tagExhibitionist & VoyeurThe Last Summer of Its Kind

The Last Summer of Its Kind


Lake Warahatchee felt like driving back in time, sunny and rustic and remote and so Old South you could almost taste it, the exact opposite of what I'd have expected out of Jimmy and his blueblood family. Naturally I loved it from the moment Jimmy gunned his new Land Rover out of the woods and told Scott and me this was it. "My home every summer since I was three, and yours this summer, fellas!" he proclaimed.

"They gotta pump the sunshine in here or what?" Scott asked, even though there was plenty of that glaring off the calm surface of the lake.

"Screw you, dude. Mister Midwest back there probably feels right at home already. Am I right, Tom?" he asked me in the rearview mirror.

"Fuck you very much," I replied. Truth was, though, I was in love. The place couldn't have looked any less like Iowa, but that didn't matter. After four years of Yale's palpable snobbery and facing law school in the fall, the rusty signs and ramshackle cabins whizzing past our air-conditioned behemoth couldn't have been more welcome.

Jimmy missed my point as usual. "You fellas can dis it all you want, but wait till you see some of the Southern belles this place attracts. I lost my cherry here when I was fourteen, you know."

"TMI, man," Scott said, "And I don't believe it for a minute."

"Trust me, dude, you're in for a wild ride here if you want it. Specially if you mention Yale. Down here you might as well be the king of Sweden for that."

I had my doubts about that. After four years of listening to Jimmy (and Scott and all the other prep school blowhards I'd been rubbing shoulders with, but especially Jimmy), I had my doubts about nearly everything about him besides his loud and proud pompousness - which, like most things about Yale, I'd secretly enjoyed immensely. As he drew the SUV to a stop near the row of cabins by the lake, I figured this was more of the same - the usual bullshit, but I was going to love it all the same.

It was fifteen years ago now and I don't remember just how I was feeling when I first stepped out onto the grassy shore land, except that I was aware of two young women - not three, but two - eyeing us from their deck-chairs the yard by the next cabin. I do remember how I felt when one of them drawled, "Hi, boys!" and propped herself up on her elbows so her breasts hung heavy in her bikini top, which seemed to strain with the effort. But as usual, being around Jimmy made me want to act like a gentleman whether I felt like one or not. So I smiled a polite hello and then averted my eyes.

I averted them over to Jimmy and Scott, who had no such inhibitions. "Hey there!" Jimmy declared. "Boys, I see two of us have a fun summer coming up!"

"Hey, excuse you!" called back the young woman who hadn't said hello. But she said it with a grin even I couldn't ignore. I tried, because my on-again off-again ex from back in New Haven was getting married that very week and I wanted nothing to do with women right then, thank you very much, but I couldn't. Already I was feeling the allure of the heavy Southern air, alive with the insects and the lapping of the water and the sheer sense of back-of-beyond, drawing me out of my determined melancholy.

Not quickly enough for Scott, though, for later that afternoon I remember him kidding me about our neighbors as we shared our first round of beers. "You've got to let her go, Tom, you know that. Maybe a fling with a horny blonde is just what you need anyway."

"You heard Jimmy, they're one lady short," I said.

"For once in my life I was wrong," declared Jimmy then, appearing in the back door with the flyscreens for the windows, which had been stored in the crawlspace under the porch. "There's a third one. Homely as your average librarian, but a wet pussy is a wet pussy, Tom."

"Those are the best kind in the sack anyway," Scott said. "Always so grateful to get laid, they're firecrackers, I'm tellin' you."

"Then why don't you guys give her a try?" I asked.

They both laughed. "Yeah, right, Tom," Jimmy said. "You saw what we saw out front, would you settle for their ugly cousin?"

"Smart is sexy," I said, then took a long drink from my beer and did my best not to think of my lost sweetheart, who was probably at a wedding rehearsal up in New York as we spoke.

"That's just something nerds say so they'll get people like you to give 'em a second look," Jimmy said. "But hey, Tom, maybe you'll get lucky and one of those bimbos will want a threesome.

"You won't get it with me, though, Tom!" Scott said. "Sorry to disappoint you."

"I hope if I were gay I'd have better taste in men than that anyway," I quipped.

Scott looked ready to slug me, but Jimmy spat out his beer laughing. "Cool it, man, he got you fair and square!" he said to Scott.

But this wasn't a porno and even Jimmy wasn't only there for the ladies, and the first couple of days passed with us chilling out in and by the water, making one halfhearted attempt at fishing and then going into town for fish and chips instead, and me catching up with my summer reading on the porch swing while they both flirted with the women next door and got nowhere at first.

