Thursday morning was a blur of activity, as we got everyone up and off to breakfast. The boys all ate well, and then we went back to the rooms to get ready to return to the beach. Nigel and I quickly talked about what we should do that evening, with him explaining that their accommodations were much more cramped and wouldn’t comfortably house both groups. Under those circumstances, I offered to have everyone stay with us one more evening. He graciously accepted and we told the boys to leave their things in the room for tonight.
There was a cheer, as everyone seemed to like this idea, and then we went down to the bus. During the bus ride, my boys taught their new friends some old camp songs they knew, and in return, the other boys taught them a couple of new songs as well. The boys were still whooping it up when we arrived at the beach, and were almost oblivious to the fact we had reached our destination. The bus driver stopped Nigel and me as we were about to get off, telling me how he had enjoyed his time with us and got a kick out of seeing the boys having such a good time. He said he had seen a story about the Barstow family and realized that ours was similar in its make-up, and then he said he tipped his hat to the two of us for doing such a wonderful thing for those boys. Nigel and I thanked him and then explained we got nearly as much out of it as the boys did, but concluded we would have to finish this discussion later. It was obvious the boys were getting impatient waiting for us, which he had noticed as well. He told us to go on and have a good day, which we all planned on doing.
After we made our way down to the beach and shed what little clothes we had on, the bevy of girls that the boys had been hanging around with the previous day found them almost instantly, so they went off ahead of the rest of us. I saw Kevin’s look of disappointment as Dustin and the others left, but he had latched onto Kjetil and they soon took off with another group.
The day was going quite peacefully and the boys were having a great deal of fun, until late in the afternoon, when we heard one of the boys scream out. It was one of Nigel’s Croatian boys and he was screaming that his cousin had been sucked under the waves. It was obvious the boy had been caught in an undertow and pulled under the surface. Instinctively, I resorted to my old lifeguard days and raced to the scene, with Nigel right on my heels. The two of us swam out and did a couple of quick dives. We didn’t find him on those first two tries, so I went under one more time, moving a little further away from our first dive location, and finally located the boy. I grabbed him and pulled him up and out of the water, before lifting him into my arms and racing to the beach as fast as I could. I placed his limp body on the sand and immediately began performing CPR on him. Nigel informed me that he was also certified in CPR, so I let him do the chest compressions, while I tried to breathe life back into the boy’s body.
We worked frantically on the kid, while all of our other boys and some of the other naturists formed a ring around us. I puffed and puffed into the kid’s mouth, watching his chest rise and fall, while I also listened for the air to escape again. While I was doing my job, Nigel had both of his arms held stiffly in front of him, fingers laced together and the heel of his hand pumping out a rhythm for the heart muscle to imitate. The longer we continued to work on the boy, the more I doubted we were going to be successful.
During that entire time, I could hear the boy’s cousin pleading for us to save him and crying at the same time, while others tried to comfort and reassure him that we were doing all we could. As we kept working on the boy, I could hear some other people praying or others asking questions about what had happened, while still others were sobbing audibly. I thought we were just about out of time when the boy coughed, spit up some water and began to gasp for air. Nigel collapsed back on his calves, exhausted from his part of the rescue, while I rolled the boy onto his side, to allow him an opportunity to vacate any remaining water from his lungs. Once he seemed fully recovered, I hugged him against my chest, while reassuring him he was all right.
A cheer went up from the crowd as the boy came back to life, and then his cousin bolted to his side and tried to hug him. I had to stop him, telling him his cousin needed room to breathe and didn’t need someone restricting his chest by squeezing it. He looked at me, nodded his understanding and then thanked me, profusely. Nigel, too, placed his hand on my shoulder and thanked me several times, telling me constantly that he didn’t know if he could have dealt with losing one of his boys.
Once I had regained my composure and calmed down a bit, I told Nigel that I understood how he felt and had often wondered the same thing, while hoping I’d never come even this close to finding out. It was nearly time to leave anyway, so we had the boys get their things, while we slipped the lad’s trunks on him, and then I carried him to the bus. We had the driver take us to the hospital, where we had him checked out thoroughly. The driver stayed with the boys on the bus and watched them for us, while they relayed the whole story of what happened on the beach. The doctors checked the boy out, giving him a complete physical examination, but they felt it best to keep him overnight, just for observation. I knew what must be going through Nigel’s mind, so I told him to stay with the son that needed him now and I’d take care of the rest. He thanked me and I walked back to the bus alone.
As I boarded the bus, the driver spoke. “Magnificent, sir. The boys told me how brilliantly you handled yourself today.”
