Summer of '53
The first time I saw them was at the table in the breakfast room, when I tried to keep away my gaze from Sam and Aurelia, who clung together like glue, giggling in a way that made me blush over my scrambled eggs. I still don't know why I had been so stupid to accept their invitation to join them in their honeymoon -- I wasn't feeling like the fifth wheel, rather like the tenth, completely superfluous. So I kept my gaze away from them as much as possible, counting the minutes until they would leave for the beach, like every day.
"We're done," I heard Sam saying. "What about you, Jim?"
"Oh," I said and poked at my food, barely looking up, "just go ahead, I'll follow later."
Aurelia had pulled him up and away within seconds, and I felt my shoulder muscles relax when they had disappeared through the door. Now I was free to be myself, and so I looked at the family again. He was perhaps ten years older than me, or at least he appeared that old, with his air of responsibility -- or was it weariness? He seemed to be the kind of man who'd do anything for them; half the meal he tried to tame his about six-year-old daughter, who wiggled around on her chair and asked more questions in a row than he could answer. His wife had the aura of a lady; that much that she rather kept away from her daughter than to let her expensive dress get spoiled by the jam the girl was splattering around with the spoon she moved in agitated conversation. I wondered what had brought them together; they were like satellites around the girl, but barely connected to each other. And I wondered if marriage and being parents made this of everyone, and if Sam and Aurelia would be the same soon.
She looked over to me and met my gaze, catching me by surprise. Her smile was nice, though it had that touch of labor, as if she had to work to keep it up. Her eyes crept over me, and for the first time in a long time I felt like being disrobed by a woman's gaze. She seemed to like what she saw, and her smile changed, reaching her eyes now. He was still taking care of the girl, oblivious to our silent exchange. And I wondered once again if marriage did that to you, and I got curios.
We met at the elevator of the hotel, by chance -- okay, I lied; I planned to meet them there. When we stepped into it, she caught my gaze again.
"You seem bored, young man. Are you here all alone?" she said, and her voice was pleasing, with that edge of highbred stiffness in it.
"Yes and no. My brother and his newly betrothed stay with me," I replied, and looked down when I felt someone tugging my shirt. "Hey little girl, stop pulling, please," I said with a light smile. I didn't have a connection to children anymore; it got lost during puberty somehow, and wasn't wakened yet again. Children were a nuisance, more or less, and I was happy that all my friends were bachelors as I was, our careers being the only important thing in our life. But when she looked up with that big eyes of her, I felt something melt inside of me.
"You're coming to the beach with us, mister? My dad has to learn all day, and nobody plays strandball with me," she pleaded.
He gave me an apologizing gaze. "You don't have to, boy," he said, and his voice was rather soft with a strong southern accent, quite a difference to hers.
"My name is Jim, and I don't mind coming with you," I said, and met the gazes of daughter and mother, who both gave me a broad smile. He didn't look as pleased, but I didn't mind then. Funny, how going to the beach could change meaning so fast.
The sun was high and the beach bathed in yellow and red when we arrived there. I had learned that she was called Joy, and he was Len, and the girl was named Jo; I hadn't learned much more from them, as we had rode to the beach, he driving quietly and measured, she watching in the rearview mirror how her daughter engaged me in childish conversation over strandball and the big whirlpool in their apartment.
Shortly after I chased Jo over the soft sands, and we laughed together when we rolled around in it, fighting playfully over the stark blue ball. Joy lay in the sunshade and was watching us through half-closed lids, her body eradiating this coolness I had only every seen in old movies before -- erotically distanced and yet inviting. She had asked me to rub her back with sun lotion when we had arrived here, what was quite an antiquated habit in the time of sun blocker pills, but she told me her husband thought it to be healthier. Well, the rubbing was fine enough, as her skin was pale and taunt to the touch, and she moaned softly when I massaged the lotion in with firm grips. I looked for her husband, but he had sat down in the shades of a nearby rock and was focused on his work already. That was fine for me, too, and I pursued the massage until Jo had waited long enough and tugged once again on my shirt in nervous anticipation. I felt Joy's glance in my back when I walked down towards the sea.
