Sometimes when I get to writing, I really don’t know where the story is going to go. I just start typing and the act of fingers on keyboard coax the story out of my brain. And as it sometimes happens, what is teased out of the creative center of my gray matter is something greater in scope than I initially anticipated.
This is one of those stories. I try to create a story in media res, which is to say that when I sit to write a short story, I pace it like a short story. But on occasion, I’ll begin writing what I believe to be a short story only to find that it’s an iceberg, and what I have on paper is only the sharp, poky bit sticking up out of the water. And then WHAM. That big icy bastard has snuck up on me out of nowhere and now I’m trying to figure out how to alter my course and navigate that bad boy without getting stove all to cat shit. I have to slow down and that means the pacing changes.
Normally, I’d just write on without mentioning it as it is part of my creative process. I’d just smooth out the pacing, or any other details that stick or need clarification, or fix the continuity of of anything that has changed as the story unfolds, during the editorial process. But since this is more of a stream-of-consciousness kind of a dealie-o, I guess it’s a flaw to which I’ll have to reconcile myself. I hope you, gentle reader, will as well.
* * * * *
The air in the house was stifling, too warm and close already for the time of year and made worse by the crush of too many bodies in too small a space. Janie pressed through the crowd, not bothering to excuse herself since she would be unheard over the loud, thumping bass coming from an enormous set of floor speakers and the oppressive din of voices shouting and laughing over the club music.
She struggled to keep the cheap beer from sloshing out of her red Solo cup as she dodged elbows on her way to the back door. The pot smoke was giving her a headache and she felt if she didn’t get some fresh air soon, she’d scream—not that anyone would have heard her.
The slider door opened onto a back deck as full of bodies as the crowded kitchen, but the air was cleaner and cooler, and despite the cries and whoops from a game of beer pong in progress, quieter. She slipped down the steps to the big backyard, which, being unlit, was relatively empty. A few couples were curled up in the shadows on various pieces of lawn furniture and a group of guys ignored the occasional giggle and groan of pleasure to concentrate on kicking a soccer ball around without spilling their beer.
She walked past, ignoring the comment of “nice ass” said just loud enough for her benefit. She left them all behind, and as she got further from the house, the sound of the ocean took over. At the edge of the lawn was a path concealed largely by the dark and overgrown, leafy bushes. She pushed by them and picked her way carefully down the grassy path to where it gave way to soft sand.
Away from the house there was nothing but moonlight on the calm water, a sky full of stars, and the twinkle of lights coming from the beach houses that ringed the large bay. The tide was going out, and the sea air was salty on the slight breeze. The deep bass of the music was muffled and sounded like a heartbeat from so far away; in counterpoint with the gentle rush and whoosh of the waves on the sand, Janie found it soothing.
She sipped her beer and hugged her arms, wishing for a sweater as the constant breeze dried the fine sheen of sweat on her skin and chilled her, despite the warm evening. She heard a splash from off to her left and turned in time to see a boy walking towards her. His hands were in his pockets and his head was down as he made his way over the hard-packed sand.
“Hi,” Janie said, smiling at him.
“Oh, hello,” he said, stopping suddenly and looking up at the sound of her voice.
Janie smiled. “I didn’t mean to startle you.”
“I didn’t expect anyone else to be down here.”
“Me either, to be honest,” she said. “I didn’t think many people knew about this beach.”
He smiled at her. “I grew up playing on this beach. I used to hide in those bushes sometimes. Once, my mom thought I’d drowned. She was not impressed with either my hiding or my seeking abilities.”
Janie laughed. “So, you live here?” she asked.
“Not exactly. I know the people who own the house. They moved, and kept the house to rent to college students.” He looked up in the direction of the pounding bass that had changed tempo slightly and was now throbbing at a quicker pace. “Bad move, if you ask me. But then, no one did, so there’s that.”
“So you’re a local, then?” Janie asked, sipping her beer. “I took you for a student.”
“That too,” he said. “A humble freshman.”
“What’s your major?”
“Social work. What about you? Can I assume you’re also a student?”
Janie nodded. “Fifth year senior.” She paused, then by way of explanation added, “Studying’s really not my thing.”
“What’s your major?”
She shrugged. “Liberal arts.”
He chuckled. “Don’t know what you want to be when you grow up?”
“Not a clue,” she said, laughing as well. “That’s provided I pass all my classes and actually graduate. It’s kind of up in the air at the moment.” The image of Dr. Gilbert spanking her ass to a rosy pink flashed through her mind and she shivered, but not because of the breeze that kicked up and swirled the branches that lined the shore.
He unzipped his hoodie and handed it to her. “Thanks,” she said, slipping her arms into the warm, well-worn sweatshirt.
“I’m Zack, by the way,” he said, holding his hand out to her.
She shook it and smiled at his old-fashioned manners. “I’m Janie…Jane.”
“Pleased to make your acquaintance.”
Janie laughed. “What are you laughing at?” he asked.
“Nothing, really. I like the way you talk.”
He tipped his head and looked at her, smiling. “What do you mean?”
She kept laughing. “I don’t know. Just the way you say things. It’s unique. And interesting. You sound older than you are.”
