevin watching closely what he said and did. Ken had never been mean, but he had a different intensity to him when he used that tone. And he’d noticed Jess started talking and acting a bit more cautiously too when Ken talked like that.
Jess obviously heard that tone now, as he kept his mouth shut and looked out the window. Soon they were pulling off the main road, onto a dusty dirt trail.
“I thought we were going to a pool party?” Kevin spoke up from the back seat.
“The river’s our pool, Kev. And with the three of us, it’s a party,” Ken said grinning at him from the rear view mirror.
Kevin grinned back. This was better than he expected. He felt more comfortable around just the two men. He didn’t have to watch what he said or did, he could relax and be himself.
Kevin ran to the river as soon as he was out of the truck, Ken and Jess not too far behind him. Splashing into the river, the water felt at once warm and refreshing. The drought having shortened the distance between shores had Ken challenging the others to a race across the river. Kevin knew he didn’t stand a chance of winning against the two larger and stronger men, but he eagerly gave it his best shot.
Swimming around, letting the warm river water cool them from the blazing sun, soon had Jess’s attitude improving. All of a sudden, Kevin felt strong hands grab him and then he was flying through the air.
Coming up with a jerk of his head to flip the hair off his face, he saw Jess smirking at him. Kevin lunged for Jess. A free for all soon followed with all three men trying to throw each other or dunk one another under the tepid water.
Ken was the first to get out of the river. Kevin had been too busy trying to dunk the mountain that Jess was to notice, but soon the scent of hot dogs drifted over to him. Still on Jess’s back, Kevin stopped to see where the delicious smell was coming from.
Too late, Kevin had felt Jess shift his body, flipping him over his shoulder and down into the murky water. And just as quickly, Kevin found himself upright again. Jess had pulled him out of the water.
“Let’s go eat,” Jess said and quickly waded to shore.
Hot dogs had never tasted as good as they had that afternoon. Ken had stripped some small branches of their bark, speared the hot dogs and had roasted them over an open fire. Kevin had been raised in the city, and his parents had much rather spend their money on booze, not day trips to the river. All the hot dogs that Kevin had eaten previously had been cooked in the microwave. These tasted almost better than a steak, Kevin had thought as he ate his third one.
After eating the men wandered up and down the river bed, looking for arrowheads as they dried off. Listening to Jess and Ken talk to each other about small home improvements to their house, and talking to him about what was going on at the group home; Kevin felt part of a family, like he’d never had before. These two men listened to him, and talked to him, they were genuinely interested in what he had to say.
“Kevin. Kevin! You asleep back there?” Ken’s voice broke Kevin out of his thoughts.
“No, just ‘laxing out,” Kevin reply. Noticing they were stopped in front of the group home, Kevin blushed. He hadn’t realized they’d even stopped.
“Thanks for today,” he mumbled to the two men as he climbed out of the truck.
“Anytime,” Ken said.
Jess quickly agreed but with a stipulation, “Yeah, anytime, except on a work day.”
Kevin laughed. He knew the two men would bicker back and forth good-naturedly as they drove home. It’d been a good day, and tempers were calm. Waving a goodbye, Kevin headed into the house.
After taking a shower to wash away the grit and smell of the river, Kevin flopped down on his bed. He let his mind drift to thoughts of future visits to the river. He never used to think of what lay before him, but now because of these two men, he started to think he might just have a future. He hoped that when he became a father, he’d listen to his own child, like Jess and Ken listened to him. He’d take his own family down to the river for a pool party. He’d race his kids across the river, cook hot dogs that tasted better than steak and show them how to hunt for arrowheads. And he knew it was all because of two men who took a chance on him.