I am sitting on the back steps of my porch trying to catch my breath while my heart pounds and my feet ache and sweat runs into my eyes. And here’s why.
My boyfriend, Tarvik, can’t swim. He’s new to Seattle, and all you have to do is look at a map to know that Seattle offers all sorts of opportunities to swim or sink.
Tarvik is cute and blond and good natured and the sweetest boyfriend I’ve ever had so of course I don’t want him falling off a dock and drowning.
That’s why I enlisted the help of my cousin Jimmy. We packed a picnic and drove to the nearby Cascades, up through winding forest roads to a mountain lake that has a beach and boats to rent.
Tarvik agreed that the lake was beautiful and it might be fun to go boating. We explained that we were going swimming.
“You want me to walk into the water? How deep is it?”
“Deep enough for swimming,” Jimmy said.
“I can’t swim,” Tarvik said.
“You can do anything,” I said and gave him my sweetest smile.
He never actually consented, but he stopped arguing. Jimmy took one of Tarvik’s elbows and I grabbed the other and we kicked off our sandals. We were wearing cutoffs and tee shirts.
Out we went, shivering and gasping, until we were waist deep. Our tee shirts clung to our backs, hot and sweaty in the sun. From the waist down, we ached with cold.
“All right, now you lie down in the water,” I said.
His blond eyebrows shot up almost to his hairline. “You want me to put my face in the water?”
“Yes,” I said because everyone knows that’s the first lesson.
Sometimes my cousin Jimmy is kinder than I am. He said, “You can lie on your back. We’ll hold you up and you will float.”
“I am not a leaf,” Tarvik said. “I do not float on water.”
“Or you can try it face down,” I said.
He glared at me but he let us lower him until he was stretched out on his back, his nose and toes pointed up toward the sunny sky, his eyes scrunched shut. Jimmy and I kept our hands under the heavier parts.
“There, how’s that?” Jimmy asked.
“Like my worst winter memories,” Tarvik muttered.
“Relax,” Jimmy said. I had my hands under Tarvik’s body and I didn’t feel any relaxing so I tickled him which made him squirm, relaxing him a very slight bit. His jaw clenched so tightly that the muscles bulged.
Jimmy said, “Now, we are going to take our hands away. Stay still and you’ll float.”
When Jimmy nodded at me, I pulled my hands away. Tarvik neatly folded up and sank, butt first, with his feet and the top of his head disappearing last beneath the water. Before we could reach for him, he got his feet under himself and shot up through the surface, sputtering, spitting, rubbing at his eyes.
“You have to keep your back straight,” Jimmy said.
“You told me to relax!”
“Maybe not that much.”
Over his groans and protests we tried again and again and endlessly on and every time he sank.
At some point Jimmy decided that Tarvik had swallowed enough of the lake. While Tarvik stood between us trying to rub his face dry and cough out water, Jimmy started slowly poking with the tips of his fingers at Tarvik’s arms, shoulders, chest, back.
Between coughs, Tarvik mumbled, “What are you doing?”
Jimmy looked at me and said, “He’s hard as a rock. You and me, we’re wood, cuz, but he’s rock. I’ve never seen a rock float.”
“I need to try again,” Tarvik said.
I left the two of them in the lake and waded out to the grassy edge to sit in the sun.
By the time Jimmy and Tarvik gave up and joined me on the shore, they were both shivering, their mouths blue with cold.
After we finished off our picnic, I figured Tarvik would stretch out on the grass in the sunshine and fall asleep. And he did, for maybe twenty minutes. Then he got up and waded back out into the lake.
“Maybe I should teach him to tread water,” Jimmy said. “That way he can at least keep from sinking until somebody pulls him out.”
Tarvik disappeared under the surface, then shot straight up and stood, spitting out water and gasping loudly for air.
I grinned at Jimmy. “Let him try a little longer. He is having so much fun.”
“Can’t think why he loves you,” Jimmy said.
Tarvik stood waist deep in the lake, his back to us, shaking water out of his yellow hair, the sun gleaming on his muscular body.
I said, “He’ll quit when he’s bored.”
Nice theory. For the rest of the summer, we went to a variety of swimming beaches, some at lakes, some on the edge of Puget Sound, and Tarvik waded in and tried again and again.
By then I felt really guilty. “Listen, maybe what you need to do is get a good life jacket. You need one, anyway, for boating.”
He nodded and went right back out in the water.
To cut this short, yes, he did learn to swim. I don’t think he enjoys it, but he does it. It’s that dedication and determination, added to a very sweet disposition, that makes him such a great guy.
Or at least, that’s what I thought.
Until the day he hugged me and said, “I learned to swim for you. Now it’s time for you to learn to jog with me.”
“What’s one got to do with the other?” I asked. “Swimming is a life-saving skill.”
“I learned to swim so that I can have a long lifetime of loving you. If you go jogging with me, we’ll have that much more time together.”
Walked right into that one, didn’t I? So here I sit, sweaty, exhausted, and with sore feet.
And here he comes. He kneels down in front of me and carefully washes off my face with a cold, wet cloth. Good. He washes my feet. Wonderful. He sits next to me and massages my shoulders. Heaven.
And then he kisses me and whispers, “Thank you for jogging with me. There’s no one in the whole world that I’d rather have for company.”
“Jogging with you is fun,” I say. What I don't say is the best part is when we stop.
About the Author: Phoebe Matthews writes the urban fantasy Mudflat series for BookStrand featuring astrologer Claire Carmody who lives in a neighborhood where old magic hides out. Phoebe wrote articles for astrology magazines for several years. Combining that background with her love of urban fantasy, she put the two together in the Mudflat series and located the stories in Seattle, Phoebe's hometown and favorite place to be. The first book, Tarbaby Trouble, won the 2009 Eppie for Best Fantasy. The second book was an Eppie finalist. Her other published works include Deja Vu Lover for TheWildRosePress. "The Sweetest Boyfriend" features Mudflat's Claire and Tarvik and Jimmy in a new story