J.R. Hart © 2020
All Rights Reserved
I overslept. One week into summer, and I’d already overslept. Showering? Not really an option. Nothing about the summer after my sophomore year of college had gone the way I planned for it to go, so oversleeping? Yeah, not super unsurprising. That was me, Connor Molina, epic fuck-up. I knew why I was stuck in that godforsaken town the entire fucking summer, and almost all of it had everything to do with going to parties more often than going to my 8:00 a.m. classes. Can anyone blame that on me, though? No. The blame goes to anyone who thought morning classes would ever be an acceptable thing for anyone to experience. Whoever came up with that idea should be locked away, key thrown away, all of it.
But summer started all wrong. My ultimate goal had been to go back home. You know, normal summer stuff. Swim laps in the backyard pool, slack off, maybe hook up a few times. I don’t know. Obviously, that didn’t happen. I wouldn’t be saying shit about that summer if it had. Uneventful stories never make for good reflections, do they? But that summer was eventful in ways I didn’t expect it to be. It’s part of what made my summer so, so fucked.
Instead of being home for the summer, I was there, at the Springdale Aquatic Center and Lap Pool, sitting in ungodly heat and staring at unnaturally blue-looking water. You know the kind of blue of skies and oceans and all that? No, this was hyperchlorinated blue, made more intense by the paint at the bottom until it was an intense cerulean. Instead of swimming in my parents’ greenish lap pool, I was trying to make sure no one drowned in this lap pool. Real upgrade there, Connor. Awesome.
You’d think that shit wouldn’t get old after a day and a half, but it did. The only perk was not getting audited in the first couple of days—if no one was checking to see whether I was watching closely enough, then I couldn’t get screwed over and lose my job if I missed the sign. Of course, it would have been no surprise if the summer went like that. Considering everything else that had happened so far, it would have made sense for it to blow up in my stupid face and leave me jobless too. But that didn’t happen. All I wanted was to make it through the summer without someone dying on my watch. That shouldn’t have been too much to ask.
Nothing about the job was worth the money. If you’re thinking about being a lifeguard, let this be your warning. It isn’t worth it. But I couldn’t back out no matter how badly I wanted to. It was on the schedule before we even had the most terrifying meeting ever, and I had no choice but to press on. Never mind that they made it clear the job was life-or-death during that meeting. Never mind that I hated the concept of ever setting foot in the pool again after the stuff their words stirred up in my mind.
Never mind that I was scared to death someone might drown right in front of me because of my own fuck-up or inability to keep them alive. Never mind the added pressure when I was already at my breaking point going into summer. All of it was horrifying, but I didn’t have the luxury of choice. Everything else was full. Literally every single damn summer job…full.
If I wouldn’t have had to be there in the first place, I could have slacked off and loafed around on my parents’ couch and watched shitty daytime talk shows, checked out The Price Is Right and tried to guess the price of a car I’d never own. But no, I had rent to pay. I still do. I had to have something to do. Every pizza delivery position, every law firm secretary job, every retail cashier option, all of it was full. I couldn’t even get a job sacking groceries, not that I would have taken a position clearly made for a high schooler. Any of those had to be better than lifeguarding though. Every job in town, even that, was for teenagers. I was underqualified for the good shit, but I was way overqualified for being a lifeguard.
One summer. I promised them I’d work there for one summer, but after that, I had told myself there was no way in hell I’d ever be caught on that guard stand again. The whole job is complete and utter bullshit. No amount of SPF in the world could have gotten me through it either. I still don’t know how I didn’t lose my entire mind being there. Well, I do, but I didn’t at the time.
