Authors: Amanda Lance
“It hasn’t been closed for the season?”
“Nope,” Charlie grinned. “It’s heated.”
As I turned I realized with slight alarm that he was sitting to take his shoes and socks off, promptly followed by his shirt. He did these tasks rather eagerly, a new excitement flashed in his eyes.
“Oh no.” I looked from the pool then back to him. “What are you doing?”
I covered my mouth with my hand when I heard myself scream. Maybe I hadn’t really expected him to jump. Or maybe it was the splash of the water surprising me that caused me to call out. Either way, as soon as he resurfaced, I began to laugh. At least, I thought, he had gone in at the deep end.
“Are you crazy? It’s January!” I couldn’t stop laughing.
“Actually,” Charlie looked at an imaginary watch on his wrist. “It’s still December.” He dived back under and resurfaced once more., “‘Sides, like I said, it’s real warm.”
I sat poolside and tried to avoid any puddles his splashing created. The concrete against my legs made me shiver. “I still say you’re nuts.”
“That mean your gonna make me swim by myself?”
I rolled my eyes but still slipped off my shoes and teased the water’s surface with the tips of my toes. Charlie watched me very carefully and began to slowly propel himself back and forth across the water. Every few seconds I looked up at him and watched the lighting change the ripple of his torso and arms to a variety of colors. I closed my eyes and tried to think of something, anything else.
My ears caught the sound of him coming closer as he finished another lap and took hold of the concrete ledge dangling just beneath my ankles. I only opened my eyes when I felt him take hold of my ankle; trailing his thumbs one by one down the front of my foot until his hand acted as a bridge for the water. I felt myself go limp under his touch as he slowly and oh so gently drew my foot into the water to the rim of my ankle before releasing me.
“See?” he whispered. It didn’t seem likely he would be out of breath from the swimming. “It’s good.”
I only nodded, afraid of what might come out of my mouth if I tried to speak.
To make matters worse, Charlie took my other leg, this time starting at the ends of my toes and working his way up. Again, he trailed his thumbs along my foot until it was secure in the lukewarm water, only he continued onward and began using both hands to feel his way along my leg. He was agonizing slow with his touch, but I adored every second of it and felt my body respond accordingly. The outside of his hand brushed against my knee and made me quiver.
“Charlie?” I could barely hear myself.
Just as impulsively as he had begun, he stopped and kicked himself away from the pool’s edge, as far away from me as he could get.
He shook his head and dove back under the water, this time swimming all the way to the bottom and staying there for far longer than I felt comfortable with.
“Charlie?” I stood up, the lust and sudden anger being exchanged for worry. “Charlie?”
I took off his jacket and tossed it aside. My body was expelling so much heat, there was no need for it, anyway. Just as I was about to dive in after him, though, he resurfaced and began ringing the water from his ears.
I crossed my arms over myself and glared at him.
After rubbing his eyes he looked at me. “Ah, sorry?”
I smiled and jumped in after him anyway. The last thing I saw before going under was him flinching from the fresh water flying in his face.
Submerged beneath the surface, I could feel the heaviness of the water close in on me. And while Charlie hadn’t lied about the water’s temperature, the sudden shock of the environment made goosebumps erupt on my entire body. I swayed my hands around me and tried to keep the water from pulling me to the surface. The skirt of my dress and my hair flowed around me in slow motion. And although the chemicals from the pool burned my eyes, I still kept them open and watched as the changing lights turned the metallic shine of my dress into complete different shades and enhanced the gold of the sash across my bodice. I thought maybe I looked like a human disco ball.
When the need for air became too much, I emerged to the cold and watched my skin shiver involuntary. Charlie remained at a safe distance from me, but I could see the narrowing of his eyes and the darkness lingering just beneath as he watched me. I was reminded of the animal that he was and always would be.
We continued to stare at each other, swimming around the obvious. I paddled myself to the deepest end of the pool and submerged myself until my nostrils began to flair. Outside of the warm water, the night air was almost unbearable with its chill, and I hoped it wasn’t too obvious how cold I really was, or how terrifically he had affected me.
“You’re making things real…difficult for me,” he said eventually.
I stretched my neck so my hair would float back under—the sudden warmth of the water on my scalp made me feel better and helped the building tension in my neck. Then I stared back up at Charlie in partial amusement but mostly frustration. I was making things difficult for him?
