tagRomanceAnd I'm Pulling Out of Here to Win

And I'm Pulling Out of Here to Win


For Bernie

Twenty-five years and change later, I've still never forgotten that first look at Missy by the poolside, that Friday in May.

Of course it was the hot August night three months later - sorry for the earworm, but what were you doing thinking of Neil Diamond at a time like this anyway?! - that makes for a much juicier story, and so that's the story I'm really here to tell. But even then, on that evening of the sweetest goodbye of my life, I was reminiscing about the innocence of May. Unabashed as ever in the late spring afternoon, ever so nonchalant as she emerged from the women's shower room pulling down the bottom of her lavender bikini as it strained to contain her endearingly big rear end (which had always looked so fantastic in tight jeans or a full skirt alike, as I had known for years), she had looked a bit nervous about the water. Which had proven to be plenty warm enough once she'd dipped her toe in. I, of course, could have told her that from my own vantage point in the deep end, but I was too busy drinking in the beauty of her always-untamed mane of reddish brown curls (I don't miss much about the eighties, but I do miss the big hair!) and generous breasts and curves and feeling dumbfounded that my on-again-off-again crush from all those years back was suddenly my girlfriend -- or at least something close to it. But to her credit and to my delight, she hadn't looked the slightest bit uncomfortable about nerdy old me seeing her half-naked.

Missy, as usual, could read me like a book. "You're thinking about the first time you had me over here, aren't you?" she asked me now -- on that night in August -- as we sat facing each other in the dry shower stall in the women's changing room. Now she was fully naked -- as was I -- and we were working up the courage to go out and skinnydip in the pool. We had no fear of being caught there, for the poolhouse was closed -- we'd jumped the fence -- and the whole condo complex was just as quiet as it always was on a Sunday night in the dog days of August. But that last step still seemed like an awfully big one now that we were nearly there.

Besides, I was enjoying the view immensely right where I was. So, I realized, was Missy, as I followed her gaze down and saw she was admiring how rock-hard I was. I laughed. "Well, yes," I said. "It was the beginning of a magical summer, after all." It was also one of two things that had been on my mind all that summer, the other being how I had duped her into thinking I was a genius at calculus when in fact it was my mother's boyfriend, Craig, who had simply kept me one homework ahead of her all semester. Since she'd been warning me all summer that we were over with once the summer was ("I want nothing to do with this town ever again, Joseph, and I'm sorry, but that has to include you!"), I had a few hours left to come clean to her or keep it to myself forever. Even now, I still wasn't sure which was the right answer.

Missy gave me no cause to worry about math right then. "It's been magical for me, too," she cooed, reaching over to squeeze my hand, and then following suit with my dick. "I really am sorry it's got to end tonight, but it does, okay?"

"Oh, come on!" I protested. "Summer with little ol' me was that magical?! And that's why you're calling it off when we'll only be a few hours apart by train?"

"Joseph, stop that!" She abruptly let go of me and crossed her arms defensively over her breasts. "Haven't we been over this whole putting-me-on-a-pedestal thing enough? Frankly, that's one reason why I decided to call it quits after tomorrow. It's breaking my heart as much as yours, but you won't even believe that because I used to be one of the popular girls -- used to be -- and you insist on acting like the cowering nerd in the back of the classroom when you haven't really been like that in years! That's not who you are, and this golden cheerleader you see isn't who I am either. It never was, really, and you were one of the first ones to see that!"

Now Missy looked near tears, which was how I had been feeling a lot lately as our wonderful summer together was winding down. Once again I felt that stab of guilt I'd felt every time I'd stepped over that line since she'd bonded with me when her life had fallen apart back in February. And yet I could never seem to stop making that damn mistake again and again. Or to be honest with her that what had brought us together in the first place -- my supposed genius in math -- was a lie. I was eighteen and I was very unaccustomed to someone like Missy thinking I was wonderful. That combination made it easy to overthink these things, as I now know I had.

"Missy, I'm sorry," I said. I stood up, which somehow made me feel more vulnerable now even though she was just as naked as I was. I reached my hand down for her. "Can I give you a hug?"

