The bouquets of color burst brightly above them; everyone on the deck of the cabin cruiser was looking up to see the show. It was the Nation's birthday, and like many residents of the Lake, Keith Watson took his family and their friends out to see the show from the boat: he knew just where to navigate to get a stunning view impossible to see from the shore. He sat in the Captain's chair, and watched his dozen guests as they took in the show. All were younger than he was, and he was an old 57. His hair was still dark, pulled back into a ponytail under a baseball cap, and his frame lean, but his legs weren't what they used to be, the result of an old war wound. A walker rested in the cabin below that usually propelled him around his little world.
The fireworks continued their show; the faint music of the 1812 Overture sounded from the amphitheater next to downtown. Many boats dotted the water, with many colored running lights, and dark figures lounged on their decks, serenading each other with a succession of beer tabs. It was hot and humid on this Missouri evening, a night where one's clothes stuck and the air was almost too heavy to breathe. On the water was better; breezes moderated the heat.
His daughter Sandy turned and looked at him: "You all right, Pop?"
"Fine, Sandy. You need another beer?"
He pulled a Bud from the cooler beside him and tossed it over. "There ya go, kiddo."
"Thanks, Dad. You sure you're feeling, OK?"
"Nothing wrong that ain't usually wrong."
"All right. You tell me if you're feeling bad."
"Thanks, honey. Enjoy the show." Keith turned to look around the deck: most of the passengers were his grandchildren and their friends. All were wearing as little as reasonable, usually t-shirts and shorts, almost all had a cigarette in one hand and a can in the other.
His son-in-law Mike was at the stern next to the anchor. "How's it goin', Dad?"
"Fine, Mike. Thanks for askin' You need another beer?"
"Not yet. Still nursing this'un."
One girl was sitting away from the rest in the corner, her head down, her long bottle blond hair illuminated in flashes from the bursts, barely watching the show. She was so close he could reach out and touch her, but she was lost in her own little world. He turned toward her and said quietly. "You all right, kiddo?"
She glanced up unsure that he was speaking to her. "Yes," came the feeble reply.
"What's your name?"
"Kammie. Kammie Smith."
"Who're ya here with?"
"Stacey and Erin." Stacy and Erin were his twin granddaughters, freshly graduated from High School. They were taking turns flirting with a tall boy wearing only long shorts; as much as they could without attracting their parents' notice.
"How come you're over there?' Keith continuted. "The show's better out by the rail."
There was a sob, and a deep breath. "My boyfriend ran away last week."
"Yeah. Stacy said he took up with a Mexican girl who's gonna take 'im home to Mexico. Took all his savings with 'im; said he's gonna live like a king down there."
"I'm sorry, Kammie. Maybe he'll come t' his senses."
"No, he won't," she wailed as another burst went off overhead. "He said I rode his ass too hard 'bout gettin' a job and making money so's we could have kids and stuff. I told 'im he could join the Army and have it made, and he said I wanted his ass dead in Iraq. Called me a stupid platinum blonde bitch. Slapped my face a few times and walked away two weeks ago."
Keith took a swig from his beer. "He's not good enough fer ya."
A fresh set of sobs accompanied the next display above. "I'm never gonna get 'nother boyfriend, I know it."
"Why d'ya say that, Kammie?"
She looked at him with full eyes. "Cause my tits're too small and my ass's too skinny. I'm justa frickin' washboard with bee stings, that's what Daddy said. Jeff's new girl's got huge tits and a big butt, and long black hair."
"Stand up, Kammie, let me look at ya." She stood up wearing a blue jean skirt and a red tube top. A short girl, just over five feet tall, with short blonde hair and perfectly proportioned breasts and hips for her size. "Ya look fine to me."
"Really? You're just bein' nice."
"No, Kammie, you look. . .lovely. I seen a lotta girls, and you're in the ballpark. You'll get a boy."
"Haven't had 'nother boy since I was in junior high. Jeff's the only one who ever wanted me."
He patted her shoulder. "Ya got lots o' time, 'n no problem takin' it. Don't worry, kiddo."
"Thanks," she sniffled. "You're a nice man."
He buzzed his lips and another burst went overhead. The other guests were chatting, drinking and smoking as the show when on; the Stars and Stripes Forever began in the distance while the Grand Finale went skyward. There was a buzz from across the water as people in other boats oohed and aahed at the display. It was one salvo after another, building to a grand climax as Sousa's famous piccolo part cut through the brass and the percussion to tease their ears.