I returned to reality when Jo boxed the ball towards me with all her might. I jumped after it, but it flew high through the air until it landed at the feet of her father, causing him to look up from his data padd. He fetched the ball and was about to throw it back when I already stood beside him and spied on his work. It was medicine, I deduced from the pictures, but I didn't understand a single word.
"Andorian physiology," he said. "I'm learning for my specialist's exam in xeno-medicine."
"In you vacation?" I wondered, and took the ball he handed me. His fingers were delicate for a man, and I could envision him to do surgery with them.
"I have to," he said simply.
"Do you want to work in space? In the fleet?" I asked, suddenly exhilarated to find a likewise mind in this man.
"Nah," he said and shook his head. "Space's not really my surrounding, and Starfleet even less."
I felt his barely hidden irritation on my questions, and wondered if it was because of the disturbance or of something else, so I said goodbye for now and returned to Jo for another game of strandball. It took me a while to realize that his gaze came to rest on me once in a while over the next hours, and I felt like Joy and Len were becoming satellites of me, too.
The satellite comparison was good, I found out over dinner in the hotel's first class restaurant Joy had wanted to go to. They rarely spoke to each other more than "pass me the salt, please", and so in the end Joy and me kept up the conversation. She asked me a lot about the Academy, and praised the Fleet overly loud; obviously her family had connections there. He sat stiffly at her side, and sometimes she asked him something that she then answered in his place before he could even open his mouth. Poor guy, I came to think, and my look seemed to tell that, because he frowned and looked down on his food, poking at it without eating. The similarity to my own actions this morning took my breath away, and I hastily grabbed my glass to hide my blushing face behind it.
Joy was oblivious to it all, and kept talking with, or rather to me, and the looks she gave me were too obvious for my taste now. It wasn't that I weren't open for her advances, but the way it evolved gave me a bad taste; I'd like to seduce my women without the suffering husband opposite of me.
"He's really good," she said now, pulling me out of my thoughts. "But he's one of those people who always understate themselves; they keep decorating him, and all he does is putting the medals and awards deep into the drawer as if they were some kind of junk. And now they offer him a superb position on a hospital ship in the Deneb sector, but he doesn't want to go there." Under her scrutinizing gaze, he seemed to shrink in size, and I could see his wordless sigh and wondered how often they had talked this through.
"Not everyone wants to go into space," I said for his defense.
"But *you* want to go into space, and make your career there," she replied. "I think every man should do this; it is the last big frontier, isn't it?"
"I'm a medic, not a space cowboy," he muttered on her side, and earned an icy glance from her blue eyes.
"You're not taking your chances, darling. You're selling yourself cheap all the time." How could a term of endearment sound so insulting, I thought, and bit my lower lip. Her gaze was pleading for my support, but why should I? Space was something for addicts and loners, I was quite aware of that. No way I would talk someone into it who didn't feel the pull of the stars as I did.
"I won't go, Joy," he finally stated. His voice was soft and apologizing, but I knew he'd keep his word. I would have loved to meet him in his younger days, before the drowning presence of his wife had pushed him into hiding; I could still perceive his real personality behind the walls he had erected around himself, like a silent shout for rescue.
"Jim, dear boy," she took my hand and gave her husband an angry blaze, "tell him how stupid he is to let such a chance slip away!"
I pulled away my hand, leaving hers lying alone on the creamy cloth.
"Space's not everyone's taste," I said, and met his eyes. "Medicine is a great thing, and I am glad to know that there are people around as good as your husband obviously is; one day in the future I hope someone will take good care of me when I'm wounded in action."
She balled her hand into a fist, but came no farther as the girl, who had been silent for a while, now tugged at her sleeve pleadingly. "Mom, I am tired."
"Yes, dear," Joy said with forced warmth, "I'll bring you to bed." She took her handbag and grabbed the hand of her daughter, and it was clear that she didn't care if her husband came with them; instead, she gave me a glance and said, "Maybe we meet tomorrow again, Jim. I would be glad."
I stood up and bowed and said, "I'll see to it." Then I smiled at the girl. "Good night, Jo."