"You'd better," she quipped with that grin that had been making me eat my heart out on and off since the seventh grade. I helped her up, and my apology was rewarded with the delicious feeling of her bare body tight against mine. "Joseph," she whispered. "I'll always treasure the memories of this summer, you know that!"

"I will, too," I said. "I really am sorry, I know it makes you feel like a snob when I talk about you like that. I just hope you understand what it's like for me, after all those years of your friends making me feel this big, for us to be together like this now..."

"Haven't I apologized for that again and again?!" Missy said.

"You never needed to apologize," I said. "That's just it. I don't recall you ever picking on me, only sometimes laughing when Jenn and Chris and the others did." The "others" were Missy's former friends, the rest of the popular clique in our school, from which she had been excommunicated in the ugliest way last winter.

"That's still bad enough, though, isn't it?" Missy ran her hand through her wild mane of reddish-brown curls, which had always made me wonder if her hair down below was equally thick and unruly. (I now knew it was, and at that moment it was tickling my leg in the most delightful way. Waxing was nearly unheard of in those days, at least in our working class New England burg.) "Besides, I remember a couple of times I did do worse than that. Like that time out by the Lincoln statue when James and them were hassling you about who you had a crush on, and I spilled the beans about Jenn. May she rot in hell."

"Everyone knew that anyway!" I reminded her. My crush on Missy's former best friend might well have been the most poorly kept secret in our entire school, and it had been that way for years. "Besides, it could've been worse, you could've told them I also had a crush on you."

"Very funny, Joseph," she said. "But of course I wasn't going to say that when it wasn't even true. Even I wasn't that arrogant."

Once again, I wanted to tell her. But as usual, I had no idea how -- just like the calculus issue -- and so I just smiled down at her breasts and then caressed the left one gently with my hand.

"Wait a minute...it wasn't true, was it? You didn't also have a crush on me?"

"Long before I even knew who Jenn was," I confessed.

"Not back in grade school?" Missy demanded. "I mean, gross!" We'd known each other since the second grade, although I couldn't recall actually speaking to her before high school.

"No, back then girls were icky," I teased, and to her credit Missy took it as the joke it was. "No, it was eighth grade. The fifties dance. Before that you were just one of the girls who turned up your nose at my friends and me anytime we came anywhere near you on the playground. But you were killing me in that poodle skirt, and of course you were only dancing with James and Chris and those guys." , "Oh my God, Joseph!" Missy threw herself upon me, pinning me against the shower's cold tile wall. "I have pictures of that day somewhere, you know. My dad insisted. I gave that skirt to my cousin for trick or treating a year or two later. Sorry, I don't remember seeing you at that dance. But I don't really remember much of anything about it."

"Neither do I, except for how cute you were," I said.

She released me with a smile and stood back, affording me a delightful look at her pleasantly plump, curvy body, which had taken my virginity back in June. "Joseph," she said. "I know you were shy, but in all that time, why didn't you ever even try to get to know me?"

"Because you were always with Jenn, for one thing, and..."

"And you had a crush on that bitch."

"Never again, you know that, right?" I asked. "You know the story, English class in tenth grade, that stupid joke Jon Dervin made about me not showering all week or whatever it was, and she laughs out loud at it? Two years I'd had a crush on her by then, and in that instant the spell was broken. Thank God!"

"Yes, you told me, back after...you know when," Missy said. She turned and looked out at the dark changing room. "What are we doing in here anyway? Let's go get in the pool."

I guess it was a measure of how much Jenn and the others had hurt her last winter that going outside naked was less scary than talking about those days. But I had no complaints as I followed along behind her, stepping outside without a second thought. My insides did do a flip when I actually set foot out on the path to the poolside, though. "Wow, did you feel that?" I asked her. "Butterflies!"

"Oh, I know!" Missy agreed, looking over her shoulder with a grin I hadn't seen enough of that night. "Whoooop! It gets you right in the pussy! But it feels great, doesn't it?" She looked around us at the poolhouse and the woods over the fence, which shielded us from the highway where we could hear cars rushing by. In the other direction were the lights of the condo buildings neighoring the one where my mother and I lived. But they were too far off for anyone to be the wiser.