Sure, I probably took it a little bit too seriously, a little bit too personally whenever they mentioned, you know…drowning. None of my other coworkers gave a shit if someone were to die in their section. The thing is, they’re all basically kids, lifeguards are. High school babies at best, with a few going into college in the fall. I was the only jackass actually in college when I got the job, so, of course, none of them took it seriously. It made sense that they didn’t give a shit if something happened. None of us ever think it’ll happen to us. No one ever does, do they? But that stuff does happen. It does. I had seen it happen before, and the thought of letting it happen that summer somehow? I was horrified by the entire prospect. Don’t worry, nobody actually drowned over the summer, though the close calls were enough to make me hate the job regardless.
The summer didn’t start great, either. We were down two guards on the second day of work. One of them never bothered to call in, and I’m pretty sure she never showed up all summer anyway. The other one missed the audit ball and got sent home. Greg, the manager, tossed this little ball in the water in your section. Each ball represents someone drowning, and if you don’t jump in and save the ball in time, you get written up and sent home early. I’m not sure why they think sending you home is the right choice there. It’s not like it gives you more practice. To me, you should be buddy-guarding until you get it right, but that’s not how it goes, and it left us shorthanded. Way too shorthanded.
That’s why I scan the water, why I always keep scanning the water. The ball represents a life, someone she would have just let drown because she wasn’t even watching. Getting sent home was the least of her worries. Maybe if it had been a real person, she would have understood. We hadn’t been working together long enough for me to even know her name, and by the third audit she missed in two weeks, she was fired, so I never really got to know her anyway.
I don’t switch off when I’m working. I can’t. You never know who the hell might end up drowning on your watch, and I wasn’t about to have a death on my conscience. I couldn’t fathom the idea of telling someone’s mom, “hey, your kid drowned because I wasn’t paying attention,” or somehow having to deal with the consequences there, the nightmares or whatever else. It’s stuff like that making the job literally the worst in the world. If I looked away, who knows what might have happened? Maybe someone would have died. I don’t know. Maybe I was just fucking paranoid. Maybe I still am.
Or maybe it’s the way my section always attracted the biggest jackasses on the planet. The entire time I was working the first few days, regardless of the section I was in, there was this one guy. One damn kid who had to show off, basically. He and his buddies were there to break every rule, doing flips off the high dive, trying to play chicken. They were old enough to know better and old enough also to set a bad example for anyone younger—if they could do it, the younger kids thought it was safe to do too. It was impossible to watch everyone in my section when he kept pulling my focus, making me watch him and his friends carefully so nobody got killed.
He was there when I was manning the diving boards, attempting cannonballs and flips far beyond his skill level. When I moved on to the wide slide typically reserved for kids to slide down with his parents, he and his friends were shoving each other down and trying to launch themselves off. I’d tell him to sit on his ass (in nicer words) and not on his stomach, but halfway down he’d spin, flipping to skid down headfirst.
“He’s cute, isn’t he?” I can still remember James asking me that question and even now, a huge part of me wants to slap him over it.
“The one with the death wish? No, he’s not.” I didn’t get it. I didn’t understand how half of the guards at this pool could think he was hot. I was there trying to watch, trying to keep track of everyone, and it felt like everyone else was simply there to gawk at the patrons. Being the only one actually there to work sucked, even if I got that they were just kids. You know, whatever, but some of us didn’t need the added distraction.
“You have to admit he’s at least a little bit cute,” James said, elbowing me in the ribs. I was half tempted to break his arm over the way he jabbed me.
“I don’t have to. He’s not being cute. He’s trying to crack his head open on the side of the pool. What are you doing over here anyway?” This wasn’t James’s section right then, not where I was, and I couldn’t understand why he was even where I was at, to be honest. Last I saw, he was supposed to be over by the lazy river, not close to me in the deep end.
“I’m on break,” he told me.
“Oh, so you’re over here lurking and trying to stare at him and everything else, getting in my way when I’m trying to do my job? Cool. Thanks.” I was only half joking. I tried to make myself seem as pleasant as possible, but a large part of me was really annoyed. The last thing I needed was James near me, trying to talk while I was taking this seriously. James was the only other openly gay guard there, and not even a small part of me was surprised he was interested in a dumbass like that one. I never tried to hide who I was, and if a girl at the pool flirted with me, she usually figured out she wasn’t my type pretty quickly. But James? He couldn’t hide it. Anyone could’ve clocked him from a mile away. He wasn’t subtle and it was okay, but it also got him in trouble. The town wasn’t the most open-minded place ever.