"Good night," she called back to me, turning half around on the hand of her mother who had already pulled her some meters away.
I sat down again and met the strangely blue eyes of her husband, waiting for what he would say or do now.
"I will go to the bar," he said, and then added dryly, "You wanna come with me, or rather go upstairs to my wife?"
I shook my head. "I'd love to have a drink with you, Len." We wordlessly walked through the halls of the hotel complex side by side.
The nightclub was empty when we arrived, and we sat down on the bar and he took a glass of bourbon, and I took one, too.
"Cheers," he said and gulped his down, and I followed again, not wanting to admit my little practice with drinking.
"You shouldn't take a leaf out of my book, boy," he said roughly. "In no way, and especially not my drinking habits." He ordered another bourbon and I decided to take a rum coke, to which he gave me an agreeing nod.
We toasted again, and he drank his bourbon once again in one gulp. Then he placed the empty glass down on the table and glanced at me. I couldn't quite interpret his gaze, and an uncomfortable feeling crept up my spine. I didn't really want to earn a punch on my chin by a drunken, jealous husband, and so I startled at first when he suddenly leaned over and kissed me.
"Damn," he muttered and slid from his bar stool. "I'm sorry, boy. It's not really my habit to seduce youngsters."
I grabbed his shirt and pulled him near and kissed him back without a word. He blinked when I freed him again, and only then we realized the critical gaze of the bartender.
"Let's go," he said, and paid the drinks.
The air on the beach was cooler at night, but the sand was still soft and warm and embraced us, as we hungrily had sex there. Perhaps sex is the wrong word, though we really had fun; but it was the touches he hungered for the most, and like a starving man he leaned into my caresses and moaned when our skins rubbed together along and with the sand. Later we went into the nightly sea and made love there -- you see, my wording changed somewhere during those long hours. I had always had that preference for slightly elder, more experienced people, but in this night I took the lead, and he was following happily.
We didn't talk much; only at midnight, when the sound of some synthetic church bells clung through the night, I asked, "Why are you still with her?" I felt his grip tightening around my shoulders briefly, and then it loosened again.
"Sometimes things evolve like that," he said flatly. "I haven't given up yet. I've loved her once..." His voice trailed away, and I stopped asking for more. I didn't really want to remind him of her tonight, and so I turned towards him and kissed him again. He kissed me back, but the kiss lacked the intensity of before. He rolled away from me and stood up, cleaning the sands from his body.
"I'm sorry, boy," he said roughly. "It hadn't been a good idea, really."
I stood up, too, fetching his hands. "But it felt good. Didn't it?"
His stance slacked slightly, and he averted my eyes, looking down on our hands. "Yes," he whispered finally. "Hadn't felt that good for a long time."
"Then stop feeling guilty -- she wouldn't either," I stated bluntly. "You're drowning in this marriage, not she."
He pulled back his hands and shook his head. "There are always two to a marriage, boy. You'll learn that in your life, I promise."
When he turned and fetched his clothes, I walked up to him and embraced him from behind. He only half-heartily tried to escape my caress. "Please, I have to go," he murmured. "And your folks are surely wondering where you're gone, too."
"Promise we'll meet again tomorrow," I whispered into his neck. "Same time, same beach." And he promised.
He came back the next night, and every night of the four days their vacation lasted. We still didn't talk much, but what we talked about felt good. He had a high susceptibility for people's emotions, and could read my mood better than most; but his grip on his own emotions was fragile and distorted, which didn't surprise me. When I said goodbye to his family on the last morning, I leaned over and whispered, "Start living again," and he nodded wordlessly. But I knew he wouldn't start doing it until she divorced him; he loved his daughter too much to give her up that easily. And probably he even still loved Joy, the woman who was quite unsatisfied about not having been able to have a nice side leap with me. But I didn't really go for ice cubes anymore, not even beautiful ones.
Sam and Aurelia said goodbye to me a week later, and I crossed my fingers for them, at least until I was on the Academy again and my brain was full of other concerns. But it had been a good summer, all in all. And maybe I would meet him again one day.