Friday, August 9, 2013

Excerpt from The Cove: Chapter One

            “Why did you do that?” she demanded, standing in his lit doorway, dripping wet in her designer swimsuit. He stood with the screen door still closed between them, a look of confusion and anger across his face. Gail pushed the door opened and stomped into his house, not really caring that she was leaving water all across his linoleum floor. He silently grabbed the kitchen towel from the handle on the stove and stooped down to wipe up the mess. Out of spite, she grabbed her long hair in her hands and wrung the water from it so that it left an even bigger pool of water beside her. He just took a deep breath, as if to calm himself into not getting angry, and wiped up that mess as well. When he stood up, he tossed the towel at her chest.
            “Dry yourself off,” Todd snapped at her. “You’re making a mess in my kitchen.” He walked back over to the counter where he had been making himself a sandwich. The thought occurred to her that she didn’t know how he could possibly be hungry after the huge buffet he’d had access to for the last few hours. It passed quickly when she reminded herself how angry she was with him.
            “Why did you have to show up there anyway?” she asked, a little less fiercely but still with intended bitterness.
            “I was invited!” He turned back to her with fierceness in his eyes. “By your fiancé!” He spat the words at her and she flinched back from his accusing eyes. He stepped away from the counter and crossed the room to her. She was kind of glad that he had put down the knife he had been using to cut the salami for his sandwich. Not that she thought he would ever really get that mad that he might hurt her, it just would have felt a little more threatening. “Do you have any idea how much Patrick loves you? How much it’s going to hurt him when he finds out that you’re engaged to someone else?”
            She backed away from him, turned and walked into the dining room, looking around for someplace she could sit that wouldn’t leave a wet stain. He followed her and seemed to anticipate what she needed. He moved a stack of books off a dining room chair that was vinyl or plastic or some other surface that she didn’t really care to know about. Nothing in her sheltered little world would contain anything so cheap, but at that moment she didn’t really care. She was just glad to get off her feet. She suddenly realized how tired she was, not just from swimming but from the whole day. Without really consciously thinking about it, she realized she was tired from the past few weeks, months, maybe years. She was just tired. She rested her arms on the table and leaned her head forward. He left the room and came back with a big, fluffy towel and draped it around her shoulders.
            “Thanks,” she said and looked up at him. The scornful expression still had not left his face. That hard look in his eyes was there that told her that he was far more angry with her than she was with him. Patrick was Todd’s best friend, had been since some Boy Scout trip in their early teens. They had hung out at every Stake activity, every Youth Conference, every camping trip. They were best buddies, and Gail had just hurt his best buddy more than she’d ever hurt anyone before. The tricky part was…Patrick didn’t even know about it yet. He was still serving on his mission. It was the classic case of girl waiting for her missionary, girl meeting another guy who already returned from his mission, girl being wooed into a relationship quicker than she knew what hit her, and girl being proposed to at a dance. “I didn’t mean to say yes…”
            “What?” Todd was angry again. She flinched away from his demanding glare.
            “Well, what would you do if someone proposed to you in front of two hundred people?” she asked in exasperation. “Including your mom and dad.” She buried her face in her arms again and started crying. He stood there for a moment, arms crossed, still angry but softening. He left the room again and came back with a box of tissues.
            “Here,” he snapped when she didn’t look up. She raised her head and gratefully accepted the tissues. “How did you get here, anyway?”
            “I swam,” she replied in between sniffing and wiping her nose.
            “All the way across the cove?” he asked incredulously.
            “It’s not that far,” She reassured him. “I train everyday and swim at least that and more.”
            “Yeah, but that’s in a pool. Isn’t it a little different?”
            “Not really,” she replied. She sat up a little straighter and began drying her hair. She wanted to be angry still, but decided she really didn’t have that much to be angry about. She was more embarrassed than anything else. Here she had been, dancing with Stephan at the country club amidst all of their friends when suddenly he had hopped up on the band stand, grabbed the microphone from the lead singer, stopped the band and called out to her across the room. She was petrified when she realized what he was about to do. She was rooted to her spot on the dance floor but looked over at where her mom and dad were sitting. They were beaming! They loved Stephan. He was everything that they would ever want for their little girl. He was in his last year of college, worked at her father’s firm, had been home from his mission for three years, and was ready to settle down. He came from a good family (which translated in her parents’ minds as a rich family), was handsome and confident and someone they could trust to take care of their daughter. Gail had reached her hand up to her neck as if to grasp the set of pearls that rested there. And Stephan had asked her to marry him. She felt tears fall from her eyes as a completely different future flashed in front of her. A future filled with parties just like this one, filled with an extravagant home and children who were just as beautiful as Stephan. A future without Patrick. She was so uncertain at that moment, with everyone staring at her waiting for her reply. She just smiled back at Stephan and nodded her head, agreeing to marry him. He ran across the room and swooped her up in his arms. He swung her around and the audience cheered. Gail couldn’t help smiling and laughing until he put her down and she caught the eye of someone she never would have expected to see at the country club. There, on the other side of the room, standing with a plate of appetizers in one hand and a glass of punch in the other, was Todd.
