Might Have Been Ch. 03byIroniclaconic©
Forget-me-nots and second thoughts live in isolation
Heads or tails and fairytales in my mind
-- Green Day, Are We The Waiting
October 21, 2001
Sexual success is an addiction. I had slept with a dozen women in my life and could relive each first encounter with near-perfect recall.
I remembered wiping away the tears in Heather's eyes while we claimed each other's virginity. I kissed her on the lips and called her a goddess. She bit her lip and held me tight as I came merely fifteen seconds after I entered her.
I remembered the first and only time with Tiffany Sanchez, the summer after my second year of college. We weren't dating, but had found ourselves the last two people at an after-work party, flirting ourselves into a frenzy. I walked Tiffany to her apartment, and she fell into my arms at the door. With her hand stroking the front of my pants, she wanted an explanation. "Why are we doing this?"
"Because we're both drunk and horny," I replied.
She chuckled and pulled me into her apartment, then into her bed.
And I remembered Tasha -- the seductive desperation in her voice as she promised me sexual heaven -- keeping secret the knowledge it would cost me everything else I loved.
Amy and Courtney were now fixed into my memory as well. I knew I would relive the expression on Amy's face as I first entered her, with her eyes shut and her mouth open. Sarah had told me it was faked, but it was still beautiful for all that. Courtney's tango lunge indelibly joined my memories of Amara, Tiffany, and the others. I would not take away those memories for the world, but they weren't enough. I had tried to use both Amy and Courtney to fill a void inside, and had failed.
Staying with Tasha was difficult, but I had long accepted that leaving her would be a betrayal that would kill us both. If my fantasies were just dreams of escape, and not an actual wish, why had I imagined staying with both Amy and Courtney? Why had I considered throwing away the resonance array and living out a different life? I had told myself it was just another fantasy -- the thought of living with myself, if I left Tasha, was even more depressing than the reality of living with her if I stayed -- but in the light of day, I knew that was a lie.
Tasha was becoming insubstantial. Every time I thought of her, I was punished with feelings of guilt, failure, and self-loathing -- so I was thinking of her less and less. My more vivid memories of Amy and Courtney were also tainted by guilt and failure, but the pain was dimmed by the rush of conquest.
Amy and Courtney had me teetering between elation and despair, but I felt alive! Despair was a close friend, and Elation a beautiful stranger. Teetering between them was better than living as I had been for five years, huddling miserably on the couch in Despair's basement.
I first tried to tell myself that truth was a form of freedom, and almost convinced myself this is what buoyed me. Amy and Courtney had crushed my romantic aspirations, but there was liberation as well. I could cease remonstrating myself for having let them slip away ten years ago. I could stop romanticizing them as the path-not-taken, and accept the reality that they had never been possible. I had closure.
There was a certain truth to that, but I hadn't spent my recent waking hours reliving my sense of closure. I was spending it instead replaying the feel of Amy's tongue on my cock, or Courtney's legs wrapped around my hips. I had been laid twice in two days, matching the amount of sex I had received in the previous two years. I was ashamed to be elated by something so shallow, but I couldn't deny what sexual success was doing to me. Last night, I had bluffed Courtney for an hour, urging her further into her seduction than she had probably intended. It was as if the pre-Tasha version of myself had returned for a visit.
Sarah had mocked me twice for my self-pity yesterday, but everything was relative. My eighteen-year-old self had been confident to the point of arrogance. He had been the big smart fish in the small pond. Most of the jocks had been his friends since elementary school, he acted in theater with the art crowd, and wrote code with the science geeks. He was going places and knew it, but where he had failed completely with Amy and Courtney, I had partially succeeded. I had added ten years of romantic experience to compensate for arrogance, and seduced two women he had let escape ten years ago. There was victory in that. What Sarah saw as self-pity was merely the dying bleat of my own insecurities.
I was recalling how much I had enjoyed the company of Sarah and Dave. My conversation with Sarah yesterday had been a shot of adrenaline, mainlined into my soul. Watching their antics at the dance last night reminded me just how close we used to be. I now saw some of their behavior as pretentious affectation, and Sarah, of course, was still an ice-bitch with treason in her future, but damned if they still weren't fun.
