She’s so proud of herself when she surfaces. I swim toward her and see she’s beaming then realize my mistake after it’s too late. I shouldn’t have gotten this close. Her eyelashes sparkle as small beads of water catch the light, highlighting the bluest pair of eyes I’ve ever seen, a blue so vibrant it looks electric, like the sky right before a thunderstorm.
The water laps up around her shoulders, and it’s tricking my brain into thinking she’s not wearing anything at all. She’s a siren. She stands, and the water barely conceals her breasts. I want to skim my hand down her delicate neck and smooth shoulders and tug down one of those delicate straps.
Then I blink and realize my wants and desires have turned into actions. My brain is the last thing to catch up. My fingertips are already on Meredith’s shoulder, dipping beneath her bra strap. Everything I imagined doing, I am doing. Her skin is wet silk. A gentle tug and she’s standing right in front of me. Her hips brush against mine in the water.
She’s holding her breath, lips parted as she stares up at me.
“The water’s cold,” she explains, wetting her bottom lip. “Wh-What are you doing?”
Her tone is perfect innocence.
“Isn’t it obvious?”
I’m about to kiss the hell out of her.
Her hands hit my chest and I blink my eyes closed, inhaling the feel of her palms on my bare skin.
Then she whispers my name, trying to snap us out of this moment, but I won’t let her.
“I really should get back,” she says, voice wobbly.
I snap my attention back to her face and see an expression that punches me in the gut: fear.
Before I can tell her to stay, she turns and starts swimming for the bank. “Thanks for the lesson. I’ll see you back at the house.”
I’m already swimming after her. “I can walk back with you.”
“No! No, you stay and keep swimming. I need to go home and shower. My fingers are shriveled and it’s getting late. I haven’t eaten dinner, and I should clean up a little bit.”
She’s firing off excuse after excuse as they come to mind, one after another—“Big day of cleaning tomorrow, I’m tired, I really need to call my parents”— then she’s out of the water and covering herself as she runs to gather up her clothes. She’s sopping wet yet she still tugs her shirt and shorts on rapid fire. I make it to the shore as she’s slipping her shoes on, but I don’t rush after her. I know when someone’s trying to get rid of me. She’s being smart, putting distance between us. I’m sure she saw the way I was looking at her, but it doesn’t come close to what I was thinking, the seduction I was planning in my mind. She should run away. She should scurry right on back to the shack, or better yet, all the way back to California, because the thoughts flitting through my head were filthy. Had she been a little closer and I a little more naive, I would have tugged her close and wrapped her legs around my waist. I’d have angled her face up to mine and pressed a string of kisses to her lips, her chin, her throat. That bra would have been peeled off and those panties would have followed. Nothing good would have come from it. Everything good would have come from it.
I might’ve had my first kiss underneath that oak tree, but I’d have taken a lot more than that from Meredith.
The next day, I don’t bring up what happened in the creek, and neither does Jack. As far as I know, we both would rather forget the entire sequence of events, so that’s what we do. Sure, I was nearly naked, and sure, I watched him strip down to his boxers and had to pretend my heart wasn’t falling out of my butt. There are good bodies, and then there is Jack’s body. You know the sort of muscles that come from mutant protein shakes and sporadic bouts of CrossFit? Yeah, Jack isn’t like that. He has long, lean muscle that comes from years of daily hard labor. In fact, he has the type of tall, muscular frame that would make any woman feel small and delicate in his arms, like—ahem—me, for instance, just a random example.
Standing there, watching him strip, my gaze pinballed from one detail to the next: his broad shoulders, his toned forearms, his Adonis V. HE HAD THE V, HALLELUJAH—except, from what I saw with my own eyes, his should really be called the Adonis Y for reasons I’ll leave up to your imagination. All I know is that I was turned on and fidgety. I wanted to fan my face and shout Lawd have mercy with a serious southern twang.
And that was before he completed the effortless backflip into the water. I’m ashamed to admit how impressive that was. Sure, I was mostly focused on his biceps as he was swinging (eat your heart out, Tarzan), but it was pretty cool that he could just pull his legs up with his abs (heavy breathing) and spin backward into the water, especially considering I barely made it off the shore at all.
I regretted swimming with him even as we were swimming. I knew it would set us down a path that would lead to all sorts of question marks, and awkward encounters, and conversations where we avoid eye contact, and that was before I stripped off my sopping clothes back home. Now that…that was the real pièce de résistance. I stood in front of my mirror to see myself the way Jack had seen me, and I realized with a blush so strong it nearly set my face ablaze that he could totally see my entire boobs—not just a shadowy peek or a sultry suggestion, but LIKE THE ENTIRE NIPPLE AREA AND THEN SOME.
My emotions overwhelmed me so much that I had to sit down and resist the urge to dry heave. Embarrassment gave way to denial (He probably didn’t notice! I bet the sun was too bright.), denial gave way to anger (How dare he not inform me that I was flashing him?!), and anger eventually gave way to acceptance. My boobs are not bad boobs. In fact, they’re pretty great. In Europe, women wouldn’t even blink at traipsing around like I was. In conclusion: I am a cool, relaxed femme Française with no qualms about hanging out in nipple-ville with my boss.
That logic works surprisingly well, especially since I pair my newfound European attitude with a total avoidance of Jack. We’re talking zero face time for two whole days. I keep myself excessively occupied with the usual busy work around his house. I scrub toilets, tubs, showers, walls, nooks, crannies. I launder like it’s my God-given talent to make clothes shockingly clean and wrinkle-free. If I hear him coming, I find a reason to tidy the inside of the coat closet. During lunch, I leave his and Edith’s hot food waiting for them on the table and head back to the shack to eat on my own while pacing feverishly near the window, just in case I need to leap out at the sound of footsteps approaching.
I anticipate that the weekend will present a new set of problems. I won’t have work to occupy me for eight to nine hours like I do during the week, but heaven smiles down on me because Jack is busier than ever down at the winery and restaurant. He’s hardly ever around. Edith and I go into town for dinner on Friday and then Saturday night we watch a movie in our pajamas. Jack comes home in the middle of it and I freeze, popcorn kernel halfway to my gaping mouth, hyperaware that I’ve made myself comfortable on his couch. My feet are on his ottoman. My body is nestled under his throw blanket. If he had a fancy massage chair, I’m sure I would be using that too. Sure, Edith invited me, but it’s technically still his house and I’m supposed to be keeping my distance and generally causing less trouble than I make. He strolls in, looking tired from a long day of work, tosses his keys in the bowl near the door, and then glances up. Edith asks if he wants to join us, and she even picks up the end of the blanket I’m hurriedly trying to shove off my legs.
“It’s a romance, but you’ll like it. I promise!”
He shakes his head, avoids eye contact with me, and heads for the stairs.
I don’t see him the rest of the night.
Sunday afternoon, Edith informs me that she’s invited a few of her friends over for yoga. There’s Dotty and Lisa from the bank, a few women from Edith’s book club, and Daniel’s fiancée, Leanna. She’s the closest to me in age and she has a bright, bubbly personality and curly blonde hair. She chats my ear off about her wedding next week and I sheepishly admit that I’ve been invited to go with Tucker Carroway. I expect her to be annoyed that a random stranger will be in attendance, but she throws her arms around me and tells me she and Daniel will be excited to have me there.