He shrugged. “Okay, then. As long as you like it.”
They fell silent for a moment, smiling at each other but not knowing what to say.
“So.” Zack began. “How come you’re not up at the party?”
Janie picked at the lip of her cup. “I don’t know. Usually I’d be right in the center of everything, dancing, drinking…but tonight it just seems so…”
“It feels a little like I’ve outgrown it.” She looked at her nearly empty cup of beer and tossed what was left in the bushes. “All of a sudden. And since my roommate is currently letting half the rugby team do body shots off of her and she has the keys to car, I don’t think I’m leaving any time soon.” She smiled at him. “What about you? Why aren’t you up there playing beer pong until you hurl in the geraniums?”
“I confess I am only here under protest.”
“Who’s holding you hostage?”
He laughed. “No one. My dad is concerned that after almost a full year at college I’m not ‘making friends my own age’ so he urged me to ‘go out and take part in college life.’” He punctuated his words with air quotes. “I’m humoring him.”
“But you’re local. You must have lots of friends around still. No?”
“I went to live with my mom after my parents split. I came here on vacations and long weekends to hang out with dad. And when I got accepted here, living with dad made sense, even though he’s worried that by not living in the dorms I’m missing out on some important college experiences.”
“Well, there’s nothing like a gang shower to break the ice, I always say.”
He laughed. “I’ll pass, thanks.”
“So technically, you’re a townie, but—“
“But not really. Just another noob trying to see where I fit in just like everyone else.” He glanced up toward the house. “I’m still looking.”
Janie remembered her own freshman year, and how it felt trying to fit in and find her place. “Hey. You want to get out of here? Maybe go get a cup of coffee or something?”
“Yeah, actually. I’d like that.”
They grabbed a booth at the back of the diner and gave their order to the plump blonde waitress. She brought them two thick white mugs full of hot coffee. Janie sweetened hers and dropped in a long pour of cream, but Zack only blew on his and waited for it to cool off.
“You drink it black?” she said, putting down the stainless steel creamer pitcher after he’d shook his head at her offer. “Wow. I thought only old people and Marines drank black coffee.”
He laughed, and Janie laughed with him. He had a great smile, she thought, though his eyes seemed serious. She wondered if it just seemed that way because they were the color of a stormy sky. They conversed easily, like two people who had known each other for a long time. Once or twice she found herself staring at him and felt a strong, sweet rush of attraction flow through her. Her first reaction to it was to flirt, but something about him made her curb the impulse and just let the feeling settle in her. She couldn’t put her finger on it, but she felt sure that any artifice on her part would be wholly rejected by him, and the knowledge that she wasn’t required to put on any kind of display for him was comforting, and very attractive. He was intelligent and funny, and seemed to really like her, too, since he kept nodding when their waitress came around to top off their cups.
“So, are you seeing anyone?” he asked. His face was honest and sweet, youthful, except for those deep gray eyes.
She opened her mouth to answer and then stopped, unsure of her answer.
“I’m sorry,” he said, leaning back in the booth as if doing so would put her at ease. “That was probably too personal a question to ask.”
“No,” she said, reaching her hand across the table and laying it on his. “Not at all. I’m just not sure how to answer it. There’s a guy—”
He nodded and gently pulled his hand out from beneath hers. “It’s okay. I understand.”
She laughed. “Then explain it to me. Because I’m not sure I do.”
He looked confused. “Okay, you lost me.”
She put her hand on his again. “There’s this guy. I like him—at least I think I do. I’m not really sure because I don’t know him that well. He’s…hard to get to know.” Zack nodded and let her continue. “We’re not ‘dating’ or anything, but I’d be lying if I said there was nothing between us. We have a relationship—of sorts—I see him and we’re…” she paused, unable to find the words to describe it. She frowned at her inability to find any positive words to describe her connection to Dr. Gilbert and finally gave up. “Like I said, it’s complicated.”
Zack thought about her words and she could see he was carefully considering what to say next. “So, if I were to ask you out again some time, maybe for something more than a cup of diner coffee, do you think you might say yes? Or is this thing with that guy more complicated than that?”
Janie thought for a minute. Zack sat patiently and sipped his coffee. As she looked into his eyes, she felt the similar falling sensation she got from Dr. Gilbert, only he wasn’t sitting with her sharing a cup of coffee and talking about his life. She knew nothing of him—where he lived, how he lived, what he did when he wasn’t teaching his classes or bringing her deep powerful orgasms bent over his desk. It wasn’t even a purely physical relationship, since it was entirely unreciprocated. For him, she didn’t even exist outside of his office or his classroom. But within those walls, she was most definitely, passionately his, to do with as he would.
Zack waited for her answer, not rushing or pleading his case. He didn’t beg like so many boys did, or try to captivate her with smooth talk and easy charm. He was simply warm and interesting, and while he didn’t leave her breathless and panting with passion, she was enjoying his company. His hand was still beneath hers, and she twined her fingers in his. It felt comfortable and right.
“I think I would say ‘yes’ if you were to ask me out some time,” she said with a smile.
Was she seeing anyone? Well, no.