Since it seems everyone was so disappointed when the plot showed up, let’s try something else: cute girls in once-pieces and hot guys in Speedos. As my eye doc said to me yesterday afternoon: “Better? Worse?”
Her expected summons to the Mayor’s Office came two weeks later. Immediately before that, Nichole was with her friends at the pool. Gil and Joe swam lap after lap; never fully back to his pre-cancer bulk, Joe had regained about half the muscle mass he lost during his chemotherapy in Tokyo. Nichole was two lanes over, in the shallow side, holding up Mackenzie’s belly as she went through the motions of freestyle. It was her third lesson and she was absolutely terrible at it.
Having found out some time ago her friend could not swim, Nichole was determined to teach her. A quick consult with her two male friends made her old enough to pass on the basics.
“I’ve never seen a complete saw like you, Mackenzie!”
“Saw?” she spluttered.
“Oh. It’s a Japanese term for someone who sinks when they try to swim,” she corrected, lowering her in the water just a little. “I’m not sure if there’s an American English equivalent.”
Nichole turned to point her downrange of a lane.
“You’re letting me go?!”
“I did a minute ago, dearest friend!” Nichole said, swimming side stroke next to her. “Don’t stop now! You’re almost there!”
Her hands gripping the pool’s rim, the grey ghost turned to look back at the 25 yards she had just covered.
“I… did it?”
“You did! You did!”
They heard clapping from behind Nichole. Both of the guys had paused to tread water and applaud Mackenzie’s success. She returned their display by turning bright red.
“Now swim back!” Nichole announced.
“Kidding!” Nichole pulled herself up and out with a fluid motion, reaching her hand out to Mackenzie. She pulled her out just as easily, taking care to not dislocate her friends’s shoulder. In a blue one-piece they’d found, with her long black hair tied back, Mackenzie turned her back to Gil and Joe, aware that they’d not returned to their laps.
“They… are they looking at us?” she whispered.
“I hope so! We’re both so pretty!”
Mackenzie hunched into herself even further. Nichole watched Joe get out and amble over.
“Good job, Mac!” He knew her well enough to not touch her right now. “How about a piece of cake at Zom’s, to celebrate?”
“Cake?” she muttered.
Hearing that their session was effectively over, Gil got out, too. Pretending to get their towels, Nichole took a few steps away to study the social dynamic between her friends.
Joe’s obviously interested in her. After a quick glance, Gil has been looking at me. What surprises me is that Mackenzie is looking more at Gil than Joe. She knows full well from all the noise I make that he’s my boyfriend… Worth further study, she concluded.
She tossed a towel to the other girl and made for the women’s locker room. Realizing she was about to be left alone with two guys in Speedos, Mackenzie beat a hasty retreat.
In their locker room, thinking about what John Brunelli had said once to him, Gil felt he had to say something to his friend.
“You do realize that if you upset that little girl,” an exaggeration to get him to focus, “that Nichole might quite literally break you in half?”
Joe turned off his shower nozzle and reached for his towel, considering.
“Bet it’d be worth it; Mac’s damn cute!” he laughed. Gil did to, hoping for the best.
They only had to wait on the girls for five minutes; they both knew Nichole was extremely punctual and would goad her friend along. Mackenzie was back in her long, dark grey skirt with a purple shirt under a grey sweater. Nichole, having recently splurged at the Port after the last freighter was in, wore a Japanese yukata: much less formal than a kimono, but still a colorful green and gold silk robe with a black sash. It was not lost on anyone the close match to the colors of the City flag.
“Gil, my love!” she said, letting her arms go about his waist. “Did you miss me?”
“It was ten minutes,” but he held her, too. They both knew what they were doing.
“C’mon, Mac,” Joe said, now knowing it was safe to gently put his hand onto her upper arm, “let’s go get your cake while these two get arrested for public indecency!”
“In… indecent…!” her tone rose dangerously, but she didn’t shrug him off, letting Joe lead her away.
“We’re awful,” Gil muttered.
“We’re young and in love. We wish the whole world could have what we have.”
“That,” he said, looking down at her emerald eyes, “was about the most poetic thing I’ve ever heard you say!”
She hooded her eyes, wanting a kiss. Just after, he took her hand.
“Let’s catch up before Mac has a panic attack.”
After a few steps toward the northwest and Zom’s, she felt through his hand he’d had a difficult thought.
“Ask,” she prompted.
“Again with the mind reading! What you said just now, about us being young: how old are you?”
“A little over three years.”
“Sweet Jesus,” he cried, gripping her hand, “I’m a child molester!”
It was only a few more steps before they gave each other a sidelong glance and laughed. Zom’s and their friends were just ahead. Right before they came into their hearing, Gil whispered.
“Do you think those two…?”
“Difficult question,” her typical non-answer answer.
“A new fantastic four!” Nike called from the verandah of his place. “Here to celebrate Miss d’Arcy’s triumph!”
Joe froze. Mackenzie and Gil, being a bit more used to the unusual, kept going. Gil slapped his friend’s back.
“And since it’s your idea, you’re paying!”
“Grrr!” Joe growled.
After Mackenzie’s cake, ales for the guys, and Joe’s look at Nichole – who ate and drank nothing – they took their leave.
“Hey, Mac!” Joe said with his typical enthusiasm. “Look at all those blooming flowers there!”
He pointed further up the block-wide greenspace that cut Portland State in half.
“Let’s go and see!”
Mackenzie’s look to Nichole was in the open.
“They do look pretty!” she said, leaning into Gil. “We’ve, ah, something else to do! See you in a little bit, friend!”
She’d pitched her tone so both Mac and Joe understood: the clock was running; nothing untoward this evening.
“Th… thank you!” Mackenzie turned to look to Joe. “Let’s!”
“Given enough time,” Gil asked, sliding his hand from her waist to her hip, “could you talk anyone into anything?”
“Likely, yes.” She felt he tighten against her. “A well-trained hypnotist would understand what I’m doing and be able to resist… for a while.”
She rubbed her right hand about his back.
“Most of you people? No chance at all.”
“Have you done that to me?”
“Once or twice; but only to take away your fear. Fear is a mind-killer. I never want to see you hurt.”
They stood still for a minute.
“I have lobby watch tonight, from midnight to oh six hundred,” she began. “It’s only twenty hundred now…?”
She felt his entire body respond. She smiled.
“Will you have enough time to charge before your duty?” he asked.
It was her turn to react uncontrollably with a shudder. He asks after my life! He loves me so much!
“That will depend on how many you have in you! Let’s go!”
But something was waiting for her.
“Nichole?” the man behind the desk called. “This came in for you.”
“Thank you, Jeffery,” she replied taking it. “Gil and I will be going up, now.”
Gil knew any male visitors had to check in and out. Or get shot by the rifle just behind the desk.
Nichole tore open the manila envelope as they went up the stairs to her fourth floor.
“Well, now!” he heard her say.
“Yes?” he asked as she unlocked her door.
“Hizzoner desires to see me tomorrow morning!” Nichole said blithely as she tossed the summons onto her table and pulled at the sash of her yukata. Nothing beneath it, she stepped into his arms.
“I desire you right now!” she said.