Stroked long, p.7
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       STROKED LONG, p.7

           Meghan Quinn

  In Target, when he started to panic, I felt every overwhelming ache he experienced—as if experiencing it for myself—and I tried to dispel them with a calm voice and a teasing tone. It seemed to work, especially when I was cleaning up his cut. He didn’t take much time to ditch me once everything was taken care of with his boo-boo—he hated me calling it that.

  “He’s still bleeding from what happened to him years ago,” Lauren adds, sensing my silence. “The only thing driving him forward is his swimming, but that’s going to end soon. He probably has one more go around left in him after this year’s games. But what happens after that? What happens when his routine is flipped upside down? Eva has many sleepless nights about it.”

  “Does he . . .?” I pause. Should I pry? There is so much I want to know about him, maybe I can gather a general idea of the man I’m dealing with. Lord knows he won’t tell me. “Does he have some kind of obsessive behavior?”

  Lauren nods but doesn’t elaborate. My cue to shut up. I think that’s all she’s going to say on the subject, which I respect. Looks like I will have to wait to hear it from the horse’s mouth. So, that would be never, given how much he likes to talk.

  “One more. Go, Bodi. Push it.”

  “Come on, Bodi,” Lauren cheers and claps.

  It warms my heart to see Lauren so eager and happy to cheer Bodi on, as if they are brother and sister from blood. Their tight-knit family is endearing. I’m actually kind of jealous. I want to be part of their intimate little circle. I want to be one of the elite who is allowed to cheer Bodi on. I want to be in.

  “Three, two, one. Done.”

  Water splashes around the pool and onto the deck as Bodi’s body pops up from his horizontal position, and he lifts himself out of the water to sit on the edge of the pool, a full-on smile gracing his face as he looks up at his coach.

  Kick me in the nipple! That smile is vagina-clenching good.

  Why is that smile reserved for his coach? What I wouldn’t give to have that smile directed at me, caused by me, brought on by something small I did. It would be the greatest reward.

  From the light crinkle in the corner of his eyes, to the smile lines next to his lips, it’s intoxicating.

  “God . . .” I sigh.

  “Hey, stick your tongue back in your mouth. You’re embarrassing to look at right now.”

  “What? Oh.” I sit up and shut my mouth, blushing from being caught gawking. “I’m just impressed with his pace. What a rigorous workout.”

  “You’re such a bad liar.” Lauren chuckles. “I’m not stupid. Bodi’s hot, but you could at least show a little class when you’re staring at him.”

  Is that even possible? To be a classy gawker around a hot man? Please show me one woman who doesn’t get all gooey around a man in a Speedo with unbelievably defined abs, pecs, shoulders, and arms. Not to mention his boyish charm, often hidden behind his dismissive façade. It’s a combination that is bound to explode any ovaries in sight.

  “I just don’t understand how he can act so casual when he’s not wearing anything.” Standing in front of his coach, Bodi is talking about his workout and pointing to something on his coach’s clipboard. Everything about his body is tight, defined, brawny. Well everything is beside the miniscule scrap of spandex wrapped around his crotch.

  “He’s been wearing practically nothing all his life. He’s pretty used to it.”

  “Does he have to wear the smallest one ever? I mean, I think I can see his butt crack.”

  “And you’re complaining because . . .?” Lauren asks.

  I hold my hands up in defense. “I’m not complaining, just pointing it out.”

  “Thanks, coach,” Bodi’s voice booms off the walls.

  Turning, he spots Lauren as he wraps a towel around his neck. Coming toward us, with purpose in every single step, he stutters slightly when he recognizes me next to her. The hitch in his step makes my stomach flip with nerves. I might have forgotten to tell him I was coming to swim camp today. But then again, even if I told him, he probably wouldn’t have listened because he refuses to answer my phone calls.

  “Looking good today, Bodi,” Lauren says as Bodi steps up to us.

  Power flows off him. Internally, I know he’s struggling, and he’s putting on a brave façade, trying to mask the struggles he faces on a day-to-day basis but outwardly, he looks strong, confident, put together.

  He must be so tired. Tired of hiding who he truly is.