It was a cavalcade of reds, blues, yellows and greens, bursting in every direction and every pattern one after the other in close succession. The boats on the lake were almost close enough to touch each other; it seemed the crowd went from one bank across the water in an unbroken chain to the other shore. Keith was sure if his legs were better, he could walk from one side to the other.
The finale was greeted with applause and boat horns that rang up and down the lake. On the bluffs, a procession of headlights prepared to move outward, while the flotilla throttled up to sail home. "Do you want to haul anchor, Dad?" Mike called from below.
"Not yet, Mike," Keith replied. "Let's let the drunks git a head start."
"Have another beer." The kids on deck greeted the suggestion with a cheer, and the tanned boy wearing nothing but long shorts who was flirting with the twins stood on the rail to urinate outward.
Sandy snipped: "What th' Hell are you doing, Shane?"
"Takin' a leak, Ms. B."
"Do you have t'do that here, now?"
"Yeah, I gotta do it now and I guess you don't wan' me to piss in the boat."
The girls groaned and the boys laughed, but nobody imitated Shane. He finished and hopped down to crack another beer. "Who's Shane here with?" Kammie whispered. "I think he's with Stacey's boyfriend. Maybe his brother."
"He's a jerk."
"He's goin' to Iraq next month," Sandy said matter-of-factly from her spot.
"Good for him," Keith said quietly.
"Whaddaya mean 'Good for him'?" Stacey burst in from the deck, glaring at him. "He's gonna risk his life for our country. Sure, he's an idiot, but he deserves some respect, Grandpa."
"I respect him," Keith replied.
Shane came up, shook his finger in the old man's face and said. "Look Mister, I'm gonna be keepin' your ass safe in Baghdad in a coupla months, so I don't give a shit what you think. If you don' like what I'm doin', then FUUUCK YOU."
A quick motion, almost imperceptible, made Shane bend over double, holding his groin. "I did two years in Vietnam before you were born," Keith replied firmly. "I kept your Grandaddy's ass safe so he could go home and make your Daddy, who could get drunk on his ass one Saturday night and make you. And my Daddy landed on Omaha Beach. So don't chew me a new asshole yet, dipstick."
Shane shook his head, trying to clear it. "You were in 'Nam?" he asked tentatively.
Keith nodded. "And Cambodia. Spent a lot of nights in the jungle, wondering if Charlie was gonna come cut my throat while I was asleep, or gun down my buddies in an ambush the next day before we knew what was happening. We kept America safe on short rations, fucking stupid officers, a President without balls, five million mosquitoes, and a constant case of the shits. When I got home, people spit on me when I got off the plane, and cussed me out 'cause I lost my war. When you come back from Baghdad, little boy, tell me how bad you had it and how big your dick is grown and how important you are. IF you manage to survive Basic Training and make it there in the first place. In the meantime, if you don't behave, I'm gonna throw your ass off this boat here and now even though I am a cripple, little boy."
Shane nodded and waddled over to sit down as far away as he could. Sandy walked forward, giving him a stern look and a shake of her head, while the others looked away awkwardly. "Dad, you went too far," she said. "You don't know even who his grandfather is."
"I do. Greg Harrison. Good man, saved my butt a couple times in Saigon in a back alley and I saved his three times in the jungle. Died too soon after he came home. Shane looks just like him, only Greg wus a lot smarter."
Mike hauled the anchor, and Keith awakened the engine. He guided the cruiser deftly through drunken traffic to the landing near downtown, where the party boarded. Sandy went back to her spot in the middle of the deck, and Kammie sat in her corner looking at Keith, while the others gradually melted their silence with scattered observations.
While they made the journey, Kammie stood up to whisper in Keith's ear: "Can I come back and talk with you a while? Later? When everybody else's gone?"
"Aren't you riding with Stacey?"
"No, I met 'em at the landing downtown. Let me get off and tell 'em I'm goin' somewhere else, and I'll come back."
They reached the landing, and the most of the passengers got off without a word to the Captain. Mike came over to shake his hand and look at him quizzically, but disembarked after a simple 'Good night.' Sandy came over and looked deep into her father's eyes: "Do ya wanna come over t' our house tonight, Dad? The girls are at a slumber party, and Frankie will be in by noon."
"No thanks, Sandra Jean. Need to be alone tonight. I'll catch up with Frankie before he goes back over."
"If you say so, Dad. You got your cell phone with you?"
"Shit yes, Sandy. Leave me alone."
"All right. G'night, Dad."
