Castle Roland

The Gulf
Between Us

by Rick Beck


Chapter 19

Posted: 18 Feb 16

The Gulf Between Us

A Rick Beck Story
Editor: Jerry W.
For David

Tender Trap

I slipped into the seat Ivan vacated. It faced in his direction and would give me a closeup of the action. I wanted to be close in case Ivan needed something. At the same time I didn't have anything to say, as I watched him put on the harness Boris left empty.

The fish cooperated with the shift change. I kept my eye on the rig Boris leaned against the stern, not knowing what I'd do if it began to move. Ivan kept glancing at it as he prepared himself to do battle.

I had kept an eye on Ivan the last few hours. He'd kept an eye on Boris after the fish was hooked. I wondered if he calculated his turn was coming. He knew Boris better than anyone.

Watching Boris told Ivan a lot about what to do with a big fish.

Ivan's motions were smooth after he picked up the rig and began reeling in line. He'd seen what Boris did. He'd heard his father's instructions to Boris.

It was only the two of us on the stern of the boat at first. Kenny followed Boris into the galley. It would be cooler there, and that's where the food was. Mr. Aleksa walked away rather than participate in what he must have seen as a total capitulation by his eldest son. I'd seen him go back to the bridge, although the engines were off and we'd been drifting all morning.

The heir apparent to the Vilnius Two walked away from his chance to catch one of the big fish. Mr. Aleksa returned to coach Ivan as enthusiastically as he'd coached Boris. First he had to rid himself of the disappointment I'd seen on his face, when Boris gave up the fight.

Boris was happy to be rid of the fish. He'd walked out on his father once before, I didn't see this as being much different from that, but I guess there is hope until there is none left.

I didn't see pretty boy Boris taking over the helm of the Vilnius Two. Ivan and I worked the boat all that summer and Boris wasn't the type to be knee deep in fish twice a day. I could be wrong, but I didn't think so.

In no time at all Mr. Aleksa returned to take his place behind Ivan. Kenny also reappeared. He stood close to Ivan's seat, but far enough away not to block my view. I didn't know what I could do for Ivan, but I wanted to stay close just in case.

Boris returned from below deck and sat in the seat where I'd been sitting. With the second stern seat turned in Ivan's direction, I could see Boris out of the corner of my eye four feet away.

I could see his sleek sweaty body without looking at him and I marveled at the perfection he'd achieved in developing his body, but at the same time I wondered what it was good for.

Boris sat with a root beer in his right hand and one of my mother's sandwiches on his stomach. He leaned back with his eyes closed, unaware of my inspection of him. His knees were bent and his feet were flat on the deck as he rested.

I wondered what was going through his head. Even I wouldn't have quit in the middle of a fight, unless I was in way over my head. Boris simply quit when faced with another three hours of doing battle with his big fish. What did he believed in? I knew nothing except what Ivan told me about his brother. What Ivan told me was now suspect.

My attention was quickly back on Ivan. He dipped his rod, reeling in line. Bringing the rod up, he reeled in more line. The fish was testing him now. The strain in Ivan's arms, chest, and shoulders was obvious. He found the fish by then. What would he do with it?

Each time Ivan got the rod back up, he stopped cranking, letting the rod dip before he reeled in more line. It's what Mr. Aleksa was trying to get Boris to do. Boris struggled to do it. Ivan didn't struggle.

Boris didn't like using the muscles he'd built. They were for show, but as of yet, he hadn't shown me much.

"That's it. Let him know you've got him, Ivan," Mr. Aleksa said, buoyed by Ivan's effort at controlling the fish. I resented that merely looking at him made me feel things I wasn't sure I wanted to feel. This is what kept me confused about Ivan's brother.

It wasn't long before the marlin rose from the depths, becoming airborne again. It did this three times in a row and each time it arched its body, wriggling to free himself of the hook.

It was a majestic sight and the hook stayed where it was.

What I wouldn't give to have a movie camera. It was a rare sight I was seeing. I envied Ivan for having such a fish on his line, but I was sad for the fish. More confusion toyed with my brain. Why was I so full of so many feelings.

"That's it, son. That's how it's done," Mr. Aleksa said.

Boris and Kenny watched from near the seat I'd given up to get my closeup of the action. Kenny seemed drawn to Boris. Were we all drawn to his flame like moths unable to resist the light? Boris liked the attention Kenny paid to him. No expectations came with Kenny.

