I was the only one skinny-dipping with clothes on, my excuse some garbled mix of words about skin sensitivity and what’s the difference. Mercifully, my discomfort seemed to skip off their tan wet skins like the moonlight.
The water was warm, much warmer than I’d anticipated, making my jeans feel heavy and wrong. I felt wrong. Like everything I had done was wrong and tonight, right now, was my punishment. Everyone else was right and confident and angling for swimming sex while I had one hand on the end of the dock and another holding up my Levis. I had bought them a little baggy and now even that was wrong.
I was so tired of my skin. I wished it would just pull off when I hit the water, that when I rose up my pale sunless skin would peel away like a molting snake, that I could hook myself around a waterlogged tree branch and leave all the awkwardness sunken in the black depths of Mountain Lake.
There were six of us. Brent and Michele. Randy and Crista. Rachel. And me. Rachel was everything I wasn’t. She was overweight and confident. I was a matchstick, skinny-dipping with my clothes on. She didn’t care – the others had been trying to set us up. When I found out, I dreamt about killing everyone. But I couldn’t kill anybody. I couldn’t even make a move on a girl that I was supposed to be hooking up with. And she was into it, she was down. It could have been her idea, for all I knew. And, still, I couldn’t do anything about it.
The moon was moving the shadows around and I looked for Brent and Michele but couldn’t find them. I figured they’d slipped behind one of the boathouses. They were always slipping behind boathouses or closed bathroom doors. Randy and Crista were further into the lake, arms draped over shoulders, bobbing up and down to some song only they could hear. And Rachel, she was sitting on the side of the dock, twenty feet from me, dripping sounds coming from her wide base.
What sureness. Naked for the whole world to see and she didn’t give a damn. How did she do it, sitting in the open like that, heavy breasts lying flat against her sides, three folds of fat stacked at the front of her stomach. She just didn’t care. Not one bit.
I watched her light a cigarette and the smoke hung up around her head and maybe she knew I was staring the whole time, maybe not. But in a blur, she twisted the smoke and looked right at me. I sunk down into the water.
Once below, my eyes were made to open, and I was shocked to see daylight. I saw old tires on the lake bottom and tiny silver fish darting around the mossy pylons. Then there was this large splash off the side of the dock. Rachel. She had jumped into the water and was swimming towards me. Her hair dragged behind her and her feet flapped while her arms stuck to her sides. She too looked silver, looked fishlike.
I noticed my jeans and tee-shirt no longer felt heavy. Actually I couldn’t feel my clothes at all. I only felt the water wiggling through me like I was transparent, an empty space, something like airlessness.
Rachel rose into me, her face shimmering in front of mine. She was goddamn beautiful and I realized I was wrong again. Weaving back and forth in front of me I could see the blue water in her eyes and the sweet pink on her lips. The big curve in her left ear was lined with earrings that blinked on and off.
Those jagged thoughts that were always puncturing my mind went flat and silent, and I reached for her, and, just as I expected to touch skin, I burst back through the top of the water.
I was back at the end of the dock and miserably out of breath. My jeans weighed a hundred pounds and it was dark again, only the moonlight twisting things. Brent and Michele were now bobbing next to Randy and Crista, and they were all laughing. I wasn’t sure whether it was me that they were laughing at. And Rachel, I looked to the dock, to where she sat and dripped, but she was gone. I caught just the edge of her dark shadow walking up the hill, headed back towards the camp fire.
I wanted to call to her. Tell her to watch me rip my clothes off. We could grab each other and shoot down to the lake bottom and bounce off of those old tires, slip behind a boat house or bathroom door. Or we could just bob up and down and count moon crystals dancing on our glistening bodies.
But I wouldn’t call her because I was in the water, still wearing my clothes, and she was naked, walking away for the whole world to see.