Three sets of bikinis are stalled out on my bed. Pink with polka dots, blue with ruffles or simple black, but classy?
I decide my breasts look best in the blue bikini and pack it in.
“It’s grand,” Val says. Val is grand. Her body is long and slender but with a firm butt, and she seems to have a tan most of the year. I look at her in her new green bikini and want to crawl back to bed. But no, we’re going to this ‘grand’ pool in Redditch where the water is icy blue and the people are all toned up. I believe this pool was in some sort of top 10 in a magazine, but whether that was a list of Unbelievably Pretty Swimming Pools or a list of Fabulous People I Don’t Ever Want To Meet – Around a Pool, I couldn’t say.
Val’s not even going to wear something over her bikini, she’s just going to be strutting through the city like this, I feel it. She must have chosen me as her swimming buddy as some Thing people can compare her with. Or so she can cheer me on when I’m actually going in the pool, while she’s tanning on the edge. Yes. Needless to say, I feel very excited about this trip.
I shouldn’t whine. Honestly, I’m okay with going to pools. Nothing’s as refreshing as seeing we’re all so.. human. Four hundred bodies together, all sweating from the heat, some sun-burnt, some actually tanned, no one perfect. When we arrive though, I can see this is no average swimming pool. Four perfectly square pools are lined up with a neurotic kind of symmetry. No fun dolphin shaped pools, no, this swimming pool has really made it. The pools are surrounded by an endless field of trimmed grass and harmoniously planted trees and are connected by glass bridges with water streaming inside them.
“It’s so they keep cool,” Val says before I can say something.
“Someone should keep their cool, yes,” I answer.
“Lauren.” She doesn’t like it when I am sarcastic about everything, and to tell you the truth, I don’t either, but I don’t really know how to cope with this.
On the left are rows and rows of changing rooms, individual ones. We take two cubicles next to each other and I see there’s a whole digital system inside.
“Val!” I call.
“Would you like me to order you something to drink?” I laugh. I hear her laughing too.
“I accidentally pressed some button and then it wanted to take a picture of me,” she sniggers. She’d probably win a modelling contest or something right this instance.
We get out. I’m in my blue bikini, Val in her green one. We walk towards the perfect symmetry and suddenly this new world stretches out before me. I see men and women in colourful bathing suits, all looking very young and all in carefully applied make-up and hair. A Pierce Brosnan look-a-like crosses my path and for a moment I feel very hot, only to notice that up-close he is all botox and mascara.
I’m a little in shock. Val points at a woman walking over to the furthest pool, carrying two extremely noisy little dogs. We blink as we discover that pool to be pet-friendly, and see mostly dogs sharing the water with floating chest implants.
“This is nuts,” Val says.
“Wow. I thought you wanted to go so badly!” I accuse her.
“Well, yes, but I didn’t think successful people would look like this,” her hands flutter about theatrically. I throw my bag under the nearest tree. Val watches me cautiously.
“Ah come on. We have to stay now,” I say, “We could probably write a book about all of this.”
“This is just not my kind of people, and I feel old,” Val objects.
“Old?! You’re 31! You must be around the youngest person here. Come on, it will be fun. Let’s just observe,” I say.
She finally agrees and we prepare a little bath towel, magazine and food picnic. The left pool is for swimming pros only, we see, as everyone there is wearing sporty bathing suits and caps. The pool most far away is for dogs. The pool at the far right inhabits mostly tan grannies and the pool closest to us is nearly empty. The water looks icy blue and fresh enough though, so Val decides to go for a swim. I agree to go with her, but only to dip my toe in. I’m not a sucker for cold water, however hot it is outside.
As we get up, I see a group of three boys walking towards us from the cubicles. Two of them are pubescent and acne-faced, the third one, however.. His brown curls bounce around his head as he walks and he’s so very tall.
“Come on then,” Val says. She’s already halfway to the pool, her strawberry blonde hair waving to the group of three. They almost seem to catch her scent, like a group of dogs, and stare. They would never pay attention to me. Even their mums look hotter than I do.
I bend over to grab my sunglasses and I hear one of them whistling. Cautiously, I turn around, and find the tall boy winking at me. Wow.