I was over it. Over the job, over James’s obsession with the worst patrons, over the high school garbage. None of that was James’s fault, of course. He didn’t know any better. He was just a kid, fresh out of high school, a baby gay coming into his own. Of course, he thought every guy thrust in front of him was hot as hell. He was young, horny, attracted to stupidity. I couldn’t blame him for wanting to know more about this jock who couldn’t stay out of my section. But really? This particular guy? I couldn’t help but think James had no taste at all.
The guy was a problem. I could have sworn the first few days he was watching me, waiting for me to turn around to watch someone else, so he could do another stupid thing like I wasn’t going to see it coming. You know how every mom in America says she’s got eyes in the back of her head? Over that summer, I completely understood the sentiment. When someone’s up to no good literally all the time, you don’t have to look directly at them to know they’re in trouble. And that guy, he was always in trouble. I’d turn away for a second, turn back, and he’d have someone smaller crawling up on his shoulders or be tossing someone around and into the water. For me, it became obvious he was trying to get hurt, to get all eyes on him. Blowing my whistle didn’t help.
Another time, I skipped the whistle altogether, knowing he wouldn’t pay attention. “Get down,” I shouted toward him. I knew he could hear me. Stepping closer to the edge of the pool close to the in-pool rock wall made it more obvious I was talking to him specifically, because I was practically within slapping distance of him as he tried to hang by one arm, dangling over the pool. He still chose to ignore me. “Seriously, if you keep doing that, I’m going to get the manager!” Even my most professional tone couldn’t mask how pissed off I was in that moment, and worse, I knew I sounded like a kid trying to tattle.
If his hand slipped, he could fall, maybe on someone below him. Hell, maybe he’d bang his face on the rocks, skid down, make the pool a bloody mess. I didn’t want to clean it up, and I know nobody else did. Besides, it would have messed up the face everyone thought was so cute.
“Ooh, I’ll have to get the manager,” he said, changing his pitch and waggling his head to mock me. He had the nerve to talk back to me like he knew how much it would bug me. “Hey, pretty boy, can’t you let it slide for once? We’re just trying to have a good time is all.”
“And what happens, pretty boy, when you smack someone’s head on the side of the pool, and you start to drown, and I have to save y’all’s sorry asses?” I spit the words back at him. I knew it was unprofessional, but I didn’t care. I couldn’t stay professional when he was pushing every single one of my buttons in the worst way. “If you can’t follow the rules, leave. Or I’ll make you leave.”
“Ooooh.” His little chorus of cronies had quite the reply to that. I could’ve sworn I was going to lose my shit on the entire crew. But him dropping off the wall and swimming over closer to me, less than slapping distance and right into my personal bubble, only threw me off. He got closer like he knew I wasn’t going to make good on my threats and it made me even more frustrated. I desperately wanted to kick him. Obviously, I couldn’t, but I wanted to. He had some kind of nerve.
“Looks like pretty boy here thinks he’s hot shit since he has this little whistle around his neck,” he said, looping his finger through my lanyard. He tugged me a little closer, and I jerked backward. “Don’t worry, I won’t pull you in. I’m just trying to get a better look at—”
“Well, don’t,” I said. I stared him down with fury and frustration. I couldn’t imagine someone being so rude, so petulant, not at that age. It wasn’t like he was a child, but he was sure as hell acting like one. I swore to myself if there was one more problem, I’d make sure he was banned from the pool for the rest of the season. But then it was time to rotate sections. My next one was the kiddie section. This was good news. For fifteen minutes, he wouldn’t be my problem. Sure, little kids could easily drown in like, six inches of water, but at least they attempted to follow the rules most of the time. They weren’t wild like this guy and his friends. For those few moments, he wasn’t my responsibility and I felt relief. Even if he drowned from his stupid antics at that point, he wasn’t my problem anymore.
