Narrator: Crystal Jennings
We were in the deep hot tub, half-sitting half-standing against the contours of it.
"You're telling me you brought him here for your own amusement? Noo... CJ, you're a saint."
"Nobody's a saint, not even my father," CJ answered me. "Definitely not my father."
I frowned, Some preacher's kid.
"Adam spiked the punch. I caught him doing it," he confessed.
"No!" I said in disbelief, but when his face didn't betray that he might have been joking, I splashed him, "You're bad."
"Yeah, I know," CJ smiled. "I didn't even tell Joshua, or Kieth."
"Well, you've done the group a favour by throwing a wrench into their relationship," I said, my head tilting toward the pool to indicate the frolicking lovebirds. Then I punched him on the shoulder, "But you should have told me earlier that the punch was spiked."
"I thought you'd want a drink, after what you've been through this evening."
"Oh," I smiled. "Well, that's very considerate of you."
He smiled back, never showing his teeth. I was beginning to realize that he had some self-esteem issues.
I rolled over, in the bubbling water, and pounced on him; my shins onto his thighs. His face wore a look of utter surprise, and I felt something strong pushing between my clenched legs, just below my knees. Oh!
He closed his eyes and lowered his head, embarassed.
"There's nothing to be ashamed of," I assured him, as I stroked his tense shoulder with one hand. "Just relax."
"I'm sorry, I'm just..."
"You've never been with a girl before, have you?" I whispered. No, I shouldn't have asked that... damn it.
For a long moment, all I could hear was the sound of people splashing about in the pool. The other two people on the opposite edge of the hot tub were whispering amongst themselves.
His eyes shot open and he looked up, right into my eyes, "Just you."
I wasn't sure what he was feeling. I could see tears coming down his face. But then his arms wrapped around me, pulling me closer. I was forced to spread my legs apart, onto the ledge he was sitting on. From far away, it must have looked like I was straddling him. Well, actually, nobody can see through the frothing bubbles.
"I've missed out on so much," he told me, voice somber. "I made an oath in Grade Six, never to bother with intimate relationships until after high school, when I was finally mature enough. Because, all around me, I saw petty and meaningless relationships that would always break down, in middle school and in my sister's life. And that was before she got pregnant. I didn't trust my own maturity, or my own judgment of others."
"You regret holding out? I think you were wise, to save yourself all the heartbreak," I told him.
"But I have no experience! I was probably an awful kisser, in the bathroom," he sobbed.
I had never met a man who wore the most intimate of his emotions on his sleeve like this. And as far as that kiss was concerned, I was just happy to be the dominant one for once.
"No, CJ. Experience comes naturally. You have nothing to be afraid of, or ashamed of."
"Oh please, the last two girlfriends I had were in Kindergarten. I'm a pathetic loner, I always have been." So many tears...
For a moment, I looked away. I noticed that Leslie and Adam were getting out of the pool, but they didn't seem to be headed inside.
"Just calm down," I urged CJ. "You're too hard on yourself. I'm here for you, Cam." What broke his self-esteem? "You're clearly a highly sensitive person, that's a psychological term -- trust me. And right now, you're just overwhelmed. This will pass."
I was tired of studying, and doing insignificant experiments in university. He was the closest thing to an actual client I'd get for many years. And my heart was in it.
"I went inside, earlier, to get an anti-anxiety pill. You -- no, make that love. Love scares the shit out of me!" he then took a deep breath, trying to calm himself. "And I guess I should tell you that I'm suffering from depression."
I hadn't seen anything before, but a look of worry came over my face and I immediately put my hands on his wrists, which were lying on my legs, under the water.
"Don't worry - I don't cut myself. It's not that severe," he told me, his voice a bit stronger, as I ran my fingers along the smooth skin of both his wrists.
It felt satisfying, feeling every tendon and vein beneath his skin.
"Ummm..." he said, words never coalescing.
I moved my head in and gave him a soft kiss, then moved to his cheek, and down his neck, with more kisses. My lipstick left a trail of crimson marks.