“Err.. Val, I think I’m going to the toilet first,” I shout. She’s already in the water.
I walk in the direction of the toilets but really, I must follow this guy. He must only be about 20. That’s not too bad. It must be good karma for everything I’ve been sitting out. I think about the past 6 months and how Derek broke up with me because he said I didn’t do enough to make myself ‘attractive’ to him. How he went on and on about my boring outfits and my boring hair colour and how the only thing I did was wait for him at home with the cat and never wanted to go out any more. And how he took the cat, afterwards.
I deserve this, I muse. I deserve this hot, young boy with this heavenly body, swooning over me! One whistle always quickly changes into swooning, in my fairy-tale mind, but that’s okay. I look over my shoulder at Val, swimming quite gracefully, her hair catching the light, illuminating. But this boy whistled at me. Not Val, me. And I’m pacing towards the young ones.
He’s taking me towards the house, the biggest house I’ve ever seen, and I can’t even take it all in. I know this would be the last time, right, I swore an oath, but it’s only sex. In the bathroom, the greenhouse, the drawing room, the bedroom.. I wonder if there’s stables. My mind just goes weak here, but this is Jonathan. He is filthy rich. We trot to the back door, and I spot horses far, far away on the land.
“Horses!” I proclaim, intelligently. He smiles his sweet, boyish smile and squeezes my hand.
“Pepper and Mrs Lightning,” he says.
His hand feels warm and a bit rough. I stop him from opening the door and instead put his hand on my butt. Hello.
“Perhaps we should check out their stables,” I smile. Jonathan looks at me as if I’m half a savage, but I can see him warming up to the idea.
“Later,” he decides. I feel my dream of the princess & the stable boy fading into the background. I look at him and pout a little, the drama queen I am.
“I promise,” Jonathan reassures me, his hand slowly sliding up under my t-shirt. Well. Maybe there’s a pool inside.
They are sitting with another three boys. I’m so nervous I feel like I’m sweating more than is necessary for a heat wave. I can’t go up to them, I just can’t. So instead I keep on walking and pretend like I didn’t just follow them half a mile across the field. My boobs are hanging out of my bikini and I know it. I feel like a fraud.
And then the god whistles again. I spin around like I’m going to jump on them and the tall boy, quite calmly, goes “hey”.
So I go “hey”. And then I say something that’s so completely out of order I feel almost deranged:
“Would you want to meet up at the cubicles later?”
When I return to our little picnic area I feel almost a new person. Giggly. Val is just coming out of the water and splashing her hair around like a supermermaid, but I don’t care. I’m going to meet up with a young god.
“The water’s so nice,” Val raves, when she crouches down on her bath towel.
I wonder if I should tell her about him. We’ve been friends for ages, Val and I, and we used to tell each other everything before I turned into a jealous cry baby. There’s just that teeny tiny voice in my head that goes ‘wouldn’t it be even better if it were a secret?’ And I must say I agree, with that voice.
“I have been thinking,” Val starts.
I’m rummaging through my bag in search of my little mirror. I must see what this new woman looks like. Gods, what if my mascara has been running down my face the whole time? Because of the hot weather! People say make up melts. I hold my bag upside down and throw everything out.
“If that last job interview didn’t go well..”
Magazines, toothpaste, right, I should also brush my teeth, what’s in this compartment? I wish I was one of those super neat people who just stored everything on alphabet or something. Two food tickets from Indie festival, that’s a shame, that’s like, worth a whole dinner. Ah, there’s the mirror. I look down at my face and just see three chins. Hold it in front of you, stupid.
“I might have to go on welfare.”
So this is what the new woman looks like. Quite the same, actually. No run-down mascara.
“Lauren?” Val looks at me, a bit annoyed.
She must not like that I’m seductive too now. I giggle, but only in my mind.
“What is it?” I ask, overly friendly.
“I just told you something really personal, and you don’t even listen,” Val looks quite upset now.
“I’m sorry, must have been a bit dreamy,” I say cheerfully.
