All Ray would tell Fraser was to set aside the entire Saturday and to be sure to bring swimming trunks. Ray would pick him up in the GTO at eight in the morning and the two of them would spend Fraser’s birthday together with a surprise activity that Ray had planned.
Ray drove them out of Chicago to a small marina on the Vermillion River. He parked on the patch of grass that served as a parking lot, and led Fraser towards a small wooden shack with a sign that said “Office”. As they went he gestured to a row of canoes lined up on the shore.
“See those canoes, Fraser? One of them has your name on it.”
Intruiged, Fraser drifted toward the canoes and began inspecting them.
“None of these canoes have names, Ray. They appear to have numbers painted on the sides but . . .”
“I mean I rented one, Fraser. For the whole day. So’s you can feel like you’re back in the, you know, Northwest Areas.”
“Territory,” Fraser corrected absently, but his attention was on the line of canoes. Ray was happy to see the Mountie’s sweet little mouth, hanging just slightly open as usual, expand into one of his crooked smiles.
Ray got into the canoe first and settled into place, then watched the Mountie climb in after him. In two years of knowing him, Ray had never seen Fraser bare-chested, let alone his bare legs or even bare feet. He’d never realized what small feet Fraser had. And such skin, creamy and soft from lack of exposure to the sun.
Fraser wanted to sit in the back but Ray insisted on taking that position himself. Since they had already had a few tense words when Fraser refused to get into the boat until Ray put on a life jacket, Fraser chose not to argue.
Sitting in the back afforded Ray the chance to enjoy the sight of Fraser’s fair, smooth body as he paddled. It didn’t matter that the ridiculous orange life jacket covered the upper part of his torso. Ray lost himself in the easy pumping rhythm of his friend’s arms, the tightness of the muscles that held the paddle, the occasional shifting of Fraser’s haunches under the modest black trunks – loose, long trunks looking more like boxer shorts than anything else. Fortunately for Ray’s visual enjoyment, the Mountie sat down in such a way as to pull the material tightly against his rear.
“You know what we should do, Ray?” Fraser turned and asked innocently.
Ray knew exactly what he wanted them to do. Right from day one his instinct told him Fraser was gay but none of Ray’s careful hints had been picked up on. Ray couldn’t blame him; a guy wasn’t necessarily turned on by another guy just because they both happen to be oriented the same way. Ray had once been interested in women, but that didn’t mean he wanted every woman he saw.
“What should we do, Fraser?”
“We should sing.”
Every time Ray had heard the Mountie sing it was somehow embarrassing. With that Jenkins woman he had sung like a bird but moved like a block of wood. And then there was that day in the woman’s jail when they went to see Beth Botrell. That had been majorly cringe-worthy. But, here alone on the river, Ray figured there was no harm in it.
“Sure, why not.”
“I’ll teach you an old canoeing song.”
Here alone on the water with nobody around to make Ray feel self-conscious, Ray found Fraser’s tenor voice stimulating. Fraser’s sang with the same insistent, pumping rhythm of his paddling. With every downbeat he plunged his magnificent arms towards the water and brought them up again with a dancer’s grace.
My paddle’s keen and bright
Flashing with silver
Follow the wild goose flight
Dip, dip and swing.
Dip, dip and swing ‘er back
Flashing with silver
Swift as the wild goose flies
Dip, dip and swing.
Fraser went on repeating the last line over and over as he paddled.
“Dip, dip and swing,” Ray’s mind raced with the double meaning. The archetypal beat of the song and the paddling mimicked the equally elemental activity Ray longed for. “Dip, dip and swing.” Ray’s whole body began to tremble at the thought of the Mountie’s paddle in motion. “Dip, dip and swing.” It drove him nearly mad.
Fraser turned around again to say “You must know this song, Ray, if you went to a summer camp. I understand it’s fairly common among . . .” The Mountie stopped mid-sentence and directed his eyes towards Ray’s crotch. Uh oh. This was the one disadvantage of sitting where Fraser could see the front of him. He couldn’t hide the sight of his own paddle reacting to his urgent thoughts.
Their eyes met. Fraser’s changeable eyes were reflecting bright blue from the surrounding water, but Ray couldn’t read their expression. His breathing went shallow. Something was coming. Humiliation? Revelation? Ray waited.
As usual, the Mountie’s mouth hung slightly askew. Ray was shaking now at the thought of that mouth taking him inside and closing around him. There could be no pretense anymore. What would Fraser’s answer be?
Ray nearly burst when his friend made no answer at all but turned around to face forward and resume paddling.
“You know, Ray,” Fraser spoke while looking straight ahead at the river. His voice was casual. Too casual perhaps? “Pierre Burton once said you can’t really consider yourself a Canadian unless you can . . .” here Fraser paused and cleared his throat, “ . . . engage in, um, intimate relations while in a canoe. But I’ve always believed that posed a certain safety risk.”
What? What? Ray’s shaking was nearly enough to upset the canoe. Does he mean . . . Is he suggesting . . .
“As officers of the law, we really should set a good example, don’t you think, Ray?”
“What . . . um, do you mean, um . . .”
Fraser turned once again, and looked directly at the front of Ray’s trunks. He licked his lips, ever so slightly, and said, “I mean, I think this would be a good time for us to pull up on shore.”