"Wow," he said, tilting his head back, finally seeming at ease. Then, his voice suddenly became grateful and full of unexpected lust, "You've pinned me down."
I could tell, beneath the water, he was reacting even more intensely. And for a moment, my mind wandered toward the odd and kinky things he'd said to taunt Kieth. What kind of lover was the virgin beneath me? I had utterly no idea. Suddenly, I felt worried and excited at the same time.
"Do you like being pinned down?" I asked, as I shifted so that my feet were stepping on his and his wrists in my grasp were out of the water for all to see.
He didn't answer. His eyes were closed, and he was breathing heavily. A gentle smile was on his lips.
I found myself unexpectedly enjoying this. It was nothing like any fantasy I'd ever imagined. I moved my head back to his neck and sucked at his skin as hard as I could for a brief moment, not long enough to form a bruise, and then dug my face partway under water to bite at the tissue of his tense shoulder. I took in a bit of water in my mouth, which I later spat out onto his face, but while I was under water, I'd heard him moan - in pleasure rather than in pain.
That's when I realized that CJ was, in some part, a massochist. He seemed to get off on pain.
"Did that hurt?" I asked.
He shook his head, wet mane dripping behind him, "It should have. But it felt warm. A pleasure I'm not used to."
Curiosity got the best of me, and I dug my nails into his chest. His smile broadened and then, when I passed his obliques, he shuddered intensely. I wasn't drawing blood, but I had definitely left scrapes. He'd moaned so loudly we'd drawn attention to ourselves and I found that I could do nothing but laugh in hysterics as I leaned back into the churning water.
I was in new territory. And it felt good.
I looked up and to my right, to see Leslie leading Adam by the hand towards Mrs. Penningway's garden. They were both wearing towels over their bathingsuits. Then she stopped, pushed Adam so that he teetered on the edge of the hot-tub, and then pulled with all her might on his towel, which sent him spinning into the water behind me with a big splash.
"Woah!" CJ yelled.
Adam's head bobbed to the surface, infuriated, and he quickly spun around to look at Leslie who was on the run. He yelled after her, "Bring me back my swimsuit, you bitch!"
The whole backyard went quiet for a moment, except for Leslie's feet padding cautiously but steadily toward the patio door.
Then, the two people who'd been chatting on the other edge of the hot tub got out.
"Well, this is awkward," CJ observed blandly, completely hiding his amusement.
"Yuuup," I said, moving forward to lean against him and away from the presumably naked guy behind me.
I twisted my torso and neck enough to look at him, "Oh, we were just talking about you."
Adam spun around to face us, his body now veiled in the froth of the hot tub, which had temporarily dissipated with the splash. He looked shocked to see CJ in such a compromising position. It seems he hadn't noticed when everyone else had heard the moan I'd elicited from him. But he put two and two together, "No you weren't. Damn, and I thought I'd be the one to open the velcro."
I frowned in confusion, and turned to look at CJ.
"For your information, Faruq, which is quite frankly none of your business, my velcro is closed."
"That's not what it sounded like," he sneered, giving CJ a playful smile.
"You attract a lot of men, don't you?" I asked CJ.
He grimaced, "Unfortunately. But I'd like to think Adam here is pulling my leg. Wait, bad choice of words. Joking around."
"Wouldn't have it any other way," Adam said smugly, not confirming or denying anything.
"Now," I said, "does either of you care to tell me why, and what for, opening the velcro is a euphemism?"
Adam stifled a laugh and said, "It's not."
Kieth came over and tossed Adam's swimsuit towards the pool. However, he threw them too far and they landed on CJ's head. "Enjoy!" was all he said as he turned his back and rushed inside.
"Refill the punch bowl, it's been spiked!" I yelled after Kieth.
When the laughter subsided, CJ delicately handed Adam his swimsuit. However, instead of putting it on immediately, Adam held it up high for us to see. Once he had our attention, CJ looked away, while Adam undid the velcro flie and then did it back up.