Ivan didn't so much think about doing something. He mostly did it. His muscles weren't as impressive as Boris', but he knew how to get the most out of them.

The first hour it looked like Ivan had everything under control. I thought at most, in another hour, Ivan would have his fish. I'd never been sport fishing and I was about to find out that this fish wasn't so easily convinced as I was.

The reel began whirling, making the shrill pitched sound again, and all bets were off. The fish was strong. He ran in spite of the drag.

"I've never seen a fish with so much reserve strength," Mr. Aleksa said to himself. "It's over four hours and he's running again!"

For the next hour Ivan sat motionless, waiting for the marlin to tire. The fish was running for his life. He wasn't ready to give up yet. The line Boris and Ivan took from the fish, belonged to the fish again.

The shrill sound turned to clicking and the clicks became more labored, and then the fish stopped moving.

"Little more drag, Ivan. I can't tell you he won't run again. More drag will discourage him. He's got to be exhausted. I've never seen a fish run this late in the game."

"It won't break the line?" Ivan asked with concern.

"Can't say it won't. Can't say he won't keep running. We're coming to the end of the line, son. The yellow line you see is the final hundred yards. It's how I know when a reel is running out. We've got to get him coming back this was or he'll be gone if he runs for a few more minutes."

Ivan listened to his father, moving the drag up one click.

"We had him right behind the boat, Daddy," Ivan said. "What happened?"

"This is a clever fish. Maybe he let us get him behind the boat. Maybe he thought if we got a look at him, we'd give up the idea of trying to catch him."

The heat was relentless. We all drank soda and Mr. Aleksa drank coffee. Ivan relaxed long enough to drink the root beer I brought him. When our eyes met, he nodded his appreciation. I handed him half the sandwich I brought for myself, thinking he just might eat it. When he gobbled it down, I gave him the other half. He gladly took it.

I settled back into the second stern seat. I wasn't that hungry. I'd get a sandwich later. I noticed Boris going into the galley. Kenny was two paces behind him. They'd been eating for an hour. There was plenty of food. I didn't think they could eat it all, but I was going to get a sandwich before long just in case.

It was still cool below deck this time of day, but I couldn't watch Ivan and be cool at the same time. There wasn't a cloud in the sky.

I focused on Ivan as he began taking back line. He took his time. There was a lot of line out there.

It looked like the fish had run as far as he could go. As he came back toward us, Ivan reeled in line. For now the fish was cooperating. I was worn out watching.

Mr. Aleksa stood behind Ivan, looking beyond the stern of the boat. He seemed to be seeing the marlin, thinking and swimming.

"Did you set up the drag when he stopped?" Mr. Aleksa asked.

"Yes, sir. I set it up one notch. I've already got a lot of drag, Daddy," Ivan said. "I'm getting line now. Maybe give him a click of drag back?"

"Yes, do that. His last run had to tire him. Too much drag is risky."

I calculated Ivan was in his third hour of the fight. It was the hottest part of the day. Ivan was resting and so was the fish. I decided to go to the galley and rescue a sandwiches for myself. This time I'd eat it.

No one was in the galley. I took a couple of sandwiches and put the basket back in the cooler, retrieving a Pepsi and a root beer. I stopped at the door, listening for the other two boys, but I heard nothing. They'd probably gone to the bridge while I was focused on Ivan.

Mr. Aleksa took the sandwich I couldn't get Ivan to take. It was ham and cheese. It was the first food I'd seen him take that day. It had to be well after three in the afternoon. He'd hardly left either of his sons as they fished.

I ate the wonderful creamy egg salad, letting the soothing soda cool my throat. I wasn't hungry but I knew better than to bake in the sun and not eat something.

Sitting in the second stern seat, taking up my watch. I had no idea what would come next. For the last hour Ivan reeled in line and the fish offered no hint of his whereabouts.

The marlin shot out of the sea like a rocket an hour after I had my sandwich. Speaking of discouraging. The marlin was a small fish on the horizon, but what an impressive jump. If that sucker was worn out, he sure fooled me.

Once again he was demonstrating he might be hooked but he wasn't caught yet. Ivan was immediately reeling in line. The fish was moving closer. A few hundred yards were easy to reel in, but when the fish settled on the bottom, he became hard to move.

