Cress – Connor Joel

Shoestrings [Photo Credit: Debbie Jane Holloway]

It was my idea to start the morning with a dip in the lake. Once we’d unwrapped each other from the tangle of limbs and sheets we’d become during the night, I sat and looked at the ripples of Steven’s back. If I thought we had enough time I’d have leapt on him again right there. I’d have flipped him over into odalisque and started painting him for days. But he’d paid for drinks last night in large bills, covered me when I’d gone all in. So he’d have to be busy. It was a Thursday morning. It only made sense to put the night to bed.

Then he exhaled softly and his shoulders collapsed into the rest of him like two newborn foals into grass and I pictured a body wet. Steven’s, but not from the shower, glistening with live-water and first sunlight. I never got ideas in the morning. I looked away, turning back into his thighs. (God.) I couldn’t wait.

He stretched and I felt him drift against me.

“Hey,” I said.


I threw my legs over my side of the bed. “Got anywhere to be?”

His hands just barely brushing my hips. “You have somewhere in mind?”

I wiggled away, stood a little, leaned some. Glanced at the bedside clock. 5:41.

“You got an hour? Maybe two?”

Steven’s chin on my shoulder, looking into me. “Sounds promising.” He smiled.

“I’m hitting the lake for a bit. You can come along if you’re interested.” I slid off the bed completely, onto my feet. A natural dismount.

He rolled back over to his side of the mattress and sat up, feet-forward.

“Can’t see why not.” He looked over his shoulder and smiled, his whole face opening up. The smile turned to yawning and I grinned a little back.

We dressed quickly and left Steven’s place. I wore his drab marine corps crew neck sweatshirt, drowning a little in the fabric. It fit him like a glove, but he had five inches on me at least, and several pounds of well-apportioned muscle. I’d gone out without long-sleeves last night, but mornings left me cold, and this one was the same.

Steven was poured through shorts and a V neck T. We walked beside each other down the street. I hung back a little bit, as he outstrode me. As I hesitated pleasantly. It had been my idea to swim at dawn, but I didn’t mind if he took the lead for a while.

We passed the usual assortment of buses and delivery drivers and traders on their way to wherever. I’d seen the requisite jackets and ties in Steven’s closet last night while he brushed his teeth, wondered if he was high-finance or just a weekend dresser. We’d met casually—almost didn’t, in the noise and press—so there were open questions. Which was fine. So far as concerns could rise, I figured I knew the angel’s share. Steven was warm and fresh and pleasantly weighty in the right places, spring in his step.

I walked faster to keep up, to be just-not-against his right side. I could feel him smiling down then and let my shoulder brush his, kept walking. We stayed that way for blocks, not touching, not a lot.

Then, the lake in newborn light. Clouds wisping through the sky and trippling through the waves, shadows and sunbeams at dawn. Almost too early even for seabirds, there were just a few, here and there. They flocked in masses later in the day, when there were teeming lunches all around to tempt them.

I stripped my jeans and slipped out of my shoes, folded everything into a stack and looked right. Steven was still.

“Do you still want to get in?” I asked. It was new to see his face without a hint. “There’s coffee not too far. We passed it on the way.”

He twitched, then looked down at me. “No, no of course.” He peeled the shirt and shorts off effortlessly, left them rumpled on the ground.

“You need help with that?”

“With what?” I said.

“The sweatshirt,” Steven pointed. “It’s a little much for you, I can tell.”


“It’s a joke,” he said quickly. “Just thought it was funny, you swimming over there already.”

I laughed, shrugging, then crossed my arms over my head and pulled it off, sleeves first. I pressed all the ends together and set it on my pile. The sand was cool between my toes, still silky with night. I squeezed them together and dashed off down the beach.

I crashed into the water hard, eyes closed. Diving onto the surface from a run was like hitting a quilt spread out on the floor expecting a mattress underneath. Bracing. Cold. Then, my body giving in to wild steadiness. Just a mute moment of deaf-blind motion.

I opened my eyes underwater and saw silt lightly dusted with pebbles, looked down my light brown legs at my splaying pink toes. I got my bearings again and ran further into the tide before going back under. (God.)

I started stroking hard, pulling myself out further onto the lake, water lapping over my feet and back and shoulders. Below me, a cloudy blanket of watercressy leaves stirred and waved. I rotated up and gulped a breath of air, stared back down.

It was like peering at a great green lung, bronchioles reaching and retracting like fingers. Not for the first time, I wondered how lake and sea plants grew without open air, how they breathed. What it must be like to be joined in a living bed. Did each plant root itself, or were they all one being, like that poem? I swam.

After another minute or so, I looked back. Steven still idled standing in the shallows, his dry hair catching light.

“Come on out,” I shouted, “It’s great.”

I saw him shake his head no, then scratch his scalp, right elbow cocked over his head like a crooked wing. I swam back.

“What’s the matter?” I said

He huffed out a breath, looked away, turned back to me. “So cold.”

I must have stared at him harder than I meant.

“And it’s like the lake’s alive.”

“Yeah,” I said, “that’s the idea. You never swam at a beach before?”

“Not really.”

“You do swim?” Had I taken it for granted, somehow? “Aren’t you a marine?”

Steven squared off and took both my shoulders in his hands, looked down hard. “Yeah, I swim. At the Y. In a friend’s backyard. Hell, even here, at noon, when there’s someone in the chair.” He pointed down the beach to the empty lifeguard stand.

“It’s like the lake’s alive,” he repeated.

I shrunk a little bit, tried to slip back down. He held me firm.

“Besides,” he sucked in air, let it out. “It’s just a sweatshirt. Sorry to disappoint.”

I looked back up at him. Took him in all over again in newborn light. His blue eyes half-closed, but spinning sun like dewdrops. (God.) I gripped his left arm with my right and stood up again.

“Come on. Let’s grab breakfast. The night’s not through quite yet.”

He smiled, took my left hand in his right, and shoved me back into the water.

Another moment deaf and blind. I stood and pushed him, just a little, laughing.

“Unexpected,” I said, when I found my lungs again.

“I think I like that.”

Connor is a writer and editor, living in Northwest Indiana and Boston, Massachusetts. Follow him on Twitter @keepthemuse for topics like flour, flirting, fanfiction, and the process of becoming a literary highwayman in real time.