Between us, I saw the remains of the torn baby’s breath float in the current. I felt for the barrette behind my head, and sure enough, the flower was long-gone. I cared very little however, because the darkness in Charlie’s eyes faded slightly and he seemed far less focused on primal attentions than before.
“Elise is going to kill me when she sees what I did to this dress.” I began laughing again and was relieved to hear Charlie join me as he swam close enough to touch me again. I was hesitant to reach out for him in case the dark of him was lingering just beneath the surface, ready to be released at my touch.
But surprisingly, Charlie swam closer to me, backing me into the concrete ledge of the pool. It wasn’t until the heels of my feet hit the end that I realized he had cornered me completely—each of his hands going to each of my sides and pinning me to the ledge that I desperately clung onto.
“Don’t worry,” he imitated, “I’ll protect you.”
I shoved him away playfully and made my way to the shallow end. “You are such a tease.”
His laughter turned into a mischievous chuckle as he followed me to the other side. Just within earshot, the unharmonious countdown to the New Year began and Charlie’s substantial strokes caught up with me before I had the chance to escape the pool.
“Hey, what?” He wrapped his arms around me from behind and tried to push my floating hair out of the way. I laughed.
“Do you have a resolution this year?”
He laughed. “Yep.”
I continued to laugh as cheers and yelling exploded from inside the house, a noise that was only parallel to the glamorous wave of fiery explosions going on in the sky.
“Guess that timer worked, after all.”
“Come on, tell me.” I took his face in my hands and tried to refocus his attention.
“Tell you what?”
I pounced on him then, shoving him under the water by the tops of his shoulders, only he restrained me with a reaffirming hold on my waist.
“Tell me yours first,” he whispered in my ear.
“Me? I’m going to keep you out of trouble.” I laughed. “You, the boys, and everyone else, whatever I have to do, I’ll do it.”
I felt him smile. “What a coincidence.”
The new semester was just as chaotic as I predicted, providing incidents of getting lost on the way to classes and professors mistaking me for others. Although, as the first week gave way to the second, the third, and all the ones thereafter, I began to feel comfortable on campus. Melinda, my roommate, was a lively drama major who didn’t ask questions and shared my love for French vanilla coffee, so we got along well enough.
“What do you think of this one?” Melinda held another blouse up to her frame, imploring me to look up while I tried to study my notes. When I didn’t, she snapped her fingers at me impatiently and waved the cashmere sleeve at me.
“Yoo hoo? Battes, what do you think?”
“Huh?” I sighed as I looked up. Melinda could wear a garbage bag and make it look fashionable. She was petite like me but still sculpted; I guessed from her youth spent in gymnastics. And though her short hair kept her face framed, she was by no means a plain Jane.
“I think it looks great. Just like the last one, and the one before that, and the one before that…”
“You’re such a spoil sport, Battes.” She looked herself over in the full-length mirror once more. “Maybe I should try on the blue one again…”
“Who are you going out with tonight—Mike?”
“Mitchell,” she corrected, without even batting an eye. “Mike was two weeks ago.”
“Right.” I nodded. “I have a hard time keeping up.”
She stuck her tongue out at me. “That’s what Mike said.”
We laughed while she tried on three more absurd outfits that didn’t really seem like outfits at all, but I responded accordingly, telling her she looked great in all of them, because she genuinely did whether she wanted to believe me or not. And as I watched her get ready for her date, I realized I hadn’t the faintest notion of what that would be like. Charlie and I loved each other of course, but we had never had any sort of dating experiences, per say. And as much as my imagination usually worked for me, I couldn’t picture him calling me like a
guy to ask me out, and me getting ready in a dizzy haze like Melinda was now. Was this what normal people did for dates? Melinda did it almost every night for one guy for another, but I couldn’t even picture doing it for
“Hey there,” Melinda laughed. “Where did you go?”
“Sorry.” I laughed. “Just thinking”
“Did you hear what I said?”
I shook my head.
“I get that like, you’re shy and stuff, and if you want me to stay out of your business, I completely will, but if you want me to set you up…”
“No,” I said, probably louder than I needed to. “I’m here to study. That’s all.”