Ivan continued to reel in line. It took a lot of effort. He stopped after fifteen minutes of fighting the dead weight. The energy he was expending wasn't worth the little bit of line the fish gave him. The wait was on, but gradually the fish was coming back to us.

The fatigue began to show on Ivan. The stiff back had bent. His motions were labored. He panted to get enough air. Luckily clouds began to fill the sky, filtering the sun's rays. The heat of the day passed and a slight breeze helped.

Ivan was well into his fourth hour. He'd surpassed the time Boris spent trying to catch the fish.

He let the rod dip, hesitated, reeled in line, lifting the rod, hesitating before letting the rod dip again. He was continually reeling in line now. The reel was filling up with line. The fish was close.

There was nothing I could do. I admired Ivan's stamina. I'd have given up a long time ago. I never thought Ivan was weak or lacked courage. He was still all the things he'd been to me but we had a distance between us that wasn't there before.

He'd hurt me and the jury was still out on how that was going to go. I wanted to touch him, say encouraging words, but I had none. In this arena Ivan was on his own.

By the amount of line on the reel, the fish wasn't far off by the middle of the fifth hour, but he remained invisible. Ivan kept reeling in line a few yards at a time. He would hesitate when he felt the fish. Then he'd struggle to reel in a few more feet of line. The fish kept coming closer.

He'd been at it for a long time. He had to be exhausted. A heavy overcast blocked the sun completely by then. It had cooled off from the upper nineties to the middle eighties. The breeze had picked up.

The marlin jumped near the place where we'd first seen him, but the jumps were weak, not nearly as impressive. Sightings of the marlin were exhilarating.

It was a shame to take such a magnificent creature out of the sea, but he seemed to be resigned to being caught now. He intended to stay free as long as he could, but his time was running out.

"You've got him now," Mr. Aleksa said. "He's worn himself out. He can't get completely out of the water when he jumps."

"Not to mention me, Dad," Ivan said, working the reel and sounding tired.

"He used too much energy thinking he can outrun the hook that has him. Take as much line as you can. He might be done running but he isn't done fighting. He's close now. It won't be long."

"I'll get him," Ivan assured his father.

Ivan hadn't gotten up for over five hours. He was getting the fish closer without more than a little resistance. Each time he was making headway, the fish stopped, making him work for any line he got, but then he swam closer to the boat.

Ivan kept working the rod, cranking the reel, and when going got really slow, he'd hesitate to breathe and wait for the fish to begin swimming again. He always swam closer now. The pressure stayed on the hook he'd swallowed.

The sun was on its downward arc. Even with the clouds and an increasing breeze, it was hot. The fight had gone on all day.

The marlin ran maybe a hundred yards. Then he jumped once. I could see the disappointment on Ivan's face, but then the line was there for him to reel in. There was no resistance. The fish was swimming toward the boat again.

As disheartening as that last run was, it was over fast. Ivan reeled in line without resistance. He got back that hundred yards of line and more.

"What's he doing, Daddy?" Ivan asked.

"He's getting the pressure off that hook. Running doesn't work."

The fish was tired and Ivan seemed like he was working on his final reserve of energy. He wasn't going to quit until that fish was on the deck, or he was. When he let the rod dip, it rested on the stern rail. It didn't come back up for a minute or more.

I waited for the rod to dip and stay on the rail, with Ivan not being able to life it again. Mr. Aleksa's eyes were on where the rod and the line rested against the railing. The line could snag and break on something.

The marlin jumped a few hundred feet behind the boat. He couldn't dive. He swam on the surface. The fish was marking time. He had been beaten, but we still had to get him on the boat..

That marlin intended to stay free as long as he could but his time was running out. Ivan, as tired as he looked, kept reeling in line. The fish swam closer as we all stood to watch the fight end.

"Want me to take it, Ivan?" Kenny asked. "He's almost to the boat. He's finished. You've beat him. I can get him into position so we can bring him on board. I'll need the rod and reel."

Kenny stood close without moving the extra few feet to take the rig. This was his fish and no one could intercede until Ivan allowed it.

"I've got him," Ivan said, reeling in more line. I'll get him to the boat and then you take over."

"We're going to need the rod and reel so it doesn't snag on the stern, Ivan. When you're ready, we'll get him on the deck," Mr. Aleksa said, staying out of Ivan's sight. His voice was reassuring.

