LADS IN AMERICA: “Sweetener”

Read the previous chapters of this novel in the works here

The tall, Liverpool-bred entity that approached the field wore a red polo and bore iced coffees fro Starbucks. At first Cameron wasn’t sure if this really was ave Madison.

“Cheers,” he said, grabbing the coffees off the tray and handing them out to his coworkers.

“Well, well,” Dave greeted in a scruffled voice. “Mr. Carlson’s back and looking miraculously well!”

“Well, well,” Cameron uneasily began, through sips of coffee for security, ” I am incredibly well.”

“I’m not following.”

“A pun, sir.” He took a longer sip. Javier was coming around to grab himself a drink.

“Thanks, Dave. Thank God Cameron’s back, yeah?” Dave kept his glare onto Cameron. “He’s back I reckon,” he was saying to Javier, “but how has he been on the field so far?”

“All’s good,” Javier replied, a sip of his own. “More parents sitting around to watch today, kids are really getting into the games now that they’re all familiar with them.”

“Well of course, they’re just kids. But what’s your take on today Cam?”

The iced coffee was running hot in his mouth. “Felt like I’m back into the groove of everything.”

“You’ve missed out on quite a few days there, mate.” Mate. Dangerous ground.

“No doubt Javé told you sir. Called me and as far as I know he let you know.”

“Any reason why I had to find out about your illness through Javier?”

Like a miracle Lee and Ethan Yates were heading over for their share of the drinks. Curtly they greeted Dave Madison, whose tone seemed to lighten up. “Didn’t want us to overheat did you Dave?” Ethan asked.

“Certainly not,” Dave Madison agreed. ” Heat is liability. It’s  bad enough it threatened to close camps this week.”

“Let’s hope at least parents sunscreened and hydrated their kids loads,” Lee observed. “Well, Cam’s feeling better again, we can handle anything!”

“Doing pretty decent though without his help,” Madison said. “If we needed him so desperately we would have pressed him to get better rather than left him alone.”

“That would be rude, sir.” Rick’s sarcasm hung dead between the gathering. He also had a sip of coffee.

In the way that Cameron was slightly terrified to look at his menacing superior, he also stared him clear in the eye, even with the sun stinging his glare from behind Madison. “Just glad to be back and with the lads here, sir,” he started. “Just so sorry I had to miss out on some great action it sounded like, from what they’ve been telling.”

“Oh yeah?”Madison remarked.

“Sure. Rick said a lad on Monday bicycle-kicked, his first day and in his whole life. Don’t believe him of course for being Rick as a witness nor for a six-year-old, then again that’s something I’ll always be haunted by for having gotten so sick. I think it’s a shame.”

“It sure was Cam,” Rick cut in, in an obviously snide tone his colleague, and surely Madison, caught onto. “Oh the things we’ve seen you couldn’t have fallen ill at a worse time than now mate!”

“No, I couldn’t have.” This was all going nowhere and if Madison wasn’t aggravated by now, God bless. “I may be better off now but one thing’s certain, about not getting back the hours of work the next pay will show.” He laughed uneasily at this– this awkward attempt to rationalize no one would have wanted to miss the payroll for one of the best weeks for hours, that second week of July. Would Madison buy it? Hopefully.

The break was over and the children regrouped around their coaches, all but one. Cameron stayed to the side with Dave Madison.

“That sure is a fine pay you won’t be seeing lad, ” he spoke, eyes fixated on the lines of little heads dressed below in the neon meshes that Javier had brought. “Terribly ill fated, your illness Cameron. Especially as one of the more experienced young men whom many of this summer’s recruits look up to.”

“It happens to the best of us.”

“Suppose it does. Really, a bright lad if I saw one. Never more than a beer with the lads and quick to discipline some nasty brats on the field, and somehow no complaints from their parents. With every family you’ve stayed with since you first came to us last year there hasn’t been one bad remark on your behalf. Well, guess I’m saying is we’re right lucky to have you.”

Cameron said nothing.

“You better be on your way then. Or stay behind, see how well these boys say they’ve managed without you. You’ve heard me, glad to see you’re recovered, lad.”

Cameron nodded with a thanks and started off in an awkward jog to the other coaches. Madison wasn’t finished. “I hope the Redmonds are enjoying their cruise.”

