It was nearing the end of our summer project. Our group was slowly and somewhat sadly breaking up. We had developed a closeness over the summer that was hard to see coming to an end. Kathy and Lorraine were leaving first; before they left early the next morning, Jake, Mary Lynn and I had taken the two women out for a final drink after a farewell dinner. We said goodbye to Kathy and Lorraine after a final southern dinner; now it was just Mary Lynn, Jake and me, drunk with too much beer and staggering home.
It had been a long day, and I was weary, so I said I was going to call it a night. Jake and Mary Lynn weren't done for the night, though, and decided to go out for a last, late-night drink and some dancing at the bar down the street.
An hour later, Jake burst into the bedroom where I was just putting down my novel, ready to turn off the light. "Can I borrow your car?" Jake pleaded. "I have a hot date." He raised his eyebrows lasciviously, then grinned.
"Have a good time," I said archly as I threw him my keys.
"I intend to," he said with a grin.
It must have been 1 a.m., when Jake stumbled into the bedroom smelling of sex and beer, making enough noise seemingly to wake the neighborhood. He fumbled with taking off his clothes, dropping them in a pile on the floor, and climbed into his side of the bed. "Thanks for the car," he said somewhat loudly.
"Hmmph," I mumbled, still half asleep. What I intended to say was: "Go to sleep. It's 1 a.m." What came out was something unintelligible. Jake took my attempt at words as an invitation to talk. Maybe he would have taken the opportunity to talk anyway, he was so keyed up, as I was about to find out.
He lay on his back in the dim light and put his hands behind his head, his white boxers contrasting with the tan he had picked up over the summer. He proceeded to tell me the intimate details of his evening and how great it was and how great he felt and that he was in love with love. It sounded as if he were in love with lust instead. I said as much. All the lines were there about love, and Jake was reciting them perfectly, but it was as if he were on the stage speaking from a script.
"Jake," I said, groggily, and I thought more forcefully, "good night!"
He went on talking. But the more he talked the more I realized he was just talking out the lover role he was supposed to have played.
I was being forced awake, despite my wish to continue sleeping. Finally, I was awake enough to realize that there was something odd in what Jake was saying. "Sawyer, you doth protest too much," I said.
"We went to the swimming hole, and the bugs were awful," he finally admitted.
"No wonder you're miserable. You probably have a million mosquito bites on your butt. Go to sleep."
Jake turned over in the bed and faced me, resting his head on his elbow. I could see his face in the dim light from the street that filtered through the manila-colored shades. He looked at me for a long time, starting to say something then stopping.
"I just don't feel good about what I did."
"For Christ's sake, Sawyer. You just got laid, the dream of every college man. Go to sleep."
Nothing, it appeared, would stop him from saying what he wanted to say. "It was lust—a one-night stand. It was purely mechanical. I used her. She used me. We were just two animals rutting." There was a pause. "Shit!"
"Okay, so maybe it wasn't too romantic, Sawyer, but you got your rocks off, she got her jollies, and you're starting to make me horny." My penis was erect from the discussion and from general horniness.
"It was a one-night stand. If we had truly made love, do you realize I wouldn't be talking to you now about it."
"It wasn't exactly a one-night stand. You've known Mary Lynn all summer."
"Yes, it was a one-night stand. I didn't think about her in a romantic way, and until tonight, I didn't think about her much sexually." There was another long pause. "Why is it that talk of love seems to be private and talk of sex not?" Philosophy at, now, 2 a.m, I thought?
"If I had loved her, I wouldn't be saying anything at all. Is there something wrong with me?" Jake asked.
"Maybe both sex and love should be private, Sawyer. Certainly, they should be private at 2 a.m. in the goddam morning. However, I know you well enough to think that you are not telling me this just to announce a conquest. Something must be bugging you."
"Yes." There was another silence. I think Jake expected me to say something more. I didn't.
The silence continued.
"So I shouldn't have said anything about tonight?" he asked, finally.
