Luke pulled the wrapping paper from the box and stared at the colorful picture beneath. "A camera?"
His grandfather smiled, and nodded. "Happy Birthday, son."
Luke stared at the picture on the exposed box a moment longer before frowning. A camera? What am I gonna do with a camera? He looked up at his granddad, about to ask that very question...but stopped himself before the first word was spoken. The old man wore a small smile, and the delighted light in his eyes was plain to see. Luke immediately put on a smile of his own, and nodded. "That's really cool. Thank you."
His grandfather sat forward, his excitement plain now. "It's a digital camera. Damndest thing, but it takes really good pictures. I had to replace my old Nikon last year, and you know it's really hard to find a decent film camera these days? That young salesman at the store talked me into buying one of these things. It has a little card in it, which you take out and plug into your computer. And then your pictures are right there, and you can print them on your printer. It's really amazing, Luke."
Luke knew how digital cameras worked. His parents had had one forever, and they were always pointing it around at family functions, snapping pictures of everyone and everything. Year after year after year. Luke was sick of having it pointed at him and being asked to smile. But he always did...it was his folks, after all, and he had to humor them, because that's what kids did.
His father sat forward now, drawn out of his conversation with Uncle Ken by the picture on the box. "Whoa! Is that one of those little sure-shots? Those things are supposed to be really nice." He smiled and turned to Luke's mother, and patted her arm to get her attention. "Look, honey. Dad got Lukey a camera for his birthday."
Luke grimaced, both at the smile of delight that popped onto his mom's face, and at being called Lukey, which he hated now. He wasn't seven anymore; he was sixteen. He had been telling his dad forever now to please call him Luke, that he was too old for baby names. But his dad was excited, and must have forgotten. Luke sighed, wavered a bit, and then decided to smile instead of being irritated. His parents were lit up like a pair of five year-olds in front of the Christmas tree now, as they both leaned forward and gushed over the box.
"Oh, look at that!" his mom breathed, as if it was a ten carat ruby in a solid gold setting. "Aren't you going to open it, Luke?"
Luke nodded, pulled the little tab that held the end flap in on the box, and slid out the insert. The camera was red, and shiny, and actually did look kind of like a jewel there inside its plastic bag.
"Oh," his mom breathed again, just rapt, as if eyeballing a new baby, or a puppy, "look how tiny it is!"
True that. His parents had a full-sized digital camera, every bit as large as their old Canon film camera, now parked on a shelf in the hall closet. The gift camera was palm-sized, would fit easily into a pocket, yet had a three-inch diagonal LCD screen that covered most of the back of it, presumably into which an image of whatever you were pointing the thing at would show. It was an infant version of his parent's camera, cute and cuddly, and just begging to be taken along on the day's travels.
"Batteries come with it," his granddad pointed out. "Why don't you put them in, and take a picture of all of us to remember the day by?" He snapped his fingers then, and reached inside his jacket, and withdrew a small, slim package, also dressed in birthday colors, and handed it over. "I almost forgot the memory card!"
So Luke carefully opened the camera, and inserted the batteries, and the memory card, and then closed it up and pushed the little chrome button that turned the thing on. There was a whirring sound, and an iris opened over the camera lens, even as that part extruded itself out from the front of the camera body. That was just utterly cool, and Luke found himself grinning at the finesse of the technology. "Sweet!"
His grandfather looked pleased. "Take a few shots, Luke. Save the moment."
Luke nodded, and held the camera up in front of his face. The world beyond the lens was mirrored in the little screen on the back of the camera, making it just incredibly easy to compose the shot. His parents and his granddad all leaned together on the couch and grinned like maniacs, and Uncle Ken looked mischievous as he held his fingers up in a 'vee' behind Luke's father's head. Luke couldn't help laughing as he snapped the picture.
"You might not be so happy when you see that one," he said, lowering the camera. "You guys look like you just got home from a nightclub or a bar or something."
"Oh, Luke," his mom admonished. But the smile never left her eyes.
His father wasn't having it. "Oh, piss-tosh. We look like we're happy for you, son." He turned to look at his father. "What a great gift. I wish I'd thought of it first."