“They said they sure are, sir. Thankfully I caught on sick at the best time to house sit! Ward off any of the younger lads from crashing in with reckless notions to party there.”

Dave was looking down at his phone now, and Cameron wasn’t sure how much longer he would be staying at the field. But he kept his gaze down and his feet moving towards his car in the opposite direction, not before responding to Cameron, “Glad they could check in with you then, before you could figure out to check in with us.”

BOYS IN AMERICA: “The Old Mates”

Rick was called by the other coaches a pedo. Everyone’s guilty of pop star infatuations, but Lorde was still sixteen. It was a term of endearment and a fanciful tease of a guy like Rick to openly fall for someone so young and brooding in style as her. They wouldn’t question Rihanna or Katy Perry– maybe think he was gay if it were Gaga– but “pedo” for the summer would suffice. He helplessly owned up to it too. Naturally it was “Royals” blaring from the car he came up in with his recent partner Ethan Yates. As the red Chevy crunched to a still on the parking lot gravel, Cameron thought to himself how at least his little disappearance fortunately got him away from Rick for a while.

It wasn’t too bad of a day out on the Danville field this Friday afternoon. A warm breeze skimmed the deep green field, just out from when he had last seen it. Young oaks were planted around its outskirts and along little hedges of dying confederate jasmine gapped between the sprawling field and the parking lot. In their last breath they gave out a scent so strong that it could be smelled by the young men just on the other side. Danville was straight up country and something out of the prairie west. To Cameron it felt like one of those towns he’d driven through last summer when he and some of the other coaches went up to Lake Tahoe.

He would be on the field today with Rick, Ethan, Lee, and Sean. Since Sean and Lee had been working together the past two weeks, Cameron panicked at seeing Lee, not knowing whether Sean told him anything.

“How’s it going, matey boy?” Lee greeted. His white summer kit was wrinkled and had a small tear on the left seam line that slightly grew when Lee gave out his hand to shake. “All well?”

Cameron nodded and warmly replied, “Felt like shit. But I’m good now. Hope you didn’t let things go riot ’round here whilst I was out.” Good Lee, Cameron wished he’d told him about leaving rather than Rick. He and Ethan’s car were still blasting music causing the other boys to speak a bit louder.

“That’s the fun part,” Lee continued. “We wouldn’t have wanted you to miss out on any of it! Just the heat. The heat’s horrendous right about now.”
Sean came over to join them, bearing with him mesh orange bags filled with soccer balls and plastic neon blue discs to be used as markers throughout the field. “This is nothing until September! You guys know that,” he said. He started to open the mesh for the markers and repeatedly flung them at Lee. “Yo! Let’s go put these out.”

“Don’t nee to kill me with them!” Lee shouted back, though not annoyed. “Cameron just got back, we might as well just go out for proper breakfast now than start off with more sessions. Ugh, spoke too soon– see some kids now.

“What’s the game for today?” Cameron asked, kicking about a ball he stole out of Sean’s bag.

“Good question,” Sean replied. Game plan was usually planned at the second it was asked about. “Well I wanted to get around to some passing games. Swamp Monster?”

Lee shrugged. “Eh, that’s good. And we can throw in some Sleepy Pirate for time, then scrimmage games.”

“Who’s going to be the sleepy Pirate this time?” With his luck Cameron dreaded the answer.

“Not me!” Rick and Ethan now were with them after having quickly assembled their side of the field. “The grass gets kicked up in your face. Hate that!”

“What can we say Ricky boy,” Ethan began, “the summer lads get first in everything, even games.”

“Kids love you anyway!” Cameron added with a slight laugh.

“Well I don’t love them,” Rick replied rather stiffly. “I can’t even handle my own twelve-year-old sister.”

“If you wanted to honestly see the world Ricky boy, you shouldn’t have taken a job working with kids.” Sean made a point. “Could have just backpacked it or something, your own fault.”

“Well, backpacking doesn’t pay me now, does it?”

“Touche Rick.” Lee said this in a lighthearted tone to which only Cameron could really pick up a sense of worry beneath. Though Cameron was on his second year out in America with EYSI, Lee had been there longer. The first summer that Cameron came out was Lee’s fifth. He never really knew why Lee had stayed doing soccer for so long.