Naturally, Jimmy and Scott had no trouble convincing themselves it was all by design. "You know the rules, or at least they're my rules," Jimmy reminded us over beers by the lake one evening a week or so in, after trying and failing to attract the girls to join us.

"And it works, Tom," Scott added. "Remember that nympho from Saybrook I went around with junior year? All high and mighty at the party where we met, 'Tch, don't you think for one minute I'll go home with you!' and I'm like, 'Damn right, you're not!' and she's all ''Scuse me?'" He laughed so hard he almost couldn't go on with his story, which I'd heard a few times before. "Then on our first date, she's the one who says, 'Lets go back to my dorm and snuggle on the couch,' and I do, but I'm the one who puts on the red light when she tries to unzip my pants. 'Wahhhh, don't I turn you on?' And I say yes but I'm not in the mood right now, and I kiss her good night all patronizing on the nose!"

"Scott, you're a genius!" Jimmy said between roars of laughter, though he must have known the story by heart by then. "And the next time you let her near you?"

"Like siccing a dog on a porterhouse," Scott said triumphantly. "Never had any resistance from her again."

"Genius, man," Jimmy said. "Tom, maybe you should've tried it with -"

"Don't go there, man!" Scott was serious as a final exam all at once, his arrogant chauvinism gone with the wind, and I loved him for it.

"Thanks, Scott," I said. "But do you guys even need to bother with that with these gals? They look pretty willing to me."

"It's not about need, Tom," Jimmy said. "It's about showing 'em who's boss, letting 'em know you're not gonna lead me around by the dick on a leash. Ain't a woman alive who doesn't need to get that through her head."

No surprise, then, that I was all too happy to be on my own. Or at least I told myself I was, and it got easier to believe every time those two spouted off.

I still hadn't caught sight of the elusive third one, but then I wasn't looking out for her either.

By the second weekend -- such as it was when we already weren't doing much of anything worthwhile -- Scott and Jimmy had both seen her a few times, and her rumored ugliness got more elaborate every time. "Those lips could knock down a row of corn!" Jimmy declared one afternoon while we were playing Risk in the air-conditioned living room.

"Yeah, I felt like asking if her mother knew Mick Jagger," Scott agreed. "And ears to match -- out to here! Nice tits, though."

"Your eyes got that far down, did they?" Jimmy asked. "Mine didn't."

"You didn't see her in her swimsuit this morning?" Scott asked him.

"Aieeee, my eyes!" Jimmy exclaimed. "Thank God I didn't!"

I'd had enough and stood up. "Guys, come on, she can't be that bad! Besides, you're talking about her like a piece of meat." Naturally I was morbidly curious myself now, and also feeling my usual inclination to find her attractive when I did meet her, just to prove them wrong, but what if they were right? But I'd known those two long enough to know the poor girl's only crime was probably not looking like a supermodel.

"Easy, Mister Feminist," Jimmy needled. "Besides, what do you care when you've sworn off ladies?"

"Watch it, man, we don't want to get him started on her again," Scott said. "The wedding's, what, next week?"

"I really like the décor here, Jimmy," I said, looking around the opulent little living room, keeping to myself that it had been the week before and I'd spent every morning since then imagining her in her bridal bed with that bastard. "Is this all your parents' old stuff?"

"Yeah, you can see it all in pictures of our place from before I was born, and I remember some of it from when I was a little kid." The cabins were rustic on the outside, and I figured the others were rustic on the inside as well. Not ours. It had the unmistakable touch of Jimmy and his umpteenth-generation Central Park West parents, or at least of a museum dedicated to them. Most of the furniture was dated but pristine, including the long table I was now running my hand along absentmindedly.

My fingers noticed a gap in the wood and I looked down. "Oh, cool," I said. "This isn't a table, it's a console hi-fi, isn't it? My grandparents had one of these and I always wanted one."

"You didn't notice, sleeping in this room?" Scott asked. I'd been sleeping on the fold-out couch that was indeed right next to the stereo, and Scott on the floor beside it because I was willing to share the hide-a-bed and he wasn't.

"I think the radio in there picks up the Memphis stations on a clear day," Jimmy said as I lifted the lid to admire the vintage stereo, complete with 8-track player but no tapes for it to eat.

"How about the turntable?" I asked, having already noticed the cabinet full of albums behind it; I'd been wondering if there was anything to play them on.

