Might Have Been Ch. 04byIroniclaconic©
Nightswimming, remembering that night
September's coming soon
I'm pining for the moon
And what if there were two
Side by side in orbit
Around the fairest sun?
– R.E.M Nightswimming
August 31, 2002
Water flowed past me, and I thought of the nature of time – a common preoccupation of late. Time as a river was a metaphor so old, it was a cliché.
Time is a river I go fishing in, Thoreau had said.
I’m tired of living, and scared of dying, but Old Man River, he just keeps rolling along – Paul Robeson’s version of that song, in the first Show Boat movie, had sent chills up my spine.
The Alan Parson’s Project had time flowing like a river to the sea.
Several books and music albums had been called River of Time.
It was an obvious metaphor, probably dating back, like everything else did, to the Greeks. It was a cliché because it was so obvious. We are caught in time’s currents, and we go where it takes us. You can’t change your destination. You can’t do laps, using repetition and practice to improve the time and quality of the journey. Time is a river, not a swimming pool.
My stroke brought me to the wall. I flipped, and launched in the opposite direction, slicing through the water as if it weren't there.
Amber cuddled in my arms. Sidney sat on the bench, eyes brimming with tears, huddled underneath layers of towels. She still wouldn't look at me. I could only imagine the thoughts racing through her head.
She was in love with Amber, her best friend. She was a lesbian in one of the most conservative, Bible-thumping parts of the United States, and she was leaving for college next week. Was she worried everyone in town would discover the truth? I doubted it. Sidney was too full of self-confidence to give a shit about the opinions of people she would never want to see again. But how about her family? What would they think?
What would Amber think?
That was it, or at least most of it. Sidney was terrified I would narc on her to the people she cared about, and she wasn't ready for that.
I still didn't understand why Sidney had orchestrated tonight's actions. I considered whether it was some manipulative sexual game – that she couldn't directly have sex with the woman she loved, so she arranged a situation where she could physically love Amber by proxy – but that didn't seem likely. Sidney had participated only reluctantly, at least at first. I recalled her initial hostility, and the way she gripped my cock when I was kissing Amber. I also thought of the way she had protected Amber when I told Amber to undress – that didn't feel like someone who was prostituting her own friend for her own sexual pleasure.
No, something more complex was unfolding. Sidney had a secret, but she was still Sidney – a likeable, clever woman who had just done me the great kindness of participating in one of every man's sexual fantasies. What had she said earlier? Amber wanted to cram four years of sexual experience into one weekend, and I was the lucky guy? Sidney had influenced my selection as that “lucky guy”, and for the level of trust she had shown, I owed her an obligation.
I wracked my brain, trying to determine a way to comfort her without betraying her.
“You know we have to keep this a secret, right?” I hoped Sidney would understand the double-meaning in my words.
Amber nodded and giggled. “My dad would kill me and would probably find a way to have you declared a menace to society, and locked up!”
It was Sidney's reaction I wanted. She raised her head, and I saw red-rimmed eyes peering at me apprehensively.
I stared directly at her, and with all the conviction I could muster, I said, “Sex secrets stay private.”
Sidney took a deep, stuttered breath, releasing some of her inner tension. She gave me a weak smile, nodded, then said, “Amber I have to go home.” Sidney was dropped off at the pool in the morning by her mother, but Amber usually drove her home.
Amber was disappointed. “Aw, this was amazing! I don't want it to end!”
Neither did I.
Amber reluctantly pulled away from me, and started putting on her swimming suit.
I had an idea. “Sidney, I would be happy to drive you home. I live closer to you.”
Sidney seemed to recognize I was offering her a chance to talk, but shook her head. “No thanks. Amber and I have to discuss your performance behind your back.”
I smiled at that. Sidney was down but not out.
Amber flounced over to kiss me on the lips. “Don't worry, Lance. You were awesome!”
I pulled on my swim trunks, and followed them to the front office. Amber approached to kiss me once more, then headed for the door. “See you tomorrow, Lance! Last day of the summer!”
To my surprise, Sidney approached for a kiss as well. It was chaste, but she followed it with a hug and whispered, “You aren't going to tell her?”
“No,” I whispered back. I felt her relax in my arms. “Are you?”