            Todd was best friends with Patrick. Patrick, her missionary. The boy she had planned to wait for. The boy she had known and loved since their days in Primary. The boy who was counting on her to be there when he got home, just four short months from now. Was four months so long to wait? Could she not endure that long? She realized that it wasn’t even that she couldn’t wait. She never had intended for any of this to happen. She met Stephan in the gym at the university where they were both students. He knew that she swam every morning, and he knew that he wanted to meet her. Conveniently, he decided that he needed to swim every morning at that same time.
Gradually, they became friends and realized that they had a lot in common. Their parents were both members of the same country club. The club where Gail had grown up, in fact had lived next door to. The club where she learned to swim. The club where she had first been approached by a coach who wanted to train with her. They realized that Stephan worked in her father’s law firm, that they’d had an occasional class together at the college. There were just too many connections to ignore. They started spending time together and going to dances together and to parties at the club. Every church activity she attended, he was there. It was one of the cool things about their church; they had a lot of programs that provided college-aged kids to mingle with one another. The Young Single Adult program (or YSA as the kids called it) was always organizing dances and trips and parties. They also had a little more formal class called Institute where they got together to do a little gospel study class once a week. It was a great opportunity to have some spirituality in their lives outside of regular Sunday activities. And a great chance to flirt with cute college-age girls across a conference table on a Thursday evening in the name of a church activity! Suddenly he was everywhere she was, and she didn’t seem to mind. Stephan was a great guy. He had served a mission and was devoted to his church callings. He encouraged her in her callings, and with her swimming, and her studies, and was just an all-around decent man. But…he wasn’t Patrick.
Gail had continued to write to Patrick faithfully all along. She had always been careful not to get too lovey-dovey in her letters. She’d been warned not to do that to missionaries. They needed to concentrate on their work. She really hadn’t even made any firm commitments to him before he left. There was just an unspoken connection. They had held hands at recess in elementary school. They had gone to prom together. They had been each others’ first kiss. They had loved one another longer than either of them could remember. They were comfortable together. Up until that night, Gail’s letters to Patrick had gone out once a week for the past year and a half. What was going to happen now? Would she write him a “Dear John” letter like she’d heard so many other girls had done? She needed some good advice. She felt confusion mix with her exhaustion and she laid her head back on her arms and closed her eyes.
“How do you know Stephan, anyway?” she suddenly asked him. It occurred to her that she knew very little about what Todd had been doing since the last time she’d seen him over a year and a half ago at Patrick’s farewell.
“I have a couple of classes with Stephan at the university,” he answered her as he sat down across from her.
“Are you in business school then?” she asked. She doubted it. He didn’t look like the corporate type. He was tall and solid. He was tanned like he spent a lot of time outdoors.
“Business Administration,” he answered. “I’m in my senior year, but probably won’t graduate till December. I’m a little behind still.”
“Seriously?” she asked. “You’re awfully young, aren’t you? How did you get through college so fast?”
“I’m older than you think I am,” he replied. “I’m three years older than Patrick. I just served in Venture Scouts well into my college years because I lived at home while I was going to school. So, I stayed really close to the guys. Plus I got two years in at the university before I went on my mission, and I was seventeen when I started college.”
“Hmmm, you’d think I would have known that. I’ve known you for years.”
“You’re kind of caught up in your own little world,” he answered her.
“What are you saying? That I’m a snob and don’t pay attention to the people around me?” She stuck her chin in the air, slightly offended yet realizing that there may be a ring of truth to it.
“No, I’m just saying that you’re really busy with all of your…activities.”
“You don’t approve of how much time I spend at the pool, do you?” she asked.
“I think it’s honorable that you want to achieve so much. The Olympics were a big deal. You impressed the heck out of all of us.” He paused. “You know I attended almost every meet you had locally, with Patrick?”