Rick didn’t know how long any of his colleagues had actually been working there and he didn’t give a shit. Before he arrived, there had been Alexes and Robs and Allistairs and Toms– all under twenty-one and on a holiday like temp summer with EYSI for a quick chance to get out of the UK and see America. You never got attached to those guys. And so the rest of the boys humored them in the short summer working together.

Kids were piling onto the field until they were all lined up on the green appropriately with their teams from the day before. Just camps, on these hot but dry weekdays. Drills, scrimmages, and more drills– practices that made the likes of Cameron numb to a sport he was passionate about. Not that hatred would ever happen, likely. But those beginnings moments of dread when seeing a swarm of children brought back an urge to disappear again. But at least he wasn’t the pirate when it came to. Rick could talk and talk, but the summer lads virtually had no say. All was laughs and dirt in the Pirate’s face much to his dismay.

And then Dave Madison arrived.

THE BOYS IN AMERICA: “Sean”

Summer 2013

The fuck was he doing here? More so, “How the hell did you find me, mate?”

He was staring down Sean from the top of the porch, barely dressed in sweats and an old white shirt. You never expected anyone to show up on your doorstep at nine in the morning on a Tuesday.

Then again, weekdays usually were late afternoons of work with BYSI. “Rick said you were out here when you replied to his WhatsApp. Said you were Berkeley.” Cameron bitterly thanked auto-location-tagging for his sacred privacy in a time like now.

“Damn. Well, how’s Rick anyhow?”

Sean covered his eyes with his hand like a visor, squirting through his deeply inset eyes beneath a brooding brow. He could have been British, but he wasn’t. American through and through– really the only person from his old job that Cameron gave a damn about. With his visored position he awkwardly shrugged.

“Good. I don’t know. We’re talking about you here, Cam.”

“Were we?”

“Okay, you know why I came out to you.”

“Cheers! How thoughtful that I was the first one to know, I’m quite happy for you Sean.”

“Oh fuck it.” Sean turned, kicking up some dirt that dusted over Cameron’s sweats as he skipped after him.

Oh come on, mate, you know me taking the piss,” Cameron began again. “Fuck’s sake, I’m just surprised. More like, this is just awkward!”

Sean, still annoyed, fired rather smoothly, “You don’t know awkward– awkward is trying to talk to Dave fucking Madison about why one of his senior coaches have gone AWOL. I was just feeding him all sorts of bullshit when in reality the first thing I heard about just came from Rick two days ago!”

Well,” Cameron paused, now not looking into Sean’s face, “I’m sorry.”

“What are you getting at with all these theatrics?” Cameron sighed, and walking backwards towards the front door he seemed to be retreating again, dropping the unexpected and unwanted confrontation right there on the front lawn.

Let me put some jeans on,” he said in defeat, “I’ll explain, but let’s go get something to eat, eh?”

Peggy’s was an old coffee shop diner on Telegraph right near the overpass that served cheap burgers for the taste of an In-N-Out. On the walk there they two old colleagues fell back into warm waters and talked casually but enthusiastically about random things– the new summer inductees, how close Chelsea got to signing some really good players from Barcelona, if Sean was really that into Jay Z because Cameron had seen his new album sitting in the passenger seat as they passed Sean’s car. They got a small booth at Peggy’s where the tight blue vinyl on the seats began splitting and the laminate was chipped on the edges of the white table between them. Picking up the loaded cheeseburger, Cameron looked deeply into it and professed, “Yep. See here? This is what America is made of.”

“Cholesterol?” Sean smugly said, eating pancakes with bacon drizzled in syrup on the side.

Nah, that was in the 2000s. But nowadays,” Cameron took a sharp bite, “in the present, it’s all about opportunity again.”

“Hasn’t it always been?”

“Well getting what you want. And right away. Well, I’m guessing not for Americans, anyhow. You all still work hard for one shitload of a government that doesn’t hesitate handing guns out over proper health care. Work hard and get rewarded– somewhere down the road, if it ever ends. I mean for us, foreigners, me. America is in fact so quick to open their arms about giving the best to us, warming up to our foreign fantasies of what America is all about. We’ll get things quick from America because all she has to give is her image.”