"OK, when I get him to the boat. You say when," Ivan said, seeing the wisdom in his father's words.

Each time he dipped the rod, it stayed dipped for minutes instead of seconds, before he could begin lifting it, pulling that huge weight closer to the boat.

The fish struggled, splashed, swam in circles twenty yards behind the boat. Looking down, as Ivan leaned back to bring in the final few feet of line, I saw blood on the foot plate under his feet. I was made a little queasy by this. Ivan used his feet for leverage to gain an advantage, but it was taking its toll.

The fish was out of moves. It had run out of time as it swam on the surface, making smaller and smaller circles as it came to the boat.

Yesterday the marlin owned the sea. It was down to its last few feet of life. I was just glad the fight was over. Kenny and Boris scrambled to be ready to bring the marlin onto the deck.

"OK, Ivan. Let me take it so I can guide him along the side."

Mr. Aleksa's hand reached for the center of the rod as it leaned on the stern railing. Ivan hadn't moved for a couple of minutes. He'd dipped the rod as he'd done a thousand times that day, but it never came back up. I was thankful when Mr. Aleksa reached for the rig.

"We'll get him on the sling and let the boom do the work of lifting him onto the deck. Nice job, son. Fine job."

Ivan watched his father moving toward the starboard side of the boat. He reeled in line as he went so the fish stayed tight against the line. Ivan leaned forward and rested his hands on his thighs, looking a bit shell shocked now that the fight was over.

Kenny gave Boris a gaff and they both leaned to hold the marlin against the side of the boat while the sling was brought to the fish.

"Great job, son. A beautiful fish," Mr. Aleksa said, as Kenny and Boris arranged the sling around the marlin..

I went to the galley and brought back a root beer for Ivan. They were still positioning the marlin to lift onto the deck.

When I handed Ivan the cold drink, he looked up at me. His eyes were glass. I don't think he saw me, but he had no trouble turning the bottle of root beer up to drain it.

"OK, let's get him on deck," Mr. Aleksa said. "The slings tight. Move back."

The boom lifted the marlin straight out of the gulf, easing him onto the deck. The sling dropped away, giving us a full view. The marlin took up half the length of the deck.

I'd never seen a blue like the blue in that fish. There was gray and silver blended in a rainbow pattern that made the fish more beautiful close up.

His tail slapped the deck, making a substantial sound. It slapped one more time with almost no force left in it. The fish was caught. He understood that his time in the sea was done. There was no fight left, but he let us know he wasn't dead yet.

"Quarter of a ton," Mr. Aleksa said. "Five hundred pounds of marlin. That's one hell of a fish, son."

"Nine hours," Kenny said. "The two of you fought it for over nine hours."

"Never heard of one taking nine hours. A hell of a fish," Mr. Aleksa bragged.

Ivan reached down to swivel his seat to get a good look. He showed no interest in getting up or getting any closer. You didn't need to get close to be able to appreciate the size of the thing. It was huge.

The fight was over and Ivan looked like he'd gone fifteen rounds with Mohammed Ali.

I was tired. I put my shirt on as the breeze became a wind that whipped around us. This made the water rougher and the boat moved around in the chop.

I took the container of water Kenny set behind Ivan's seat and poured it over the foot plate where Ivan's footprints were outlined in blood. Ivan watched me do it and he seemed to appreciate the removal of the evidence that he was hurt by the fish. You didn't take such a creature out of the sea without paying some price.

That marlin owned the sea a few hours ago. Now he decorated the deck of the Vilnius Two. It was a sad ending for a magnificent beast. I hated seeing the final bit of life drain out of him.

It had been a marlin's last hurrah. The fish had been beaten. He expended the last of his energy struggling to be free, but man prevailed as he usually did.

I looked away from it, having seen enough. There was nothing to say now. The rod with the huge reel was leaned against the starboard side. The marlin accepted its fate as its life ebbed away.

Ivan painstakingly released himself from the harness, but he didn't get up. He flexed his hands. He leaned back in his seat and closed his eyes.

"Nine foot, nine inches," Mr. Aleksa said, holding a measuring tape.

"Trophy fish for certain," Kenny said. "That's bigger than the one two years ago."

"I believe so," Mr. Aleksa said. "That went five hundred and eighty pounds. We'll need to get this one on the scale at the fish warehouse. Not bad for your first marlin, Ivan."