"Oh," I said and began to laugh. "You're such a pervert, Adam."
He grinned back at us, before plunging his entire body under water to change. I imagine he was doing it blind either way though, given the chlorine and the jets.
CJ began kissing my neck and playfully nipping at some skin with his lips covering his teeth. It was odd, how tightly he held his mouth that way. I assumed that was how he had to keep his mouth to play the double-reed of his bassoon. He made his way to my collarbone by the time Adam rose from the water and yelled towards the pool that it was safe again.
Moments later, Juliet, Michelle and Edward slipped in. Then Leslie got up the courage to return. I was surprised that Brent was nowhere in sight.
And I found myself glad that Ashley wasn't here. I knew why she hadn't come to console me. We'd had a fight, just a few days ago, when I'd told her about my plans with Greg. She was probably afraid she'd say something like "I told you so", and would hurt me even more.
Michelle suddenly straddled Juliet, and they began to immitate our behaviour shamelessly, without exchanging a word. We all knew better than to take it seriously, though. Adam seemed to be laughing a little too hard.
Leslie smiled at him, "Kieth said he would have kicked me out if you had been a girl."
Adam frowned, "Huh?"
"Kieth doesn't have a problem with naked men," I explained.
"Oh," said Adam, "that's gay."
Leslie tackled him, "Thanks, Captain Obvious."
"Wow," I said in mock surprise, "Do any of you have an ounce of maturity?"
Everyone stopped and looked at me, and CJ's head rose from my neck. I could hear the word 'buzzkill' in my head, knowing it'd soon be on the end of someone's tongue. I decided I had to apologize, but CJ spoke before I could.
"It's the spiked punch, they can't help it."
They laughed, as if he'd deflected it with a joke. But when his face remained stiff, Juliet caught on, "Seriously?"
"Yeah," said Adam, "who the heck would spike the punch?"
I couldn't help but give him a fake cough. Except I drew attention to myself.
"Did you spike the punch, Crystal?" Leslie asked me, surprise on her face.
"No, did you spike the punch, Leslie?" I asked, in the most condescending tone I could muster.
"Girls, stop it," Adam said. "I know who did it. I caught him red-handed, but didn't care enough to say anything. It was Brent. You saw him too, right Crystal?"
"Wait -" said Juliet. "I'm drunk?"
I looked CJ in the eye, still sitting on his lap. His face gave me no instructions. He seemed completely indifferent. I found that odd, for someone who usually cared so much about the truth.
It was plausible, I had been to the punch bowl before retreating entirely into the bathroom. And then I realized that if the truth was known, part of the blame would fall to CJ for having extended an invitation to Adam.
Just then, a Chinese-Canadian girl dropped her feet into the hot tub, sitting at the patio's edge. She realized every eye was on me, and turned to look at me.
"Y-yes," I lied, trying to protect CJ. "I mean, not all of you may be drunk per se, Juliet, but Adam's right. Stay away from the punch bowl until someone refills it."
The new arrival slipped herself all the way into the pool, "Has anyone seen CJ? He missed some awesome Final Fantasy downstairs. And... apparently they're making a big deal about some stains glowing on Brent's shirt."
CJ's body went tense beneath mine, and I realized I was blocking him from her view.
"He's probably hiding from me, as I told him that I play for the other team," she told us, without any shame in her voice. From that, I gathered that she'd been into the punch... and that she had been his intended date.
Nobody said anything. Edward had a worried look on his face, as if he thought he was going to drown.
Then CJ poked his head into her view. His face was quite red and his hair was all wet, such that it had turned a deep brown.
"Oh," she said, quite loudly. "Of all the people I'd expect to see beneath..."
"Crystal," I offered.
"--beneath Crystal, wow... I... I don't know what to say," she said, turning to look at Juliet, "Umm... Queen Frog, why is Michelle... umm..."
