My girls are at a two-day home swim-meet. An invitational, there’s over 800 kids participating. So, I’ve got swimming on my mind.
“Defiant” – Episode 12
Joe went out onto the front porch of Stratford Hall and opened his large umbrella. For the first time, he wished it wasn’t quite so big. Coming up behind him, Nichole noted his pistol in a holster at the small of his back.
“What type of firearm is that?” She asked while placing her left hand just above it onto his back. He looked down to her curious eyes that were awaiting an answer.
“It’s a Colt .38 Special revolver,” he replied, willing to tell her anything at this point. “I load it with hollow-point, +p ammunition. It was originally my uncle’s, but has since passed to me.”
“Oh! I’ve something like that, too!” She took her hand from his back and help up her wrist. “My uncle, well, step-uncle, I guess, gave me this before I left Japan! It’s very old!”
Joe looked at the antique wristwatch. Before, he’d just thought it was a piece of jewelry – who wore watches anymore? – but now saw his error. There were several precious stones set in its silver.
“That’s beautiful!” He said. “It really suits you!”
“Thank you!” She replied and dropped her arm, to his disappointment. “It doesn’t work, though. I’ll need to get it repaired someday. Shall we go?”
With a nod he started off. Even with the big umbrella, she stayed close to him, bumping into him again and again as constantly looked about, taking in her surroundings. She’s already been through here a few times, he thought. I wonder why she’s acting if it’s all new? He’d a sudden flash of inspiration.
“If there’s anything you’re curious about, Nichole, please ask me!” He said with a wave of his left hand. “Like, right here.” He pointed to their right. “This is the Research and Teaching Center; I did a lot of my first year stuff there. They’ve some great computers for CADD and sims on the upper floors.”
“Ohh!” She made an appreciative sound. They turned left and continued toward a park of some kind. It seemed to stretch off to the north and south some ways. She pointed at it and looked up to him, tilting her head just a little to the right.
So cute! His heart skipped a beat.
“Ah, er… this is South Park, an urban greenspace. It’s only a block wide, but runs from just past Main Street up there,” he pointed left, “to the interstate down there,” then right. Nichole paused for a moment at the park’s edge. Plenty of trees and bushes, cut with paths and benches to relax on. She’d been to urban parks such as this both in Osaka and Tokyo. She bowed slightly and clapped her hands together once.
“What’s that for?” Joe asked.
“To show my respect for the spirit that watches over the park! Which way now?” She answered easily. She believes in spirits? Joe had to remind himself again that she’s literally just off the boat.
“Well, just ahead and right, there is the Student Union and Admin building. I know you’ve been there, so let’s go a slightly different way. It’s the same distance to Engineering, really.”
They turned south, with the park on their left. After another block, he made to turn left, realizing after two paces he’d lost her. He quickly came back with the umbrella.
“Sorry, Nichole!” She was only a little damp. “I should have told you we were turning!”
She grinned at him while bouncing her right fist off the top of her head.
“And I should have told you I was suddenly stopping!” She pointed just to the southwest. “What’s that? It’s pretty.”
“That’s Miller Library. It’s supposedly pretty good,” he shrugged, “but nothing along the lines of what I’m interested in. I think I’ve only been there once.”
“Not what you’re interested in?” She was curious. “So what’s in there?”
“Lots of old books; not really related to my CE studies…” He trailed off. Did her eyes really sparkle just now?
“’Old books.’ You mean pre-digital knowledge?” She asked in a very careful voice. He mulled that phrase over before answering.
“Sure, I guess.”
“Treasure!” She exclaimed. She took a sharp step in that direction, but stopped. No! I have to make it to my appointment! But…but…! Knowledge that she, nor anyone else in her family had ever seen! Right here in front of her! She remembered the first time sister Caroline had taught her to actually read…! And, she remembered a phrase from tea with Her Majesty: “…our duty…” She let go a sound just like a sigh and turned back to her friend.
“I guess I’ll visit here, later.” Joe wasn’t sure why she was suddenly so sad; must be a big reader. Dang it, he thought: I sure didn’t score any points here!
They moved on east, crossing through the park and passing south of the Student Union/Admin building. Joe pointed out a few others as they progressed.
“This is the Rec Center, here,” he said, pointing left. “The pool’s on the second floor.”