He sat watching the crowd thin as people wandered away from the shoreline. There were a couple of bars downtown that were increasing in patronage exponentially, and their music started leaking to the dock. Keith's buddy Harold Kerns wandered over, giving him a friendly wave before resting on his leg propped on a support. "Hey, Keith. Goin' to the Legion later?"
Keith smiled grimly at his friend, tipping his cap. "Not tonight, Harry. Arthur's givin' me too much trouble. Need to take my pills and lie down a while. Don't even think I'll get off the boat."
"Hey, I'll buy you a coupla rounds of medicine, Keith. C'mon. You need a night out. It's been too long."
"No thanks. Drink one for me."
"Sure, sure. Great show tonight, wasn't it?"
"Best ever. How's your missus?"
"Fran's fine. Been running crazy with all the kids and grandkids down. How's Sandy?"
"Goin' nuts getting her kids off to school and seeing her boy back from Iraq for a couple of weeks."
"When does Frankie get in?"
Harry looked around and saw he was almost alone. He stood up and waved "Well, take it easy, Keith."
"Yeah, Harry. You too"
The crowd was moving away from the lakefront, and Kammie moved against the flow in returning. She stepped back on the boat, and Keith gunned the engine to move off.
They sailed in silence for a few minutes, the only lights were the running lights and the glow of the underwater radar and depth finder. There were fewer lights on the water to dodge, and the stars were coming out of the gunpowder induced haze. She stood next to the captain's chair and hugged his arm as they cruised lightly over the water.
"Okay, why did you come back, Kammie?" he said out of nowhere.
" 'Cause you made me feel good. Shane's been an asshole since he signed up in December. Been pushing people around. He's been mean to me since we were in fifth grade, and lately he's been really mean."
"He'll get taken down when he gets to boot camp. How mean?"
"Boob grabbin' 'n titty twisters in the school corridors."
"They get away with THAT in High School these days? Should have thrown him overboard," he muttered.
They talked about many things on the trip back to Keith's boat slip: the stars, Vietnam, High School, her father who abandoned her, his wife who died nine years earlier. He kept the speed of the boat moderate, and soon found his tie up. Under his instructions, she hopped on the planks and tied the ropes as he made it fast. "What's this doing here?" she asked, pointing to a motorized wheelchair on the dock.
"Gets me up and down from the house. Wanna ride?"
She giggled. "Maybe later. How do you do this when you're by yourself."
"I got it worked out. I kin get a line in the middle sitting at the Captain's chair, and that's steady enough to throw the other lines out, get off, hop in the chair and tie everything down."
"Must take forever."
"It takes a little time."
"Why do it?"
He paused. "I love the water. I love bein' here. Sandy says I'm an idiot, there's a nice VA home 50 miles away, and I could be dead for a week down here before anybody notices. But I don't give a shit. I'd rather die here. I'm stayin' "
She hopped back on the boat. "You wanna to up to the house?"
"Nope. Sometimes I sleep down here. Sometimes I anchor by an island I know a few miles away. Sleepin' on the boat's very relaxing, if the temperature's just right."
"What should I do?"
"Well, the house's unlocked. I got a guest room with a big bed. You can stay there tonight."
She paused and looked at the sky. "I think I'll stay here a while."
"Cause you're good to me." A long, pregnant pause hung as she looked at him nervously. "Do your legs still work at all?"
He winced as he shifted his balance in the Captain's chair. "I can stand a little bit, take a couple of steps. Use the walker a lot, and the wheelchair to get up and down from the house."
"Did you get hurt in 'Nam?"
She came up close to look deep into his eyes, as if she was trying to read the story directly from his brain, her breath a butterfly's touch on his cheek. "I always imagined being a soldier's girl. Waiting for my boy to come home, where he was fighting for our country. Fucking him silly while he was home on leave. Taking care of his babies. Jeff's such a wuss, I'm ashamed of him. He's the only boyfriend I ever had, and he didn't want to protect us."
"You got your head on straight, Kammie. But ya don't know what it's like to be a soldier's bride: Sandy was born while I was in 'Nam, and I didn't meet her 'till she was 19 months old. Screamed her head off when she saw me for a week; took a long time t'make friends with her. Viv had it tough, so tough. Almost left me when I came home a cripple. I wouldn't wish a soldier's life on anybody after what happened to me."
"Did ya have other children?"
"I wanted to, she didn't. By the time she thought differently, cancer got her and she fought it for fifteen years."