"Yeah, it does feel great," I agreed. "So free!" I flipped on the switch by the lifeguard seat and the underwater light came on in the pool.

"Free is a good word for it," Missy said. "Joseph, you know, that's how I've felt with you since...February. Just like you that day in English class, hurt but also set free. I'll always be grateful for helping me through that, even if we do never see each other again."

"And yet you seem to want to make sure we don't," I said as I sat down on the edge of the pool and dipped my legs in the water. It was cool, the sun having set hours before, but that was refreshing after the stuffy shower room. With scarcely sixteen hours until I'd have to get on the train to New York, I hadn't quite given up on a miracle. But then, I realized just as quickly, I would once again have to make a decision about my big secret with Craig.

"Joseph, I've told you before!" she said, plopping down next to me and once again taking my cock in her hand. "If we do meet up somewhere in the future, that's great! I just don't want us to have unrealistic expectations. "We're only eighteen, Joseph. Don't you know what happens to couples who settle down that young? Besides, I want to see the world, don't you? Junior year in Paris maybe, and then maybe I'll go to Asia to teach English, or join the Peace Corps or something. And I know you don't want to stay here forever either, Joseph, you've said so again and again! Who knows where we'll both end up?"

"That doesn't mean we can't try."

Missy shook her head. "That's what my sister and her friends said. Best friends forever! That was just three years ago, and already they hardly even see each other when they're here on break. It's like they don't even know each other anymore. That's what I don't want for us, Joseph. I don't want us being home for Christmas and passing on the street and trying to make small talk and realizing only then that we're two totally different people than we were! My mom says it happens all the time, and now with Stacey I see she was right. This way, if we do see each other like that, it'll be a nice surprise instead of a chore."

I nodded sadly and looked out at the trees and found myself enjoying the sound of the cars. For the four years Mom and I had lived there, that sound had been the promise of freedom once I was done with school, and an incentive to work hard on my studies, which I had. After a disastrous run back in junior high, I decided I'd had enough of being the introverted underachiever. If I had to be a nerd and a loser, at least I could be the loser with the best grades. And so had begun four years of holing up with my books, with Mom's old Cat Stevens and Carole King records for company and never letting myself anywhere near the television until my homework was done, and forcing myself to speak up in class no matter how much I hated it, faking confidence until somewhere along the line I began to feel it for real.

All that work, plus a flair for creative writing that had landed me a column in the school newspaper (and a habit of tossing out bad poetry, but Missy loved that, I knew), had landed me a scholarship to NYU. At 2:06 the following afternoon, my mother would kiss me goodbye at the train station, and I'd be off to New York to try my hand at a life where maybe being the smart kid wasn't such a bad thing for a change. Missy would be off to Wellesley the following day and, as she had been warning me all summer long, that would be that for us. There would be no time for writing letters anyway, she'd reminded me again and again. Anyone with a sister in college, like she had, knew adjusting to a college workload meant letters were out. E-mail would soon put a stop to such excuses, but that was a few years off yet at the time. I would be very painfully aware of what a near miss that was by the time I graduated from NYU -- but then, a lot changed in those four years.

Without another word, I slid off into the water and dunked myself. It was a pleasant momentary chill, which took just enough time to pass for Missy to follow my lead. Standing together now in the shallow water with her wild hair tamed for once, she took me in her arms again. "It's only that I want to start over completely. You know that, Joseph, and you know why. You know why better than anyone. I'm Missy until my mom and I leave on Tuesday. Once I get to Wellesley, I'm Melissa. And I'll miss you, but that's all I'll miss about this town."

"And to me, you'll always be the beautiful lady in the lavender bikini in the merry month of May."

"And you'll always be the guy who saved my life back in February."

I laughed through the stab of guilt I felt over the truth of that. "Now who's being melodramatic?!"

"Seriously, Joseph, don't sell yourself short! You were great through those days, and all I could ever think was, this is the boy I've ignored or teased since the second grade, and suddenly he's not only saving my ass in calculus, he's also the best friend I've ever had. And you are"

"Only a friend?" I couldn't help asking. At least that helped me tamp down the unpleasantness that always came up when she mentioned calculus.