The older man smiled, and Luke could only mimic him at the pleasure he saw there. He and his granddad had always been close, and sometimes the man was uncomfortably on the mark in his assessments of what was going on in Luke's head. Luke suspected that the man knew he was gay, though no words had ever been traded on the subject. But while his parents asked him once in a while if there were any girls he might have his eye on, his granddad only said, every now and then, that he hoped that one day Luke would find 'that special friend' that would make his life complete. The choice of words - never mentioning a girl outright - had always struck Luke as odd. But that his grandfather was quite sincere in his wish that Luke be happy was obvious. If his granddad knew Luke's innermost secret, he did not seem distressed by the idea, only supportive.
It was confusing, at best, and Luke tended to shy away from examining that scenario too closely. He had not yet been able to discuss his sexuality with his parents, and doing so with his grandfather just seemed outlandish. When that day came along, he would just deal with it then.
He took several more pictures, while the elders posed and monkeyed before the lens. It was weird, the things cameras did to people, as if they somehow had the power to see beyond the everyday faces that people wore about. You could find out more about a person just by pointing a camera at them than by all the questions you could ever think of asking. People dropped the the barriers they normally wore, when a camera lens was pointed their way, or raised new ones you were unaware of up until that point. A camera was an eye that looked on without compromise, and people either loved the honest, unbiased inspection, and embraced it; or they feared it and turned away, avoiding its gaze.
The rest of the evening went well, if slowly. It was Luke's day, and he was expected to partake in everything that happened. He had already decided to be a good sport about it, because it made his folks happy, and, well, it was kind of fun. Luke enjoyed himself, taking a dozen more pictures of his parents and relatives, who all seemed intent on playing the clown for the camera.
Well...all except for his cousin, Sandy, who was thirteen, and who seemed to not be having much fun at all. He looked unhappy, and almost upset every time his parents laughed at something or kidded around. Finally, Luke took pity on him, and pulled him up and asked how he was doing.
Sandy shrugged, looking just short of miserable. But then he seemed to recall the occasion, and forced a smile onto his face. "I'm okay. Happy Birthday. Are you having fun?"
"I am, actually. How about you?"
The smile slipped a little, and Sandy rolled his eyes. "It's okay, I guess. Kinda weird to see my mom and dad making all those crazy faces for your camera."
Luke laughed at that. "They're just having fun. They were kids once, too."
Sandy looked appalled at the idea. "But they're not now. They shouldn't be acting like that." He turned his head and frowned at his parents. "They're acting...stupid."
Oh. Luke shook his head, and took Sandy by the shoulder and steered him to the kitchen. Aunt June was there, and had just washed a glass in the sink, and was drying it off with a dishtowel. She smiled at them as they entered the room. "There's brownies in the refrigerator," she said, and then went by them, heading back to the living room. "Help yourselves."
Luke nodded, and thanked her, and waited until she was gone, before looking back at Sandy. "You getting along with your folks okay?"
Sandy grumbled, but nodded his head. "Yeah. Except when they act like this."
Luke couldn't help laughing. "You don't want them to have fun?"
"Sure, I do. I just don't want them acting stupid. If they'll do it here, they might do it in front of my friends."
Luke understood then. He vaguely recalled a time, not that long ago, when he had been more concerned with how cool his own parents seemed to his friends. "Oh. I gotcha." He considered that, and then leaned closer. "You know, you'll be their age someday. And maybe have kids of your own?"
The thought seemed to startle the boy, whose eyes widened owlishly. "Um, maybe."
Luke grinned. "How would you feel if you were just having fun, the same way you always had, and one of your kids said you were being stupid?"
Sandy bristled. "I wouldn't act stupid like that."
Luke shrugged. "That's a matter of perspective. You might be acting the way you always have, ever since you were the age you are now. Having fun, the same ways you always did. It would seem okay to you. But your kids might think it's dumb."
Luke had had nearly this exact conversation with his granddad just a couple of short years ago, where the man had told him that growing up on the inside was a very different thing from growing up on the outside. It seemed weird to be reliving the talk he had had with the man, but now from the other point of view. A point of view he had come to understand and respect in the time since.
"I won't act that way when I'm old," Sandy insisted.
"You act that way now," Luke returned. "I've seen you myself, laughing and clowning around."
"But they're old. They shouldn't act that way. It isn't...it isn't right." Sandy shook his head. "They're grown up."