"It's not mine." Ivan immediately corrected. "I caught it for Boris. I just reeled in his line. It's his fish."

He put Boris in the spotlight. He'd hooked the fish but lacked the will to catch it.

"You caught it. I didn't," Boris said. "I don't want it. It's your fish."

As they argued over the ownership of the fish, its tale flopped two feeble times. It clung to life as the brothers argued. I thought this was where I'd come in.

What a waste to take a beautiful living thing out of its element and no one wanted it. For the first time I didn't like fishing.

Ivan looked straight into my eyes as I watched the dying fish. I'm sure my sadness over this showed.

"Can we put it back?" Ivan asked out of the blue. "I don't take trophies. He belongs in the sea so he can make little marlin."

"Your fish. You can do anything you want with it," Mr. Aleksa said. "Your call."

Surprisingly, Mr. Aleksa didn't sound opposed to the idea of putting it back.

"Will it live or just sink and die if we put it back?" Ivan asked.

Mr. Aleksa used his toe to nudge the marlin. The tail flipped once weakly.

"If we can get the hook out without damaging him, we can hold him against the side of the boat until he revives. He should be OK. He won't be a happy fish but he'll be a free fish," Mr. Aleksa spoke carefully, considering each word.

"I've never put one back, son. I'm a fishermen. I can't make any guarantees on this. That's my opinion. It's your fish and if you say put him back, by God we put him back. I think he'll swim away without needing to be talked into it."

"Put him back," Ivan said, looking directly at me.

I'm certain he read my surprise.

"I'll help," I said, anxious to get the fish back into the water.

"Kenny, you want to reach into his mouth and see if you can talk him out of that hook? I'm not reaching in there," Mr. Aleksa said. "You've got to do easy like. He doesn't know we're putting him back."

"Sure thing, boss. Someone want to tickle this sucker so he'll open wide?" Kenny asked, putting his arm up to the shoulder into the marlin's open mouth.

In a minute Kenny held up the hook triumphantly.

"OK, we need to let the boom bring the sling up around him. Just make sure he doesn't slide out. I'll take it slow," Mr. Aleksa said.

We held him against the hull, slipping the sling away from him. The fish didn't react. I was sure he'd already died.

Putting a fish back is trickier than it sounds, especially a big fish. For a couple of minutes he was perfectly still. I was getting dizzy leaning over the side of the boat, but I held onto him. He'd either have to sink or swim.

Then, as Mr. Aleksa predicted, I felt his muscles coming back to life. The marlin seemed to shiver, tense, and he was gone.

No one had to tell me when to let go of a marlin.

There was laughter from everyone when we were no longer holding the fish. Knowing he was alive and able to swim away made me as happy as I can remember being. We'd done a good thing.

It was a marvelous fish. I'd never seen anything like it. The biggest fish we'd caught in the nets was way smaller. I watched the rough sea in the diminishing light. I heard the marlin breach the surface a few minutes after he took off. He was still on the starboard side but well in front of the boat when I heard him jump.

It was a good sign. No he wasn't happy but he was free.

Ivan, on the other hand, sat listlessly in the seat where he'd been sitting for over six hours. He looked pleased with himself, when I turned to find him watching me. I couldn't help but smile. I also shook my head.

I had a feeling he'd finally spoken to me. It was hard to miss the message he sent me. I still felt like crying and my confidence in him, in us, had been shaken.

I may have been happy about what he did but I wasn't certain I was ready to forgive him for hurting me. This was a matter of trust. It didn't simply recover with one act of kindness. I needed more.

"You want to get my shirt for me. I'm freezing," Ivan said, as I came back toward him.

"You OK?" I asked, wanting to hear him say he was.

He looked up at me sheepishly not attempting to smile. He looked at his father, Kenny, and Boris standing in the doorway of the bridge, no doubt discussing the big fish.

"Do I look okay and do you care?" Ivan said, bringing his attention back to me.

"No you don't. Yes I do," I answered.

"Don't say anything. Please! I don't think I can get up without help. If I can get to my bunk, I should be OK by tomorrow. Help me when no one is watching us."

"OK," I answered, not liking the sound of it.

"You OK, son?" Mr. Aleksa asked before following Boris and Kenny onto the bridge. "I'm going to move to someplace smoother for overnight. We'll decide what to do in the morning."

