Mermaid Drive by Harrison Comfort
I’m terrible at hiding my emotions because I have too many of them. This hadn’t raised much of an issue in my personal life since I’d never had a girlfriend. Not until Rachel, anyway. She suggested that we take summer holiday in a remote area of the coastline. It was arguably a little soon to spend every waking second together, but I couldn’t last more than a few seconds without thinking about her – how she talked, her coquettish style. What attracted me most to her wasn’t her physical appearance. She appealed to the nerdy creative hiding behind my manufactured swagger. I appreciated her values and how well she knew herself. It’s like I’d never need anyone else.
I accepted that I wouldn’t be able to protect my feelings for much longer. I found the prospect of telling her both exciting and terrifying. She probably already knew the truth, but I’d rather know her response than overanalyzing whether she felt the same. I couldn’t understand how such a beautiful, emotionally intelligent woman could stand my neediness and intensity. She wasn’t exactly low maintenance, either, but I viewed meeting her demands as thrilling. Being with her was the freedom to have a heart-to-heart in an amusement park. So, I figured that an intimate vacation was as suitable of a place as any to spill my emotions.
Rachel and I stayed at a modest family-owned inn within a stone’s toss of the sea. Only a few small ivory structures sat around the remote shore. Fishermen placed the morning’s catch into metal ice coolers. The serene azure backdrop shone through our curtains. Violet crocuses swayed on our balcony. I held Rachel under a thin, silk sheet, pressing against her warm body. Her limbs felt gentle and smooth. While neither of us were especially compelled to move. Rachel eventually slipped on her yellow bathing suit. I could’ve easily stayed there for the rest of the day. As she waited for me at the door, I stepped into a pair of black swimming trousers she’d bought me for my birthday. With rapidly increasing appetites, we headed downstairs for breakfast.
Surrounded by a semi-circle of rocky hills with skinny olive trees, Rachel and I sipped orange juice and thick coffee. The sun beamed down on us from a cloudless sky. Her light blonde hair sat gently on fit shoulders. Her sapphire eyes twinkled, exuding an insatiable desire for adventure. We differed in this regard. It’s not that I didn’t thirst for new experiences. I just didn’t always know how to share them. I moved around a lot growing up, so I spent most of my childhood alone. Rachel, by comparison, had an annoyingly long list of friends, and they constantly travelled. I began to fear that I wouldn’t exceed her expectations on our holiday. Seemingly reading my mind, she reached under the table, placing both palms on my knees. The glimmer of energy implied that we would not continue sitting for much longer. I lowered my sunglasses and I smiled, pretending as if I knew what she was about to say.
“Okay,” I said. “Let’s do it.”
Rachel smiled, rolling her eyes.
“You didn’t even know what I was going to ask.”
“Of course, I do,” I said, spooning the rest of my eggs. “Can we just wait a bit?”
“Fine,” she pointed. “I just really want to swim around the rocks. The ones all the way out there. It will be nice to move around a little after all of this sleeping and eating.”
I met Rachel at an after-work lounge in London. I would’ve have been there had I not received feedback from my boss that I needed to make more of a social effort. Rachel stood at the other end of the bar with a group of her colleagues, rocking on her back heel. She wore a sleek black shirt and long pants. I found her reserved confidence equally as intriguing as her diamond dimples. I strategically went to the bathroom, so I could more easily pretend to order a beer from her side of the counter. I’ve never asked, but I’m ninety-nine-point nine percent certain that she saw right through my approach. Fortunately, one of her associates found me amusing, otherwise, she probably wouldn’t have continued listening to me talk.
“Sounds like a plan,” I replied to her suggestion, already dreading the cold water.
Rachel kissed my cheek and started down the warped dock. She dove in with perfect form. Feeling the eyes of a few dozen other tourists, I clumsily leapt in the sea and I began paddling.
Rachel had fluid strokes. I did not. She was already well on her way towards the far-away formation of rocks. A lime-coloured lighthouse stood atop the boulders. I squinted my eyes between gasps for air. I objectively didn’t know whether I’d be able to swim that far. A kayak startled me, and I accidentally swallowed a mouthful of salt water. My insides burned. Mistimed bobbing didn’t help. Only the nomadic goats could understand my thirst. I could barely make out the top of Rachel’s platinum head over the whitecaps.
“Come on, babe,” she called from ahead. “You can go faster than that. Spread your arms. Also cup your hands. It will be easier than whatever you’re doing now.”
My diaphragm spasmed as rage raced through my pruning fingers. Remnants of bacon ran up my nose. I wanted to scream. But not for reasons that she could understand. I desperately avoided swimming growing up, unlike her. In addition to being fat, I was born with man boobs. I can still hear the other third graders snickering about me having bigger titts than their older sisters. I eventually had surgery, but the post-traumatic effects of removing my shirt remained. I hadn’t told her yet, but she noted my hesitation with agreeing to jump in the water.
Revealing those parts of myself terrified me because they conflicted with the persona I desperately tried to convey. Rachel could have any guy she wanted. And while I fantasized about telling her every ashamed moment in my life, I needed to protect myself and her. She wasn’t my therapist. I could barely stand listening to myself sometimes. She didn’t deserve someone with so much baggage. I didn’t realize that being with someone could bring out so many deeply rooted insecurities. Namely, that I was unlovable. I attempted to focus to emulate her gliding movement instead of feeling sorry for myself. I inhaled deeply, attempting to hide my discomfort as we approached the rocks.