"No problem. That's up to you. I think we're closer than drinking buddies, and something's bothering you, so I'm willing to listen. Okay?" Unfortunately, I was by now fully awake and wished I wasn't.
Another long silence.
"Rob, I'm sorry I said anything. I don't believe in abstinence. But I don't believe in casual sex. And I feel bad that I acted like I cared about her—in some way besides sexually. But I really didn't. Is something fundamentally wrong with me?"
Nothing that a good night's sleep wouldn't cure, I thought to myself.
"Look! I feel the same way you do," I said. "But the boundary isn't entirely clear between casual liking and affection. It wasn't as if you didn't have any feelings for Mary Lynn. I'm sure you had some. However, in the middle of the night, you're having second thoughts. You're reconsidering and deciding you weren't close enough. That's alright. Last night, with a few beers and a willing partner, you were close enough. You're a sweet, wonderful person, Sawyer. I'm sure Mary Lynn feels the same way about you. Which means, she was probably pushing your sex button. Don't worry about it. I probably would have done the same."
By this time, my hard-on was getting out of control. I rolled out of bed and headed toward the bathroom. "It's a bit hard to sleep. I've got to go relieve the pressure."
"You can do it here if you want. I won't mind."
I hesitated. "That wouldn't feel right."
Jake started giggling. "I think it feels the same whether you do it in the bathroom or here."
I opted for the bathroom. It took just a few pulls before waves of pleasure pulsed from my penis. I cleaned myself up with toilet paper, flushed the toilet and returned to the bedroom. I noticed the tissue box was on Jake's side of the bed, and, in the dim light, I could see two wadded up tissues on the bedside table. "So you tested your theory, too?"
Jake started giggling again. "Felt fine to me here."
I leaned over the bed slapped his butt through the sheet. "Move back on your own side." I lay down.
"Good night, Robbie," Jake said. And, then, he turned over and kissed me on the cheek. That confirmed my suspicion that he really had had a bit too much to drink.
"Good night, Sawyer."
In the morning Jake was his old self, and we never mentioned the subject again. But I still get turned on by my memories of that smell of sex and our talk that night.
"We're going to paint the house," Jake announced. "I've been thinking about what we can do for Grannah before we leave. Yes! We're going to paint the house."
No consultation again, no what-do-you-think-of-this-idea-Rob, just "We're going to paint the house." I didn't know how much the "we" was going to turn into me painting the house and Jake supervising, but I had to admit it to myself that it was a good idea for a thank-you gift for Grannah. The paint on her house was flaking, and her windows needed caulking and putty, so I couldn't agree more—except about the absence of consultation.
"This sounds awfully close to a Mark Twain book I know," I said.
"No. No. I really will do my full share." Jake laughed. "But I do get a point for the idea, yes?"
"Okay, okay. If you show up to paint. So now you will only be 2 points behind." I had to rub in lead on our point scale.
That evening we announced to Grannah that we were going to paint her house before we left. She protested, then protested again, but there were tears of joy in her eyes and warmth in her voice as her "Thank yous" poured forth in a tumble. She offered to pay for the paint, but we said that was not allowed. So she offered to make us all the food of hers we liked. We said that was allowed, so she was beamingly happy.
Jake, Grannah and I climbed into my car and drove to the paint store so Grannah could pick out the color for her house. She seemed in heaven as she looked through all the selections, frowning in concentration as she would take the color chips to the window light. She selected a number of colors, laid the chips out on the counter and paced before them. She finally decided on a light, golden-orange-brown shade. Jake and I split the cost of the paint. She asked if we could stop at the store on the way back to her place so she could buy the fixins for a special dinner to thank us. No problem there, Jake and I nodded eagerly.
That night we had fried chicken, mashed potatoes and gravy, okra, corn bread and peach pie. A good trade. I really love peach pie, and Grannah's was the best I had ever tasted.
* * *
The next day was going to be hot, so I had set the alarm for 6 a.m. It went off, of course, in the middle of a really interesting dream, the end of which I will never know. Why aren't there dreams that follow on to dreams that came before, like soap operas on television? I wondered.