This was a weird kind of therapy. I was feeling as if a ninety-seven pound weight of emotional dysfunction named Tasha had been lifted from my soul. The prospect of returning to her filled me with dread. I didn't yet see a permanent answer, but I wasn't going to care about that now. In fact, I didn't know if I ever wanted to return to her.
I wanted more. I would use the resonance array to continue my tour of my past romantic fuck-ups and see where they would take me. At worst, I would soon return to Tasha and my life would be no different from before. At best, I would learn from my mistakes and discover an escape from my trap, or find a paradise in an alternate universe with a different woman.
The sexual possibilities could also not be ignored. If I were honest with myself, everything else was secondary. How could I fantasize for years about the women who got away and not jump at the chance to make my dreams reality? I was not that kind of coward. (Rationalization is almost as big an addiction as sexual conquest.)
Sitting on the foot of my bed, I held the resonance array in my hands and pondered my options. I thought about the cute barista last week, who had smiled at me, and started a conversation when I bought coffee. No, she was just bored and friendly.
There was the woman with the laughing eyes and the red streak in her blonde hair, who had sat behind me on the New York subway six years ago. I had been standing, facing away from her, and she had been sitting with friends. She stared at my ass and pantomimed grabbing and biting me, causing her friends to giggle -- not realizing I was watching her actions reflected in the grimy subway window. No, that was a long shot. She was just having fun with her friends and would have been mortified if she had known I was watching.
I briefly thought about Crystal or Holly, but I glanced at the calendar on the wall and decided to do this chronologically. What had been my next missed opportunity after Courtney and the Halloween Dance? My pursuit of Courtney had taken me through December. In spring, I asked a flirtatious sophomore to prom. She had seemed smart and had large blue eyes I wanted to dive into like they were a serene tropical ocean. But she had no interest in me -- I was just a fashion accessory with a wallet and a driver's license. We had double-dated with Dave and Sarah, so the evening had not been a waste, but she was no prospect at all.
After prom had come graduation, followed by an interesting summer. One of the disadvantages of dating in a small town high school is the consequence of a breakup. When things go sour, your ex is in almost every class and is sharing your inadequacies with everyone you know. Many ignored the prospects in their class and instead dated people from neighboring high schools. I had done that myself a few times, but that all changed at graduation.
As soon as the tasseled mortar boards were launched in the air at the end of May, half the graduating class descended into a mad frenzy of dating and sex, hooking up with all the people they had feared to date during high school. They had full knowledge this was their last chance, and if it didn't work out, there was no worry about awkward moments in the cafeteria.
Red Madison and Snazzy Pete dated the entire summer and a couple months into college. Brittney hooked up with Dwayne The Impaler at a party. The same inexorable logic had me dating, in sequence, Jessica, Dani, and Heather. Jessica was a sweet girl I knew from the science geek clubs. Dani and Heather had been co-leads with Dave and me in the winter production of The Importance of Being Earnest (no one other than Sarah could play Lady Bracknell -- her minute-long apoplectic delivery of the "handbag" line brought hysteria, even though she did it different every night). Jessica and Dani had flamed out quickly, but my romance with Heather had lasted half the summer. No missed opportunities there.
Then I thought of the swimming pool, and I had my answer.
One thing I have learned since high school is the power of a departure. I had seen a simmering version of it all summer long with my graduating class's dating frenzy. The ticking clock heightens the drama, and the knowledge of impending separation eliminates most of the consequences. When a goodbye is at hand, the pressure builds to just-act-dammit and almost any fling can happen. There is a reason half the romantic comedies ever made end in one character chasing another through an airport.
I hadn't yet come to this realization in August of 2002. I also wasn't as experienced with watching women flirt. Most of the other lifeguards had already departed for college, leaving only three of us: myself, Amber, and Sidney. We were all attending schools with a later start date, so we had agreed to work the pool on the last weekend of August. Because of my inexperience, I hadn't noticed Amber flirting with me, nor that Sidney seemed to be helping. Another reason for missing my shot at Amber was that Dave and Sarah split up the same weekend, just prior to Sarah flying to New York. I had been busy consoling Dave.