Michelle slid herself off Juliet and into the middle of the pool where she began to say, "Mime, mime, Mr. mime... mime..." She was placing her hands about, as if she was trapped behind a glass wall. It was an obscure reference to one of the first 150 Pokémon, which most of us knew from our childhood and fondness of anime. The implication was that she had been mimicking me all along, atop Juliet.
We all had a good laugh at my expense. I had no idea, whatsoever, as to why Juliet had been addressed as Queen Frog.
"Damn it," said Penny. "I left my Pokéballs at home."
Juliet jumped off her ledge and clung to Michelle in the water, "No, she's my Mr.Mime, you can't have her!"
I looked at CJ, and whispered, "Did this group always make sexuality so playfully childish when I was your age?"
CJ looked thoughtful for a moment, and I was unsure if he was trying to be dramatic or actually thinking about it. Then he looked unhappy, "I'm afraid so... remember Ashley's dresses?"
I gave him a gentle splash and rolled my eyes. Those were the moments, inbetween stressful classes and piles of homework. Times when we relied on each other to keep up the morale, wishing we had more independence. But I realized he was still in that place, that place called high school.
He seemed emotionally pained.
"What is it?"
"I haven't been to class much lately. The headaches are overwhelming. My grades are fine," he acknowledged, "but the stress is getting to me. And I'm beginning to hate my parents."
He was crying again, despite how many people were in the pool. And as I wiped the tears off his cheeks, I knew the picture had to be far more complex than he made it sound.
Behind me, there was laughter and splashing. But all I cared about was right in front of me.
"How can you do this?" he asked me. I didn't know what he was getting at. "After all Greg put you through tonight, you shouldn't be the one feeling sorry for me."
"Because I've been there, Cameron. Maybe I haven't suffered as intensely as you have, but we've all been there in some way or another. And I promise, life gets better."
"Not if I don't finish high school. I'm two weeks behind as it is, and I can hardly get myself up in the morning for school. I'm a preacher's kid, and yet I haven't been to church in months."
I lowered myself onto him and hugged him for all we were worth, and whispered in his ear, "I'll help you get through your problems if you help me get through mine."
I realized, though, that he truly had no idea what my problems were. Unlike him, I kept them inside, behind closed doors. Maybe he had already guessed how I'd lost the weight for Greg.
In all honesty, this wasn't the night I learned that Greg was gay. I could say bisexual, but that leaves out the fact that he likes men significantly more than women. I had been in denial for so long, telling myself that if I said and did all the right things, everything would be okay.
On top of that; Ashley, Melissa, Nina, Chandra... they all knew. Ashley tried to tell me without hurting me. She even tried to convince Greg to come out with it directly to me. Ashley had been trying to put a stop to things, but she'd given up. Tonight was when she knew, even if Kieth wasn't there, that things would have come toppling down. Oral was one thing, but expecting him to do the deed would have ended badly; and I could now admit that to myself.
I suddenly felt the odd urge to thank Kieth. And as far as I could reason with myself, it was the emotionally logical thing to do. I came to, tuning myself back into the conversation, to find that CJ had been humming peacefully into my ear the whole time, and I had been crying...
Joshua was in the hot tub, and I had no idea how long he'd been there.
Adam was in the middle of asking something: "-- you said something earlier, Penny, about glowing stains in the basement?"
Joshua smiled, "Leslie, did you know there are black lights in the basement?"
"Brent's shirt," CJ said, even though he hadn't gotten a good look when we were down there. "He smells like spooge."
"Which glows," said Adam, "under a black light."
Leslie's composed, alabaster face blushed.
"Quite the talented lady," Adam went on. "I wonder how many loads she got out of him."
Edward got out of the pool, and walked away.
Leslie's face became angry, "Wouldn't you like to know."
"Just two, actually," said Joshua. "You could count them."
I was disgusted, "How about we not talk about Brent-spooge?"
"What's spooge?" asked Penny.
CJ stopped humming, began to laugh but took in water, and gagged on it, spitting water over my shoulder.