She wiggled next to me. “Really? We’re young, Battes. We’re should enjoy it while we can.”
Oh, I wanted to, she had no idea. In fact, I was beginning to think Charlie wasn’t trying to keep me safe so much as drive me insane; to see how far my will would go before I’d crack altogether.
“I will…when the right guy comes along.”
She scoffed and threw a shirt at me. “Oh please, that could be years from now, or never. And what about until then? You’re supposed to be chaste? Lonely? Not have any fun?” She began digging through one of her many boxes for something I couldn’t see. “Use what you’ve got while you have it.” She winked.
“Gather ye rosebuds while ye may,
Old Time is still a-flying;
And this same flower that smiles today
Tomorrow will be dying.”
Her eyebrow went up for a second before she figured out I was reciting a poem. But once she did, her smile returned and she nodded. Whether or not she understood Herrick’s verse was a matter of interpretation. “Right on.”
I continued to think about that conversation as I sat in Elise’s kitchen and reread the same sentence in my Global Relations textbook. While I didn’t exactly agree with Melinda’s ideas about shopping around for true love, she did make some great point about wasting time. Life was a fleeting thing anyway, and mine had been up for the taking more than once over the summer. With Charlie’s profession, there was any infinite number of ways he could be in danger, so why were we waiting? Why didn’t we take advantage of the time we had together while we still had it? What were we waiting for?
“You should watch out.” Elise scooped something unidentifiable into Tyler’s mouth. He made a face, but swallowed it anyway. “Your brain is going to overheat.”
Leaning on the barstool, I twisted until my back cracked, and I rotated my neck. “Meh.” I tried to shrug off the achiness that had settled into my shoulder from craning downward so long, but the whole of me felt tense, and it didn’t help.
She wiped Tyler’s mouth with a paper towel and handed him some blueberries from a bowl on the counter. As he clapped in delight, his chubby cheeks wobbled and turned red with the excitement.
Elise looked back at me and sighed. “You know it’s true. I wouldn’t be surprised if your brain melted.”
I squished a blueberry between my thumb and finger.
“I can handle it.”
“I hope so,” she said.
Secretly, I hoped so, too.
When you’re living two lives, having one more person knowing more about it is dangerous. That’s why in those first weeks of the semester I avoided all questions about my personal life. I didn’t want anyone, especially Melinda, to carry any burden for me that I couldn’t handle the weight of later. But eventually I think she must have noticed that I had two cell phones, one I compulsively jumped and smiled for, that I brought to bed with me every night, and the other I talked to Dad on. Every word I gave her was guarded, and I vowed to keep it that way, not only for my sake, but for Charlie’s as well. And though I had gotten pretty good at keeping myself distant, it was getting harder to conceal certain details of my life from Dad, who frequently wanted to know about my non-existent social life and friends.
One of the ways I did this was through Harpsten, who I was beginning to consider calling Adam. We now e-mailed on a regular basis, and I gave him tid-bits about my life that I figured would end up getting back to Dad one way or another. This way Dad would feel like he wasn’t intruding, and I wouldn’t be giving away anything incriminating; all of us would be satisfied.
Elise offered me some of the remaining blueberries before they went in the fruit salad, but I declined, skimming through the new e-mail and typing out a quick reply.
I’m sorry to hear you’ve come down with the flu. I’ll admit I never appreciated being homeschooled so much until my first semester at WPU. I was sick for two weeks straight. Maybe being deprived of those public school germs all those years had my immune system down. Ha Ha. Last time I checked, rest, fluids, and antibiotics are the way to enlightenment. But if you are still feeling under the weather, here’s a list of some books that might make you feel better.
The Monk—Matthew Gregory Lewis
Naked Lunch—William S. Burroughs
The Great Gatsby—Fitzgerald
I’m rereading Gatsby myself for the millionth time and I’ve even got Melinda reading it. Now she’s trying to get everyone and everything into 20’s vintage. Even if I had a time-machine though, I think I’d make a lousy flapper. Have to run, big anatomy exam to study for tomorrow.
Feel better soon,
I closed my laptop just as Charlie walked in, silent except for the holster he secured around his chest.
I reached up for him and Elise pretended not to see while Charlie and I stole a kiss. Still, I pulled away quickly, somewhat aware of where we were, and very excited about the one activity I
coerced him into.
