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Pool Party













by Stuart Watson

Copyright ©2024



Walls smeared in Unguentine stucco, two levels of rental units surround the pool. La Palma, says the sign nailed to the exterior wall, but not a palm in sight. 


At noon, sun tops the south wing and bathes the pool in fog-fuzzed light. My trunks are still wet from a dip. I soak the haze, listen to Kevin and Jayce back in their unit, caterwauling like they do.


They are shameless. Or clueless. Or show-offy. Like they want everybody to know what a good time they are having, a good time that everybody else is missing. Every day at noon, Kevin comes home from the seabee base for lunch. Odd that he needs to eat at home because he runs the mess hall. Soon as he’s in their door, I hear Jayce screaming and moaning. Like an audition for Violetta in La Traviata. 


Until it ends, me and the other tenants, out and about, we’re always smirking and shaking our heads. 


One person says “Cats.” 


Another smiles. “And dogs.” 


Fifteen minutes and done.


Kevin wanders out, drapes a towel over the chaise. I listen to him get on his phone and yammer off to my right. Trying to line up a rendezvous. Sounds like he’s routing supplies to an off-site buyer. Not a day goes by where I don't see him wheeling a dolly full of heavy boxes from the parking lot to his apartment. Probably 10 cans. None of my business. We all gotta pay the rent. 


I’ve got something in common with Kevin. He feeds breakfast and lunch to hundreds of sailors. I work the morning line at Benny’s. There before dark, home for the early afternoon pool party. They want me to manage Benny’s. I’m dragging my heels. Sunny up is enough responsibility. Parenting pregnant wait staff who keep getting stiffed on tips because they’re pissed about everything happening in their life at that moment? Eggs are easy. 


I feel a chill, like a cloud passing over. I open my eyes. Jayce is blocking the sun. Boobs like hers will do that. The eighth wonder. I try not to stare, but she’s staring at me like I would insult her if I didn’t. I am troubled by my inability, at that moment, to express the gratitude I feel.


“You boys at Benny’s, you don’t cook the links enough,” she says.


I don’t know what to say, so I don’t.


“I like firm,” she says. “Sink my teeth into.”


I wonder if Kevin is catching this. He just yammers into his phone. She is wearing her bikini. She only has one. Or many of the same design and size. Her bikini is too small. I glance at the bottom part, thinking I might see seepage. I know: I’m scum.


Failed scum. Flunked out of college. When I realized I was only there for the skiing, an extreme indifference descended over me. A winter fog stole any motivation to open, much less read, my textbooks. When the cab dropped me at the curb in front of our home for summer break, there was a SOLD sign in the grass. No sign of mom or dad. No forwarding address. Huge FU to their only son. I was not surprised. We shared a roof, but not much else, during the growing-up years. They had their friends, I had mine. I deduced that our relationship was an accident. They did their duty, got the fuck on with it. They were smiling the day they put me on a Greyhound to Oregon.


So I found myself a room at La Palma, and a line job at Benny’s. 


A week after Jayce’s total eclipse, Kevin and her conclude their theatrics before Kevin wanders out and settles in beside me by the pool. 


“How was lunch?” I say, my hat down low over my eyes. He ignores me. 


He knows I know and I know everybody else knows and we all know the two of them have no interest in us not knowing or they’d do a better job of putting a sock in it. It’s about bragging rights. Hey, y’all, we’re in here getting what all y’all little people only dream about getting but never will in the endless expanse of your miserable lives.


Jayce appears at the edge of the pool. Bends down, dips her finger in the water. Like she’s going to get in. She never gets in. She stands up and saunters slowly around the edge of the pool and on the way back she makes eye contact with me and smiles just like the Sidewinder missile smiled before it slid up the tailpipe of a runaway Russian jet.


Maybe a too-small bikini is not just the right size but actually the entire and only size. I imagine some garment district sweatshop somewhere. Boss comes in, looks at the merch on the design table. 


“Too big, too baggy,” he says, ash about to fall from his cigarette and start a huge warehouse fire with multiple fatalities. But the ash hangs on. The designer pauses, looks at the boss. “So you’re sayin’ we don’t want to sell bikinis to people who are big and baggy?”


The boss turns and leaves. The designer starts over. Even XXLs run small. 


This is how my mind works. How do I get that job, fitting fabric to naked-boob models?  Not gonna happen. Instead, I should be focused on Jayce. She’s here and now. Hard not to focus.


Hard because of.


She starts in on Kevin, about when are they going to lunch. 


“Benny’s,” she says. “Consistency don’t wait.”


“They’ll wait,” Kevin says.


“It’ll be full. I don’t want to wait.” 


He had promised. Yammer yammer. 


“Anybody want a beer?” I say. “I’m goin’ up.”


“Let Jayce get you one,” Kevin says. “Save you the stairs.” 