They sat and looked at each other a while. He broke the silence abruptly. "Why d'ya think you're ugly?"
"'Cause I'm hideous."
"Bullshit. You're cute enough, your face is nice." Her skin was tanned, her brown eyes were set above strong cheekbones and a dimpled smile.
"But my tits're too small. I'm gonna get them worked on when I got enough money."
"No, they're not."
"Bullshit. Look at these." She stood up and pulled down her tube top. Her breasts were nicely rounded peaks that swung noticeably when she shook her torso for him. "There's not enough there to notice."
"Honey, they look fine to me. Really fine."
"Do you mean it?"
"Mouthwaterin' sugar. Gonna hafta take a cold shower, sweetheart."
She smiled in the dark and pulled up her skirt. A dark bush lurked out from beneath the jean skirt. "You're not a natural blonde," he sneered.
"So what? Ya like how I look, Mr. Winston?"
"Call me Keith. Any girl shows me her tits'n cunt gets to call me by my first name."
"Okay." She came over and put her hand on his crotch. "Wow, I didn't know you could still get it up. I thought old men were. . .impudent."
"Impotent. Never been my problem."
"Can I see your dick?" "Tell me first why you're not wearing panties?"
"Oh, I had a nice pair of red, white and blue panties on earlier today."
"And where did they end up?"
"I was running around with Stacey and Erin, and we was passing this group of boys by Walmart, driving 'round in circles, flirting with them. Stacey showed 'em her tits, Erin mooned them, and when it was my turn, all I could think of was throwing them my sweaty panties."
"Okay. How'd they take that?"
"I looked behind me. They was barkin' like dogs and sniffin' it."
"How did it make you feel?"
"It turned me on and creeped me out."
"Fair enough." He thought for a moment while she was stoking his manhood through his shorts. "Hey, wait a minute, wait a minute. You eighteen?"
"Yeah. Just graduated High School. You were there."
"Oh, yeah, I remember." He unzipped his fly and eased out his dick.
She looked at it wide eyed. "Wow, that's the biggest dick I ever saw!"
"Kin I touch it?"
"Sure, I guess." She reached out delicately, just touching it quickly with her hand and pulling it away, giggling. It twitched, and she took it very gently and started stroking it along the shaft.
"Your balls are huge, too. Like a horses' Don't ya have a girlfriend?"
"No. Nobody interested in a cripple like me. Everybody's nice enough, especially down at the Legion, but I haven't had a girlfriend since Viv died."
"Maybe I kin be your girlfriend," she wondered, and kept her eyes glued to his dick. Pulling it up, she took a long look at his balls, and ran her hand on them up and down, making him more rigid. "Wow, you're getting hard, Mr. Winston."
"Please, call me Keith. Any girl strokin' my cock and playin' with my balls gets to call me by my first name." Her tongue licked her lips and her eyes danced for a moment. "Do ya think I kin suck it?"
"Do you wanna?"
"Yeah," she said, and began licking around the end. Treating his cock like a lollipop, she worked around and around it, sucking the end in and out. The distant sound of a firework reverberated across the lake. He looked up at the stars and wondered how he got to be this lucky.
"You enjoying yourself?" he asked, stroking her hair.
She pulled off him with a pop. "Oh yeah, your dick's much nicer than Jeff's. He always came by now and never gave me a really good fuckin'."
"Do you wanna get fucked?"
"Oh, could I?" she giggled. "I'd loveta have this big dick up my cunt. Do we have to do anything special?"
"Ya know, do I have to get on top since you're messed up, or something?"
He swung his legs around to the steps down to the cabin. "My arms are strong, and I kin do what any other guy can do. Wanna find out?"
"Sure," she squealed, and watched as he levered himself down the steps and landed on the bed. Skipping down after him, pulling off her clothes and laying down beside him. Stroking his cock, she made it wet with his anticipatory moisture and spread her legs. He rolled over on top of her and gradually inserted himself, going slowly at first until he hit bottom. Starting their mating dance slowly, he built in speed and intensity as she got used to him.
Her face was like an angel's, and she ground her hips under him, clawing at his back, and bouncing in response to his thrusting. She thought it would never end, on and on they went, and she was amazed how he was able to stay on top of her so long. Finally, she approached her climax and felt his seed plow deep within her as she screamed and wailed in her first serious orgasm.
She cuddled in his arms as they lay together afterward. He wrapped his arms around her and after a long silence punctuated by fireworks going off around the shoreline. Finally, he whispered in her ear: "Why are you here?"