I turned just fast enough to silence Adam with a good glare, "Penny, your innocence is better off if you don't get an answer to that question."
"Oh," she said. "So that's what it is. Yeah, I wish I hadn't realized that. Umm..."
"You remember that when it comes time to dry off in the house, CJ," Adam sneered.
"Excuse me?" he said.
"Hey, Adam," I became angry with him, "for your information, not that it's any of your business, just because the velcro is closed, doesn't mean we've been dry-humping."
"Am I missing something funny?" asked Joshua.
"Dry-humping... what a questionable choice of words to use in a hot tub," mused Adam. "It's just, you've been lying on top of him for at least twenty minutes like that, twisting back and forth. You can't tell me he's..."
"Adam, are you able to go five minutes without talking about sex?" CJ asked, "Do you realize why people have left the pool?"
Leslie interrupted him, "What's wrong with wondering what's going on under the bubbles?"
"The velcro is closed !"
"What does that mean?" Leslie asked.
"The mast is surely up, though," said Adam.
"Ohh," said Leslie, "nice one, Adam."
Penny was giggling.
"Remember what I said about 'in your most pathetic dreams', Adam?" CJ retorted. "Take your compersion and shove it."
"We're comforting each other. For Christ's sake!" I raised my voice, "His father's a minister, and -- where did you learn a word like compersion?" It was a psychological term, not in common parlements. I'd studied it only recently.
"That didn't stop his sister," Adam pointed out. "What's compersion?"
Penny spoke up, "Is this another question that, for the sake of one's innocence, is better left unanswered?"
"Actually," said CJ, "I think it's a question that, for the sake of one's thick skull, is better left unanswered."
"Are you calling me stupid?" Adam demanded, though quite amused.
"Probably," said Joshua.
"Maybe," CJ simpered.
"Crystal, why are you looking up at Kieth's window?"
"Nothing," I said, a little too quickly.
CJ chuckled smugly, "Compersion?"
"Shutup!" I said, though we were the only two who understood.
"I heard what you told him to do earlier," came CJ's rebuttal. "And oh look, here they are now."
I looked up to the window, of course seeing nothing, and then realized that they were walking towards the hot tub in their bathing suits.
"Do we want to get out of here?" CJ asked.
"No," I said defiantly. "We have nothing to hide from them."
"Don't you feel awkward?" Joshua asked us.
"Maybe," said CJ.
"No," I said, in the same instant. "Just nobody go saying the C word."
"What C word?" asked Michelle, probably playing dumb.
"Don't anybody answer that!" CJ forbid them, as people shuffled over to give Kieth and Greg some room.
Michelle kept her face calm and then said, "Mime, mime... Mr. Mime."
"They wouldn't dare," I said.
Juliet shrugged, "I wouldn't have any objections."
"No velcro at the back," Joshua muttered.
"Okay!" yelled CJ. "The next person to talk about anything sexual in this hot tub is getting castradefenestrated."
"Is that even a word?" Juliet asked.
"No," I offered. "He made it up. It would be the act of... may I?"
"Yes, you may," said CJ.
"The act of cutting off or out someone's most vital reproductive organs, castration, and then throwing them out a window, defenestration."
"Wordy son of a bitch," muttered Adam. "A bitch who, to be honest, makes really delicious banana bread."
"I keep telling you, there are no special ingredients," CJ said, laughing.
"Hah hah... I get it... he's a stoner," I laughed with the others.
"I think," said Kieth, his voice quite deep, "that I agree with that rule, regardless of whether it's a word or not."
Kieth paused, with his mouth open, for a long moment that held our attention, "Except I can't help but ask..."
I slid off CJ, and he moved over to make space for me to sit on the ledge.
"That's better," said Kieth.
"And so, the hypocrits bite the dust," said Leslie.
Michelle hung her head in disappointment, "Mr. Mime..."
And we all laughed except Kieth and Greg, who had no idea what that was about.
Adam looked over at Kieth, "You wouldn't happen to know what compersion is, would you?"