After I got past him, then I had to answer everyone else’s questions. By the time we reached the hotel, the boys were still muddled balls of shock, grief, relief and joy, yet totally unsure about how to separate all of these different feelings. I took time to talk to all of them together in my room, before letting them return to their own rooms to clean up. I also took the time to pull the other Croatian boy aside and assure him his cousin would be just fine and that this overnight stay was just precautionary. He seemed greatly relieved by that news, as he had begun to think it was more serious than he’d been told, once Nigel and his cousin were left behind.
After the boys got ready for dinner, we headed back to the same restaurant, since I’d asked the front desk to call and make reservations for us again tonight. I had made that request before we left that morning, so everything was ready when we reached the establishment. We were guided back to the same room we dined in the previous evening and took our seats. However, tonight had a much more solemn atmosphere about it, although the meal was just as wonderful. No one was overly talkative, as many of the older boys were dealing with another reminder of their own mortality, but no one was hysterical or over-reacting. It had been extremely quiet until Joseph broke the silence.
“You were aces today, sir,” he said to me. “Where did you learn all of that?”
I gave him a quick rundown of the lifesaving course I took while I was in high school and explained to him about my various jobs as a lifeguard, during the summer after my senior year and then throughout college. I told him I kept my CPR certification up to date, just in case I needed to use it at school or now with my own family, and that obviously his father had done the same thing. I told Joseph it was always important to know such things, especially if it might save the life of a loved one. The whole group agreed with this comment and then we ate in silence once again.
After we got back to the hotel, Nigel’s cousin’s son came up to me. “Sir, would you ring up hospital and make sure our brother is all right?”
I assured him that I would and eventually spoke to Nigel. He confirmed the boy was doing fine and they would both rejoin us in the morning, for breakfast. I asked him if he might prefer us doing something else on our final day together, after what had happened, and he immediately responded with an emphatic, ‘NO!’ He went on to explain that he didn’t want his son to become afraid of the water after that incident and insisted we still go back to the beach. He said he would go out with his son, anytime the boy wanted to go into the ocean, but he expected he would be spending most of his time on the beach. He also didn’t want the others to develop a phobia to the water after that episode either, reiterating it was important that we all returned and carried on normally.
I agreed with his reasoning and rung off, as the Brits would say, then I told the boys that everything was fine. I explained that we’d see them both again tomorrow, when we spent our final day at the beach. A couple of my boys looked at me and raised their eyebrows, thinking I was daft for suggesting we go back there again so soon, but didn’t mutter their thoughts in front of the others. Later, when I was alone with them, I explained Nigel’s rationale for doing this to them. After a few minutes of discussing this further, they finally understood his reasoning.
As it approached bedtime, I sent the various boys off to their rooms, to get a good night’s sleep, but I had the other Croatian boy sleep with me. I wanted him close by, in case he had trouble sleeping or suffered from bad dreams. Sammy and Andrew slept in the other bed, while I cuddled with the poor kid who nearly lost his only other living relative. His sleep was not easy, but I think it did help him feeling me hugging him throughout the night, and I did hear him crying softly in his sleep a couple of times that evening, but he never woke up. The next morning I had to help him get ready, as he was still not totally coherent.
Just before we were to leave for breakfast, Nigel and the other boy arrived by taxi. We gave them time to clean up, which they did quickly, and then we all set out. We had a very good breakfast, but much of our time was spent with the poor Croatian boy answering questions from the others about what he remembered. At first Nigel and I weren’t so sure about this, as it seemed ghoulish, but then decided it might be just what was needed. Therefore, we let everyone clear the air and put this behind them.
Over the course of breakfast, the boys wanted to know if his life flashed before him or if he saw a bright light, but they were also interested in whatever else he remembered seeing or feeling. After we finished eating, we did put a stop to this discussion, explaining that would be enough for now and they could discuss this again tonight, but now it was time to set off and have some fun. The boys relented and we boarded the bus, ready for another day.
When we arrived at the beach, the chick clique attacked our boys and dragged them off immediately. The other naturists greeted the rest of us and asked the boy how he was feeling. Once he told them he was doing fine, they told Nigel and me how wonderfully we had reacted to the situation and how impressed they were at how we maintained our calmness. If only they knew. After that, things started to quiet down again and returned to normal.
After about an hour, Nigel coaxed the boy into going out into the water with him, which the lad did with some reluctance. After some tentative steps and a few moments of near panic, the boy again began to relax and realize what happened to him yesterday was just a freak accident. We knew he would be more careful in the future, but he finally proved he wasn’t about to withdraw totally from one of his favorite pastimes.
The group of boys who were infatuated with the female body was now enjoying their last hours with their puppy loves, managing to say their good-byes as the day wore on. Kevin had a smug look on his face, showing he realized that he might have lost the battle, but was about to win the war. He knew he’d be going home with Dustin in another day and wouldn’t have to worry about any of those girls again. A minor victory in his war of adolescence, but he still had a lot to learn about the warfare of love.
