Cody may have had the brainstorm, but when it comes right down to it, he hasn't the faintest idea where we can go swimming at this time of night. Fortunately, I do.
We stand gazing up at the 12-foot wrought iron gates. "Where are we, sir?"
"Friend's house. More accurately, ex-wife of a friend's house."
"And you don't think she'll mind?"
"I don't think she's here," I reply reasonably, gesturing at the empty driveway.
"Then…" Cody looks troubled; it's obviously on the tip of his tongue to ask how we're going to get in, except that he doesn't want to call attention to the fact that a hop over the gate would be child's play for him, basically impossible for me. Suddenly I realize that the swimming suggestion makes a lot more sense in this context, too: something physical that we can do together and which won't put unnecessary strain on my leg. With, of course, the added bonus of potential nudity. You manipulative bitch.
"Be not afraid," I tell him. "I've got the code." I swing the security panel open and punch in the date of the third Mrs. Wilson's anniversary, and just like that, we're in.
We're nearing the end of Indian summer, but the water will be warm enough. Cody reaches casually for my arm as we approach the stairs from the patio. "Here, sir, I'll help you down." His grip is firm but gentle. My thigh is throbbing, but there are no undignified collapses.
Once we reach pool level, though, Cody races ahead, calling, "Let's go!" He strips down to his skin without hesitation and dives into the deep end with a whoop. It's pretty dark down here with nothing but the security lights from the main house, but I still wait until he's in the water before shrugging out of my shirt and jeans.
I experience a quick flare of panic as the water closes over my head, and when something grabs my left ankle and yanks me down, I splutter and swear, struggling to surface. But of course it's only Cody, kicking away with a low laugh. I tread water and splash in his general direction, craning my head to follow the sound as he circles me, and then he hollers and locks an arm playfully around my neck, and we're suddenly wrestling, his arms slippery under my fingers, his legs tangling in mine. For a moment nothing hurts, and everything seems to make sense.
"Sir?" I blink, dazed, my chest aching. For some reason we're standing in the shallow end, Cody's arm around my waist to support my weight. "That's enough for now, sir."
"I'm fine," I say automatically.
"Yeah, well, I'm cold," he claims, and drapes my arm over his shoulders, half-carrying me up the steps and over to our discarded clothing. I dress clumsily, in silence, but Cody simply bundles up his clothes and holds them in front of his crotch. "Can we go back to your place, sir?"
"Of course. Where else?"
"Where else," he echoes, smiling. "You know, sir, they shouldn't let you out on your own. You're liable to get into real trouble!"
"Oh, I excel at it."
He helps me stagger back up the stairs to the patio and hands me my cane, then peers at me more closely as the light falls across my face. "Your forehead's bleeding."
I raise my hand, and my fingers come away black with blood.
It's not a long drive back to the apartment, but we're both shivering, still soaking wet. Cody, stuffed back into his slacks and unbuttoned shirt, stops just inside the door, gazing around with a slightly incredulous grin. I point and say gruffly, "The bathroom's just down the hall if you want to take a shower."
"Aren't you taking a shower too, sir?" he asks. I honestly can't tell whether he's being coy.
"Age after beauty," I tell him.
"First I think we need to take care of that cut, sir. Do you have any Band-aids?"
Too tired after all to argue, I lead him to the bedroom and sink down on top of the sleeping bag, jerking my chin towards the adjoining room. "Going camping?" he asks.
"I'm fine, really," I mutter. The room is starting to spin very slowly.
"Stay there," Cody says, "I'll be right back." I lie back and close my eyes, willing the world to stabilize. I can hear him rummaging around in the bathroom, opening the medicine cabinet, sloshing the antiseptic.
Suddenly he's looming over me. "Sit up." I obey, but curl my lip a little to let him know what I think of his high-handedness. He kneels between my thighs, radiating warmth despite the condition of his clothes. "Tilt your head back."
"Wow, it's almost like you're a real doctor," I taunt him feebly as he dabs at the caked blood on my bruised forehead. He just smiles, spreads the Band-aid with steady fingers, and then brushes my thinning hair back tenderly. Our faces are alarmingly close together.
"I think that we should get you out of those wet clothes," I tell him.
Cody continues to stare down at me for a few seconds, but then murmurs, "Yes, sir." He stands, turning his back, and strips, not exactly seductively, but slowly and deliberately, while I watch. Here in the soft light, he is golden and gorgeous, shoulders and chest well-defined without being bulky, waist narrow, endearing sacral dimples above his buttocks.
He slides out of his underwear last, then swivels again to face me, his eyes locked on mine. He's half-erect, his penis swaying up with a kind of eager uncertainty. He seems to be waiting for me to say something, to reach for him, but I'm literally weak in the knees and can only swallow, blinking, bewildered by a heady mix of alien emotions. Besides, I figure that the only way this isn't a career-detonating sexual harassment suit from a student is if he makes the first move. Bullshit, Wilson's voice sneers. It's your word against his, either way.