“I’m going as fast as I can,” I said plainly. “I could have not come along at all, you know.”
I admit that I have an outsized sense of self-worth, but I’m also self-aware. I knew that I’d struggle making it around the loop. But any reasonably conditioned 28-year old male should be able to swim one kilometre.
Rachel knew that I understood this. It was probably one of my more attractive qualities. She fed my need to chase a better version of myself, consistently giving me higher hoops to reach. Her desire for a more perfect life implied that I’d never stop chasing her.
Beneath Rachel’s conservative exterior, existed a sensitive, nurturing soul. She just wouldn’t show me it unless I dropped the façade. Or stopped pitying myself. I irritated her constantly, but I liked thinking that my commitment to maturing excused my selfish outbursts.
I wished that I could be more like her. Not just how easily she got on with people, but how she thought about the world. She rationally assessed situations that my ego otherwise clouded – which on this occasion meant avoiding a barge heading towards us.
“Babe, we need to get out of the way,” she pointed to the boat. “You’re going to drown if you don’t move faster. Why don’t you stretch your arms like I told you?”
I submerged, and I cursed loudly. Rachel fortunately didn’t hear me. She quickly reached the rocks while I fought the water as hard as I could, making little progress. My frustration wasn’t directed at her. I already had high expectations of myself, so it drove me insane when some activity I couldn’t care less about suddenly mattered.
Perhaps she would’ve preferred being with a swimmer. I had an uncanny knack for ending up in love triangles with athletes. Discussing any of this would have only made me seem wildly unconfident. I placed my feet on the slimy base and the edges cut my soles. Rachel had climbed up to a natural jumping spot.
Standing on the highest boulder, she shielded the brightness with her hand. She leaned against the lighthouse, fixated on the passengers. Blonde families and locals with olive skin hung along the railing. They marvelled at the charming cove. I pulled myself up and inched closer to her on the slanted stone. We interlocked fingers. A cool breeze ran down my spine, carrying the strong scent of gasoline. She kissed me gently after the boat passed.
“What’s wrong?” Rachel whispered, seemingly able to read my mind. “I know something is wrong, so just tell me.”
She dug her chin into my chest. Touching her calmed me down. I just didn’t always know how to handle such strong feelings for someone I’d only dated for a few months. What if she woke up one day and realized the mistake she’d made? The cynic in me questioned everything she’d ever said. Surely, my lack of emotional intelligence blinded me to an obvious fact as to why she didn’t feel the same way. But I couldn’t ignore the rush in my stomach.
Rachel and I complemented each other extremely well – intellectually, physically and collaboratively. She represented medicine and reward for years of loneliness and rejection. I’d never seriously considered having a family before Rachel. I wanted to support her independence and build something greater than ourselves. The thought of having a baby with her turned me on to an absurd degree. Yet no matter how many times I made her climax, I just wanted to hold her hand and explore the world together.
She patted my arms and ruffled my hair.
“Come on, my emotional boyfriend,” she cooed as the ship had docked. “I want to head back, so I can read my book and you can write.”
Rachel winked, propelling herself forward and landing gracefully in the water. She treaded water, waiting for me to join her. I crept towards the edge, pretending to cough. It was at least five meters down and if I didn’t jump out, I was going to shatter my tailbone. I hated how lame I must have seemed.
I lunged with my legs like a can opener and I flopped against the water. I heard the faint sound of applause, groaning under the foam. Crashing against the surface knocked the wind out of me. Rachel continued along, circling the mini-island with ease. As we began to approach the dock, I stopped caring about my sloth-like pace. I was going to make it, so I allowed my mind to wander.
Emotional boyfriend. Desirable men weren’t supposed to express their feelings. I thought about how I would’ve handled the situation before meeting Rachel. I would’ve handled being innocently teased by imagining us bump into some girl who hurt me in the past. Being single my entire life wasn’t entirely my choice. I generally came across too strong or too weird for most women to take me seriously. The others appealed to my cynical, narcissistic tendencies, which made for short-lived flings. But I didn’t feel any better, detaching myself from the situation and indulging vindictive, approval-seeking behaviour. I looked up ahead as Rachel playfully somersaulted in the water.
I swam the best I could for the rest of the way. I had no idea what the future held, but Rachel gave me strength. She made food taste better. My world revolved around her dreams, and her needs mattered more than mine.
She waited for me on the dock as I finished the swim. She smirked with pursed lips and I grinned uncontrollably. I climbed up a tire, dripping with salt water, and I wiped my eyes. Foreheads touching, I grabbed her waist and I pulled our wet bodies together I feared nothing, seeing the tranquil horizon reflect in her eyes.
“I love you,” I said.
She bit her lip and rocked forward on her toes.
“Do you now?” she said.
I nodded. I felt like I could lift the rocks with my shoulders.
Our lips met. She nibbled my ear, whispering.
“Does that mean that you don’t mind doing one more lap with me?”
We did two more that day – one after lunch, and my favorite just after midnight.
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