"Dunno," he said. "Go ahead and try it if you want."

I helped myself to a Johnny Cash album and promptly found out that the turntable worked but Scott and Jimmy's opinions of my music didn't. "God, you and my mom would get along famously," Jimmy grumbled, standing up. "Scott, shall we go see what the sisters are up to?"

"Please!" Scott agreed. They'd already taken to calling the blonde neighbors "the sisters" although none of us had any idea if they were related at all. Scott had managed to learn they were from Ole Miss, so maybe they were thinking sorority sisters. They did look the type.

Now that I had the living room to myself, I turned the stereo up nice and loud, and just as quickly decided I didn't want to be cooped up alone inside. I turned off the air conditioner and opened the windows, and brought my book out to the front porch swing to enjoy the music from there. Over the din of the old stereo, I could hear some talking and laughing around the back of the cabin, but I paid it no mind. I missed her, but I was happy. My American success story had come true, Ivy League degree in hand and law school on the horizon, a fitting next chapter for family tale whose last chapter had consisted of my mother growing up in Newark and hopping a bus to the Midwest the day after she'd graduated from high school. I'd heard it said again and again for four years -- "He got in 'cause he's from one of them big square states" -- but I didn't care in the least. Not now anyway.

Crazy of me to think I could have also won the heart of a Park Avenue girl out of Andover on top of that. But hell if I hadn't almost done it.

It rained all through the next day and on the following day Scott and Jimmy got the bright idea of breaking out the beer well before noon. So I talked Jimmy into letting me borrow his mother's ancient ten-speed and ride it into town. I was worried the tires might be shot but they held up once I'd pumped them up, and the ride into town was hot and sticky but welcome after being cooped up.

I'd figured it was too much to hope for a used book shop but it turned out there was one, complete with a tiny café attached. After finding a Carl Hiaasen hardcover I'd never heard of before, I staked out an empty table by the window and bought a cappuccino.

"Whole milk?" asked the kid behind the counter.

"Two-percent, if you've got it," I said.

"We do. Have a seat."

I did, and opened the book. Before I could get started on it, though, a young woman stood up from the next table and looked at me. "Are you the Johnny Cash fan, out at the lake?"

I laughed. "Sorry, I didn't realize I was disturbing the neighbors."

"Oh, I don't think you were," she said, with a toothy grin, and tucked a wisp of her dark hair behind her ear, which I noticed was on the big side. She was dressed in a goofy plaid blouse and striped shorts, and I liked her right off for her fun lack of fashion sense. "I was just reading in the lawn chair while my girlfriends were messing around in the water, and I actually liked it. Much better than hearing their dance music CDs yet again. Oh, it's going to be a long summer with that noise!" I liked her right away, cute in a down-home kind of way. "By the way, my name's Jen."

"Tom," and I shook her hand and forced a smile, proud of myself for avoiding any nasty reaction to hearing my ex's name -- at least this Jen looked nothing like her. "How'd you know that was me playing the music?"

"The northern accent," she said. "I figured you were with those other two guys who've been chatting my girlfriends up. Are you going to join them one of these days?"

"Well see," I said. "I'm not crazy about getting drunk before lunch, but we'll see."

"I like the way you think," she said. "Maybe we can get together and listen to some decent music next time the four of them decide to go crazy."

"Sure, I'd like that," I said. "I'll keep an eye out for you."

"Wonderful, Tom," she said, picking up her purse from the table. "I'm off for a swim now. See you soon?"

"Sure," I said, and at the mention of swimming I took the liberty of imagining her spry, shapely body in a swimsuit. It was only as I watched the door swing shut behind her that I realized I 'd felt some attraction for another in spite of myself.

It was only some time after that, when I'd turned my attention back to my cappuccino and my book, that I realized I'd met the notoriously "ugly" third one among our neighbors. Just as I'd always suspected, she wasn't ugly at all as far as I was concerned. Whether it was because she'd turned out to be cute in a best-platonic-friend sort of way or out of defiant resolve to be attracted to the homely one, I felt my heart melting.

And I didn't like it, not after what I'd been through that spring and not after all my efforts to swear off romance for a while. I didn't like it, but I did like Jen.