Sidney suddenly grew tense again, and pulled away from me. Her tears returned, seeping through her closed eyelids. Her emotions were too strong to be restrained by any part of her body. She shook her head and muttered, “No, no, no...”
I pulled her close and kissed her tenderly on the forehead. Everything will be okay, the kiss said. Having experienced Tasha's epic emotional quakes, Sidney's comparatively reasonable meltdown was easy.
Taking a deep breath, Sidney relaxed again.
I wanted to discuss this more, but Amber called out, “If you want to stay longer, I'm game!”
Sidney's mouth quivered in a nervous smile, and she hugged me again. But this hug was different – the first genuine gesture of emotional affection toward me I had seen all night. “No, I'm just leaving.”
They walked to Amber's car, and I heard part of their conversation.
“What's wrong, Sidney?”
“Nothing. It's just sort of emotional, you know?”
“Yeah, I know.” Amber hugged her friend, and I saw Sidney hesitate before returning the hug, not trusting her own reaction to Amber's touch.
I walked toward the pool, wanting a late night swim.
One of the few perks of being a lifeguard was the key to the pool, and permission to use it at night. We were supposed to swim with a buddy, but they weren’t going to fire me with one day left in the season. I hit the opposite wall, and flipped.
I hadn’t swum laps in five subjective years. It used to clear my head. It helped me think. Like everything else that was a part of me, Tasha had chased it away. You smell like chlorine. You're late. I miss you when aren’t with me. Why can’t you skip laps tonight and come straight home from work?
This wasn't a night to think of Tasha, but of Sidney. If she were in love with Amber, why had Sidney pushed Amber into my arms? Why had Sidney herself participated? Why did she take the ruse so far as to have sex with me?
The only answer I had received from Sidney was cryptic – that Amber wouldn't have participated without Sidney, but that didn't explain why it was important to Sidney that Amber participate at all.
I was glad it was my present-day self coping with Sidney's troubles. If the same events had unfolded nine years earlier, I would have said something like, You're a lesbian? Cool! Can I watch you and Amber make out?
While I had that exact same thought tonight, I knew better than to say it aloud, and was able to understand and sympathize with Sidney's predicament. I hadn't had any openly gay friends in high school (although there were a few I suspected), but had enough gay friends and colleagues in my present to know how emotionally traumatic coming out could be.
Clearing my head wasn’t enough. I still couldn’t puzzle it out. I had earlier planned to grab the resonance array, and leave after the end of the day, but I decided to see what would happen tomorrow.
September 1, 2002
Stay with me. I heard lust emitted in short gasps, to the rhythmic accompaniment of bed springs, and I opened my eyes.
A faint blue light emanated from the top of my dresser. I investigated, and realized it was the resonance array, coiled around a circle of light that blinked at me like a blue eye. I reached out to seize it, and the array enlarged – or I shrank – and its torus was now the width of my fist, and covered in scales. It slithered in my grasp.
I followed the curve with my eye, and noticed that what I thought was one of the array's crystals, was in truth a malevolent, reptilian head, holding the end of its own tail within the prison of its fangs. Ophidian eyes stared at me, unblinking. I somehow knew the head was going to strike. I stepped back...
…and I woke up.
My father was reading the business section when I came downstairs the next morning. Mom was leaning against him, her feet resting on the armrest of the couch, reading a collection of Edgar Allan Poe short stories. My father's arm embraced her. My parents' open affection for each other had embarrassed me when I was in high school. It was a few years before I realized how lucky I had been.
“How is the portfolio going?” I asked my dad. My mom had told me a few years ago (a few years from now?) that dad had taken a massive hit from the dotcom crash, but hadn't told anyone how bad it had been.
“Recovering, but I'm thinking of making changes. I have a few thousand shares of Apple I'm going to dump.”
“What’s it going for?”
“Eleven a share.”
Holy fuck. Apple had been selling for $500 a share, last I checked. “And you want to sell?”
“They make good computers, but this expansion into the music market is trouble. The company has gone to hell since Jobs came back.”
Keep the stock. You will be a millionaire, I said... or I tried to say. No words came out.
Buy credit default swaps and short Bear Stearns, Lehman Brothers, and AIG at the beginning of 2008.
Giants over Pats in Super Bowl XLII.
Nothing. My thoughts turned less mercenary.
The day after Christmas in 2004, hundreds of thousands of people are going to be killed in the Indonesian Tsunami.