I tried to steal a sympathetic glance at Maria—she was easily my favorite lifeguard—since she’d taken over where I had been, but I realized quickly the guy wasn’t there anymore. It was hard not to feel annoyed or personally attacked. I was getting the impression that as soon as I left an area, he did too. I tried to convince myself it was more likely he’d gone home or went to the snack shack or something, but mostly I felt a little victimized, like he was trying to target my section to make me deal with his bullshit. None of that mattered, though, because I got to have lifeguard swim after the kiddie pool time.
Lifeguard swim was my one moment of relief. I didn’t have to watch anyone during that time. I knew I should be swimming laps during my free time, keeping myself in shape for the fall, for the swim team, but after dealing with him, all I wanted to do was cool off and relax. That’s why I made a beeline for the lazy river and grabbed a tube someone had abandoned. I hopped in, leaned back, and closed my eyes to take a break, shifting until I was comfortable. Patrons can’t get in the pool during lifeguard swim, obviously, because if the lifeguards are swimming, they can’t watch them. It made sense that I’d be able to relax during that time, right? Except no. As soon as I got relaxed, reclining in the inner tube, getting a little tan or whatever, I started getting splashed.
It came with the territory since little kids would dip their toes in the water while waiting to get back in the pool. I understood. It was hard being five years old or something and being told you couldn’t swim for fifteen minutes, but when I opened my eyes and took a peek at the culprit, I was frustrated. Scratch that, I was downright pissed off. No, of course, it wasn’t a kid. It was the same stupid guy, splashing me for no apparent reason. “What the hell?” I know I should have asked questions with a more professional attitude, should have toned down my language, but I’m telling you, he was already well past getting under my skin. “I’m trying to take a break.” I could’ve sworn he’d never had a job before in his life. If he had, there was no way he’d want to ruin my day, mess up the few okay moments I had by splashing the fuck out of me.
He didn’t answer me; instead, he laughed and turned to his friends, getting a high five from one of them as I floated out of his reach. Classy. I figured he was done, and I closed my eyes, letting myself drift, but within minutes, bam. This time, it wasn’t a splash. He soaked me with a complete dousing of water. It was clear he was following me; my inner tube hadn’t made it all the way around the pool yet. It was a few feet from where he’d been as if he was deliberately walking along the side to get me.
That was enough. Instead of playing it cool, I found myself jumping out of the tube, struggling against the current in the moving water to stalk over and give him a piece of my mind. “Listen up, buddy. I’m real freakin’ sick of you and whatever kind of bullshit you’re trying to pull here. I can’t even take a break without you getting in my way. I don’t know what your problem is, but could you maybe not be a jackass for like, five minutes or something?” I was hissing the words, and I wanted to punch him. I understand it’s not appropriate to talk to someone who was paying to be in that establishment. I know it was shitty, okay? But he was being way shittier to me, and I couldn’t take it anymore without losing my cool. I’m seriously lucky he didn’t report me and get my ass fired right then. He could have.
“Hey, man, be chill. It was an accident.” He swung his feet in the water, brushing my leg with his toes and giving a slight grin. I tried to swat his foot away, but he did it again, grazing my skin with the tip of his foot. “I wasn’t trying to get you wet. I promise.” For half a second, he almost seemed sincere. “You have a little something—” he leaned forward and wiped at my cheek with his fingers. “—right there.”
“Thanks,” I huffed back. I was being sarcastic, but he didn’t seem to notice, flashing me a broader smile instead. I’m telling you, his life goal was to drive me insane over the summer, and I was positive of it at that point. If one of us didn’t make it out alive, well, I wouldn’t have been surprised. He seemed destined to make my own personal hell a few circles deeper, torturing me on a daily basis.