Luke smiled. "Some things don't grow up, Sandy. Not all the way, and sometimes not ever. Your folks are just having a good time. Are you saying they're too old for that?"
Sandy frowned. "You can't be too old to have fun." And then he blinked, and his face worked a moment in silence as what he had just said percolated through his head. And then he rolled his eyes again. "Oh."
Luke laughed. "You get it a little better now?"
"No buts," Luke interrupted, waving a finger. "Fun works about the same for everyone. Just remember that the parents of your friends were young once, too, and that they may act a little goofy themselves when you're not around." He winked, and smiled. "Or, maybe when you are. It's normal, is what it is."
Sandy sighed. "It just seems so weird to see them acting like that. Like they're still kids."
Luke nodded. "They are still kids, a little. I don't think some things change inside of you, Sandy. Being a parent is serious business. They have to do all the things needed to keep a family healthy and happy. It's work." He leaned forward. "They don't get to have as much fun as we do. So when they do get a moment, you should let them have it."
Sandy turned and looked back into the living room, where his parents were sitting together on the sofa, smiling at something that Luke's dad was saying. Sandy's dad turned to his wife and they grinned at each other, and then Sandy's dad picked up her hand and gave it a fond squeeze, and set it in his lap, cradled within his own hands, before turning back to the conversation. Sandy bit his lip at that, but nodded. "Yeah. I get it."
"I thought you might."
Sandy turned back to Luke and narrowed his eyes. "That's pretty smart."
Luke blew a little air out between his lips, and shrugged. "Actually, I learned that the same way you just did. Someone told me."
They went to the fridge and each grabbed a brownie, and then returned to the living room. Sandy watched his parents for a minute while he nibbled at the brownie, and then squeezed in beside his mom, who immediately dropped an arm around his shoulders in welcome. The adults were telling jokes, some of which Luke thought were corny, but a few of which he thought absolutely hilarious. He laughed along with them, standing behind the chair his grandfather was sitting in, his hands on the man's shoulders.
The next time that Luke turned to look, Sandy was leaning against his mom, grinning just as broadly as his folks, and seemed to be having fun. Luke slid the camera surreptitiously from his pocket, quietly opened it, and took a picture of them sitting together, laughing and monkeying about.
It was not quite an epiphany, but it certainly did make him think, and after he had taken the shot he put the camera away, feeling its comfortable weight in his pocket in a slightly new way, as if maybe it was a sort of touchstone for times to come.
Already, he was seeing what his granddad meant by 'saving the moment'.
* * * * * * *
It could have gone two ways after that night. Luke could have taken the gift camera and set it on the shelf by his bed, and quietly forgotten about it. Or, he could start carrying it in his pocket, and synching its purpose with his own eyes, looking for the moments that needed saving. He chose the latter, simply because there was something almost poetic about the idea that appealed to him.
His cell had a camera, but it didn't have the resolution or the effects that the gift camera had. And taking pictures with something that had been designed just for that purpose seemed to lend an importance to the shots he took with it, as if he wasn't just playing around, but was serious about the images the world around him had to offer. The camera had a great zoom, and several electronic enhancements, and he could even turn off the color and make the pictures black and white. He experimented with it all, and even began taking a certain delight in showing his work to his folks, who loved every second of it, and encouraged him no end.
His mom even sighed, and smiled at him. "It runs in the family, I guess."
And...granddad simply could not hide his delight that his gift had made such an impact on his grandson. When Luke dropped by to see the man now, they often compared shots they had taken, and smiled and complimented each other on their work. For the idea that taking pictures could be art as well as practical was taking hold of Luke now, and he was finding that his eyes had changed in the way they looked at things, that they seemed to add an invisible frame around his daily scenery, with an idea of maybe adding some of what he saw to the rapidly building picture gallery adorning the walls of his mind.
"Everyone sees things a little differently," his granddad told him. "Art finds it's own viewers."
Luke had grinned at that. "Well, I don't think every picture I take is art. Some things just look really cool, especially close up, or viewed a certain way. I really have fun just playing around, sometimes. The great thing is, that no matter how many pictures I take that I decide not to keep, I'm not using up any film or stuff I need to replace."
Granddad had nodded. "Oh, I know. I remember back when, sometimes I would have only one really good picture on a whole roll of film." He'd sighed. "It made those single shots of the heart fairly expensive to get."