  “Thanks.” Nodding his head in greeting, he says, “Hey Ruby.”

  Oh God, the way my name rolls off his lips makes my toes tingle.

  “Hi Bodi,” I reply nervously. I hate that I’m practically trembling in front of him right now. “Good workout today, not that I really know anything about swimming workouts, but it looked hard. Was it hard? Of course it was hard, you looked like a dolphin in there. I would look like a fin-less seal trying to figure out how to roll out of the pool. Not much of a swimmer, but that’s why I’m coming to camp. To get my swim on.” Silence. “Do you like my bathing suit?” I hold my hands out but quickly put them down when I realize my hips are thrusting in his direction. Not the best model pose. “You don’t have to answer. It’s new. I mean, no, it’s not.” I quickly backpedal, not wanting Bodi to know I got this bathing suit just for today. “It’s old. So old I had to blow mothballs off it today. Not that I smell like mothballs. I bet that’s what you were thinking, weren’t you?” I point my finger at him, hand on my hip.

  “You can shut up now,” Lauren interjects.

  “Yup.” My lips thin and flames of embarrassment envelop me.

  “Ruby and I will be joining camp today. She feels in order to understand the foundation and the money it will be raising for the scholarships, she needs to gain first-hand experience when it comes to swimming.”

  “You don’t know how to swim?” Bodi asks me, his emotionless mask firmly in place.

  “Oh no, I can swim. I just am not one with the pool like you are.”

  He nods. “Typically we don’t allow two-piece bathing suits at camp since they aren’t practical for training.”

  Well, isn’t that a kick to the clam? And here I thought I couldn’t feel any more embarrassment just as another tidal wave of heat drowns me.

  “Hmm, well that’s inconvenient,” I answer. “But, this bathing suit is barely a two-piece. I can wear it as one. Watch.” Scrunching my torso down, I yank on my bottoms and pull them up as high as possible to cover the scrap of skin between my bottoms and top. It works! “See, one-piece. Guess this little fella is multi-purpose. Boy, didn’t I get a good bang for my buck? Wouldn’t you say?”

  “You look like a seventy-year-old turtle trying to show off your camel toe,” Lauren points out.

  And yet, another level of all-time embarrassment. This is where I want to crawl into a hole and bury my head in sand for days on end, wishing and hoping this moment is erased from my memory. And Bodi’s for that matter.

  “Uh, I’m going to go rinse off and change.” Without another word, Bodi takes off toward the locker room while I’m left with Lauren, the traitor.

  Once Bodi is out of sight, I slap Lauren’s arm out of pure irritation. “I can’t believe you said that in front of him? Oh my God, that was so embarrassing.”

  “I can’t believe you showed him the definition of your labia. That’s what you should be embarrassed about.”

  “I did not.”

  With a smarmy look on her face, she points at my crotch. “You sure did. Nice flaps, Ruby.”

  No way.

  With a snap of my head, I look at my crotch, and sure enough, defined in all its glory is my lady parts. “Oh, for Christ’s sake!” I shimmy my bottom half down as more heat rises to my cheeks. I’m surprised they haven’t disintegrated off my face. “Okay, so I gave myself a camel toe in front of one of the most decorated Olympic swimmers, that doesn’t mean you had to point it out to him.”

  Lauren cups my face, sympathy directed at me. “Oh sweet
ie, I didn’t have to point it out, your curtains were pulled up and back for everyone to see. I just helped you realize it.”

  “You so don’t understand girl code,” I huff just as kids start to filter into the pool area, guided by their parents.

  Shuffling in one by one, kids are decorated in colorful bathing suits—all one-pieces, damn it—sporting floaties on their arms that range from rubber duckies to frogs. The oldest kid in the program doesn’t seem older than six, making me a good eighteen years older than the gang I will be swimming with.

  My question for the day . . . are some of these kids still in diapers? Please tell me their parents made sure they went to the bathroom before hopping in the pool. Knowing my luck, I will be swimming in a lot of warm water today.

  “Awe, they’re so cute,” Lauren coos. “Good thing you put away your clam before they came in. You would have terrified them with that sea monster.”