“Deep.” Sean wasn’t really listening, as his half-eaten pancake stack proved the victor for his attentions. “That’s not true. Think about all the Mexicans struggling to get on here in the country.”

Cameron smiled with a full mouth, and swallowing hard replied, “The only Mexican I really care about is Javé.” They both laughed with this nod to another one of the coaches. Sobering up, Sean got back to the underlying subject of all: “So somewhere in these philosophical thoughts you just spilled out to me I’m supposed to understand that you think it’s simple as that to walk off the face of the Earth?”

For all his talk, Cameron didn’t really know how to yet formulate a reason for his actions. He slouched back in the blue booth, slowing his thought. “Not walk off,” he began, “but just get away and see what else I might accomplish out here. There’s still so much to do, and I’m chained to EYSI.”

You’re not chained. You’ve been with the company for three years now. You’ve seen lots. And trying to come back now for a fourth spring and summer is seemingly impossible now with this little dip of yours. Well, even so before your disappearance your fourth chances were slim.”

“I’m well aware of that. And so, why would I want to go through all that tedious processing again? The London overnight, tucked in tailored suits, awkward answers to the U.S. Embassy over questions that are complete bollocks. I can’t. I’ll just have to not go back home for quite some time.”

In the long run however you’ll get caught,” Sean replied, “and deported. And it’s goodbye USA. Nothing works out the way you want it, ever. Don’t be stupid, Cam.”

I just gotta avoid authority,” Cameron resolved. “You know, dodge the cars, not get in fights. Seriously, fuck the police!” Sean laughed. Cameron didn’t like it.

Well, basically you’re telling me the plan is to keep your time here focused on just avoiding cops. Avoid the public then. Avoid life. That’s the reality, and you know I’m right and that you’re being stubborn.”

The waitress brought them both new cups of coffee and neither of them spoke until their coffees were fixed. Sean dribbled some creamer in his– Cameron was still warming up to the institution of coffee and especially after the incident with Nick’s hazelnut, opted for more sugar in his cup of straight black. Thought of that time sparked the same panic he had in that moment.

How long has it been?” he asked Sean.

Just a week,” he replied. “As far as anyone’s concerned, told them you’ve been sick.”

“Wouldn’t Madison know though? As in, he’d check in with Stacy and John?” Then he remembered that his host family, the Redmonds, had been gone half the month on a cruise soon after he moved into their Danville home. Housesitting, or sick to everyone else.

Good thing they’re away still,” Sean acknowledged. “Nothing to tell.”

There really was, wasn’t there?

“Fuck. Just give me a reason Sean. A fucking good one at that please? Why should I?”

They could hear the SFO- bound BART train pass somewhere south and out of sight, the bullet right before hitting its target at the MacArthur station. Then passing into silence, more nothing. From anything. There was nothing to getting back into the game, Cameron realized.

THE BOYS IN AMERICA: “NEIGHBOURS”

Summer, 2014

Cameron was a writer, and no one could really tell him if he was a good one. Anyone he knew at university studied finance or sports science, like he planned to as well. But he liked difficult, trying new paths, pushing buttons and scratching heads. No one seemed to notice that, too. In being too caught up in their own concerns Cameron got away with actually doing things he liked without commotion– up until now, obviously.

As much as he wished to be instant Wilde or Dickens after h e graduated the only thing that was certain was debt and paying them off as fast as it grew. So Cameron became a soccer coach, one in many for a league of wild, bright-eyed Scots and English boys scattered across America to teach their sacred sport to ignorant fat brats. Cameron was rather surprised on two things when he got hired by European Youth Soccer International: playing football all up until his last year at Nottingham he still passed their physical; and his parents gave no objection with the uncertainty they showed like when he expressed pursuing writing. Well, they always justified in his actions by their standards; an English degree would be practical for insurance content writing, and coaching abroad would make fine accreditation.

For those reasons he was glad to have left EYSI, to be shacked up now in the back room of the house he shared with Nick. Nick was Cameron’s savior, or the cold, weeded sidewalks would have been home. Or perhaps Craigslist was to credit; Cameron applied to all potential ads and Nick happened to reply straight away.