Luke had cocked his head at the odd expression. "Shots of the heart?"
"Oh, yes. Those pictures that simply are so special that they speak to you in some fashion that requires you to keep them." Granddad had smiled. "Sometimes you grab the moment on purpose, because you know it is special and you wish to keep it. And other times, the world selects the moment, and shows it to you. You have to be ready, and fast, in order to capture it to keep." The old man had sighed. "Each heart views the world differently, Luke. A camera is an extension of the eye, that allows us to freeze in time those special moments that are dear to us, or that appeal to us in some special way."
Luke had nodded. "I was already getting what you meant when you said 'save the moment'."
"Yes. Especially those moments where the eye and the heart work together, Luke. If you freeze them in time in a photograph, you will have them with you forever."
At first, Luke's friends made light of his new hobby, kidding around and calling him Ace Shutterbug, and stupid things like that. But once it dawned on them that he was serious about it, and after he was able to show them some of his work, they stopped the kidding, and took an interest, and quickly became supportive. The girls he knew, especially, seemed to find the idea of Luke as an artist appealing, and he found himself with the attentions of several that smiled too much and occasionally looked at him a bit too dreamily for comfort.
That eased off with the ending of the school year and the start of summer vacation, allowing Luke to breathe a sigh of relief. He liked girls, but he didn't want any one of them around all the time, because he still had hopes of finding the guy - that somewhat elusive 'special friend' that would make his life more complete. He had had some minor crushes on guys in the past three years, but had managed not to show them, and had simply lived with the fact that the feelings were not returned. Already, he had determined that finding a boyfriend would be no simple matter. The few openly gay guys at school already had partners, because that was exactly the reason they had come out. Finding someone of his own, and then dealing with what came after in telling his folks about it, seemed as far off as the horizons themselves.
Oddly enough, the search for images helped to ease his building loneliness. There were so many things in the world that were beautiful and special, and gave him a wonderful feeling to capture, that the fact that his search for them was mostly solitary did not seem to matter. The camera was a partner of sorts, an extension of his eye of the heart, to use granddad's own analogy, and together they sought out those special moments that needed saving.
The very first day of no-school, Luke was up with the sun. He wanted to catch the park down the street in first light, because so many mornings he had gone by the small forested plot of land on the school bus and seen it filled with morning mist and sunbeams dancing between the branches of the trees. That an interesting moment to be captured was hiding there, he was sure of. His heart told him so, and he was beginning to listen to that voice, now that he understood what it was, and what it meant with its suggestions.
It was only a five minute walk. Traffic on the nearby road was a little lighter than usual, the absence of school-bound traffic noticeable. The air was warm, and humid, and Luke had dressed in shorts and a tee-shirt, expecting some heat to go with the humidity later on.
He turned into the park and walked back along the pathway. Several joggers went by and smiled at him, and he smiled in return. The mist he had been hoping for was scarcely noticeable this morning, just a few wisps here and there, probably due to the humidity. It took some cooler air mixing with the warm ground air to produce fog, and there probably wasn't any cool air about at the moment. He sighed. Finding mist was a luck thing, and there just wasn't any of that available this morning.
There were other things around to draw his eye, though. The groundskeepers had planted flower beds by the rec center, and a riot of color surrounded the red brick building. An early morning tennis match was in progress on one of the fenced courts, and the plop-plop echo of the ball being hit back and forth sort of tamed any feeling of being back to nature. The park was only about twenty acres, a small town park, and only in fresh morning silence could it fool you into seeing it as a genuine slice of wilderness.
But it was still pretty, and Luke paused to take a few close-ups of the flowers, none of which he could identify by name. His mom would know, when he showed her the shots. He caught a nice shot of the baffled sun in the branches of a big elm tree, and spied an old, abandoned hornet's nest still hanging from one of the branches. That it was vacant was obvious from its tattered nature, as bees and wasps are excellent housekeepers, with little patience for muddy footprints on the carpet.
He zoomed in on it, felt he managed to capture its sense of abandonment quite nicely. Briefly he wondered where the hornets had gone, and what had caused them to give up their home and move. The nest was fairly close to the picnic area, where tables and chairs sat on a large concrete apron with timid blades of grass showing between the slabs, and Luke briefly wondered if the hornets had been forced to leave, or even if they were all still inside the nest, victims of some kind of spray used by the groundskeepers.
