Laura and Brian kept it casual. Except when they didn’t. You could always tell there was something going on underneath. When they danced, they kept challenging each other, she with her restraint, he with his moves. When they sat with us talking, they often played with their words.
It’s not like no one else noticed. The rest of us would smile at each other, when either of them scored. And they seemed to enjoy us watching. Greg was the actor, but Laura and Brian were performing.
“Doesn’t it bother you?” I asked him, when we were alone. “That everyone knows.”
“Not really. ‘Cause there’s nothing there to know.”
“Oh, come on.
“I know what I’m doing. I’ve told you that before.”
“But it doesn’t all depend on you.”
“That’s fine – because she ‘s even better than I am.”
“But does she want to be?”
“It doesn’t matter what either of us wants. It’s what we do.”
“And if you both give in at the same time?”
He laughed. “Are you and the guys betting on this? That’s pretty funny seeing that’s what I thought she was doing to start.”
“We’re not betting,” I assured him.
“But you’re watching – all of you. And just waiting for me to slide.”
I shook my head. “The guys’re on your side. They might even be cheering for you.”
“Why? They’ve all had sex before.”
“So they say.”
“They have – you can tell from their talk. And they know it’s no big thing.”
“Then why are you worked up?”
I’d scored, and we both knew it.
“If it meant nothing,” I went on, “the two of you would’ve snuck off at the beginning, and that would’ve ended it.”
“Or fed it – left us wanting more.”
“Either way – you’d know where you were.”
“There is that,” he admitted.
“Instead, you’ve got us all stuck in this, ‘Will he?’ ‘Will she?’ ‘Did he honestly say that?’ ‘Is that what she’s really thinking?’”
“I’ll try to stop. I know I’ve said that before, too, but I’ll talk with her again tonight. Neither of us wants to look like an idiot.”
And he and Laura must have talked about it because, for a couple of days, it seemed like something was missing. We were all there – though Andy only on his irregular schedule. We danced and sat around the tables, making dumb cracks about the day, and the kids, and the counselors, and each other. But it wasn’t as much fun.
“What’s up?’ Nate asked me. “Is it over? Did they do something we all missed?
“Why ask me?”
“Well, you know Brian better than the rest of us. If I needed to know about one of the guys, I ask one of the others. If they need to know about me, they’d do the same thing. But you’re closer to Brian.”
That was interesting because I’d never thought about it. If Nate had said the same thing about Andy, I might have agreed. But he and I never talked about Andy.
“As far as I know, nothing’s happened,” I told Nate. They got a little tired of everyone watching so decided to ease off.”
“And whose idea was that?”
He looked at me like I knew something more.
“Again – no one’s. Brian and I just talked.”
“So it’s your fault!”
“Who else? Gotta blame someone for ruining the fun.”
Not all of it, I wanted to say. The guys were always chasing their own girls. And who ever knew where Nate was?
In any case, it soon started again. Three or four nights later, after Canteen, after Brian made absolutely sure Laura got on the bus – instead of them walking slowly up to the girls’ camp together – he handed me his phone and wallet as we reached the Mess Hall and told me to drop them on his bed.
“I’m gonna take a swim – a long one.”
“Want a life guard?” I asked.
“Nah, I’m better by myself. And you’ve got a letter to write.”
But I finished the letter to Katie and a shared one to my parents and grandparents when Brian finally came back to the bunk. He had on his T-shirt and jeans, but was carrying his sneakers, and his shirt was soaked through.
“It’s cold out there,” he said, grabbing his towel. Then he remembered Greg was sleeping, even though the guys were playing cards more noisily than usual in the other room. Nate was with them.
As Brian dried off, he quietly confessed, “I just can’t get her out of my mind. It’s past all logic – it doesn’t make sense. I promise myself one thing – which you and I both know is sensible. And then...”
He didn’t finish and didn’t go on, and after a short near silence, I took a different route.
“Does she have a boyfriend?” I asked.
“Laura?” He laughed. “She doesn’t need a boyfriend – she can have any guy she wants – any man. ‘Cause from what she’s said, she mainly dates grad students.”
“But there’s no one in particular?”
“No more than here.”
“Unless we count you.”
He waved that away and pulled up a chair.
“There’s no one she’s made promises to,” he went on, “if that’s what you mean. She’s brighter than that. She’s headed into a very competitive career and knows – with her looks and intelligence – how many opportunities there are. She’s not going to limit them.”
“You’re sure she isn’t practicing on you – as one of those opportunities?”
“She practiced on guys like me when she was in grade school – she’s way past that... And I keep telling you – she’s not like that. She’s nearly perfect that way... But the more she keeps her distance, the more I want to let go.”
“That’s practicing – in a different way.”
I let him think about that. As we sat there, we were practically whispering.
“I really don’t think so,” he finally went on. “I think my... inexperience... is exactly why she doesn’t go out with younger guys.”
“You’re not inexperienced.”
“Think of the bigger world.”
I always forgot that.
“Then what changed her mind?” I asked.
“Nothing,” he assured me. “She hasn’t... We’re not dating – not going out. We’re hanging out – as friends”
“I haven’t seen her interested in any other guy,” I replied. “Even when she’s dancing with one.”
“She said other guys only want sex.”
I cracked up.
“And what’s all this about?” I asked. “She’s so comfortable with you, she’s tearing you up? To hide out from other guys?”
“She’s not hiding. And she’s not hurting me.”
“Who just swam for forty-five minutes... after dancing for two hours?”
“We talked some too – took some breaks.”
“You danced almost steadily – and showing off. Everyone noticed.”
“The guys kept thumping each other every time you pulled a new move.”
“Did I really?” He grinned. “I didn’t mean to. I usually know just what I’m doing – and when I’m going too far.”
“Let’s just say you were making yourself available.”
“And what was she doing?”
“Not saying ‘no.’”
He smiled. “That’s still not chasing,” he insisted. “If that’s what I was actually doing.”
“Looked like it to us.”
“Damn. I don’t want to be that obvious.”
“But you said ‘want.’”
He looked at me.
I just looked right back.
“You gonna take another swim?” I joked. “Find some really cold lake?”
“It wouldn’t help,” he said, laughing. “There’s probably only one thing that would, and I’ll bet that wouldn’t, either. As you said – it might just make me want more.”
I laughed, too, then pointed out, “So if there’s anyone betting here, it’s you.”
He picked up his chair and moved it back to where it belonged, looking more distracted than happy.