THE GETAWAY: Say Hello to Helen
Helen stops backstroking out in the middle of the pool and watches me as I slide in. Even from that distance her gray eyes are striking. They enhance her beauty, and they also make her look dangerous, like a predatory cat. That she’s smiling at me doesn’t make her look less dangerous. I imagine that a leopard might be smiling as it rips out a gazelle’s throat.
When I’m standing chest deep in the water at the end of the pool Helen calls out, “Want to race?”
I’m not a great swimmer. I’m not going to drown trying to impress a woman, even if she is beautiful and naked. “I can’t hang,” I say, “but I can probably take you in a floating contest.” That’s probably true. Helen is carrying less body fat than a butterfly.
She flips upside down like a mermaid and arrows my way, cutting through the water just below the surface like a shark. I’m impressed.
I watch her until she reaches the edge of the pool and comes up smiling about ten feet away from me. “This is really nice, Jonathan,” she says. “Thanks for letting me come out.”
“That was Natalie. I didn’t know you were coming.”
“Oh. So is everything okay?”
“You two are pretty tight, huh?”
Natalie and I are friends too. We also sleep together. Since Natalie didn’t actually tell me anything I decide to ask her friend. “So Helen, are you bi or gay or what?”
“Are you curious about your chances, Jonathan?”
“Right now I’m curious about everything. I wasn’t expecting anyone but Natalie and I to be here this week. I definitely wasn’t expecting that the first time I lay eyes on one of her paralegals and she laid eyes on me that we’d be like this.” I wave my arm to indicate our nakedness. “So yeah, I’m curious.”
“I’m not anything, Jonathan. I don’t put a label on myself. I’m just me.”
“And what are you?”
“You’re not listening. People always want to label each other. For me I’m usually too tall, too skinny, too light, too something. Those are judgments other people make to define me based on their biases. I refuse to burn a brand into my own hide so that other people can feel comfortable.”
“And that includes your sexuality?”
“You won’t see me marching in any parades waving a rainbow flag. I couldn’t care less.”
“So you’re friends (I make air quotes with my fingers around friends) with Natalie because she just happens to appeal to you, but you’d be the same with a man?”
“She’s hot, isn’t she? So are you. You remind me of Lance Gross. You’ve got that handsome innocence thing working for you. Are you innocent, Jonathan?”
I don’t know who Lance Gross is. And Helen still hadn’t answered my question completely. I still don’t know if she’s into men. My gut says she’s messing with me, dangling the carrot to see how long I’ll chase it. I decide to quit chasing, at least for the moment.
“It depends on what I’m charged with,” I say, and then to get back on track, “Natalie’s definitely hot. She said that you came at her first.”
Helen looks amused. Am I funny to her?
Trying to find an edge, I say, “Yep. She said you used that One Question play on her.”
“Oh, that. Actually, that came later.”
“What came before?”
“I kissed her.”
“How’d that happen?”
“We went out for drinks after work. When we said goodnight in the parking lot afterward I just did it.”
“And she let you?”
“She pushed me away.”
“And yet now you’re friends…or something.”
Helen gives me her leopard-eating-the-gazelle smile again and says, “It took her about a minute to push me away. Maybe it was a couple of minutes. I don’t know; the passage of time gets muddled when you’re tasting lips as soft as hers. Doesn’t it Jonathan?”
I don’t even picture them kissing. Just Helen telling me they did it—just knowing that it happened somewhere on the planet on which I live—gets a reaction out of me. I can feel myself swelling in the tepid water. I’m glad that Helen is far enough away from me that she can’t tell, because I think she’s trying to fuck with me. “So you knew you had her,” I say.
“No one has anyone. She has free will.”
“So are you two involved, or are you just doing what she and I are doing?”
“You’re involved, Jonathan. If you’re having sex, unless you think of your body as a gutter, you’re involved.”
“We agreed to keep it at friendship and let things happen naturally.”
“So you don’t think feelings are necessary for a sexual relationship?”
“Not necessarily, no.”
“What if you have sex with someone that you don’t really know, but you’re attracted to them physically, and you later discover that you don’t like them as a person? I don’t mean you don’t like something they did. I mean you don’t like the person they are. Would you continue having sex with them?”
“What if she gave you the best sex of your life?”
“If I didn’t like her as a person then I wouldn’t be interested.”
“So if you had negative feelings toward a person that would affect your desire. If dislike is a feeling, then the opposite is true, too. You have to like someone on some level to want to have sex with them.”
“I thought you were talking about romantic affection or love.”
“Could you ever see yourself having sex with your ex-wife again?”
Helen might only be a paralegal but she’s firing questions at me like a lawyer at trial, and like she’s trying to trip me up. “No.”
“You answered that in a hurry. Are you sure?”