“I didn’t know that, sorry”
“Like I said, you’re busy.”
“So, do you work? Or are you finishing school first?” she asked.
“I’m a builder. I’d like to own my own company someday. That’s why I’m still in school.” So, that would explain the tan and the physique. It occurred to her that she was sort of staring at him with a little wonder on her face. Suddenly she blushed and looked away. “So what are you going to do now?” he asked.
“I don’t know,” she replied and sighed. He was probably afraid she was going to start crying again, but she stood up to leave. “I’ll have to think about that. Don’t say anything to Patrick about this yet, okay? Or Stephan!”
“All right,” he said, pushing back from the table. “I should probably drive you home though. You look like you’re about ready to fall over from exhaustion.” He led her out of his tiny cottage and helped her climb up into his Ford F-250. It seemed a little strange to her that he had such meager accommodations, yet a brand new, fancy truck with all the features and gadgets a guy could ever want. It had a moon roof, a navigation system, Sirius radio, in-car SYNC connection, and so many other switches and gadgets that Gail didn’t even know what they were all for. As he walked around the car, she couldn’t help draw in a deep breath and lean her head back against the leather seat. His truck smelled amazing. The mixture of new-car smell and whatever cologne he wore was intoxicating. When Todd got into the truck, he didn’t seem to notice that she was impressed with it. It seemed like it was just a truck to him. Maybe he needs a big truck for his work as a builder, she thought. It’s probably a guy thing.
It took longer than she would have thought to follow the coastline back to her house, and it occurred to her that the cove probably was larger than she realized. Still, the swim had felt good. It hadn’t been too far. She was an experienced swimmer, an Olympic gold medalist with a world record in the 400 meter freestyle. She had been approached by several sponsors after her most recent win, but had settled on Speedo and All Sport. She had always worn Speedo’s swimwear and knew the quality and styles. She felt comfortable endorsing them, and they had offered her a lot of money to pose for photo shoots. Also, she liked one of All Sport’s sports drinks and she just wanted to support what she used. She had renounced her collegiate eligibility in order to cash in on endorsement offers, but felt that it was cool that so many sponsors had approached her. She drifted off in her own thoughts as they drove, and she realized that she kind of thought of herself as a little invincible when it came to swimming. Pulling into her driveway brought her out of her daze.
“Don’t take me all the way to the house,” she asked him.
“Why? Are you embarrassed to be seen with me?”
“No,” she laughed. “I just left my clothes down by the water. I took off that stifling dress before launching myself into the lake to come over and yell at you!” Something about telling him that made her blush again, and she wondered why she should feel bashful around him. He was just a friend. A friend of her boyfriend…well former boyfriend. And a friend of her…fiancé. That was going to take some getting used to.
“Um, just curious,” he started, as he pulled around the bend of her driveway, completing a perfect three-point turn rather than start up the hill towards the house. “Were you wearing your bathing suit under your dress? Oh, man! I shouldn’t have asked that, how embarrassing, that was wrong on so many levels, I’m so sorry, I’m just dead curious.” He stammered on until Gail was doubled over with laughter.
“Of course I had my swimsuit on! I always have a swimsuit on! I pretty much live in my swimsuit,” she laughed up at him. “You don’t have to be embarrassed!” She jumped down out of his truck and ran lightly across the grass to where her heap of clothes lay by the seawall. She picked up her heels and dress from the dew covered grass and turned back to wave goodbye to Todd. He was already backing up to finish his turn back down the driveway and out of her world.
Gail let out a sigh and turned back toward her house to walk up the terraced hill. She knew she wouldn’t have to sneak back into the house because she could hear that the party at the country club next door was still in full swing. Party was a relative term anyway. What her parents and their friends did was mainly just dancing and eating. The country club was almost exclusively attended by Mormons, because they didn’t serve alcohol. Besides, The Lake area had a huge population of members of the Church. Some missionary years ago had baptized like a whole congregation of some non-denominational Christian church, and two generations later all of them had stayed and raised families. They even kept the name of the congregation that had always just been called The Lake after the local village by the same name. Gail had actually been pretty impressed with the strength she had seen from the local members. Even as she’d traveled around the world and attended congregations everywhere from Mexico to China, she continued to feel that The Lake had a great group of Latter-day Saints. She was comfortable here. She could understand why so many had wanted to stay. She could see herself raising her family here. The question was, who would she be here with? She didn’t have an answer as she trudged up the hill in her bare feet.

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