Our Own Private World

 

They come crashing into the room and the door slamming open slams shut our debate on the definition of Classic Rock.  Jim and I look up as they fall inside, almost stumbling over each other.

“Do you guys want to go skinny dipping?”

My first thought is that I have lost my mind, my hearing or something else that may not be as important.  I turn to look at Jim and see the look of total unbelievability, that same look he first gave me when I explained to him about the cemetery and why I go there.  Jim’s look confirms that I haven’t lost anything but I’m not sure about the three of them.

“You want to repeat that?” I ask.  My eyes meet with Kate and it appears that she’s the leader of this little merry band of adventurers.  She’s the one I’m most surprised to see.  Not Kate.  Not someone I had to explain the concept of sixty-nining to.

“Do you want to go skinny dipping?” she asks again.  I was wrong.  I had most definitely heard them correctly.

“Where?” Jim asks before I can respond.

“Mountain Lake.”

“When?”

“Now.”

“The water’s gonna be like fifty fucking degrees.  You know it’s called Mountain Lake for a reason.  We’re in the mountains.  It’s cold, even in May.”  Jim’s making arguments, but really he’s just stalling for time, trying to decide whether or not he wants to deal with Sarah and Laura again after everything that’s come and gone this year.  I can understand; I have the same fears, the same doubts.  But we catch each other’s eye.  The answer comes before I give it any thought.  So many good ideas come without thought.  And, like so often, our words echo each other.

“Oh, hell yes.”


Laura starts the car and we take off into the sunset.  The darkness starts to come down on the Oaks as she speeds up, pulling away from the dorms.  The university begins to fall away in the distance as we disappear into the night.

“Kate.”

“Yeah?”

“Why isn’t Kevin here?”

“What do you mean?” she asks, and the question sounds innocent enough.  I turn to look at her.

“You’re going skinny dipping with some guys but don’t think to bring your boyfriend?”

“Kevin’s inhibited.  This isn’t really his thing.”

“Did you ask him?”

“I asked him a few weeks ago if it was something he was interested in.  He didn’t seem to be.”

“And when you asked him today?”

“Huh?”

“What’d he say today?”

“I, well, see, it’s . . .”

“She didn’t ask him today, Paul,” Laura says.  I turn to look at her.  She’s not looking at me at the moment, which is good because she’s a terrible driver and she should keep her eyes on the road, but since it’s her car it’s hard to argue that she shouldn’t be driving.

I have never known what to say to Laura.  Some would say that’s because I slept with her and then dumped her, although I didn’t so much dump her as pawn her off on Jim while taking Sarah off his hands.  But even when I was sleeping with her, I didn’t know how to talk to her.  She is fundamentally wired in a way I don’t relate to.  I slept with her because, well, because she wanted to sleep with me.

I think she thought her passion for me would be enough for both of us.  She knew I still wasn’t over Xian and she thought sex was the way in and she was right.  About both things.  It was the wrong thing to do, sleeping with her.  Which of course didn’t stop me from sleeping with her.  It just made me feel guilty about it.  Not guilty enough to stop, at least until it reached a point where it was clear things were bad and then I convinced Jim that he would fit better with Laura and he was ready to stop being with Sarah so much.  But what I really should have done was tell Laura that I had never slept with Xian.  I should have told Laura she was my first.  The problem is that I’m a really good liar and I’m just as good at lying to myself.

None of this makes it easier to communicate with Laura at this precise moment, with the impending thought of Kate naked while also dreading the fact that Laura is driving at night on a road she’s not familiar with.  So I let Laura do the talking.

“She didn’t ask Kevin today, Paul.  She came up with the idea, thought tonight might be warm enough that the water wouldn’t kill us, came to us, we all came to you, and we were gone.  Word one was never said to Kevin.”

That makes all of this much more problematic.  Laura and I was a bit of existentialism.  Sean and Rachel are too fucking good to be true.  Bruce and Jessie are a sick joke.  Tom and anyone is just a ticking bomb waiting to explode.  But Kevin and Kate are the ones who deserve to find some real happiness.  She comes to me, she comes to Jim, she asks us to come down and swim with her in the nude miles away from school.  She comes to me.

