I’d watch her from behind the take-out window, the one facing the pool, as she stood in the shallow end helping kids with floaties stick their faces in the water and blow bubbles.
She wore a black one-piece Speedo with white piping, the sort that wouldn’t flop open as she dove into a lane. A real swimmer's suit, more modest than most, it still revealed enough for me to commit her contours to memory the first morning I saw her.
I couldn’t just stand there and stare out the window – I had orders to fill, a manager managing me, kitchen colleagues to deceive into thinking I wasn’t thinking what I was thinking. They’d just ruin it for me if they knew.
But I’d linger as long as I could by the window, watching her from the corner of my eye, savoring the sight of her back, her face, her arms, her neck, the rise of her breasts, her lower body on those rare occasions when it rose from the pool’s waters at the end of a lesson.
And it wasn’t just lust, for I lusted after pretty much every female I saw in those days. No, it was more than that, something respectable and deep and wild, for we were connected, I knew, though I didn’t even know her name.
And I never would have if she and her friend hadn’t sat outside the window one night as we were cleaning up and started talking with us and we offered them free refills and before you knew it we were standing on opposite sides of the window swapping horror stories about the members and demonstrating how we shouted the funny names over the P.A. and showing off our patented method for deep frying tennis balls. I'm Lauren, she said.
After that we’d wave when our eyes met, something that happened quite often, for my desire not to be seen seeing her was now overwhelmed by my constant need to see her. And of course the guys saw it too, and of course they did everything in their power to screw it up for me.
Between lunch orders, the P.A. would announce my ardent love for Lauren in voices that didn’t even try to imitate mine. Tennis balls, inscribed with crudely-worded heartfelt sentiments, were tossed through the window at her in the pool. They’d bribe little kids to ask her out for me. And worst of all, they shamed me away from the window, their readiness to ridicule effectively restraining my roving eyes.
Of course this just brought us together like nothing else could, for in their efforts to embarrass me they expressed to her what I never would have had the guts to say on my own. She got the message, sheepishly approached me at the window that night, nervous laughter as we recounted their antics, something in common, finally, then I walked around and met her outside the window and we sat together for hours talking till we realized it was dark and the club had closed and we walked together to the parking lot and kept talking as we stood by her car unable to stop though it was getting late and our parents were surely wondering where we were.
I remember our first call – was it the next day? – and her laughing on the phone her friend in the background plans batted back and forth all I wanted was to see her I really didn’t care what we did but I needed something so I suggested a movie. And she said yes.
And then I recall her face looking up into mine as we stood outside the theater holding hands waiting in line and I couldn’t believe this was me standing next to perfection and I floated somewhere above consciousness that night as we sat in the dark, her hand in mine. The kiss in her driveway, brief and fleeting, barely a brush, only hinted at what was to come over our glorious summer together.
The next day my parents detected something new in me, giddiness replacing my usual dour reserve, and somehow they pried the truth out of me, no doubt aided by the obvious signs I didn’t yet know to suppress, she being my first real girlfriend and all.
And the rest of that day I was home alone but with her in my thoughts. I imagined everything we’d ever do together, I saw all the places we’d go, hand in hand, I projected out innumerable trajectories for our relationship, subjecting it to all sorts of variables, playing and replaying various versions of the magical movie we’d make together that summer. And I longingly lingered over the details, that open freckled face looking up into mine, sitting next to each other, legs touching, then hugging, reclining next to her, touching and caressing, in time even sex, visions so real I could feel them.
So it came as quite a shock the next day, a work day, to look out the window and see her with that new lifeguard. Playfully horsing around, snapping towels till he grabbed hers and chased her across the deck and caught her from behind while she feigned anger but gave it away with her uncontrollable giggles as he lifted her squirming body up into his arms and walked slowly to the edge of the pool and dropped her in, towel and all. Then he dove in after her. Later I saw them sitting apart, sunning themselves, easy banter, many smiles, incidental touching, old friends. And more?
Maybe, her friend confided to me at the window. You know, they're both on the swim team, spending a lot of time together at meets, and there's always been this thing between them, it's crazy really, they're on then off then on again, and now that he's started here and all it sure looks like it's on again. For now. Check back tomorrow. You never know.
But I knew, for I could see that she looked at him as I looked at her. Just as my eyes followed her, hers followed him. She even came up to my window, more friendly than before, clearly consumed by a giddiness the likes of which I'd only seen in me the day before, and she ordered a Coke for him.
The kitchen crew saw it too. One or two persisted in calling her my “girlfriend” in the most sardonic, snide and sarcastic tones, but the rest left me alone, fellow travelers observing proper form around a fallen comrade.
My parents never saw it, though, and here my history of extreme inversion and furtive reserve hurt me, for my parents misinterpreted my denials and my wounded retreat back into my shell as mere evasive tactics, transparent attempts to hide from them the girlfriend surely lurking outside my window, waiting for me at the club, meeting me at the movies. That summer they derived great enjoyment from a game of find-the-girlfriend, never missing a chance to unwittingly twist the knife with suggestive and mocking and winking allusions to amorous escapades that only, alas, happened in their minds. And mine, that summer, as I watched them from behind the take-out window, the one facing the pool.