Friday night in. Nick was sprawled on a dingy blue couch oddly angled in front of the dark fireplace where a large TV and X Box console was set. Cameron was drinking tea in the kitchen, not too close to intrude on his roommate’s space and not too close to ask about having a go on his video games. The only thing that kept Cameron here really was being broke.

But Nick was right, too. “You know, it’s not like they’re gonna cuff you on the spot once you step out on the street,” he told Cameron, not looking up from the East Asian history textbook he was reading.

“I’m not afraid,” was Cameron’s reply. But even he was afraid of Nick. Who knows, if they didn’t get along Nick could be a nob and report him.

” Didn’t say you were, man. Unless you are, I was gonna see if you’d go out and buy me more hazelnut creamer. But seriously, I’ve gotta outline this chapter by eleven tonight.”

“Aren’t you on summer holiday?” Cameron’s phone, an old Blackberry, said it was nearing nine.

“No, told you I don’t and I’ve been in two extra classes this summer to catch up.”

“You really behind on your units, eh?”

“Just what, twelve credits? But want to pace myself, you know?” In the little that Nick and Cameron did share in common, it was fairly easy to dismiss their past, especially for Nick, whose dull years at Duke caused a drop out of college– but it was the Bay Area that brought him back in.

“Well, I don’t have money,” Cameron replied, laying his head in his arms that were folded onto the table.

“I’ll pay you, of course, for my creamer. And anything else we might need in the fridge.”

“Nah, fine I’ll just go get that. Get out for a little bit.”

“That’s the spirit. I feel like a dick honestly to send you out but hey, it’s better than being here on a weekend.”

It wasn’t a bad place to be actually, Cameron decided as he looked behind him at the house. Like the others, the house he lived at was craftsman, quaint little Americana captured on a quiet street in a cool evening. Cameron liked its imperfection though: the line four shingles missing on the gray roof, the wood panel on the walls and how they contrasted the pop peacock blues that bordered the windows and colored the shutters of the windows. The best thing that was a great bonus was the Dutch door– it actually was divided into two!

As he looked back Cameron did have a pang at just stepping out beyond its white Pickett fence, but he was ready for the new world right there. He’d have to get used to it, anyhow, should he really be here forever.

It still sounded like an amazing scheme. Berkeley was a college town, so there was plenty of bars and random things to do, yet not rural into deep America where he’d be dealing with more of the same and go mad. He’d been working out in LA earlier this summer and last year, but Cameron felt like he had enough of that. Somewhere quiet enough was good to get started, and no pressure around to write as soon as possible. That’s truly what meant to Cameron.

Amber Avenue was tucked away amidst trees and bungalows accented well by flowers in the front lawn, and it was only blocks away from the busy intersection where Ashby met College Avenue, where a little liquor store set up shop and Cameron could only walk so far, since neither he or Nick had a car.

The air was cold, no one was out except for stars finally shining through the breaking clouds that gave the sky a slate look. And their bright light looked filtered to Cameron, coming through the branches that lined the sidewalk
. The small and bunched businesses along college came to view, most closed except for the corner Cafe Roma with their grand brick clock reading half past nine now. He was almost at the little market when his cheap go-phone broke the silence of the night, and Cameron hated it. He pressed the red rejection button to silence the ring, to hang up Nick. If he was stepping out into this new place, he just wanted to be alone at the moment.

Creamer. It wasn’t even true milk or dairy-based, but then to flavor it? Ungodly business, these Americans. Cameron was slowly getting used to coffee with his stay, but milk in place of cream for every beverage remained standard. He quietly grabbed a quarter pint from the back fridge and waited in line. A girl, a tiny one, was in front and tapping her foot on the green laminate. From the back of her head Cameron liked the way her hair was cropped above her shoulders and sort of wavy. He wouldn’t mind the wait. When the girl finished buying her things– a big bag of pita chips and a bag of Seattle’s Best Coffee– she stayed behind to slowly put them into a burlap grocery bag. This little detail stopped Cameron from realizing he was short $1.45 for the creamer.

“What?” He said to the clerk, an old Asian man with furrowed brows, probably because of Cameron’s lack of attention.

“You gave me two dolla.”

Oh shit. Cameron had left the house without Nick giving him the money.