People tolerated insects in outdoor settings as long as they weren't victimized by them, and having a large nest so close to picnickers probably was a poor choice for the hornets. He lowered the camera after only three shots, deciding that maybe he didn't want more pictures of the nest after all. Whether it had been abandoned or was now a mass grave, the sense of defeat the tattered nest implied was palpable, and not something he wanted to cherish. But...he would keep the shots he had, as a reminder, if nothing else, that humans mostly shared the world with other lifeforms only on their own conditions.
He decided he needed something more cheerful, and walked over to the creek and found a small pool of minnows chasing about in the sunlight, while water skeeters zipped across the surface tension overhead. A couple of crayfish poked out from under a submerged rock, eying the darting minnows contemplatively, their tiny eyes waving back and forth on their stalks, as if trying to decide which prospective meal to go after.
The camera's zoom worked wonderfully here, and Luke laid on the bank of the creek and pointed the lens down into the sunlit pool, while the life there was totally oblivious to the giant watching from above. He got some great shots of the crayfish watching the minnows, all the while scraping algae off of a rock and eating it while they decided what to do about the lunch circling above. The minnows, for their part, seemed to be aware of the pincer-bearing observers below, and maintained a wary distance, often heading off downstream if it looked like the crays were getting too near.
Luke was engrossed in the world he was observing, and took so many pictures that he lost count of them. The camera held a 16 gigabyte card, and would hold over 3500 high-resolution photos. He already had another card at the house, and was totally unworried about storage space. At the end of any picture-taking day, he sat and viewed what he had taken, copied the photos he wanted to keep to his laptop drive, and deleted the ones he didn't want. His granddad had also instructed him in picture management, because if you didn't take care of that, you'd wind up with a ton of junk photos you didn't want, and trouble finding the ones that you did.
When next he looked at his watch, he was amazed to see that it was nearly eleven o'clock. He laughed at that, and then sighed. It was really easy to get lost in observing things. He didn't really have any plans for the day, but he ought to at least call his mom and let her know where he was, in case she had missed the note he'd left by the home phone. Plus, he was thirsty, and the image of the Coke machine at the rec center came to mind. The heat of the day was already noticeable, and a cool drink about now would certainly hit the spot.
So he waved to the fishes, and climbed to his feet, being careful to close up the camera, and slide the lanyard over his wrist and wrap it about the camera body before stowing the tiny device in the pocket of his shorts. He stretched mightily, feeling the slightest of complaints in the fronts of his thighs, from too long a contact with the cool ground. So he walked slowly back to the rec center, just breathing slowly and enjoying the day.
He dug out his phone and called home. His mom had seen his note, and was more than happy that he was out 'taking pictures'. He said he'd be back for dinner, laughed, and returned the phone to his other pocket. Parents!
Activity in the park had increased considerably while he had been busy. Hordes of kids flocked around the swings and the slides, while their parents sat in folding lawn chairs nearby and talked together while watching them play. The basketball courts were busy, and both tennis courts, and a softball game was just starting up on the field beyond the chain-link backstop.
Luke wiped his forehead with the back of one hand and dug into the pocket of his shorts with the other, and fished out a small handful of change as he drew up at the soda machine. As a rule, he wasn't big on soft drinks; but when it was hot and sticky and you were thirsty, they could be hard to beat as thirst quenchers. He selected one and dropped the coins in the slot and pushed the button, and was relieved when the Coke plunked down into the slot below. Luke and vending machines didn't always get along well, and he had been ripped off by his fair share of cantankerous bandits masquerading as sellers of goods in public places.
He popped the top on the can and took a big gulp, and almost gasped as the bubbly, prickly solution kicked the dust out of his throat in a single pass. He grinned, and held up the can. Few things could quite equal that first pull off an ice cold, carbonated drink on a hot summer day.