“I’m excited for this.” I hopped off the stool and stacked my books, trying to slide them out of the way.
He leaned into the island and stole one of Tyler’s blueberries, popping it into his mouth before he could swoop it back. “That makes one of us.”
I pulled him by the wrist, ignoring Elise’s giggle. “Let’s go, you.”
I buttoned my jacket all the way to the top and took the lead outside. Though he hesitated for a second, I could feel him following me as I walked out past the garage and towards the wooded area of the property. I hummed quietly to myself, satisfied, though I was only halfway complete with my mission.
“Girls shouldn’t be doing this.” His steps followed mine perfectly. I loved the rhythm they made in the soft winter dirt, but when he said that I turned abruptly and feigned punching him.
“Girls can do whatever they want,” I reminded him.
“I know that.” I felt his eyes roll behind me. “I just don’t want
“Well, too bad,” I mocked. “If you don’t show me, I’ll just get one of the guys—”
“The fellas are not that stupid.”
We stopped, looked at each other, and laughed.
“I mean it,” he said, his voice all gravel and stone. “People hurt themselves with these things all the time.”
“I mean it, too. Besides, you of all people know that when I want to learn something, I’ll figure it out one way or the other.”
He stopped me and pulled me close, staring at me in the way that told me he was considering the situation, measuring his alternatives against how we both knew I would get what I wanted.
“‘lright,” he sighed. “But for the record, I don’t like it.”
I leaned up and kissed him. “For the record, me learning to shoot a gun might just save your life some day.”
He scoffed. “Sure, or take yours.”
Long beyond Ben Walden’s house, where redwoods met endless pathways, a clearing was laid out before us. Targets, some paper, others made of wooden scrap, were stuck to trees by nail and plastered by rain, were littered with bullet holes. Every so often as we walked through the field, there was a lone casing, rusted from its lack of use.
“Now, these ain’t exactly hunting weapons,” he emphasized. “So be careful.”
“You say that like you don’t trust me.” I crossed my arms over my chest but it was so obvious I wasn’t mad that he just smiled at me, making slow, short strides over to me. When he was so close that I shivered, he whispered in my ear, “I don’t trust you with a water gun.”
I gave in and leaned against him. “That’s a fair concern; I could shoot my eye out.”
He wrapped his arms around me, picking me up just slightly off the ground. “Exactly.”
After that, he stepped away and hung up a new paper target on one of the trees. I could see the nervousness in his face before he even took one of the guns out of its holster, but I didn’t pressure him. It was the first time I had seen him nervous around a firearm before, and the awareness that it was for my sake over anything else was a strange feeling.
“This is a Glock G21.”
“Oh.” I did my best to look impressed. “Just like a movie.”
“You ain’t gonna be using this.”
I pouted. “Why not?”
“Cause it’ll blow a 2 inch hole in anything it goes though and it’s probably too heavy.”
He withdrew the cartridge and handed it to me. Sure enough, its grip was awkward and too large for my hands. I shrugged and handed it back. I couldn’t help but notice the relief when I did.
“It’s pretty harmless without the bullets,” I teased
He put it back in the holster and grinned at me. “You could still throw it at me.”
“Only if you deserved it.”
Shaking his head, he took out the other gun, noticeably smaller and gray in contrast to the Glock.
“The 380 semi-automatic, more for self-defense than anything else. If you ever need a gun, this is the kind you’ll use.”
I measured the weight of the weapon in my hand; it was lighter to be sure, smaller. It was intimidating to think how easily I could hide it if I wanted to.
“You gotta assume your target is ‘bout 40 degrees left of whatever it is you’re aiming at.”
“When ya shoot, go with your left foot forward of your right.”
I followed his instruction, but he laughed, taking the length of my lower thigh and thrusting it forward. I laughed for a second, thinking he might join me but his glance was stern.
“This ain’t a joke, okay?” His face threatened a smile. “You have to treat any gun like it’s loaded.”
“I already do.”
His hand crawled up to the inside of my elbow. “You’re bad.”
“I have a good teacher.”
He laughed. “When you fire, try leanin’ in, cause it’s gonna have a kick.”
Pointing it at the new target, I tried squinting like I had seen in the movies to narrow my vision. At this, Charlie laughed and shook his head.