"Sawyer, get up. Time to scrape paint," I said as I pushed the button on the alarm clock.
There was something ironic about waking the consummate persuader—a.k.a. Sawyer—to paint a house. I slipped on my oldest cutoffs and a T shirt, gave Jake a light kick and went out to the refrigerator for my first glass of iced tea for the day. I got one for Jake. By the time I got back, he was sitting on the side of the bed in his boxers, looking blankly at the floor. I gave him another kick, which caused him to raise his arms and stretch, then flex his muscled arms and abs. He took the iced tea from my hand and downed half of it in one gulp. Eventually, he got dressed.
We grabbed a piece of toast and some juice. I went to get the tools from the shed out back. When I returned, Jake was busy drawing vertical lines about every three feet on the side of the house with a carpenter's pencil.
"Huh?" I asked, raising my eyebrows.
"Points!" Jake answered. I must have looked puzzled. "I'm marking off sections of the house for us—me—to earn points scraping."
"Huh?" I repeated. Sometimes I couldn't believe how competitive Jake was.
"I'm behind. I need opportunities to win points before the summer ends. I scrape well. I did our house in Boston last year."
I started to laugh at his desperation. "Do you realize what the temperature will be today? Can't you feel the humidity already? We would die if we raced today. We would last about an hour before we exhausted ourselves. Well...you would, anyway. I'd last two hours."
Jake grinned at me in resignation. "You can't say I didn't try."
That diversion disposed of, we started by chipping out the old putty from around the loose window panes. Then we began the long job of scraping the old paint off—first from the south side of the house while it was reasonably cool. Working side by side, we would each take a narrow section of the wall. Then, as we finished one section, we would leapfrog over each other's section to a new one. We talked, joshed with each other and set up low-keyed competitions as we worked. Grannah brought fresh coffee and home-made doughnuts out after about an hour, and we sat for a break. But we wanted to get as much done before it became too hot, so we were quickly back to work, moving to the west, then the east and finally the north side of the house with only a short Grannah sandwich break and a few timeouts for lemonade.
We stripped off our shirts as the temperature rose and went back to the task. The idle talk of the morning gave way to just heat, hard work and the smell of male bodies. The silence was broken only by the back and forth motion of our arms, the rhythm of the long and short strokes of our blades, as we continued scraping the loose paint off the house, our bodies bathed in sweat. The sweat raised a sheen on the planes and curves of our bodies, accentuating the flexing of our muscles in the bright light of the day. The work and the warmth had matted the hair on my chest, and my underarm hair was wet with perspiration as I felt my muscles working hard at the thrusting of the scraper blade. Slowly and surely, the rhythm of our effort brought us to the final section, the final push to completion.
We were both sweaty, dusty and tired from the hours of hard work, but satisfied. We were done with the scraping. It was about 3 in the afternoon and very hot and humid.
"It's time for a swim," Jake announced. Announced, of course, not asked. And, as usual, I couldn't object because I didn't want to.
"A swim, but only if you buy a beer or three, Sawyer, in exchange for my wheels. A deal?" I countered to save a little bit of face. Jake grinned at me. It took no persuasion for him to agree to the addition.
We stopped by the store on our way out of town, picked up a six pack and drove to the swimming hole, which lies off the main highway into town down a half-mile-long, flat, dusty, largely deserted road that goes alongside cotton fields. At the end of the road, I pulled off the gravel and parked the car on what passed for the swimming-hole parking lot: a dusty, deeply rutted widening at the dead end of the road with room for about six cars. No other cars were there. The place was deserted despite the heat. Maybe it was too early for people who had to work regular hours.
The swimming hole was at a bend in the small, sluggish-moving river, with a narrow sandy beach rimmed by tall weeds and shaded by large oaks.