He looked around, saw that the picnic area was nearly full, but that a few single chairs were vacant along the nearer edge. They were shaded, and inviting, so he plopped down into one and took another, smaller sip off his drink. He was surrounded by a pleasant noise, the voices of people having fun. The kids on the swings laughed and carried on, while their parents called encouragement and praise. The ground reverberated slightly as a group of boys ran by, laughing and pushing each other, while a nearby table of girls erupted into laughter at their antics.The occasional clink of silverware drifted over from two picnic tables pulled together, where a dozen or so adults and kids had just sung Happy Birthday to a smiling little girl in a pink shirt with a rabbit on the front. There were joggers along the pathways, and cyclists along the access road, and other picnickers and sunbathers spread out on blankets and towels in the shaded and sunny spots among the trees. This was what summer was all about, he thought.
There was a small breeze, but it was hot, and not cooling at all. The shade did more for that, and Luke sagged down in his chair a bit and made himself comfortable as his gaze drifted about among the faces in the crowd. There were a lot of guys in his own age group about, and he smiled to himself as some of the cuter ones passed by. Boy-watching was something he couldn't help, but he had long ago learned the difference between a glance and a stare, and he was very careful not to step on anyone's nerves.
His eyes were coming back up the other side of the picnic area when he spied him. At first they passed over the boy, but then his gaze jumped back so fast that Luke nearly choked on his drink. And then his eyes settled, and for the first time in a very long time, his casual glance turned into a blatant stare.
At first Luke wasn't even sure what had drawn his eyes. The guy in question looked to be his own age, and was seated at a small white table in the shade of a large oak, a glass of what looked like orange juice before him. A larger carafe of the drink stood just beyond the glass, and two more glasses, half full, were parked at the other end of the tabletop. There were two more, mismatched chairs at the table, looking fresh out of someone's garage or basement. A purse sat on one of the chairs, pushed beneath the table so as to be inconspicuous.
The guy had longish brown hair, and was dressed in white shorts with a red line down the sides, and a white polo shirt with similar accenting. He had white Nikes on his feet, and white socks with red bands at the tops of them. He seemed to be watching a little girl on one of the swings, who was being pushed skyward by a grinning woman with longish hair tied back into a ponytail. Both the little girl and the woman were dressed just as casually as the guy, and all three of them seemed to be having a good time.
The little girl would scream in delight and wave on each forward arc of the swing, and the boy seated at the table would laugh, and raise a hand, and wave back. Luke sat very still, his own drink forgotten, and let his eyes move over the boy at the other table. There was just something about him...something about that face...
He's beautiful, a small voice said in the back of Luke's mind, causing him to gulp. His eyes moved over the other guy's suntanned arms and legs, noting the fine lines of muscle, the even tone of the skin, and settled again on the boy's face, so animated, and so full of life. His smile, when he sent it winging towards the girl and her mother, was golden, full of cheer and affection and the flash of very white teeth. Luke gasped when it happened, mesmerized for the first time in his life by the face of another human being.
I need a picture of him, the small voice inside his head went on...and for the first time Luke paused. Taking pictures of strangers was not something he normally did. Both his parents and his grandfather had warned him about doing it. It was legal in a public place, and you didn't need permission to do it. But a great many people didn't like the idea of a perfect stranger snapping a photo of them. Luke felt all on his own that it was somehow disrespectful, and had never done it before. Strangers had occasionally appeared in his pictures, but they were extras in the play of the moment, usually distant and totally dispassionate additions to the scenery he was recording.
Taking a picture of this guy would be different. It would be a purposeful invasion of his space, his privacy - his life. Luke's first impulse was to tell the little voice in his head where to get off...but he couldn't quite do it. The longer he watched the other boy, the more entranced he became, until the very idea that he might never see the guy again after today became almost unbearable. Memory was a fickle thing, not nearly as dependable as a photograph, and as time passed he might forget the finer points of this guy's face. The sweet laughter it showed, the patience, the pleasure that was there at sharing time with the little girl and the woman. All gone, forever.
Unless he saved the moment.
Almost without thinking, he drew the little camera from his pocket. When he pushed the button to activate it, and the iris opened and the lens extended forth, it sounded incredibly loud to him, even surrounded as he was by a babel of voices. He raised the camera up in front of his face, and steadied the boy's image in the center of the screen...and took a picture of him.
And then another. And one more. A dozen in all.
And then he just sat there, and zoomed in, and watched the boy close up as he smiled and laughed in response to the little girl's calls for attention. Luke felt his heart in his chest, pounding, and his breath seemed short. He couldn't take his gaze away from that far, beautiful face, and all the things as yet unspoken within his heart that it was coming to mean to him.