The conversation with Amber had been first. Amber and I had known each other since we were babies. Her father had originally been my dad's law partner, but had been appointed to the bench six years previously. Our families socialized, with backyard barbeques and the occasional joint vacation -- although there hadn't been one of those in years.
Amber was the closest thing I had to a sister growing up, but any sisterly feelings turned incestuous when she filled out in junior high, rapidly becoming the most beautiful girl in school. Her voice matured into an alto purr borrowed from 1940s Hollywood. Her perky smile became dazzling. Her large blue eyes turned sensuous while remaining kind, and her gawky, skinny frame became a breathtaking set of curves. She wore her blonde hair short during gymnastics season, but she grew it shoulder-length in summer, when the sun bleached it to a platinum sheen. I remembered the way she liked to let her hair hang loose in back, after tucking just the right side behind her ear.
She was also one of the sweetest people I ever knew. Amber liked everyone, and her sunny disposition was an impervious shield to all the slings and arrows of the cattier cliques in our high school. She was sexy and wholesome at the same time and was deservedly one of the most popular girls in school.
Sarah had once told me a story about Amber. Both Sarah and Amber had been cheerleaders for the high school football team. (The idea of Sarah as a cheerleader seemed incongruous, given her artistic nature and knee-jerk non-conformist personality. She was often mistaken for a goth, and the concept of a goth cheerleader made heads explode. When asked why she was a cheerleader, she herself would give different answers. Sometimes she would say that Sylvia Plath might not have killed herself if she had cheered for a football team. Other times she would make the questioner uncomfortable, with lusty descriptions of how football players' asses looked in uniforms, or she would launch into a tirade about personal stereotypes. Dave thought she just liked to fuck with people's expectations, but my own take was that cheerleading was the closest thing Monroe had to a dance line. Sarah was an excellent cheerleader and choreographer, and even used her love of martial arts to add novel routines. My favorite was where our cheerleaders pretended to rip out the hearts of the other team's cheerleaders and hold them up for inspection by the crowd, using fist clenches and a coordinated "BA-dum" pounded out by the band's bass drummer to indicate the hearts were still beating.) The cheerleading team had gone to Pizza Hut after practice. Jenny The Emo, one of the other cheerleaders, had been absent. Sarah had called Jenny and discovered Jenny had just been dumped by her boyfriend, and was despondent -- threatening suicide.
The Exquisite Sarah was at a loss, but Amber took the phone, saying in a matter-of-fact tone, "Jenny, why don't you come eat pizza with us instead? It'll be more fun." Jenny had arrived a few minutes later, amazing Sarah at the result of Amber's blunt, practical approach. Sarah hadn't thought anyone other than Amber could have pulled it off without sounding like they were mocking Jenny's romantic angst.
Amber and I moved in different social circles, so we rarely interacted in high school, until we both started working at the pool the previous summer. She was a good swimming instructor and was a joy to watch sunbathing during breaks, usually wearing a black one-piece bathing suit, cut high at the hips. It was a high-neck swimsuit, showing no cleavage, but her breasts were stunning in anything form-fitting, and Amber's black one-piece always clung to her as if it were expecting an imminent restraining order.
She only had one real fault. Amber was boring. While her grades consistently ranked in the top five in our class, you wouldn't know it if you talked to her. She could hold a pleasant conversation about the weather, the kids in the pool, or teaching techniques, but didn't seem to have more complicated thoughts. She had no opinions on politics, didn't seem to crack a book if it wasn't assigned in class, and her taste in art and entertainment seemed limited to Gilmore Girls. Every word from her mouth was aimed at making everyone happy and avoiding offense. She wouldn't even talk much about herself, which made our conversation very unexpected, when she initiated it that last Saturday of summer.
I had college lifeguard gigs that were demanding, but the job at the municipal pool was easy. Our real work was babysitting, preventing dangerous behavior, and slapping on the occasional Band-Aid when kids skinned their knees after running and falling on the concrete. I sometimes joked that lifeguards could be replaced with recordings that blew whistles and yelled "no running" at random intervals. I worked at the pool for two summers, and there wasn't a single water rescue in all that time.
Our weekend work schedule was a noon-to-eight shift, with two guards up at a time while the third watched the office. Shifts rotated every fifteen minutes, and once an hour there was a fifteen-minute break for the swimmers. Attendance dropped as the weather cooled, and sometimes the guards on pool duty were able to sit together on a bench and talk, as Amber and I had been doing.