There are no WMDs in Iraq.
It was like my mouth wouldn’t obey me.
“I would love one of those iPods for my birthday, or Christmas.” I was able to say that. It seemed the best I could do.
A half-dozen kids were already lined up in front of the pool doors, anticipating the last day of summer, when Sidney and Amber arrived shortly before noon. I had hoped they would arrive early, so I could talk further with Sidney, but she was avoiding me. She also hadn’t answered her phone or returned my calls. The only consolation was the smolder in Amber's eyes as she greeted me, a promise our weekend adventures weren't finished.
By the time we had prepped the pool, we had a long line of kids. The weather had warmed since yesterday. This wasn't going to be a day where we could talk on the bench. Sidney and Amber took the first shift on the chairs.
Sidney exited the women's locker room, wearing the traditional women's fire-engine-red one-piece lifeguard uniform, with a white cross on the front. It was a far more conservative suit than the skimpy knit bikinis she usually wore. The men who worked at the pool, including me, usually wore the equivalent standard-issue red trunks, but the women almost never wore their red and white “Swiss Army Suits”, as they called them. I had once asked Amber why, and she had explained women would never all wear the same outfit to the same location, unless you put a gun to their heads. Management having a no handgun policy, the girls wore what they wanted.
Amber was wearing a suit today I had never seen before, and it presented her as the human avatar of the goddess of sex. The top consisted of two overworked triangles that flaunted the hills of her breasts, while simultaneously levitating them. The bottom was cut in a deep V, with the sides riding up impossibly high on her hips. While the top was tied with string, the bottom was held together by elastic and a smidgen of modesty. The suit accented every soft curve and firm muscle on Amber's gorgeous body, while appearing to extend her legs and flatten her stomach.
When I saw her, my breath caught in my throat and I felt the dizzying swoon I only experience in the presence of truly beautiful women.
I wasn't the only one thus affected. Sidney's discomfort was obvious. She was trying not to gawk, so she stared at me instead, but since I was staring at Amber, that also made Sidney uncomfortable, and she just blushed and made a beeline for the far lifeguard chair.
Amber gestured for me to approach, before she climbed the near chair. She handed me her bottle of baby oil, and asked me to do her back.
I happily agreed. “New swimsuit?” I poured oil on my palms, and rubbed my hands together to add warmth before application.
“No, Sidney helped me choose it last summer, but I never dared wear it.” Amber turned her back, and raised her arms to lift her hair away from her neck.
“Really, why?” I rubbed oil on her neck and shoulders. I noticed Sidney frowning at us from her perch. Normally she had the privilege of oiling Amber's back.
“It's... um, kind of revealing,” Amber replied.
“Why wouldn't you dare wear it? You have a beautiful body.” I applied more oil, and my thumbs traced her spine, as my fingers kneaded her smooth flesh.
Amber stepped toward me, standing uncomfortably close for a public place. “You think so? Thanks. I didn't feel comfortable wearing it.”
“So why do you feel comfortable today?” I attended to her lower back.
She turned just enough to make eye contact and show me a smile, but said nothing. She stepped away and climbed the lifeguard chair. At the top, she turned to the west. “According to the news, there's a cold front coming in. Might be a storm this afternoon.” Her lips shifted slightly to form an enigmatic smile. “We may have to close early.”
“That would be a shame,” I lied, and headed back to the office, where a line of kids waited for me to take their money.
When Sidney relieved me on the shallow-end chair for the 12:30 shift, I tried to get answers.
“Sidney, what's going on?”
She wouldn't look at me. Instead, she played with a scrunchie, twisting it into a figure-eight pattern, before folding it back on itself to fix her red hair into a ponytail, instead of her usual french braid. “You got sucked off by two drop-dead gorgeous women, and then had sex with....” her voice trailed off.
“A friend?” I completed for her. I had now dismounted the chair, and she began to climb.
Her laughter was bitter. “I'm sorry for misleading you.”
Sorry? “No, no, no. You have no idea what a relief it is to be able to cross 'have sex with a lesbian' from my bucket list.” I got the word out in the open, with no one else close enough to hear.
Her laugh was genuine now, and she met eye contact. That was a good sign, even though I could see pain in her eyes.
“You have been with guys before,” I said. “That wasn't the first time for you.”