"Would I be in here naked with you if you were?" she demanded. "Come on, let's swim at least a little!"

I nodded and smiled, and stepped back to give us both some space to kick into the water. But instead, we both found ourselves admiring one another as we so often had throughout the summer. Missy truly did have an amazingly beautiful body, and the underwater lamp cast it in an especially flattering light, highlighting her fluffy dark pubic hair against her pale legs in the most deliciously teasing way. I had no qualms about gazing at it, since she was enjoying the same show with the shadow my hard cock was casting against the pool floor. "Somebody's happy," she noted.

"Makes three of us, I guess," I quipped.

"Oh, Joseph!" She waded through the water and took me in her arms again, and swimming was once again on the back burner for a few more precious minutes as we drank in the magic of our almost-public intimacy.

"Tell me, really," she said after a bit of quiet contemplation. "What did you ever see in Jenn? Besides those tits, I mean?"

"Oh, I always preferred your breasts," I said, and in support of the point I gave them both a gentle rub with each hand.

"Liar! Who could resist hers?"

"Well, of course I noticed them," I confessed. "Hard to miss, after all, and there used to be all sorts of debate in the locker room about her bra size, but nobody knew for sure..."

"Thirty-eight double D," Missy said. "I hope they're down to her knees by the time she's thirty."

I couldn't help laughing. "I'm sorry, Missy!" I said.

"It's fine. But what did you see in her?"

"She was really friendly with me when no one else in your gang was. I'm sorry, but it's true."

"No, I know," Missy admitted.

"And you know how shy I was back then, so for any girl to give me the time of day, but especially one of your gang, well, who could resist? And some of the boys in the English club, they were sure she had a crush on me, too. Or at least that's what they said. In fact, I don't think I ever gave that any thought until they started pushing the idea on me."

"I know," Missy said.

"You do?"

"Jeff and Matt, no doubt. I'm sorry, Joseph, but it was a big joke they all had, let's see if we can get this poor nerd so full of himself he actually thinks Jenn will go out with him. I swear to God I had nothing to do with it. But I heard all about it."

"It's fine," I said, and it was. I couldn't have cared less at this late date.

"But do you believe me, Joseph?"

"Of course I do," I said. "Even if I didn't, I know what you think of them all now."

"Joseph, that's not enough! I never really was like them, that's why they turned on me the way they did. Please tell me you believe me!"

"I just did!" I said. "And of course I believe you!"

"Thank you."

"I'm really surprised at how little I care now, that it was just another one of their stupid jokes," I said. "I guess that shows just how completely I'm over Jenn. Are you?"

Missy shook her head. "Well, over Jenn? Maybe. Over having my best friend tell the whole school I was pregnant and had an abortion when I was really just out with the flu?" She looked near tears, but she took a deep breath and got herself under control again immediately. "And seeing how many people believed it? Some of the very same boys who used to practically drool over me and the girls who were always trying to get Chris' phone number from me?"

"The bigger they come, the harder they fall," I mused.

"And that's why I wish you'd have stopped getting hung up on me being popular," she said. "I'm a person, not a goddess. I have feelings and problems just like you always did, and I've done dumb things too, like go out with Jenn's ex-boyfriend and think she'd be cool with it. Besides, now I know how when you're one of the beautiful people, everyone wants to see you get hurt and they get a big kick out of it when you do. They're jealous, is what my mother said. Jealous of what?!"

"I don't know," I could honestly say. "I do know why I was jealous of Jeff and Matt and Chris and the guys: because you sat with them at lunch and you danced with them and you hung out with them on the weekends."

Missy laughed. "Good answer, Joseph. But you know, those parties were awfully lame for the most part. You know that trick where you carry a half a beer around all night so no one tries to push you to drink? Try doing that with the same people every weekend. You didn't miss anything!"

"I didn't know that trick," I admitted.

"You just say no to drinking straight out?" Missy asked. "That's great. I wish I had the guts to do that."

"Well, no..." I said.

"You've never been to a party," Missy said. "Sorry. But I mean, that's fine, too. Really. Like I said, they were lame."

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