"I heard you and Heather broke up." Amber was playing with one of the swimming rings we used in lessons for coaxing the little ones to get their faces underwater. She was wearing it on her ankle and spun it in circles like a hula hoop. Her glorious, tanned leg was fully extended, with all muscles flexed -- the better to create the right rotation and rhythm.
"Yeah, it wasn't going to last into college anyway, so I didn't want to prolong the agony." I was referring to Heather's incessant crying, but Amber seemed to misunderstand.
"I heard about that." She continued to twirl the ring around her ankle.
I divided my attention between her legs and the few kids swimming in the pool. "What do you mean?"
Amber covered her mouth and her face reddened. "Oh, I heard a story that Heather... um...hurt you... earlier this summer at a party."
Heather had gifted me with a horrific set of hickeys during oral sex when we were both drunk at a party at Dave's house. Dave knew we had been in his bedroom, and the next morning he deduced what had happened by my funny walk and by my conspicuous placement of ice packs. He made the mistake of telling Sarah, who treated gossip like currency, using anything juicy to find out other information in town. I hoped she received something great in return, as my story had spread like wildfire. Within a week, I even heard two corrupted versions, one with Heather's victim being the pitcher on the baseball team, and the other with poor Jessica playing the role of my oral mauler.
I had been pissed at Sarah for helping spread the rumor. In retrospect, it had been an early warning of how heartless she could be. Heather had been mortified when the story came back to her. Sarah apologized and made her peace with Heather over lots of shopping, but that hadn't stopped Heather from being nicknamed "Heather the Human Hoover" by some wag in town. (It wasn't Dave -- I checked.)
"Sarah told you that story?" I asked. Given the cheerleader connection, and Sarah's love of gossip, I suspected Amber had heard an accurate version of Heather's oral ineptitude straight from Sarah.
Amber's graceful neck and shoulders rippled in a shrug, refusing to confirm her source. I was surprised she had asked the question. It wasn't like her. My discomfort with Amber behaving out of character was probably why I gave a vague reply. "Yeah, I was in a little pain."
Amber stopped spinning the swimming ring and glanced at me, then mumbled, "I thought guys liked to be... you know... sucked."
"Is that too personal? I'm sorry." Her face was pure crimson, and she stared intently at her foot.
"A little, yeah."
She frowned and repeated, "I'm sorry." She resumed spinning the swimming ring and changed the subject to college plans.
I know why I shut down the conversation. I didn't like talking about it. The story was very embarrassing to Heather, and I still cared for her enough to protect her. But it was even more uncomfortable having that conversation with Amber. She was a family friend and had a wholesomeness about her that made me limit myself to G-rated language in her presence. I had never even heard Amber swear.
With ten years of hindsight, I was convinced Amber was trying to get me to see her otherwise. She was trying to break out of her image, and the only reason she would do that on the last weekend of the summer, I believed, was if she were interested in me -- a conclusion made more likely by what happened next, when Sidney relieved Amber on the bench.
I hadn't known Sidney very well until I began working at the pool. Sidney and Amber were different in as many ways as they were alike. They had the commonality of gymnastics, lifeguarding, and a taste for college athletes, but where Amber was sunny, Sidney was sarcastic. Where Amber was wholesome, Sid was raunchy.
While Sidney had a body to rival Amber's, she stood in her friend's shadow because bad acne had slightly pock-marked her face early in high school. Sidney hid it under thick makeup, but she wasn't as pretty as Amber, and knew it. She compensated by wearing provocative clothes, forcing everyone's attention downward. That last weekend in August was no exception.
Amber was gorgeous in anything, but her swimsuits were modest. Sidney, in contrast, wore a blue knit bikini that showed off as much of her physique as decorum allowed. The top exposed at least a third of the surface area of her ample breasts, and while the bottom wasn't a thong, it aspired to be one someday. I couldn't sit next to her without my eyes being magnetically drawn to her chest, hips, or legs every few seconds. Management had fielded some complaints when Sidney wore this suit, but we knew who the prudes were, and Sid would cover up when she saw them coming.