Cody slipped down the stairs to the stateroom he shared with Nick. He was quiet from habit not necessity - he was alone on the Riptide. Nick had taken Murray to the electronics store, and knowing Murray, that meant Cody had a good hour before his partners returned.
Even so, Cody paused before he entered the room, listening. He didn't want to get caught at this.
Nick emptied a pile of sports socks, dress socks and packages of underwear onto his bunk. "I picked these up while Murray was buying his doohickeys. I figured we were running low."
"Thanks." Cody pulled his wallet from his back pocket, but Nick waved it away.
"Forget it, man." He started stuffing his purchases into the nightstand drawer, then stopped and bent down. "Hey, what's this?" He straightened up with a bright yellow button in his hand.
Cody flushed then bit his lip. "Maybe that client yesterday, Teresa-"
Nick looked at him sharply. "Way I remember it, she didn't come down here. Something you not telling me?"
"No!" Cody's flush deepened. "Someone might have kicked it!"
"Uh-huh." Nick's gaze remained speculative. He laid the button on the nightstand and went back to the new clothing.
Cody sidled a little closer, waited until Nick's back was turned then picked up the button. He slipped it into his pocket, covering his movement by sitting down on his bunk.
Nick finished stowing everything away then sat down opposite Cody, looking expectant. Cody flushed again. "What?"
"Just waiting for you to tell me the truth about that button, big guy."
"I don't know what you mean."
"Then why's it in your pocket?" Nick leaned forward, resting his arms on his knees. "It's bugging you, and Cody, that's bugging me, okay?"
"It's nothing. It doesn't matter. It's just a button, for God's sake!"
"A button that has you jumpier than Mimi in a thunderstorm." Nick stared for a moment longer then, as Cody remained silent, shrugged. "C'mon. Let's go get a beer."
Two beers later, Cody figured Nick had had enough time to forget the subject. He pointed at the retreating back of a curvaceous brunette he'd never seen before. "Nick, isn't that Samantha?"
"Samantha?" Nick looked. "Samantha who?"
"You remember, buddy. Samantha the nurse, Samantha Doyle."
Nick shook his head slowly. "I don't know, buddy."
"I think it is." The brunette left the restaurant, and Cody turned to Nick. "I'm gonna go after her - won't be long!"
Outside, Cody hurried past the girl without a backward glance. The button was burning a hole in his pocket. He figured he'd bought himself ten, maybe fifteen minutes; ample time to do what he needed to do. He jogged to the Riptide, leaped soundlessly aboard and ghosted to his stateroom.
He listened for a moment - the clatter of computer keys came faintly from the other end of the boat, heralding Murray safely in his own room - then dropped to his knees and slowly drew a slim wooden box from beneath the bunk.
He raised the latches with his thumbs then paused, staring at the inlaid pattern on the top.
"Come on, already. The suspense is killing me," Nick's voice said cheerfully.
Cody jumped back, eyes wide, and spun to see his partner standing in the doorway. Nick's eyes held a mixture of amusement and concern. "Nick! What the hell-?"
"You never dated anyone called Samantha. So I just figured I'd tag along and find out what was so all-fired important, you know?"
"It's nothing. I told you it's nothing." Cody nudged the box with his foot, pushing it toward the bed and sanctuary.
"And I told you I don't believe you. C'mon, guy. How many years has it been? There ain't nothing you can't tell me."
"It's been too many years, and sure I can tell you. It ever occur to you that maybe I don't want to?"
"No," Nick said shortly. "You want to, all right. You just don't know how." He knelt and laid a hand on the box. "Come on, Cody. It ain't where you buried the bodies; it's not big enough." With that, he lifted the lid.
Cody sank onto Nick's bunk. The open box exposed the embroidered denim shirt Nick had seen before. But beside it, as well as the white pants with the sunflower motif, lay a yellow shirt printed with the stylized rays of the sun, and a tunic in a red and white pattern.