As evening approached, the boys began saying their farewells to each other, knowing we would be spending this evening apart. Tonight they’d be sleeping in their own rooms and my group would be leaving in the morning for the airport. Nigel’s group would have one more day at the beach, but for my family, our long vacation was coming to an end.
This realization aroused mixed feelings for my boys. They were sad our vacation was ending, since we’d had a great time on our two trips, but they were also looking forward to getting back home and resuming their normal lives. There was still much for us to do before school started again, including reaching a resolution about how to handle Nick’s current predicament. It was something I had been thinking a great deal about and now felt I might have an idea about what I was going to do.
When time came to leave, we dropped the Barstows off at their hotel, saying tearful farewells and exchanging addresses and telephone numbers. We promised to stay in touch and invited them over to join us some summer at our home, before we drove off, with all of the boys waving back and forth at each other as we departed. It is never easy to say good-bye, but this seemed to be an especially emotional parting. It had only been a few days, but those days had been filled with endless hours together and a great amount of sharing and caring. I knew none of us would forget the others quickly.
Dinner was very subdued that evening, without much happening. I offered to take the boys to see another movie, but they weren’t interested tonight. Instead, we all crammed into my room and spent time together until it was time to go to sleep. After the other boys left for their rooms, Andrew approached me.
“You saved that boy’s life and let him live, didn’t you, Daddy?” he observed.
“Yes, I guess I did play a part in saving him,” I told him, “but his father did too.”
“You were very brave and you saved him like you saved me from that bad man. Right?” he asked, and I began to wonder where this was heading.
“I guess that is one way to look at it,” I responded, trying not to say anything that would lead him in any particular direction or discourage him from saying more. Fortunately, it didn’t do either.
“I feel safe when I’m with you,” Andrew continued. “I know you wouldn’t let anyone hurt me or any of my brothers.”
“Well, I guess that’s part of a daddy’s job,” I agreed. “We’re here to protect our children and keep them safe. Maybe someday you’ll do the same thing for your own children.”
“I hope that I’m big and brave like you, Daddy,” Andrew gushed, momentarily making me feel like Superman.
“I hope so too, Andrew, but now it’s time for you to go to sleep,” I urged him, before he happened to touch on something darker.
Although it had been a short conversation and the content of our discussion was nothing earthshaking, his few words and child-like innocence had said volumes from his soul. I don’t think I could have been happier or prouder about what I had accomplished on the beach that day, even if I had been knighted by the Queen or given our country’s highest honor from the President. It was a child’s simple observation and comments that rewarded me more richly than if I’d been given all of the gold in the world.
Sammy and Andrew both slept with me that night, one on either side, and I think it was one of my best nights of the entire trip. When I awoke the following morning, both small bodies were pressed up against mine, and they each had the most contented expression on their angelic faces. I almost hated to wake them when it was time to get up, but eventually had to do just that.
After both boys were up and heading for the shower, I called the various rooms and got all of the other boys going too. Once everyone was dressed, packed and ready to leave, I double-checked the rooms to make sure nothing had been left behind. We took our things down to the lobby, loaded everything into the bus and then headed out for breakfast. We only had a quick simple meal this morning, as none of us were overly enthused about leaving.
Once we had finished, we boarded the bus and did a quick recount of noses and belongings, before the driver wheeled the bus onto the highway, in the direction of the airport. It was a bittersweet ride, recounting the many good times we had while here and the new friends we were leaving behind, but all good things must come to an end.
Before we went to the airport, we first swung by the transportation office, so I could pay our tab and pick up the souvenirs of this trip that we had ordered in Eton. By the time I got back on the bus, I was in possession of our coat of arms, shield, crest and family history. I unwrapped each item and showed it around to the others, listening to their pleased comments about it, before rewrapping each item and packing them away. I wanted to make sure nothing happened to them, so we could proudly display them on the wall of our home.
When we arrived at the airport, we unloaded our luggage and I gave the driver a generous tip. He had served us well throughout our stay and did everything I asked of him. When we finally took our leave of him, he wished us all the best and thanked me for my generosity, both to him and to the boys.
After entering the terminal, we checked in, had our luggage tagged and prepared to be placed on our flight, and then we had about an hour and a half to wait until our departure time. I took the boys and got them all drinks, which they sipped on as we sat and watched the other people at the terminal and observed some of the planes as they took off or landed. It seemed like an endless wait until our flight was called, but now we were making our way to board the plane that would carry us back to the States.
The boys were still pretty quiet as we took our seats and our vacation slowly ground to its ultimate end. It wouldn’t be long before we’d all be home and sleeping in our own beds again. Before long, we were buckled in and ready for take-off, reflecting on everything we’d seen and done, while looking forward to resuming our normal lives.