I hadn’t even known you could go swimming in the lake.
For the last few weeks I’d thought it was just another austere campus feature, like the stone cherub over Wexley Hall, or the Greco-Roman pillars of the main building.
But there we were, a good ways through September, walking barefoot across the grass, towels in hand. It was Brent’s idea, something about “getting our feet wet at this school in more ways than one.” In other words, it was fruitless and joyful like most things Brent wanted to do. I didn’t mind.
We threw down our towels, and as Brent lathered sunscreen on his cheeks and nose I savoured the coolness of the grass beneath my toes. I took one look at the perfectly blue sky and held it in my mind as I closed my eyes, breathing deeply of the fading summer air.
I was glad the lawn was like this now, I thought, a different animal from the dark and damp of those first few nights where I thought I might lose Brent before we even really knew each other.
I open my eyes to look at him as I exhale. I think about the frequency at which his upper arms are revealed and yet he can’t be bothered to take his hat off at dinner. I have a strange feeling, almost an anger at my past self: you almost lost this. I don’t remember a time when I didn’t feel this way.
“Where is everyone else?” I ask.
“I’m sure they’re coming. They wouldn’t waste this perfect day, this perfect swimming opportunity, would they?”
I step forward, curious. Grass turns to course sand, and then I dip my toes into the water.
“Good god,” I say. Maybe you can’t go swimming in the lake. “So cold already?”
Brent just laughs, mimicking my “good god” in a patronizing and yet caring way. “It’ll be good, man. No worries.”
I felt like “no worries” could be the title of Brent’s biography, while mine might be something like “Neuroses: A Consideration.” We were complementary in that way.
Brent did finally remove his cap, and to my great surprise his short dark hair was still there beneath. He also reached down and peeled his black muscle shirt off over his head.
He had little hair, and looked smooth and soft. Toned but not chiselled, stockier. Comfortable.
I blink at his voice.
He cracks a nervous smile, “you’re weirdin me out a bit.”
I blink again, realizing I’d been staring. This was like me and many other social quirks and moors: I had no way of knowing it was wrong.
It was new, certainly.
I turn away and remove my own shirt.
Almost the moment it leaves my hand, I feel a palm on my back and then the water is rushing up to meet me.
It is deeper than I thought, and I see sand and darkness living in the blur of water.
When I raise my head, sitting in the shallows with small, freshwater waves lapping at my neck, I turn to see Brent laughing. The cold pushes a hoarse breath out of me.
“Quite humorous…” I say with a dollop of sarcasm.
“Quite humorous,” he mocks.
I stand and deliver a great kick, spraying water in a wide arc and catching his legs and stomach.
He yelps a little and jumps back, “oh shit that’s cold!”
I shake my head, but can’t help but smile. “No one swims out here in September, do they?”
“They do now,” he says with a grin, dashing for the water, making sure to churn up the water and soak me on his way by as he dives.
I’m already in, so I turn and dive after him.
I haven’t had the luxury of telling Brent this yet, but I’ve always felt quite at home in the water.
When I’m just floating there, it’s a rare occurrence where outside and inside seem to match. My wayward direction, my wandering nature, my unsure heart. Finally, they are in a context just as formless as I feel.
When I come back up Brent is treading water enough to raise his arms in a raucous yell. He chuckles a little, unbidden, and floats onto his back, looking up at the crisp blue sky.
As I look at him, the unrestrained sunlight sparkling off the drops on his cheek, I know that none of the books I worshipped had told me about this. They told me about many other things I could not have: a prom, a graduation with my parents in the audience. They told me about girls who could change one’s entire life, it seemed. But nothing about this.
Which is unfortunate, because there, looking at him, I feel something like I felt when I hid that trunk away in the abandoned boat-house, that rusted but sturdy lock in my hand. Something solid.