"Fine, Dad. Just tired. I'm going to catch some sack time," he said.

"Great job, Ivan. I'm proud of you," Mr. Aleksa said, going onto the bridge.

"OK, help me up. Let me lean on you," Ivan said.

I could see Ivan was exhausted. His feet had been bleeding but there was nothing else that looked too far out of the ordinary. Maybe a night in the bunk was what he needed. I'd help him even if I was mad at him.

Ivan leaned on me. We moved slowly. I shifted to let him step inside the galley first. I stepped inside, letting him lean on me again. We fit together easily as we moved into the narrow passageway. After a few steps, Ivan stopped, letting his face rest on my chest.

"You, OK?" I asked.

"Give me a second," he said, and then he began moving again.

As I wrapped my arms around him during one of the rest stops, I wasn't sure he hadn't fallen asleep. It gave me a hot flash to have his body so close to mine. Our cheeks brushed and stayed together for a few steps at one point. His breathing sounded rough.

The heat was increasing below deck as it cooled off outside. Ivan had no complaints as we made our way to the crew quarters. He wrapped his arms around my neck as I eased him into the first bunk. He let out a long sigh once he was flat on his back.

We usually fell asleep on deck and weren't below decks that often. There was some bedding and a blanket that needed to be straightened around him. I lifted the hatch to let in more fresh air.

He lie perfectly still as I arranged the bunk for comfort.

"I'll be back in a second," I said, and I brought back the medical kit from the galley.

I used the ointment for cuts and burns on his feet. I wasn't certain how bad they were but putting something on them couldn't hurt. He didn't move as I smooth it on the bottom of both feet.

Ivan was beaten up and exhausted. He didn't move once I got him on his back. He looked at me as I looked at him. I can't describe my feelings. I didn't like seeing him this way. I realized that I loved him and likely always would. He was both heroic and foolish.

I was as confused by my feelings as ever.

"Just when I think you can't possibly impress me more, you do. You are something. I'm not sure what."

"Had to... do something... to show you I care...," he said slowly, pacing his words and letting them hang there between us.

"Killing yourself to impress me is a bit much. A simple, 'l want to keep our friendship,' would work fine for me."

"Not nearly... as impressive though," he said, smiling at me.

He was a mess and I was crazy about him.

"You caught that monster for me?" I said. "You've ruined your hands. Your feet are bleeding. Please stop doing things for me."

"They'll heal. You misunderstood. ...I caught it... for Boris. I ...put it back ...for you, because you're so ...crazy about wild things," he said, smiling his warmest smile.

"Wild things like you?" I said, and he tried not to laugh.

I shook my head. I couldn't be mad at him any longer, and he knew it.

I sat on the bunk beside him, not ready to leave. I held his hand and we stared at each other.

"You going to be OK?" I asked, looking at his face. "Do you need something, Ivan?"

"I didn't mean to snap at you. ...I was angry with Boris. You know ...that. I could ...never mad at you."

"I know, Ivan. It hurt when you talked to me like that. It was like being stabbed in the heart. Don't hurt me like that again. I won't come back for more."

"Didn't mean to...," he said so softly, and I strained to hear.

I hardly heard him talking. His lips were moving and he was looking at me with those intense black eyes.

"What?" I said, leaning over so my ear was near his lips, but he didn't make another sound.

I turned to see if he had fallen asleep and his lips met mine. To say I was shocked doesn't describe it. I'd been expecting him to kiss me for some time. The brush of his lips on my cheek, and twice his lips and mine met, weren't kisses at all.

His eyes told me more than his lips did at those times. Those intensely black eyes said there was more coming, but until now, I was still waiting to be kissed.

The wait was over.

When I didn't move, he kissed me again. The second kiss was filled with passion and I returned it, not certain of what I was doing, but I caught on quick. It was nothing like when Mama kissed me.

Our lips met and stayed pressed together, while our tongues got acquainted. No one had to tell me this was a real kiss, and kissing him was great, but what he needed was rest.

Ivan had a solution that worked for both of us.

"Hold me, Clay. Put your arms around me and hold me close."

I eased my arms around him.

"I love you, Ivan."

"I love you, Clay," he said in a horse whisper.

We kissed again, and he said. "I love"

Holding him gently, his strength melted away after that.

He fell asleep in my arms.

I held him for a long time.

I cried for a long time.

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