But then, the boy's eyes flickered to the side, towards where Luke was sitting. Luke gasped, and zoomed out again, as if this would somehow put more distance between him and the other guy. But the boy's face was still easily visible in the camera's viewer, and when he smiled again, Luke couldn't help smiling back. The far boy's hand came up, and one of his fingers tapped against the center of his smile. Unbidden, Luke's finger depressed, and the image was his forever.
And then...and then, the boy turned his head, and looked directly at Luke. Shocked, Luke whipped the camera down and jumped to his feet, and turned his back to the other boy as he closed the camera and slid it back into his pocket. And then he just walked away, his face burning with embarrassment in the hot sunshine.
* * * * * * *
That night, after dinner, Luke went to his room and closed the door. He locked it, which was something he seldom did. His parents had a rule about privacy: knock, and wait until bidden to enter. They would not open his door without his permission, unless he didn't answer at all.
His dad had asked him at dinner about his day, and Luke had described the pictures he'd taken at the creek. Both of his parents had been interested, and pleased that he had adopted a hobby already so dear to their hearts. They said they'd love to see his pictures, and Luke had said sure thing - after he sorted and arranged them the way he liked them. They understood that completely, and would be patient until asked to come and see.
And now he did look at his pictures, but it was not minnows or crayfish he wanted. He plugged the little card into his desktop, and brought up the thumbnails of the day's shots. His eyes hunted through them, until he found the ones he was seeking.
He double clicked on the first one, and there was the boy from the park, seated at his table, smiling across the top of it at the little girl on the swing. Luke enlarged the image of the boy's face until it began to pixilate, and then backed off until it smoothed out again. And then he just sat, and let his eyes move slowly over the image. Once again his pulse picked up, and he backed off the picture until all of it was in view, and let his eyes examine the picture anew.
He's beautiful. Again, the little voice in the back of his mind, offering up its opinion, unbidden. But it didn't matter - the little voice was absolutely correct. The guy was just gorgeous, and more than just his looks. Somehow, the picture also had captured that sweet expression; the affection the boy had for the little girl and her mother. There was so much there to offer, so much that had meaning; and for a moment Luke could only close his eyes and imagine such affection directed at himself.
He felt weak then, and put a hand on the desktop to steady himself. It was almost unimaginable, the idea of knowing this boy for real.
He opened his eyes, and slowly went through all the photos of the boy in the park. All of them were beautiful, capturing the subject in one or another sweet moments of laughter and affection. Luke shook his head, unable to believe how wonderful the pictures really were. It was almost as if the guy was alive, right here in the room with him.
And then he got to the last one, the one he had taken by reflex, when the boy had raised a hand and tapped his teeth with a fingertip. He stared at the picture, something about it bothering him, something about it saying that he was missing something important. He stared at it some more, until it dawned on him what was wrong: the boys eyes, while appearing to be looking at the girl on the swing, had that off look to them that suggested their focus was elsewhere. It took a full minute of looking before he suddenly knew where the boy had been looking.
He saw me, Luke realized then. He saw me watching him.
For not only were the eyes somehow looking his way even when they weren't pointed his way, but he realized now what the boy was doing with his hand. The center finger was the one that was tapping his teeth, and the gesture was perfectly obvious, once he saw it.
He's flipping me the bird!
The boy in the park had seen him watching, seen him with the camera, and was letting him know that he had seen him. And, how he felt about what Luke had been doing.
For a moment, Luke felt absolutely deflated. He had walked all over this guy's privacy, and been caught in the act. He closed his eyes, and put his head on the desktop, and tried hard not to cry. But despite his best efforts, a few tears leaked out, and he wrestled with them for a full minute before he sent them on their way.
Luke sat up and stared at the picture again, feeling sorrow and disappointment, and an embarrassment that went deep. He'd really screwed this up, hadn't he? For he was seeing now that his attraction to this guy was something new for him, beyond even the crushes he had had on guys before. In the camera that was the eye of his heart, he could see himself walking along, hand-in-hand with this sweet-faced spirit, going places he had never been before. Feeling things he had never felt before. Doing things he had never done before.