I turn to look at her.  I remember when we met, remember the hours before I ran out to gather the kids together, before I leapt on a table and yelled ‘I’m Paul and I’m in charge because I’m the loudest’.  I remember blaring the music from my room, screaming at the top of my voice ‘a generation without name, ripped and torn, nothing to lose, nothing to gain, nothing at all,’ remember the soft, lilting New England accented voice at the doorway, remember turning and seeing her standing there and that my first thoughts were of Xian, that she had that same deep black hair that Xian had, that I wanted to disappear into the folds of her hair and right now, even in the dark of the car, I can make out the black of her hair and I still want to disappear there.  There are worse places to disappear.

“Everything okay, darling?”

“What do you mean?”

“I think you know what I mean.”

For a minute I don’t think she’s going to say anything, just another question that never gets answered.  But suddenly she looks over at Sarah and Jim, notices them engrossed in their conversation, rediscovering themselves, ignoring the rest of us and she comes back around and finds my eyes again.

I’ll tell you at the lake.  She doesn’t say the words, just allows her mouth to form them, lets me read the meaning from her lips.  I let my head dip and come back up in response and I settle back into my seat.  I catch Laura, catch her trying to see what’s going on, to get a glimpse of my eyes.  I turn away and look at the road.


I’m standing twenty feet away from Mountain Lake.  I’ve lived in the Oaks for close to two years now, half the time I get to spend in this valley, and this is only the second time I’ve been here.  Makes me think of the first time.  Makes me think of Xian.

I push her to the back of my mind and concentrate on the lake.  Or at least, trying to find the lake.  It’s only about twenty feet away, I can tell that by the sound, but we can’t see a thing.  There are clouds and there are no lights anywhere.  Once Laura cut the headlights the lake disappeared.

The five of us exchange glances.  The wild enthusiasm of a half hour ago has begun to slip away in the darkness.  I’m not sure any of us is ready for what comes next, for reminding ourselves of connections and entanglements and everything that’ll come with doing this and remembering it.  It’s no surprise to me then that Jim takes the first step.

He takes a couple of steps forward.  He looks at the rest of us, the motley little crew of his best friend and roommate, two women he’s slept with and a third I’m sure he wouldn’t mind sleeping with.

“What the fuck are we waiting for?  Dawn’ll come eventually.  Come on people, let’s forget about the modesty here.”

In less than twenty seconds Jim is completely nude, his clothes thrown on the hood of the car.  Sarah stares, not in surprise since she’s seen it all before, but in admiration, I guess.  He does have a damn nice body, the fucker.  Laura actually doesn’t stare, almost seems to turn away even though I know she’s seem him like this as well, must have since she’s fucked him too.  I wonder if she’s really a willing participant in all of this or if she’s simply been coerced into coming because she has the car.  Kate looks away.  I’m not sure why.  I wish I did know.  That would make this all a lot simpler.

“Well?” Jim asks, staring at us all.

“So you’ve got a big cock for someone as short as you are,” I say.  “So what?”

“Am I the only one who hasn’t suddenly chickened out?”

“Oh, fuck no,” Sarah says and she’s smiling as she says it.  She is standing next to her two best friends and two guys who have both fucked her.  So fuck it.  And within thirty more seconds there is another pile on the car and two nude bodies staring at us.

“I don’t know about the rest of you, but I came here to swim.  I’m going in,” Jim says and with that, turns and sprints down to the water.  Before he can take five steps he is nearly invisible but seconds after that we can hear him splash into the water and a cry of ‘oh fuck, that is god damn cold’ comes from somewhere in front of us.  Sarah turns and looks at Kate and I.

“I’ll bet his dick’s not so big now,” she says with a wickedly sexy smile.  Then she is racing after him, always ready to follow his lead, clothed or not.

I turn to look at Laura.  I wish I could tell what she’s thinking, what resentments she might harbor, what hatred of me might run through her heart.  But I warned her what could happen, what had gone between Xian and I, how I had not yet mastered the art of sleeping with someone and then holding things together.  That the warning was filled with falsities and half-truths did not make it any less legitimate.  And she took that warning and she took me in her mouth, her cunt and her ass and when none of that was enough to hold us together she realized she was better off without me and still couldn’t make herself leave.

“What are you gonna do?” she asks me.

“I want to talk to Kate.”

“I guess you need to be alone then,” she says.  It never got said between us but I think she knows that Xian wasn’t the only ghost keeping me distant from her while we were together.