Her eyes meet mine. She lets a little smile creep in. “Come with me,” she says. “We got a selection.”


We start toward their unit, downstairs of mine. 


“Somethin’ stuck in my teeth,” Kevin says behind us. “Get me a pick, hon. ‘K?”


She goes to the fridge, holds the door open, waves her hand like Vanna White turning over a B. Nothing but beer. They must eat out all the time. I grab a Bud Light, twist the cap. She leans against the wall, arms crossed beneath those breasts. Smiling at me, saying nothing. The walls are lined with stacks of boxes big enough to hold big tins. I’m checking them out, as if they’re more interesting than her.


“Peas,” she says. She looks around, sees all the boxes, realizes she needs to add context.


“Carrots, too. We love peas. And carrots. We eat a lot.”


I pinch my lips, a signal that I’m not buying her tale, but I won’t argue. It’s Kevin’s side hustle. Not sure who buys this. All-you-can-eat buffets, maybe? Not Benny’s. We don’t do vegetables.


“He’ll sleep,” Jayce says, nodding toward the patio.


I sip my beer. Did I ask? Do I look like I was wondering? Not sure where she’s going with this.

“We got time.” She nods her head toward the back. I smell smoke, look around for a source, then realize it’s my imagination. Funny how metaphorical smoke smells just as sinful at the real deal. It’s coming off her, for sure, but maybe me, too. I resist the urge to look inside my trunks, as I follow her to their room. 


She’s naked on the bed before I can get smart, mount a defense. Her sex stares up at me from a dainty halo of neatly coiffed bikini bush, like a vertical eye.


“What if –?”


“He won’t hurt you. Now that you got the goods on him.”


“Goods?”


“All that.” She waves at the boxes lining the walls. “He calls it his captured loss. Like he’s some fancy-ass accountant. He’d rather let you fuck me than have you rat him out. C’mere.”

This is weird. The weirdest thing? I recall glancing down and seeing a ray of sunlight sparkle off the faint blond hairs circling her nipples. I stand there, flicking nervous glances over my shoulder. I can see Kevin, out on the pool deck, yammering into his phone. Probably not a thought as to why it’s taking me so long to grab a beer and get my ass back outside. Probably so into the offloading of his peas and carrots, he could never imagine his bride boning me on a beer run.


“Get busy,” she says. “We can be quick.”


Honestly, I can’t. She would be the most impressive ever. She is everything every male wants. Me? Scared shitless. Fear knocks Willy for a loop. 


My mind races down the back stretch. It’s not what I’m thinking of it. It’s that I’m thinking of it. Her and Kevin, here, on that bed, not fifteen minutes earlier. I feel like witness to combat casualty, but oddly drawn to it. PTSD will haunt my days if I go.


“Don’t you like me?”


Like you? That is so – look, I don’t want to die for you. This is all …”


“I’ll be quiet. It doesn’t need to be loud like … with him.”


I find myself laughing. “Well, that would certainly suggest to Kevin that somebody else was home for lunch.”


She scrambles to her knees and puts one foot on the ground.


“I’m sorry, OK?” I say. 


I feel like I’ve let her down. What did she expect?


“Look,” I say, “even if you’re on mute, my butt would be staring out that door in a puckered panic the whole time.”


She starts to get dressed. 


“You snooze …” she says.


I finish the maxim in my head, grab another beer for Kevin, and let their screen door slap shut behind me. Kevin and I sip our beers and watch some kids splash and play with their floaty noodles. 


Jayce eventually appears, in clothes. Cutoff denim shorts, and a tie-up crop top. She stares at me with the most withering gaze of sheer disbelief and pity and deflated sense of her own nasty-ass sexual self. Then she turns her gaze on Kevin until he stands up and follows her, on his phone the whole time, to the carport and their date at Benny’s.


“Get the Baja Burger,” I call after them.


When the sun drops behind the west wing, I head upstairs. 


After dinner and a little TV, I slip into bed. I watch TV for a bit, flick off the lights. On the back of my eyelids, I see Jayce, lying there. The bottom drops out of my world. Complicated  options. Impossible choices. It is a horrible feeling, to know at age twenty-five that the rest of my life will be an endless replay of that unfinished afternoon. 


As it turns out, I tell none of my three future wives about the one that got away. Why would I? Nobody should have to compete with a dream.



About Stuart Watson:

Stuart Watson has been honored for his work at newspapers in Anchorage, Seattle and Portland. He has placed literary work in Bull, Yolk, Barzakh, MacQueen’s Quinterly, Bending Genres (Best Microfictions nominee), The Writing Disorder, The Rush, Reckon Review, Sensitive Skin, The Muleskinner Journal and others, all accessible from chiselchips.com. He lives in Oregon with his wife and their current “best” dog.

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