Here was a match to something Luke had been carrying around with him for several years now, but which he hadn't even know was with him: the perfect one, the special friend, the guy of his dreams.
Here was what he was looking for...and he had just thrown it all away by being a Peeping Tom.
He sat still, looking at the boy, unable to believe he had done this.
For a time his head seemed empty, devoid of thought or emotion. But then something began to happen, some thought process to awaken. He looked at the photo again, and saw something new once more. Yeah, the guy had flipped him the bird. But that fingertip was against a smile, not an angry frown. The eyes were not turned his way then. Their mission was disguised, so that no one would see where the boy was looking, and the bird itself was disguised as an idle tapping against the teeth.
The boy had reacted to seeing Luke, but he had done so in such a fashion that the woman and the little girl would not notice what he had done. Luke's jaw dropped as he looked at the overall expression on the boy's face, and a completely new perspective hit him: he was playing with me!
Could that be true? Had the guy noticed him watching, and been less than upset with the idea? The more that Luke looked, the more that he was convinced that the boy in the park had not been angry at discovering that he was being watched..not angry at all. He had, in fact, taken some small delight in it, and gone as far as to playfully acknowledge the watcher!
Luke was stunned by the idea, and remembered how, when he had realized he had been seen, he had jumped up from his chair and turned his back on the boy in the park, and then just walked away. He had never looked back, not one time. And so he could have missed something important, something that might mean all the difference in the world to him.
There was only one thing he could do now.
He had to go back and see.
* * * * * * *
Luke spent most of the next day in the park, but he did not see the boy he had photographed. He took some pictures of trees, and a few of clouds, but his heart wasn't in it, and he spent most of his time sitting in the same chair he had occupied the day before, watching and hoping that the boy would return.
He did not.
Nor did he appear the day after that. It was a Saturday, and again Luke spent all day in the park, hoping against hope, only to have his hopes dashed. He headed home for dinner, convinced that the whole thing was a fluke, never to be repeated. Maybe the boy and his family had just been driving through town, on their way somewhere else. They could be hundreds of miles away by now, never to return. The thought made Luke feel dismal, and he barely touched his dinner. He just said he was tired when his mom asked him what was wrong - tired, and maybe too much sun. He felt exhausted, and it wasn't really a lie at all. After dinner he went and laid in his bed, and listened to music, his eyes closed and his mind full of a face he likely would never see again.
Sunday came, and Luke nearly stayed home. It was overcast, and not a cheerful day. But...what if this was the day, and he missed it? Thoughts of obsession crossed his mind, but he was only acquainted with that idea from television, and really couldn't apply it to his current situation.
So off he went, camera in pocket, to walk again around the park. He took more pictures of more trees and more clouds, and even a few of some old cars in the parking lot - a car club of some kind was there for a meeting. But in the end he wound up back in the same chair by the picnic area, his chin in his hand, staring at the vacant spot where the little white table had been, where the dream of his heart had briefly been sitting.
It was gone. All gone. He would have to accept that now, and move on. He would have to forget.
He heard a faint whirring sound, and looked up. For a moment his eyes refused to tell him what he was seeing. Thirty feet away, someone was standing there, facing him, their hands drawn up in front of their face. The round, glassy eye of a camera lens peaked out from the middle, staring at him, looking into him, baring his heart.
Luke simply stared, unable to process what he was seeing.
Someone is taking my picture, he finally realized.
And then the hands came down, and there was that smile, that face. The face of his dreams, only this time the eyes were looking right at him. Right into his heart.
It was the boy from the park, from the other day, there in the flesh. He smiled, and raised a hand, and his fingers twitched as he waved.
Luke stared, and then slowly raised a hand, and he felt his fingers twitch as he waved back. And suddenly he was smiling, welcoming, and his arm stretched out hard as he waved again.
The boy in the park laughed, and his eyes twinkled in the sunlight. He pointed at his camera, and then at Luke, and laughed again.
For a second Luke hesitated, feeling the strangest desire to draw forth his own camera, to point the eye of his heart that way, and snap a piece of eternity.
To capture the moment.
But he didn't do that. There are eyes, and there are eyes, and the image within his own eyes was the only one he needed to see just now.
He nodded then, and beckoned, and the other boy nodded in return, and started forward.
Luke stood up, took a deep breath, and went to meet him.