“Why don’t you go in,” I suggest.  She turns and looks at Kate, still standing next to her door, not having moved an inch since Jim’s clothes found their way off his body.  She looks back at me.

“Okay then.”

Quick as can be, she is nude and I’m not sure whether I want to find her attractive or not.  She actually looks better than she did when we were together, has lost some weight and it’s all come off her ass and I’m real fucking glad I haven’t taken my clothes off yet because I definitely don’t want her knowing she can get this kind of reaction from me.

She looks at me, hoping for what?  A return to what we had for just a little while?  A walk back through time?  For me to be the person she thinks she loves but not be the person who doesn’t love her in return?  I don’t know.  I’m not sure she does either.

“Well, here goes everything,” she says and with a turn, she is gone into the darkness.

There was a chance there.  I could have reached out.  I could have tried to fix everything I fucked up that day in the bathroom, sitting on the toilet seat while she showered, washing my hands of everything that I had gotten myself into.  But I’m not very good at apologies.  And she’s the not the girl I would go to try and get back.

I turn to look at Kate and am surprised to find that my heart is pounding.  I run my fingers along the palms of my hands, trying to rid them of the sweat beginning to build up.  I’ve seen Laura and Sarah nude before, have seen my share of other nude bodies before.  But not Kate.

“Well,” she says.  “We’re finally alone.”

“I guess you could say that.”

We’re, of course, not really alone; not alone so long as we can hear the shouts of our friends a dozen yards away screaming about the temperature of the water, but with the darkness of the night all around us and no one else in actual sight, this is our own private world.

“What’s wrong, Paul?” she asks.  And before I can stop to think I say everything I’m feeling.

“Maybe I shouldn’t have come.”

“That doesn’t sound like you.  Why shouldn’t you have?”

“I came for the wrong reasons.  Which could also be the title of my love life.”

“Did you come here for Laura?” she asks and I almost laugh, try to suppress it, try to be nice.

“No.  Laura and I are over.  That is not coming back.”

“Then . . .”

“Did I ever tell you about Xian?”

“Your girlfriend from last year?”

“Yeah.”

“Not really.”

I want to be close to her, want to tell her the story but can’t bring myself to look at her when I say it.  I walk over and I leap up on the car.  I climb up on the roof and stand, looking out into the trees.  I talk softly as she leans up against the car, her eyes drifting across my face.

“Xian was a townie, an Oaks girl, just going to school here because she couldn’t bring herself to leave at the time.  She had this boyfriend from high school who had died.  Well, didn’t just die.  Took a swan dive off a pretty high diving board into a swimming pool with no water with her looking on from inside the house.  She watched him die but didn’t get a chance to say goodbye.  So she comes to school and the first guy she meets is me and I fall head over heels in love.  And we’re together for a while, most of the year, but at the end of the year she decides she has to be away from the Oaks.  She just sees ghosts, wandering the streets of her mind.  The Oaks is where they were together and it’s where he died.  He never got out and she decided she had to get out.  As soon as the school year ended, she was gone.  I used to lie in her bed in her dorm room and run my hand through her hair.  Her thick, beautiful, black hair.”

I let my voice trail off, let my legs bend and slide and I’m sitting on the roof of the car, my hand gently brushing against her forehead, pushing the stray hairs out of her eyes.

“Something like mine, maybe?” she asks.

“First time I see you and I know you can fall in love at first sight.  But I couldn’t do it, couldn’t act on it, couldn’t say anything because I didn’t want you to have be Xian.  The hair was what clinched it but the hair was also what was too much.  You would have realized it and you wouldn’t have liked it.”

“So you let Laura be Xian.”

“Well, no.  Laura never stood a chance at being Xian.  She was just Laura.”

“Not a very nice thing to do to her.”

“I warned her, I let her know all the bad things that could happen before she ever started coming after me.  She came anyway.”

“See you came with us tonight because of me.”

“I’ve seen Laura and Sarah naked.  What’s the point of coming to see them?  If I wanted to see them naked again that badly, I could just sleep with them again.”

“You’re pretty confident of your ability to get them back into bed.”

“Do you think Laura would say no to sleeping with me?  Do you think Sarah would say no to sleeping with anyone?”

“If you’re trying to seduce me, Paul, you’re doing a poor job.”

“I’m not trying to seduce you, that’s the whole point.  You love Kevin.  Kevin is my friend.”

