We’re in the water a lot and I’m busy teaching both Hunter and Kessler to swim. Usually we’re at the local pool like we are today, but sometimes we’re at the beach. It’s kind of funny teaching them both at once, but it’s actually easier this way and it’s making them bond like nothing else.
I think when it comes to Kessler, it teaches him humility, takes his rampant ego down a peg, and lets him shed any fear of not being “man enough.” For Hunter, the fact that his daddy is learning with him makes him feel like a big boy and there’s a lot of trust going around between the three of us that wasn’t necessarily there before.
It’s the best part of my week. I leave everything at the office, including the roles that Kessler and I have. At work we are strictly professional. Sure we have fun but I’m no different with him than I am with Kate or Teef and we make sure it stays that way. On the surface we are just work colleagues and nothing else.
But I’m often at Kessler’s after work. We have a lot of dinner dates. We go out for drinks. We have a lot of sex in his car when it’s too late to drive over to my house and we don’t want to disturb Hunter or Loan at his.
I’ve even been with him to an ice hockey rink and done a few laps around while he checked out the hockey teams and talked to the administration, and he’s been with me to the mental health center to do a shift of volunteer work with me.
I don’t even know what we are. We haven’t had any kind of talk, though that’s probably because I run the other way when it comes up. And we’re careful not to show too much affection in front of Hunter in case he gets confused or if things go south between Kessler and I.
And it could go south. That’s the thing that’s always hovering in the back of my head.
I keep thinking to the past.
I keep fearing what was.
I keep thinking about my sister, of all people.
I think about that space in my heart that was filled with her when I was growing up. How she was my everything. Where she went, I followed. She was my best friend, and the kind of love I had for her was something I still can’t really describe. I guess that’s the way it is with sisters.
But then she broke my heart. And it sounds so fucking selfish to make it about me. That it was my heart she broke when she was so broken herself. But it’s the truth. I loved her and I thought that my love would be enough to save her. I thought if I sat her down and told her that she was hurting me, hurting mom, hurting dad, that she would stop.
It never happened that way. I kept bringing her back and sitting her down and begging for her to be a part of our family again. I told her that I loved her and missed her and needed her.
And she would look me in the eye and tell me she loved me too.
She took my love and she’d lie and she’d say she was on her meds and she’d say she wasn’t on drugs and she’d say she was still at rehab. I know my parents got the worst of her lies and that pretty soon I was traveling up and down the west coast as a means of escape.
I started distancing myself from her because I was afraid of losing her.
I was cutting her out of my heart because I was afraid she’d keep hurting me.
I pretended everything was fine and put my feelings in a glass jar where I screwed the lid on tight and vowed to never open it, even though I could always see it.
But it didn’t matter.
When I got the call that she died, the loss I’d felt was worse than anything I could have imagined. All this protection didn’t help me at all. It didn’t make me love her less, it just made it hurt even more when I lost her because of all the love I lost with it.
All that lost time, where I could have just loved her without fear.
Now there’s Kessler in my life and I keep wanting to do the same thing with him. Every time my heart seems to spread wings, I try and clip them. Every time I come with him inside me and dream of doing this with him forever, I tell myself that we might only have one month. Every time I glance at him and he takes my breath away, I tell myself that I’m falling for his looks like last time.
I tell myself lies.
Over and over again.
I ignore the truth because it’s safer to pretend, even though I know the truth, even though I know first-hand what it’s like to put up walls. When it comes to love, they’ll eventually come crashing down.
So much for my new year’s resolution.
“What’s keiki?” Hunter asks, snapping me back to the present. I blink at him.
“You’re keiki,” Kessler says, peering over his shades at him. “A kid.”
Now I’m impressed with Kessler. Perhaps he’s assimilating here after all. He’s already a million shades browner now that he’s been in the sun every weekend.
Still sweats a little, but we pass it off as a glisten.
“I think I’m going to get a drink,” Kessler says, sitting up. Yup, just look at those abs glisten.
“Nova?” He practically waves his hand in front of my eyes. “You want anything?”
“Anything except a piña colada,” I tell him, bringing my gaze off his body.
“I want a piña colada,” Hunter says.
“Oh you do not, little buddy,” Kessler says. “I’ll bring you some POG.”