  “Why did I think having you come was a good idea?”

  “Because you get all nervous and sweaty around Bodi, and you need a buffer in the pool with you to make sure you don’t drown.”

  “You’re full of sass today. I’m telling Eva when I get home.”

  “Yeah, and what is that going to do?”

  I think about it for a second. “She’s going to withhold sex, simple as that.”

  “You’re cute, Ruby. My girl would do no such thing, but nice try.”

  Tapping my cheek, she secures her towel under her arm and walks toward where the class is gathering. This is going to be . . . fun.


  “Ruby, Ruby, Ruby!”

  Have you ever been in a position where you think: Is this what rock bottom feels like? That’s me right about now.

  Surrounding the sides of the pool are the little pool pee-ers, chanting my name, their floaties waving in the air, a prismatic compilation of parading blow-ups thrown in the air as I struggle my way through the murky chlorine-filled water.

  At the end of the pool stands Lauren, bent over and holding a doughnut out, shouting to me that I can do it, I can make the trek from one end of the pool to the other by myself without touching the bottom.

  Beside her, standing with his arms crossed over his decadent chest in a pair of long, navy blue swim trunks is the man of the hour, the man who’s made this swim lesson a living nightmare. Not because he’s a terrible instructor but because he challenged me—in front of the class—leaving me no other option than to sac-up and take his challenge.

  Okay, he didn’t technically challenge me. It was an indirect challenge, but a challenge nonetheless. His comment I believe was, “It’s hard for beginners to swim from one end of the pool to the other.” Mind you, I’m swimming with a bunch of preschoolers, but still! I was insulted and determined to make the trek myself with my mean doggy paddle, which I now realize is a very inefficient way of swimming.

  But dogs make it look so easy . . .

  “Come on, Ruby. Get the doughnut, it’s waiting for you.”

  Lauren is literally going to be crucified when this is over. She is dead to me. Where did she even find a doughnut to entice me? Hell, I will eat the shit out of the doughy roundness when I get it, but where did it come from?

  How did I get to this point? I mean, really? We were all having fun in the pool a few moments ago, twirling in a circle and learning how to blow bubbles under water. We were a harmonious little group and then little Jimmy shark-trunks goes and opens his mouth about swimming across the pool without taking a break and the competition was on thanks to Bodi saying it’s hard.

  “You got this, Ruby!” girl with clear goggles chants for me, her tiny fist raised in the air.

  If not for the doughnut, then I must do this for girl with clear goggles.

  My end is near. My limbs are on fire, my lungs are expanded to full capacity trying to suck in as much air as possible.

  It’s hot in here!

  Too many kids, parents, spectators, and a heated pool. This girl is about to pass out. But not before the doughnut rests securely in my mouth.

  “Just a few more feet,” Lauren chants. “You can do it, Ruby.”

  If she didn’t have a shit-eating grin on her face, I would actually think she was being sincere, but I’ve known her long enough to know this is all a joke to her. Her nipple will be twisted off later.

  Water slashes around me, my feet propel me forward, my arms barely doing anything. I can feel Bodi’s heavy stare. Kind of wish he wasn’t here right about now.

  “Almost there . . .”

  Like a drowned rat seeking land refuge, my claw-shaped hand performs a Stretch Armstrong move and grips the edge of the pool as little cheers from around the deck shout into the air, reverberating off the cinderblock walls of the enclosed pool area.

  Gripping the wall for dear life, I breathe heavily and look up at a grinning Lauren. “I . . . did . . . it.”

  Out of breath and entirely too tired to care what I possibly look like, I hold out my hand and wait for Lauren to place the doughnut in my grasp.

  “Sorry, sweet cheeks. No eating in the pool,” Lauren says, motioning to the ladder for me to get out.

  “You’re the devil.” I heave, dragging my carcass along the pool’s edge until I get to the ladder. I hoist myself out, apparently too tired to lift my legs properly because they scrape along the edge.

  From a distance, I hear Bodi wrap up class, his deep voice reminding me why I came to the class in the first place. My brain is telling me to stop flopping around on the pool deck, but my muscles have other ideas, instead forcing me to twitch like a freshly tasered criminal.