Nick lifted the tunic out and whistled softly. "I guarantee this'd stop traffic." He laid it back in the box and sat back on his heels. "Now at least I know why I'd never seen the flower-power suit before." He half-turned, looking up at Cody. "Why'd you make such a big deal out of it, pal?"
"A big deal?" Cody straightened up, staring. "I didn't. I said it was nothing, remember? You were the one who wouldn't let it go."
"Well, yeah." Nick shrugged. "But only because it was upsetting you. Which I still don't get. So now I've seen them are you gonna model them for me?"
"No! And this is exactly why I didn't want to tell you." Cody dragged the button roughly from his pocket, threw it into the box and slammed the lid. He shoved the box back beneath his bunk, then nearly ran from the cabin.
Cody was sitting on the sand, a boulder at his back, watching the moonlit waves claw for purchase on the sand. He knew he'd overreacted; knew Nick would be looking for an explanation. Equally, he knew putting the contents of that box into words was nearly impossible.
"Why the hell couldn't he have left it alone?"
"Because that ain't what I do when something's upsetting you, man." Nick appeared out of the dark and sat down beside Cody without waiting for an invitation. He put a bottle of beer in Cody's hand.
Cody took it silently, stared at it a moment, then took a slug.
"Whatever that's about," Nick said carefully, "I didn't mean to make it harder for you, you know? I just - you shut me out, an' that... Cody, that scares me."
Cody sipped his beer and considered. "Sorry," he said eventually, then shifted slightly, moving closer to Nick.
"No, I'm sorry." Nick sighed with relief and moved closer himself, sliding one arm around Cody's shoulders. He didn't say anything else, but Cody could feel his questions heavy in the air between them.
"I just take 'em out once in a while," Cody said quietly, answering the only thing he could find words for. "Not to wear. Just to check there's no damp or anything."
"If you like 'em so much, why don't you hang 'em in the closet?"
"I don't like them. I didn't even like them at the time."
Nick's arm tightened as Cody made to pull away. "Oh, no you don't. Come on, flower child. Something about that box of rags has you wound to hell and back. Spill it, huh?"
Cody grunted non-committally. Nick's voice softened. "What? Your first girl, is that it? I bet she went for you in that red thing, am I right?"
Cody's rising tension dissipated in a choke of laughter. "No. That one... I never even wore that one." He leaned a little harder on Nick's shoulder.
"Someone buy 'em for you?" Nick's voice was as gentle as a caress. Cody bowed his head, closed his eyes and gave in.
"Not exactly. When my grandfather died, we moved to Connecticut." Cody shot Nick a sideways glance.
Nick nodded. "That what all the preppies were wearing back East?" The words were teasing, but Nick's tone was still as soft, as gentle as it had been a moment ago.
Cody gave a soft laugh. "Not hardly. Grandad... he left me his boat, and a savings account he'd opened in my name. My dad took the boat and sold it, but he couldn't take the account." Cody stopped, breathing hard. He'd never forgiven his father for selling the Eventide, and he never would.
Nick didn't speak, just rubbed Cody's shoulder.
"There was nearly five hundred in that account. The day I graduated high school, I took the money and came back to California. I got myself some cheap digs down by the beach, bought a surfboard, and some new clothes. Clothes I couldn't ever wear in Connecticut, Nick. Clothes that woulda made my father disown me on the spot."
"I get it, buddy. I get it." Nick hugged Cody close.
Cody leaned back into his partner and stared out across the sea. It had been a good summer, the best he'd had in years. After that had come college, Janet, Vietnam.
Nick. The Riptide. The agency. His life had turned out nothing like he'd imagined back then.
"I still say the chicks woulda really gone for you in that red number," Nick said comfortably. "Next time we run out of clean laundry, pick that one, huh?"
Cody took a long swig of beer, listening to the warmth in Nick's voice. His life was nothing like he'd imagined. Back then, his imagination wouldn't have been up to it.
"Next time, you can wear it yourself."