"Greg, help me out here," he motioned towards Adam with his head. "Take his feet."
"Huh?" said Adam, as Greg chuckled and slipped off the ledge where he'd been perched.
"Leslie, go into the kitchen, third drawer down beside the dishwasher, get me the carving knife," instructed Kieth as he grabbed Adam by the arms and hoisted him out of the pool, while Greg helped by holding up Adam's feet.
"Let go of me!" Adam demanded. "I'll do anything!"
CJ looked down, pretending to be crestfallen with sympathy, "His most prized possession, too... what a shame."
Leslie got out of the pool and followed them, cheering "Cut them off" in an amused chant.
Penny looked at Joshua, "They won't actually...?"
Joshua tilted his head to one side and looked ponderous, "Hmmm... they could go either way on this one."
"But he did promise to do anything," Juliet pointed out.
"Ahem," CJ cleared his throat. "The rule still applies."
"Sorry," said Juliet. "Been reading or watching much Berserk lately?"
"No, I lost interest. No offence, but the story just seemed like a bland excuse for bloodshed. It lacked its fair share of mysticism," CJ answered.
Juliet gasped, pretending he'd struck a blow to her ego.
"That manga is gorier than... okay, I can't finish this sentence without breaking the rule," said Michelle. "It's just sickening..."
"I think I know what you were about to compare it to. That link you sent me last night?" Juliet asked.
"Great," said CJ, "we've gone from sex to blood and guts, to veiled references to sodomy. Umm... watched any of Claymore? I got Adam into that series."
Finally, I knew what one of them was talking about, "Oh, Galatea's awesome."
"I like Jeane, she's my favourite character," Penny told us. I could understand why she'd chosen that character, given her sexuality.
"Stop watching the anime at episode 18, it gets trashy, stick to the manga from that point on," I suggested.
"I have to agree with you there," said CJ.
"Hello? Blood? Dismemberment?" Michelle asked, as if we were all desensitized to violence.
"You had no problem watching Kill Bill with me when it came out," Juliet pointed out.
"And what about that character you're always talking about in some anime or another who gets a bleeding nose every time he has a perverted thought?" CJ asked.
"Kinda like you," Michelle answered. "Ummm... I guess anime blood disturbs me more than the exaggerated stuff in Kill Bill. Besides, I've watched plenty of Law & Order and CSI with my parents."
"No more Horatio imitations!" Juliet screamed. "I hate him."
"Oh," CJ remarked, "Horatio drives my mother crazy, she can't stand him, but my Dad's always watching that one. He doesn't even notice."
I smiled, "When it comes to Hamlet, though, the two of you do a great Hamlet and Horatio."
"In which alternate universe?" asked CJ, "The one where 'Hamlet' is written by Kieth and Greg?"
"Yes," I said, smiling innocently.
"I'm going in for something to drink," Penny said, climbing out of the pool and running toward her towel.
"Hooked on the punch, eh?" Juliet yelled after her.
"Does that kind of subject matter bother her?" I asked.
"No, she ran the anime club at her school for years, she's had to put up with yaoi fans and such. Their club had an entire chalkboard, facing away from everything else, devoted to indecent fan art."
"Jelous!" shrieked Michelle.
"Yeah, I can't believe Ashley pulled off that illegal visit," said CJ.
"I wish I could have gone with you," said Juliet. "I don't get many chances to see Penny in the flesh."
"They know each other online, through me," CJ explained to me. "In fact, half the time they call each other by aliases."
"Queen Frog?" I asked.
Juliet nodded, "Then there's the one summer that Shannon did so much play-by-post roleplaying that she signed her student card with 'Elerrina'."
"A truly priceless moment," CJ mused.
I looked up at Kieth's window again, quite involuntarily.
"Waiting for Adam's balls to fall?" asked Joshua, who hadn't spoken up in a while. He seemed to have been brooding all this time.
"No," I murmured. "Just thinking." But I hadn't been thinking. My mind and been blank, too blank, like an etchisketch in an earthquake.