“I don’t know, it’s really awkward. It was a mistake. We were supposed to be just friends and I think I might’ve given him an unintentional signal. He might think I want to take things further.”
“How do you feel about him? Do you want to be just friends?”
“Of course I just want to be friends!” I said, trying to convince her as much as myself. “Like I said before I’m not ready for a relationship. I’m having a hard enough time getting back into the swing of things and keeping up with my classes. I just want a normal, drama-free life.”
She looked at me skeptically as if me telling her I was only interested in Hunter as a “friend” was a bold-faced lie. “Not to be a nagging-nanna but I already told you he’s got a reputation for shagging and tagging girls all over campus. I’m glad you and him are friends but I don’t want to see you getting hurt by him. He’s broken a few hearts before.”
“Thanks Daniela, but you don’t have to worry about me. I’ll be careful.”
Daniela asked me a few more questions about Hunter and I responded as agreeably as I could. The conversation could’ve gone on for a good hour but I had to cut it short when I noticed the time on the clock in our suite.
“Well, I have to go to class,” I said. I hurriedly packed my backpack with my swimsuit and left the dorm.
It was the first day of my swim class which started later in the semester than the other classes. Since there was a lake around campus, students at Arrowhart were required to either pass a swim test or take a swim class. I had planned to take the swim test but there was some administrative mix up and they didn’t register me in time for it. I ended up being signed up for the swim class, which I didn’t mind. After that debacle with falling into the lake, I figured I could use the practice.
On my way past the student union, I received a text from Hunter.
Why did you leave?
I thumbed a quick response. Had class in the morning. Sorry.
You forgot to take my trash with you :).
I knew he was trying to be funny, but I didn’t find it particularly amusing. Sleeping over at his place was a mistake, not a joke. To drop the issue, I responded with a simple smiley.
Walking across the arts quad, I arrived at The Annex, which was a large glass building used for athletic activities. Among its various amenities, it had a state-of-the-art gym and an Olympic-sized swimming pool. I navigated the hallways, following the signs posted for the swimming pool, and found the women’s locker room. I changed into my swimsuit and went to join the swim class.
The instructor introduced himself as Mitch McHenry. He was an older man with gray on the top of his head matching his neatly groomed mustache and beard. His posture and the commanding tone of his voice reminded me of a military officer.
“All right, guppies! Who here already knows how to swim?”
About half the class raised their hand, myself included.
“Good. You guys can help out your fellow classmates. Since it’s everyone’s first day, I’m going to go over the basics: the doggy-paddle and treading water. Then you guys are going to do laps back and forth on the shallow end of the pool.”
One by one, each student entered the pool. Some dipped their toes to test the water before hopping in, some took the steps down, and some cannonballed right into the pool. Once everyone was up to their necks in chlorinated water, Mr. McHenry spent the next ten minutes demonstrating how to do the strokes properly then he ordered us to practice.
I already knew the basic strokes so practice was a breeze. It was apparent half the class felt the same way but the other half were borderline drowning in five feet of water. Mr. McHenry spent the next half hour helping the worst cases.
I was in the middle of helping a redheaded female freshman with her doggy paddle, when I glanced over and saw a student through the pool’s glass entrance walking toward the men’s locker room. He briefly passed by the entrance but then doubled-back. I recognized him. Hunter narrowed his eyes at me then waved in my direction.
My pulse leaped. The moment was beyond awkward—particularly because I was trying to avoid him—but I managed to wave back. Just when I thought he’d walk over and we’d have an uncomfortable conversation about why I bolted from his apartment this morning in front of the entire swim class, he turned around and continued toward the men’s locker room. I was left with both relief and regret.
“Focus your attention on your partner, Ms. Burnham,” a gruff voice said behind me, making me jump out of the water.
I twisted around to see Mr. McHenry helping the redheaded freshman stay afloat. Her face was as bright as her hair. I was supposed to be helping her but I’d been distracted.
“Oh I’m so sorry,” I said, apologizing to both Mr. McHenry and the redhead—who now had a scowl on her face.
“Just because you know how to swim, doesn’t give you the right to let your fellow classmate drown,” Mr. McHenry said, more as a statement than an accusation. He assigned the freshman to a different partner and then turned back to me. “So you know Hunter?”
I found the question odd coming from Mr. McHenry so I paused a moment before answering. “Yeah . . .”
“Are you guys friends?”
“Um . . . yeah I met him a few weeks ago and we became friends . . . Do you know him from somewhere?”
He glanced at the entrance where Hunter had been then returned his gaze to me. “I run the ROTC program here. Hunter was a member two years ago.”
“He wanted to be in the Army?” Just as I asked the question, the image of the shirt he’d given me and the model airplanes in his closet popped into mind.
“Air Force, actually. He was dead set on making it. I put a lot of effort into training and helping him. I hoped he’d make it but unfortunately he’s no longer in the program.”
Curious, I asked, “Why not?”
“It definitely wasn’t because of his performance. With evaluations like he had, he was a shoo-in for any branch . . . but well . . . it’s his story to tell, not my place to discuss details.” He scratched his neatly trimmed beard. “He’s a good kid but a bit troubled. Anyway, I have to go make sure nobody drowns. Although you’re a bit irresponsible, you seem like a nice girl. Just thought you ought to know. If you get the chance, keep your eye on Hunter. Make sure he stays out of trouble.”
Mr. McHenry swam away to help another student, leaving me to think about what he’d just told me. He’d asked me to watch over Hunter implying that Hunter, for some reason, needed watching over. Gary had mentioned something similar. Could it have been a coincidence? I didn’t know what to make of it except that Hunter seemed like the kind of guy who could take care of himself. Between Hunter and myself, I was probably the one who needed help.