We climbed out of the car. I pulled out a couple of beers, then set the rest of the six pack under a tree where it would stay cold—probably for about 15 minutes in this heat, alas. I pulled the tops and passed one beer to Jake. We sat on the bank of the stream, enjoying the quiet and the thought that the dust and sweat on our bodies would soon be washed off.
It didn't take Jake long to finish his beer. He stood up, took off his shirt and shorts and kicked off his shoes. He looked around, then slipped off his boxers and ran, buff, into the water, his bubble butt showing itself to me for just a few seconds. I took a couple more swigs of my beer, stripped all the way as well and followed him into the water. I hadn't been skinny dipping since the summer before college.
There's something erotic about skinny dipping no matter who it's with. I don't know if it's the forbidden nature of it—though it's not really forbidden, I suppose—or the danger of discovery or the play of water directly on the genitals or the occasional brush of flesh against flesh. Only the vigorous activities of diving and swimming themselves seem to keep things under control.
As I got into the river, Jake shouted: "Race you across the river!" Before I could react he turned quickly and pushed off. All I could see were arms, legs and butt cheeks flailing across the river. I knew then I was the better swimmer, and by the time he was halfway across the river, I was even with him, and I led him by nearly a body length as we neared the other shore. Suddenly, I felt something grab onto my ankle, stopping me dead, and before I could recover, Jake used his purchase on my ankle to pull himself past me and beat me to the shore. He turned around in chest-deep water, raised both arms in a victory gesture. "One for me," he gloated, raising his finger and marking his side of the air ledger.
"Unfair, you bastard!" I shouted. "Zero for you!"
"Under what rules, Robbie? Who said defensive tactics weren't fair? Huh? HUH?" Of course, when he said `huh' the second time he opened his mouth wide, giving me the perfect opportunity to cup my hand and send a narrow blast of water toward his face. Perfect shot. One for me. I marked my side of the air ledger.
"Unfair!" he shouted as he leaped after me. But I was faster and beat him fair and square across the river. I stood up on the other bank and marked another one for me.
That defined the tenor of the afternoon. We competed to see who could swim underwater the farthest. We raced again across the river, and the best man won this time—me. We splashed around like the teenagers we recently were and maybe never would outgrow. Time flew. We bumped and rubbed against each other. It was wonderfully refreshing.
About an hour after we had jumped in the water, Jake dived and grabbed me by the legs pulling me under. I grabbed his neck and kept him down until we both could hold our breaths no longer. We broke to the surface laughing. I jumped for his head to push it under water. He ducked, and my full body slid along his, sending sensations through me that I didn't expect. As I passed, he pushed my head down and held it there until I freed myself and emerged, sputtering.
As I came to the surface, Jake had swum off a few yards and was treading water, just gazing at me, his auburn-red hair slicked back, warmth in his eyes and a serious look on his face. The mood in him had changed. I slowed down, too, treaded water and smiled at him. He smiled back. We looked in each other's eyes in silence for what must have been two minutes, simply treading water, drifting slowly towards each other, our breathing steadying after the exertion, listening to the quiet lapping of the river against the shore and the songs of the birds, and feeling the sun's warmth on our heads. Something was starting to change in our relationship. I felt an erection stirring, and I was now drifting within an arm's length of him. Our eyes were tethered to each other’s.
The situation was getting complicated.
Just then, we heard the sound of a car coming down the dirt road to the swimming hole and saw the dust cloud behind it. The spell was broken. "Shit!" we both said almost in unison, which caused us to laugh giddily as we swam back to shore and scampered up the river bank. We hastily donned our boxers and shorts, opened another beer and took a couple of swigs, and dived back in, becoming just two young men taking a swim after work.
We swam a short while more, then climbed out of the water just as a family of five that we recognized from town had finished setting up blankets and coolers on the river bank. We nodded hello, picked up the rest of our things, the beers and the empties, climbed into my car and headed back to town.
Jake and I finished painting Grannah's house over the next two days. We worked side by side, sometimes talking about nothing in particular, sometimes about serious world issues, but most of the time just enjoying each other's companionship. There was no mention of those few minutes in the river.
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