Sidney grimaced at the memory, which I tried not to take personally. “I did it a couple times, trying to convince myself I wasn't into girls. It didn't take.”
“So why last night? Why did you have sex with me?”
She belatedly realized how it sounded. “I didn't mean it that way. Go relieve Amber. If she doesn't get her Diet Coke she will get cranky. Shoo.”
Sidney avoided all other attempts to engage her in conversation, but I made headway with Amber herself during the one o'clock break. Sidney volunteered to run to the bank to get some change. This left me alone in the office with Amber, who played footsie with me under the desk.
“Sidney has seemed a little down the last couple of days. Is anything wrong?” I asked.
“She's being silly.” The manipulations of her foot against mine affected me less than watching the flow of her taut leg muscles.
“She thinks it's her fault I didn't date in high school.”
“I thought it was your dad's?”
“That's what I keep telling her! But she thinks instead of suggesting fake boyfriends from Mankato, she should have covered for me.”
“You know how girls cover for each other all the time? 'No, she wasn't with that asshole Lance, she was staying at my house.' 'Here Lance, I'll call Amber. Once we get her on the phone, I'll hand it to you, so her parents won't know it’s you calling.' That sort of thing.”
“And Sidney feels guilty because she didn't offer to do that?”
“Silly isn't it?” Her foot had worked its way to my thigh, and she had me hard again. I had unleashed a monster last night.
“So why didn't she cover for you?”
“She says she didn't think of it. But neither did I! So how is it her fault?”
“Is she trying to make it up to you?” I asked, remembering Sidney had mentioned the need for penance. “Is that why she was encouraging you to seduce me last night?”
“Seduce you?” Her foot slid to my crotch. “Oh Amber, I'll be happy to coach you on how to give head. Amber, why don't you come over here and lick me.” She raised her eyebrows and displayed a sly smile as her toes felt my erection, and she massaged me with her foot.
My eyes rolled back in my head at the sensation of her toes fondling my cock, but I resisted the urge to take her on top of the desk. “I concede the seduction was mutual. Now, we need to blow the whistle, and I won't be able to stand for another five minutes, without traumatizing everyone in the pool.”
Amber stood. “Do I really get you that excited?”
“Amber, you could wear sweatpants and a wife-beater shirt and still be the hottest woman in town. In that swimsuit, you would win the state and have a shot at the nationals.”
She bent over, and placed her hands on her knees, which pushed her tush out and her breasts together. The sexy pout on her face made the image complete.
Sidney chose that exact moment to return from the bank, arriving just in time to see Amber pose like a swimsuit calendar model. Sid stopped and stared.
“Amber is practicing for next year's Sports Illustrated,” I explained.
Sidney just grunted.
Amber laughed and headed for the chairs, blowing her whistle. Sidney followed. Amber's answers had been enlightening – Sidney was feeling guilty because she hadn't volunteered to help Amber sneak around her father's injunction on dating. Sidney had told Amber she hadn't thought of it.
If true, Sidney had no reason for guilt, but I was certain it wasn't true. Instead, Sidney hadn't encouraged Amber to date because Sidney had wanted to spend time with Amber herself. She had been selfishly denying Amber a normal social life, and with Amber complaining about how she would be sexually stunted when she started college, Sidney felt guilty, and was making amends.
I still didn't understand why Sidney had sex with me. Nothing explained why a lesbian would ask me to fuck her. When I had asked last night why she was participating, Sidney had only responded that Amber wouldn't do anything without Sidney, but that was no answer at all.
Or was it?
I sorted through my vivid memories of last night's events. Amber wouldn't undress until Sidney did first. Amber wouldn't touch me, perform oral sex, or touch herself in front of me until Sidney did all of them first. Is that why Sidney fucked me? Leading Amber by example?
True, I hadn't had sex with Amber after Sidney, but events had been interrupted. Did Sidney have sex with me as one more step in her game of follow-the-leader, and I had interrupted that game?
I was awed by the full realization of what that meant. Sidney was putting Amber's happiness in front of her own, going so far as to help Amber have sex with me. She actively participated in the act itself to make amends for her prior selfishness. She had sat there and watched the woman she loved be touched and kissed by someone else, out of penance. If I were right, it was one of the most beautiful acts of self-sacrifice, friendship, and compassion I had ever seen.