So this is it. After Val’s dramatic explanation of her being so unemployed, she has turned to the pool again to swim her worries away. I don’t really believe she should be so upset, she’s Val! She can convince anyone into giving her a job, I’m sure.
Tall boy is waiting by the cubicles, I can see him being all lanky. Should I really do this? Yes, the voice goes. There’s nothing to be scared of, it’s just sex. With a hot, young guy. In a cubicle. In a public place. I feel so excited I’m nearly bursting out of my skin.
“Hey,” we go again.
I sneak into the cubicle and he follows me and shuts the door. It’s a little bit cramped, but I don’t really mind, since he’s now so, so close.
“What’s your name?” he’s breathing.
“Lauren,” I say, and dare not touch him.
“Hi Lauren, I’m Jonathan,” Jonathan says, and he smiles a boyish smile. His hand is trying to meet mine, to shake it?
I’m changing the mood as I’m yanking his head down towards mine and kiss his young lips and suddenly his hand is on my breast and I don’t know time or space any more.
“Where are you taking me?” I’m still following his lead, running through that enormous house. Our feet are going clack-clack on the marble floor. I wonder, for the hundredth time, if I’m in over my head. You’re insane, Val had said, you’re actually out of your mind. She had been so earnest it almost scared me. And so I’d promised her I would tell him, tell Jonathan, that this was the last time.
The last time his rough hands would caress my belly. Stop thinking of stable boys.
“Relax, we’re just going to the dining room,” Jonathan says.
I think of huge, designer kitchen tables and wonder why I would ever call this arrangement off.
“We’re just a little late,” he continues. Late.
He pushes open the next door I see and suddenly we’re in a dining room, including my big, designer table and some fifteen people sitting at it, eating lunch. I almost faint.
“Hi everyone,” Jonathan smiles, still clutching my hand. Some people look up blankly, others look up frowning and a few of them look what can only be described as disgusted.
“Afternoon, Jon,” a man says stiffly. He looks like Benedict Cumberbatch in a tennis outfit.
“Hi dad,” Jonathan goes on completely unaware of how people are reacting to us, “this is my girlfriend Lauren.”
No. No! I pull my clamped hand loose and try to think of an excuse to leave right now. Gods, I should have listened to Val.
“Please sit down, both of you, we’re having lunch,” some woman says, as if we hadn’t noticed that.
Somehow my brain tells my body to wander over to the table, get out a chair and sit myself down. And I didn’t want to.
“So..” Tennis Cumberbatch says, “where.. did you two meet?”
“Well,” Jonathan starts, trying to look me in the eye while beaming at me, “we met at the swimming in Redditch.”
I can’t look at him. Can someone please stop this boy? He’s trying so hard to catch my eye, to smile at me, to be romantic, but I only want to run far, far away. We met at the swimming? We fucked at the swimming! And we were going to do that only once again, in this gorgeous house, and that would be it. When did I ever approve of being his girlfriend?
“Lauren,” a woman directly in front of me continues, as if this is a big set-up, “at which point did Jonathan tell you about himself?”
Tell me what about himself? Is he like, a lunatic? A cripple? A spy?
“She doesn’t mind, mum, it’s not like that any more. We’re very modern,” Jonathan goes and I can’t think straight. What’s modern about us?
The woman across from me smiles almost sympathetic, as if she knows my secret agenda behind Jonathan’s so-called relationship. Almost sympathetic. Then she brings the blow:
“Jon’s only fifteen.”
Fifteen. FIFTEEN?! I stare at my companion in horror, with him still managing his calm.
“He hadn’t.. You hadn’t.. I’m SO sorry,” I stumble over the words, as all the inhabitants of this country house look at me like I’m the weakest link.
I push away my chair, try to stand up, kick Jonathan in the leg as he tries to hold onto my arm and I make it through the huge room, trying to find a way out. I feel all their wealthy stares in the back of my head as I leave the room, leave the house, leave the land and race away in my little car.
Of course I should have listened to Val! I try to calm down my breathing. Relax. No one will ever know about this. Just Val, and she’s your friend. You were just focusing on appearances.
That night, on the phone, I vow to her that I will talk more than four seconds to men before doing anything with them. Even with stable boys.