“I–I got it here somewhere, Sir,” Cameron tried to delay, patting his back pockets. No luck. He only came across a nickel when the girl– who was still there– reached out and gave two dollars to the clerk. “Keep the change, she demanded, smiling to the clerk, then to Cameron.

“He smiled back, but he wanted to get out of there. Grabbing the carton of creamer he quickly walked out and passed her. He forgot to thank her.

He was about to turn back around when there she was, just leaving the market.

“Thanks!” He blurted out. And laughed. How stupid, he thought.

“Some gratitude,” she replied, laughing. Casually onward, she asked, ” You must be visiting?”

“The accent.”

“English?”

“Right you are.”

“Right you are,” she slightly mocked. She still smiled. It just registered to Cameron that she wore thin metal-rimmed glasses, shaping almond hazel eyes that hinted to Cameron her background was half-Asian. Her laughs didn’t sound funny in a way that pissed him off either. What a pleasant soul to have encountered for being criminal.

“I’m just staying at a mate’s for a bit,” he continued, cautious not to reveal his master plan. “It’s nice here, right pretty.”

“Haha it’s crazy here– but yes, a beautiful little city. I think I’ve seen you around already. On Amber?”

“Oh? Yes.”

She nodded. “I live on Amber Avenue.” He felt more alive all of a sudden.

“Imagine that! What is your house number?”

“787 Amber. I’ve seen you near 790.”

“Stalker.”

Now she was laughing. “You were the one watching me pack my shit away in there.”

Feeling alive became clammy and flustered in the cheeks. “Uh, let me please walk you back, if you’re alright with that.”

“It’s perfectly fine. We’ve already been sort of walking–”

“Oh we have!” They’d probably gone a block from the market. “Yeah,” she began again, “but it’s a nice summer evening finally. Good things happen.” The trust she had in Cameron was reassuring, a nice breath of air for being so tense about everyone around him. If he was going to live amongst them, he had to trust them, and trust himself to feel like there was nothing to distrust. Crazy, but simple.

And as he figured, this neighbor of his was a student at UC Berkeley, in her second year and living with her aunt whose house was on Amber. The rest of her family lived south near LA. The thing that didn’t really sit well with Cameron was the superficial misfortune to her name: Veronica. Certainly didn’t look like a Veronica.

Despite that, the night walk turned out perfect, and too fast. They had actually come up to 790 first, where she bid Cameron farewell.

“See you around, Cameron.”

“And definitely shall hope to see you around. And meet your aunt as well?”

Her smile grew and she shrugged. “She does love hosting. And new faces.”

Cameron would surely come to appreciate the minor incident of any new face now.

THE BOYS IN AMERICA: “A Punch”

Summer, 2014

He’s illegal. Ugh, He hated how that sounded, if all eyes were on him like some murderer with blood still soaking his clothes.
But Cameron couldn’t help the thrill of it. This was it. And it was the first time he’d ever really take in anything into his own hands. He always read about the Future in Your Control, aspired to the existentialism they taught at Nottingham, but now he was living it. And now he would be forced to live with this future he decided in America. Illegally.
Cameron really didn’t think he’d end up here, out in California practically a whole world away from home. But at least it was feeling like England, with rain for these first few nights out in the San Francisco Bay Area. Fantastic! All the same comforts of Nottingham existed with this sprawling place where there seemed to be endless options, plans to be made, But for lying low this second year, Camerons’s busing at The Tunstall had to do.
That first night he missed his Virgin flight and Skyped his parents– who would have met him at Heathrow– to spill the news. The second night they tried Skyping him again and he refused their call. In the events to night nine he’d landed a permanent job at a pub and a room to rent with a student at UC Berkeley. Of all the cities he’d seen in America, Berkeley was his favorite. There were trees at least, thank God. But the city was relaxed, and funny. Twinkle lights remained on porches and lit the summer evenings, and beautiful artwork paved the sleepy little craftsman bungalows that reminded him somehow of Cotswold cottages. But it was that view, the one beyond the greenery and out over an unrivaled bay and bridge, deep orange and flickering out of whipped-like fog. It was his last camp of the summer he taught up in the hills, and in ending up there what ever knew in England had ended.
He’s illegal because he wanted all of this.