He slid his arm around my bare waist, flattening his palm to cup my right love handle, the space just below my belly button, my left hipbone. The feel of smooth, taut skin pressed tight against my own. He was behind me, holding me up in the lukewarm water, and from here I could almost pretend he was someone else.
Wolfie had emereged from his room in a strange daze. In green board shorts, the lanky whole of him exposed. What I noticed first was that he had gotten a perm. Or what I noticed first was the distant look in his eyes. Or what I noticed first was his wide, bare chest. His expression, his hair, his persona, so changed that I wasn’t sure if it was him. He wasn’t due back for another week. Immediately a pang of dejection—he hadn’t told me he was back. Maybe it wasn’t him. One step out of his bedroom door, he stopped and stared straight ahead, somehow lost at home.
“Hi,” I said, timid and unsure.
His neck like a swivel, he had barely glanced in my direction when he suddenly knew where he was going—speedily away from me.
I thought to ask the girl in line for the bathroom behind me, “Was that Wolfgang?” but the question made me feel so embarrassed that I knew I knew the answer. I was thankful for the privacy of the bathroom. I avoided the mirror. Even though I’d been getting an inordinate amount of attention, I felt suddenly very disgusted with myself. I sat on the toilet and put my head in my hands. It was never going to happen with Wolfie. I had been in love with him for a year, construing situations where he could fall in love with me too. That vacant look—I was just some girl to him.
Desirable. Desirable. Sometimes I choose a word to embody. I got up and looked in the mirror. My freckles. My dark hair. My blue eyes. Smile to trick myself. Smile to be happy. Desirable. I opened the door and walked to the pool, my back straight, my steps deliberate and slightly overlapping—flattering. I imagined diving in the pool gracefully, I wouldn’t look around at who was watching so that I could imagine they all were. I curved my back, leaned forward and panicked. Alone? I was going to do it alone? I couldn’t swim.
Couldn’t swim? Since when couldn’t I swim? But I couldn’t, that’s all I knew. I needed someone to hold me up. Jack’s arm around my bare waist. My friend since college, he was safe. He would do. Just someone.
“I didn’t realize you couldn’t swim,” Jack said. “I thought I saw you swimming earlier tonight.”
I held onto the ledge of the pool, one hand over the other to creep along the perimeter.
“Do you want to try swimming?”
“I can’t do it alone,” I said.
“I could’ve swore I saw you swimming earlier.”
One hand over the other.
“On your own,” he added.
A flash of white in the black sky, suddenly. We watched a bright white unicorn, majestically posed in a neigh, shot through the celestials in a soft curve. “A unicorn!?” And then along the z-axis towards us. We screamed and ducked out of its way, watched it zip past us and disappear back into the sky.
For a brief moment, the party was entirely silenced. The limitless possibilities.
“Did you see that?” someone asked. They chattered, all of them together, a single swell of disbelief. Distracted, Jack released me.
A unicorn! I didn’t want to talk about it. I swam away. Jack noticed and waved me back.
“No, thanks,” I shook my head. “I’m swimming!”
To the middle of the pool. Alone. Excited. The limitless possibilities. “I’m going to fly!” I exclaimed, though no one but barely Jack was listening to me.
“I’m going to fly!” I said to myself, flapping my arms rapidly at my sides, slapping and breaking through the viscous surface. Flapped. Rose, rose. “I’m flying!” As high as a house. They barely saw, Jack hardly did. Then I fell back into the water.
“No way,” he said.
“I didn’t see,” they said.
It slipped away from me then, not completely, but.
“I flew!” I said.
“Do it again then,” they said.
And I knew I believed their doubt just enough to not be able to raise myself up.