Heartache 101 ~Sour into Sweet~

       It takes me a while to find the pool, and I arrive much later than I wanted to. Still, I think I have time to get in a few laps before the place closes. I change quickly and head out to the pool area. Surprisingly, the pool looks even better than the online pictures. Natural light spills through the narrow skylights onto crystal-clear water. Rows of bleachers line both sides of the pool, with a few wooden pool chairs placed neatly beside the white-tiled edges. The best thing is their online promotion event appears to be a total failure, because not too many people showed up at all. A few high school kids lounge lazily on the chairs, an old man floats near the shallow end, and a girl wrapped in a towel sits by the pool’s edge. A bored lifeguard is reading a magazine on his highchair, sparing the occasional mandatory glance at the pool. I was worried this place might be packed today, but I guess I was one of the few people who saw the ad. This is great!
       I walk toward the pool to do some warming up and stretching. The girl in the towel looks my way. I do a double take. Keika? She sees me, smiles, and waves me over.
       Keika has her hair tied up with a ribbon. She’s wrapped in a flowery towel and underneath it she has on a pure white bikini. Of course, she’s well-dressed today too. I didn’t know it was possible to be well-dressed in a bikini. It’s not like it’s revealing. Quite the opposite. If some categorizer had to categorize her bikini, he would put it in one of the modest groups. The top has a kinda off-the-shoulder design with gossamer sleeves, and the bottom comes with a skirt-like piece. I don’t know why it works, but she looks cute as hell.
       “Hi, Machida-kun! What are you doing here?” she asks.
       “What do people do at a pool?” I say.
       “Check out the bikinis?”
       “That’s a fringe benefit.”
       “So you came to swim, too? I’m waiting for my boyfriend. He promised to teach me how to swim today!” She gestures at the pool.
       “Is your boyfriend late again? Or are you early?”
       “Either. I’ve been waiting for like two hours.” She seems a little less excited about that.
       “Wow, that’s a long time.”
       “It’s alright.” She looks away. “I’m used to it.” 
       I ask, “That day you were waiting for him at the gym he never showed up, right? I heard it from Miki.”
       “It’s true. He said later that he wasn’t able to make it.”
       “Busy guy?”
       “I suppose so. He’s a senior this year so he’s got entrance exams to study for. I’m sure he’s got a lot of studying to do.”
       She starts to say something else but changes her mind. We share an awkward moment of silence. Her legs shiver a little.
       “Why did you change already? You could’ve waited till he got here to change, you know,” I say.
       “I thought this way he wouldn’t have to wait for me to change when he gets here. And I think he would be happy to see me in a bikini.”
       “Aren’t you freezing?” I ask. 
       “No,” she lies.
       “You should probably get in the water. It’s heated. You don’t have to swim. You can just, you know, chill out in the pool while you wait for him.”
       “I’m not going in the water without him.”
       “You really can’t swim, huh?”
       “I learned once. But I forgot how.”
       “How does a person forget how to swim?”
       “It’s quite easy. Just don’t do it for a while,” she says.
       Yeah. Okay. I’ll just file that under ‘Only Keika.’
       “Um. You don’t have to wait with me, Machida-kun. Why don’t you go swim?” she says.
       I look at the clock. It’s nearly 5:30. It looks like her dear boyfriend isn't showing up, again. I start to get a little angry. Why is he treating her like this? And why is she putting up with it?
       “Are you sure he’s coming?” I ask.
       “I think so.”
       “I don’t know if you realize this, but the pool closes in like half an hour.”
       “It does?”
       “That’s what the sign says.”
       “Oh. I figured it would be open all night like a convenience store.”
       “Uh. No.”
       She sighs. “Oh well, I guess I won’t get to learn how to swim today.”
       I wonder if I can teach her to swim instead. Nah. My morality forbids it. She is someone else's girlfriend. Let's just call it a day, go change, and go home. In my mind's eye, I see Morality as a burning angel of vengeance, raising his staff and commanding: thou shalt not covet thy brethren’s girlfriend! Yes, oh Morality, I shall strive to uphold thy commandment! I am a paragon of honor and virtue!

       I am also a normal, healthy, male teenager.

       And right now a not-that-bad-looking girl stands in front of me in need of assistance. In a bikini. By a pool. Screw it. I can't help myself.

       “I can teach you to swim.” That pops out of my mouth before I can stop it.
       She'll refuse, of course. And we can all go home hap-
       “Okay. Teach me to swim. I don’t think Shoichi is coming after all. We came all this way. It would be a waste if we didn’t swim. You look like you can swim well. Am I right?”
       “We had a senpai last year who believed religiously that swimming helps with judo. So there was a semester when we swam every morning.”
       “Then you should have no problems teaching me.”
       “What if your boyfriend walks in on us? Wouldn't that be awkward? He might even get the wrong idea.”
       “If that happens I'll stuff you under the water and stall. You look like you can hold your breath for some time.” Girls can be scary when they're determined.
       All her composure goes to pieces when she enters the water. She starts to grab me in all sorts of places, like how a wild drowning woman would grab the last piece of driftwood in the stormy sea, all the while screaming at eight different decibels. Good thing I’m pretty fit, or I’m sure I would’ve been pulled under to my death.
       “I’m gonna drown! I’m gonna drown!” she screams.
       The lifeguard looks down at us, but I flash him an ‘I got this’ signal, so he shrugs and goes back to reading his magazine.
       “Hold my hands! Hold my hands. There. There. See? There’s nothing to be afraid of.”
       She calms down a bit as I hold her afloat, her hands tightly gripping mine.
       “Relax. Let the water carry you. Kick your feet. Back and forth. Back and forth. Good.”
       She’s still stiff as a board, but as she stops flailing and gradually relaxes, her position stabilizes, and she’s able to stay afloat with my help.
       “See! You can swim!” I reassure her.
       “I guess…I guess I can. Wahhhhh!!!” She loses her balance again, and I proceed to prevent my own drowning death again in a mad scramble.
       How can you lose your balance in the water? I don’t know how she does it. It must be a talent. I also don’t know how we ended up in this position, but somehow her hands are on my shoulders, and my hands are holding her up by her slender waist.
       “I think we still have some work to do,” I say.
       “You think it’s because of my form?”
       “I think the problem’s all in your head, girl.” I look up at her.
       She looks down into my eyes. “Well, boy, then it’s up to you to fix it.”
       And so, a boy taught a girl how to swim that day.
       Let no one say this boy did not enter into this interaction with the purest of hearts and the most noble of intentions. Let it be known he entered it with the express purpose of transferring knowledge of how to traverse in the water to another fellow human being. That and nothing more. For that is the Truth.
       But also let no one say that he did not welcome the occasional contact of skin, that he derived no pleasure from the necessary holding of hands, the accidental hugs, and the almost unnoticed brush of a young girl's bosom. That he did not feel a thrill due to the simple closeness of a member of the opposite gender. For that would be a lie.

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