Hunter makes a happy sound and I watch appreciatively as Kessler walks off over to the bar. We have a Kahuna Hotels property on the North Shore by Waimea Bay and so we’ve been using their pools a lot for the swimming lessons. We’re done for the day, hence the booze, but I think in a few more sessions Kessler will be swimming like a fish.
While he’s gone, my mind wanders and I feel like getting back to the book I was reading the other day, so I get up and start rummaging through my bag, trying to find my Kindle. That’s the problem with e-readers these days, they’re almost too slim and lightweight that they’re hard to find.
I’m rummaging and rummaging with my back to Hunter when I hear him say, “No, no I think I want pine-abble juice instead.”
“I’m sure the POG will be just as good,” I assure him.
But when I finally find my Kindle and turn back around, Hunter is no longer beside me.
He’s running away from me, along the edge of the pool toward his father, yelling about pineapple juice.
And that’s when everything happens in slow motion.
I’m yelling “Hunter!” for him to stop running, for him to turn around and come back.
He’s running faster, his little feet stomping through the slick poolside.
Kessler is turning around at the sound of my voice.
He looks at me.
Looks at Hunter.
Just as Hunter’s feet slide out from under him on the slippery tiles and he falls to the right.
Into the deep end of the pool.
“Hunter!” I scream, scrambling to my feet as Hunter’s arms flap on the surface for a few splashes in a desperate attempt to swim before he starts to sink.
He’s gone under.
And Kessler is running at the pool full speed.
He jumps in, legs first.
Now I’m trying to run after both of them.
I’m yelling for people to help, yelling that they can’t swim, just as Kessler’s head breaks the surface, gasping for air.
Hunter is in his hands and he’s doing his best to hold him up, even though he’s struggling to stay above water.
I’m close enough to dive right into the pool, swimming in a few strokes until I reach Kessler, trying to help him up. I see nothing but a flurry of whirlwind bubbles and feel the desperate, hard kick of Kessler’s legs. They’re so powerful I’m nearly knocked out.
When I manage to grab hold underneath Kessler’s arms, we reach the surface and through the water in my eyes, I see that someone has grabbed Hunter already from Kessler’s grasp and pulled his son to safety.
“Easy,” I tell Kessler, though he can’t look at me, his eyes are too wild. “Keep kicking but do it easy, don’t tax yourself. You’re almost there.”
I help lead him over to the edge of the pool, just a few feet, and wrap his arms around the metal stair railings.
“Hunter,” he cries out, coughing. “Hunter.”
“He’s fine,” someone says from above, and we look up to see Hunter sitting just off to the side of the pool in the arms of an older gentleman. Hunter is crying his eyes out but other than that he doesn’t seem hurt at all.
But Kessler does. He’s staring at me through the wet lock of hair flopped across his face and his look says it all.
It says his son almost drowned.
It says he almost drowned.
It says it’s all my fault.
And he’s right. If I had kept my eyes on Hunter like I should have, if I hadn’t turned my back for a minute, Hunter wouldn’t have been able to run off like that. I would have helped him get his pineapple juice. He wouldn’t have fallen in the pool and nearly drowned.
Kessler wouldn’t have had to risk his own fucking life to jump in after him, knowing full well he can’t swim yet either.
I could have lost them both.
And I would only have to blame myself.
“I’m so sorry,” I tell him, feeling the hot prickle of tears at my eyes. “I’m so sorry Kess. I was watching him I swear, I just turned my back for a second and I’m so sorry.”
But Kessler is breathing too hard to say anything.
Eventually a big Hawaiian guy standing by the pool helps haul Kessler out and I follow.
Hunter is wrapped up in a towel, his sobs quieting as someone hands him a small cup of pineapple juice.
We’re ushered off to the side and the lifeguard looks us over, talking to us to make sure we’re okay. It doesn’t seem like anyone suffered any injuries, although my shins and thighs are going to have huge bruises tomorrow from Kessler’s kicking. His hockey thighs are no joke.
I assure the lifeguard that I’m okay enough to drive us back to my house, even though I have a feeling I’m barely holding it together. I’m so shaken up inside that I feel the slightest knock might shatter me and I have to survive on autopilot as I drive us home, just going through the motions.