“That’s right!” Nichole recalled. “You and Gil swim; I remember now! Even on our first night, weren’t you two coming back from the pool?”
“Yeah! That’s…” Time to score a point! “That’s when I heard that beautiful singing voice of yours!”
She looked demur. “It’s something a friend back home taught me,” she said softly, thinking of Ha-kun, and his love for music. “Didn’t you two say something about practicing later today?”
“You bet!” He said eagerly. “There’s no official team or matches or anything like that… now. But I’ve been swimming since I was a little kid; I love it!”
His enthusiasm was infectious. She stopped and for a moment touched his hair, then ran her left hand over his chest. His breath caught.
“Ah! That explains your unusual hair color! The chlorine! And,” she moved her hand some more, then let it drop, “your great physical condition!”
Joe began to sweat a little. He knew he’d best divert himself before other involuntary physical reactions started.
“Th…thanks!” He stuttered. “Hey, if you don’t mind me asking, can you swim? Here around the rivers, it’s kind of an important skill to have.”
She paused and allowed her face to grow serious and she put her index finger to her chin. Cute!
Nichole recalled both her leak test and buoyancy test. She’d not actually swam, though. She looked up to Joe, shaking her head.
“I don’t think so. I would like to learn, though!”
“If you’re free, why not stop by this evening! No time like the present!” He thought of the militiaman the fell into the Columbia just a few days ago. “Never know when you might need that skill set!”
She considered that. He was exactly right: this was important addition to her knowledge base, and to her physical capabilities. She would make time for this! She nodded to him, a determined look on her face.
“I will! When are you and Gil meeting here?”
He was suddenly unhappy to hear his friend’s name.
“Around three,” he said, a bit less animated. She didn’t notice.
“I’ll be here, too!” She made the odd gesture of slapping her right fist down into her left palm. But she was suddenly taken by a surprised look.
“Friend Joe! I don’t have a swimsuit! May I learn naked?”
He let go of the umbrella.
“Joe…!” She ran a few steps and retrieved it. She held it over their heads and peered at him. “Are you okay?”
He weaved slightly, then turned away from her to look at the Rec building.
“Fine… I’m fine!” No, he wasn’t. “I’ve seen a bunch of abandoned guy’s suits in a box in the locker room. I’d bet there’s something similar on the girl’s side.” NO! Don’t think about the girl’s locker room! Think about….
“Things… things are not as bad here as the rest of the country,” he continued, getting himself under control. “But even Portland had a rough transition. There’s only maybe one tenth – if that – of the students here, pre-Breakup. Lots of people left in a hurry when things went to hell.”
He rolled his shoulders and turned back to her.
“I’m sure you’ll find something.” He said softly. He took his umbrella back from her and pointed to the southwest. “That’s the Engineering Building, just there.”
Covering the last two blocks in silence, Nichole was aware there was now some stress between them that did not exist before. She played back their conversation of the morning, attempting to pinpoint the moment of transition. Ah.
Nudity taboos. The change of society here for both men and women. It was her fault: she’d said something that made her friend very uncomfortable. She wanted to apologize, but that would just be revisiting the subject. Perhaps this is one of those times to simply pretend…?
“Here we are!” Joe said, trying to sound cheerful. Stop thinking about her naked, he raged within himself! “Civil’s on the second floor. You guys get the good view: all the way to the top!”
They stepped into the hall on the main floor. He closed his umbrella. Nichole took two steps, turned and gave a small bow.
“Thank you very much for your escort and tour, friend Joe!” She rose and smiled at him. “I am much older this day!” She gave a small wave and went towards the stairs.
“’Much older?’” He echoed. “That’s an odd figure of speech.”
Trying to think about hydroelectrics and not Nichole in the pool…. Stop it! He shouted to himself. He, too, made for the stairs and his class.
Nichole stepped onto the fifth and top floor. A glance at a sign pointed her in the direction of room 510. She paused just outside the open door. There were voices inside: four people. Three younger, one older. One female. She made a quick glance down at herself and also made sure her ponytail was secure. She touched her head: yes, the radio set was still in her handbag. Time to begin! She rapped on the door twice and entered. Her customary bow and smile.
“Hello! I’m Nichole Clarke, a new student here! I’m so happy to be with you all!”