“Do you love me?” she asks.  I think I have tears at the edge of my eyes.  I come down off the car and look at her.

“I hoped from the minute I met you I would have more time.  We had those first few hours, remember, before you knew anyone, when you heard me blaring U2 at top volume and you came in and we talked.  I hoped I could keep it going forever.  But you met Kevin and he made his play.  I’m not Tom, I’m not gonna fuck with someone’s relationship.”

“You came tonight just to see me,” she says.

“Something like that.”

“You didn’t have to tell me.  You could have just waited for me to take my clothes off and gotten all the looks you wanted.”

“If something’s wrong between you and Kevin then I don’t want to take advantage of that.  I don’t like the idea of hurting him.”

“Will it make you feel better if I tell you that you aren’t?”

“It would make me feel a lot better.”

“You aren’t.”

“Is that the truth?”

“I guess.  As much of the truth as it can be.  Look, I don’t want to hurt him either.  Nothing’s wrong between us.  You know him, he’s a conservative guy, he’s kind of repressed.  But I wanted to try this and so I said fuck it, it’s my life, I’ll go out and have some fun.  He knew it was coming.  He made the choice not to come along.”

I look at her, the little girl lost I welcomed into my room with the haunting ghost of my first love floating in and out of her hair and I smile because she’s never been so lost as I imagined.

“So what happens now”


“Are you done, Kate?”

“Uh, yeah, I guess so.”

“Are you okay?”

“A little embarrassed.”

“So am I.  Don’t worry.  We can be embarrassed together.”

We both come around the car and stare at each other.  I’ve thought about it, fantasized about it, never actually dreamed I would get to see it and there she is, just a few feet from me.  And neither of us has a fucking clue what we’re supposed to do next.

“Here.  I’ll throw your clothes with everybody else’s”

She smiles, a little embarrassed, as she said, and hands them over.  I toss them on the hood of the car and look at her again.  I try not to stare but the trying not to stare leads me to staring even harder.

“Well?  What do you think?”

“You’re asking me what I think?”

“Something like that.”

“I wish I was Tom.”

“Tom?  What the hell for?”

“He has no concept of ethics or morality.  He wouldn’t care that you have a boyfriend, he’s just pick you up and throw you on the car and do everything he . . .”  I stop talking.  I close my eyes and raise my hand to my head.  “I am such an asshole.”

“No.  You’re not.”

And when I look up at the voice I see she is inches away from me, reaching out to me.

“You’re actually very sweet, Paul.  And I’m glad I wasn’t Xian, that I get to just be me.”

“That’s good.”

“You never answered my question.”

“I know.”

“Well?”

“Oh god, Kate, of course I love you.”

“That’s a pretty strong word to use.”

“So I’ve heard.”

“How many times have you said it before?”

“Only with Xian.”

“How many have you slept with?”

“Only Laura and Sarah.”

“Really?  You didn’t sleep with Xian?”

“I didn’t sleep with Xian.”

“So you loved one girl but slept with two others.  And now you love another.”

“Something like that.”

“Well I’ve never slept with anyone, Paul.  And I love Kevin dearly.  But I love you too,” she says with a smile.  “Give me a hug.”

I look down at our bodies, then back up.

“Like this?”

“I trust you.”

“I’m not sure why.  I don’t even trust me.”

“It’s okay, Paul.”

She isn’t kidding.  I can’t believe it.  I take a deep breath and put my arms out, press my body close to hers and she is in my arms and she smiles at my reaction, almost laughs at the blush that runs across my face, simply presses closer and I am holding her.

When I move to let go I am surprised that I am letting go first but then she is turning and her lips are on mine, soft, warm, everything good that a kiss should be, not lovers, not friends, just something else, something good.  It’s good and it’s okay and everything is okay, no thoughts of Xian, no thoughts of Kevin, just our own little corner pocket of the world.

“All right, you guys!” I hear Jim yell.  “You have had enough time to fuck and to cuddle!  You coming in or what?”

His yell is so sudden that we break apart, almost jumping away from each other.  We stand there, smiling, staring, silent.  Then her voice breaks the silence.

“On our way!”

She puts her hand in mine.  She smiles and I return it.  The clouds break over the horizon just before we come down to the sand and take a leap into the water and I can see them all as I fall under and realize that Jim is right and it is really fucking cold.

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