I did my best to focus on my book and forget about any silly summer fling that might be in the offing, but it was no use. By the time I got back on Jimmy's bike for the ride home, I was up to imagining Jen was a Miss America in disguise. As I approached the lake, I could hear playful screeches from behind our cabin and had no doubt Jimmy and Scott had finally had a breakthrough with the blonde bombshells. Once again in spite of myself, I couldn't resist envisioning Jen in a swimsuit - probably a modest one compared to her friends, but a beautiful one nonetheless - and I gave in to the temptation to look forward to an afternoon of admiring her in it.

But she was nowhere to be found when I locked Jimmy's bike up and peered around the back of the cabin. The other four were all there, and just as sloshed as I'd anticipated. "Hey, it's the quiet one!" declared the shorter of the two, who was barely decent in a black bikini. "Your buddies say you were probably at the library?"

"Tom, meet Shelly," Scott said with a wave of his beer can. "And grab a beer already."

"Hi, I'm Angela," said the other, taller one, who was just as scantily clad as her friend. "The boys have told us all about what a gentleman you are. How'd you end up with them?"

Jimmy and Scott roared with laughter, and seeing it was safe, I joined in. None of us bothered trying to answer her.

"I guess it's only fair I change into my trunks," I said, eyeing the back door.

"No, we know you, dude!" Jimmy ordered. "If you go curl up with your book, we won't see you all afternoon. Just swim in your boxers."

"He'll never do that in front of the girls," Scott predicted.

So of course I did, to their delighted encouragement.

"Wooohooo, do it, Tommy!" Shelly cheered as I pulled my shirt off, while Angela clapped her hands and ogled me shamelessly. I couldn't deny it felt good to be admired. I wondered where Jen had gotten to but I didn't dare ask.

I let Shelly and Angela check me out all they wanted, since after all I was returning the favor, and I enjoyed an afternoon of watching Scott and Jimmy's pathetic attempts at them both from a safe distance. Around three o'clock Shelly said something about a meeting in town and they both took off. "Thanks for the show, Tom!" she said as they were leaving.

"Next time you can both swim in your underwear!" Jimmy called after them.

"We just might if you behave," Shelly teased.

"Bite your tongue, girl!" Angela snapped, but she grinned as she said it.

Jimmy and Scott were bound and determined to push their daytime binge as far into the night as they could, so as soon as the sun was down they staggered off to Jonesy's, the bar and grill halfway into town on Route 93. I wanted to get a look at the place myself one of these days, as I'd liked what I'd seen on the way by -- a quintessential Southern dive, the kind of place a Yalie just had to try once. But tonight wasn't one of these days and I was still feeling ambivalent about what had happened at the bookstore. So I saw the guys off and put on a Barbra Streisand album just for laughs, and curled up with my new book on the hide-a-bed and waited for the sandman.

When he still hadn't shown up through two more albums, I gave up and turned out the light. Half an hour of counting sheep only led to counting my ex's orgasms in my memory as she bobbed up and down in beautiful rhythm above me. I was resigned to the lush cascade of her breasts bouncing in perfect time in my memory forever. I finally gave in to the last resort and let myself think of the new Jen and imagine a fling with her. Maybe that was just what I needed to get on with my life, and screw whatever sexist crap Jimmy and Scott were going to serve up about it.

I was hard. I wasn't sure if it was for the past or the present, but I figured if I were living in a porn flick, this was where Jen would knock on the door in a cute nightie and ask to borrow a cup of flour or something. Or better yet, I'd give up on trying to sleep and go for a midnight swim and find her skinnydipping out there.

That, somewhat to my relief, got me to realize it was the new Jen I was hard for. But I also found myself feeling like an idiot for thinking such a thing - wasn't that what Jimmy would imagine for himself, only it'd be her two roommates and they'd both be super hot for him? That made me laugh hard enough to give up on sleeping, and decide I really did need to go for a swim.

I got up and started to dig through the laundry pile for my trunks - and then had a thought. If it was skinnydipping I wanted, maybe I ought to do it myself.

A light was on in the women's cabin as I stepped gingerly out onto the back porch wearing nothing but my flip flops. I paused for a moment to get over the shock, which was actually rather pleasant but definitely had me too nervous to go on for the moment. Once I was satisfied that the coast was clear and I wasn't going to scandalize anyone, I stepped quietly down the back steps and down to the water. I felt like rushing it to get in the water, but I was also afraid of making too much noise and being noticed. Even as I took it slowly and quietly, every twig that snapped under my feet had my insides doing backflips. But I felt free and alive, and I imagined how it would feel if I saw one of our neighbors like this from my window and hoped I might inspire the same in them. And I felt sexy. This certainly wouldn't happen in a blueblood marriage!

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