  “Are you going to be okay?” Lauren asks, squatting down next to me. Terrycloth appears as she holds a towel out to me, her eyes full of mirth.

  “Give me my doughnut.”

  “You sure you want to eat it here?”

  “Lauren, I just swam fifty meters without touching the bottom in front of a bunch of chicken-nugget fiends and the hottest Olympic swimmer—”

  “Ah, admitting your sexual feelings now?”

  Sitting up, I point my finger at her. “Don’t interrupt me. Just give me my damn doughnut and let me rest in peace.”

  Shaking her head, a smile still on her face, she hands me my well-deserved bakery delight and walks away. I don’t bother to watch her retreat, instead, I lie flat on the pool deck, the towel from Lauren carelessly draped over my exposed stomach, and eyes trained on the treat in front of me. Lying like a starfish fresh out of the water, I consume my reward, reveling in each chocolate morsel.

  Some might say I’m out of shape due to my embarrassing effort as I swam the length of a pool, but that’s not true. I very much enjoy a Zumba class, but swimming, yeah, I don’t do that. Pools are for playing Marco Polo, peeing in, and sunbathing.

  “Are you staying for water aerobics?”

  I don’t have to open my eyes to know Bodi is standing over me, probably questioning my sanity at the current moment.

  With one eye open, a grimace crossing my face from how I must look, I answer, “Didn’t plan on it. Are you?”

  His brow creases, a common look I get from him. If only it was his smile instead. “No, but class is starting in five minutes and if you’re not going to participate, then you’re going to have to get up.”

  Well, if this isn’t embarrassing, I don’t know what is. Embarrassment. My theme for today.

  Time to peel your flaps off the pool deck, Ruby.

  “Oh, I was unaware of the next class.” Wanting to be as graceful as possible while I get up and refraining from any unwanted skin making an appearance, I roll over on my stomach, get on all fours and then lift myself up. When I stand tall in front of Bodi, I throw my hands up in the air like an Olympic gymnast sticking their landing and say, “Nailed it!”

  Hoping for a smile, I’m not fortunate enough to be rewarded so kindly, instead, his brow is still creased as his eyes study mine.

  Shaking it off, I pick up my towel and wrap it around my
waist to cover up. I’m entirely too self-conscious at the moment to be standing in front of Bodi in a two-piece. Yes, I’m proud of my body and have nothing to be ashamed of, but right now, I can’t stand to be brave while being so exposed. I need some kind of armor to throw up against his devastating good looks.

  “Why did you come today?”

  His question catches me off guard. Not because of its content, but because he’s actually interested in initiating some form of conversation.

  “Because I wanted to learn more about the sport for the foundation. Lauren told you that earlier.”

  His eyes don’t let up; they’re brutal in their gaze, like two icy stones trying to crack my cheerful façade. Little does he know, it’s going to take a hell of a lot more to make me crack. He might put on a strong front, but he will be much easier to crack than me.

  “You should have just asked for a private session instead of coming today. You distracted everyone from the lesson.” His voice is gruff, almost agitated, an inflection from him I wasn’t expecting.

  Did I distract everyone, or did I distract him?

  Caught off guard, I try to gather my words. “Um, well, if you’d actually answered your phone when I called, maybe I wouldn’t have had to come to class today.” I cross my hands over my chest and stand my ground. Not the route I wanted to take, but I’m not about to be lectured when he’s the one who could have avoided me coming today. Put in perspective, it was not the kind of distraction he’s making it out to be. I took up the last five minutes of class.

  Grabbing the back of his neck, he looks down at the ground and mutters, “I’ve been busy with training.”

  “Busy with training? Or so embarrassed you took out a rack of curtains in front of me at Target you refuse to talk to me now?”

  He doesn’t meet my eyes; he doesn’t even answer me. Slowly, I watch him start to retreat from our conversation. His shoulders slightly slump, his head aims toward the ground, and his hands withdraw into his pockets. If you were observing our conversation from a distance, his dodging of the question wouldn’t be evident, but from up close, and having spent time with him, my question struck a nerve. I’ve come to understand his social cues when he’s uncomfortable.

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