Our bizarre Mexican standoff lasts for several seconds before Cody caves, retreating into the bathroom. Once I hear him safely in the shower, I peel off my damp clothes and shrug into my robe. I limp into the living room to turn up the thermostat, and when he joins me, a towel hugging his hips, I'm sitting on the sofa.
"Aren't you cold?"
"No, I'm great," he assures me.
"Would you like a drink?"
"A beer, if you have one."
"Well, I'm afraid… that's all we have," I say, my mouth quirking in an involuntary smile. "Two beers coming up."
When I get back from the kitchen, he's prowling around the living room, inspecting the bookshelves, my record collection. He accepts the bottle I hand him and takes a polite sip. "You live here by yourself, sir?"
"I do now. I used to share this place with a friend." I am surprised at the ease with which these words emerge from my mouth.
"Man! Guys my age dream about the kind of set-up you've got here. I mean, what more could you want? You get to be left alone, and you come and go as you please."
I have to smile, remembering all too well when that was my own vision of bliss, particularly in those first few days after Wilson arrived on my doorstep with a blow-dryer and the world's loudest nail clippers in his luggage. "Is that your idea of a perfect life?"
"What's the matter, don't you believe me?"
"If you're so keen on the idea of living by yourself, then where does Lois fit in?" I ask pointedly.
"Lois?" he shrugs. "What's she got to do with anything?"
"I was under the impression that you two were fucking," I say, because apparently, even when I'm hoping to get into someone's pants, I can't let go of my lifelong habit of poking with a sharp stick and watching for the reaction.
"Uh… we did, once."
"Why only once?"
He smiles. "I didn't say 'only once,' I said, 'once.' Come on, the last thing I want to talk about is Lois." He swallows a yawn, skillfully enough that I might have missed it except for the telltale moisture in his eyes. "What time is it?"
"Hm. My watch seems to have stopped."
"Do you… want me to go?"
Wouldn't we both like to know. But what I say is, "You must be kidding! Go get us another beer."
"Is that an order, sir?" he says softly.
"Damn right it is." He pads away, and I knead half-consciously at my thigh and swill down more of my beer. I think that I want this, but I'm not ready, I'm not- "Pathetic," I groan, letting my head drop into my hands.
"Did you say something, sir?" Cody asks, setting down a fresh bottle in front of me.
I look up, peer into his watchful face. I decide that I have to know exactly what I'm dealing with. "Why are you here?" Silence. "Why did you go to the clinic and ask the duty nurse for my address?"
"I… just wanted to see you someplace other than school."
"Why?" I give him one of my patented looks, the one that's made half of my senior fellows wet their pants and the other half… wet their pants.
"Sometimes I think I'm crazy because I see things so differently from everyone else. I feel like I can talk to you." I try not to snort as I take another gulp of beer. God, how Wilson would laugh if he could hear this. "To be honest, sir, I was also worried about you today."
I drink again, suddenly feeling reckless, a little giddy. "Me? What's there to worry about? I'm fine." Cody's face begins to blur in front of me. "I'm… fine," I murmur as my too-heavy head falls back into the sofa cushions.
I feel as though I'm sinking. Drowning. I can't breathe. I barely manage to break the surface of the water.
I gasp awake to find myself lying in my bed on top of the covers. It's almost 3 am, and the apartment is still.
I struggle up and stagger into the living room, where someone is asleep on the couch under my sleeping bag. The head rests on what I still think of as Wilson's pillow, and for a second my heart gives a sickening lurch of hope before my brain shoots it down deliberately. This hair is fine, straight, and the color of burnished copper in the dim light, and the face is no older than Wilson's was on the evening that we met.
Cody sleeps as hard as Wilson, though; he doesn't stir as I pull back the loose corner of the cover, planning only to tuck him in, but stopping short when my fingers encounter cool metal. My gun is tucked into the crook of Cody's arm, a heartbreaking protective gesture made all the more touching for its inadequacy. But it's enough for now. I slide the gun out and lock it into its drawer, then return to my room and shut the door.
A few times in my life, I've had moments of absolute clarity, when for a few brief seconds, the silence drowns out the noise, and I can feel rather than think. And things seem so sharp, and the world seems so fresh, it's as though it had all just come into existence. I take the letters I've left out for Cuddy and my attorney and light a match, watching them disintegrate above the flame. Holding on to Wilson is death. I want to live. I want to be happy.
I can never cling to these moments; they fade. And yet, I live my life on these moments. They pull me back to the present. And I am convinced, if only for a few seconds, that everything is exactly the way it is meant to be.
At peace, or at least in a temporary state of truce, with myself and my memories, I sit down on the bed. I reach for a glass of water, then pause, wincing, as pain shoots through my left arm. My heart suddenly feels too big for my chest, and I grope futilely to rub the ache away, attempting to get to my feet before my ruined thigh gives way and drops me on the floor, the glass shattering beside me.
I have no air to yell. I can hear the clock ticking more and more loudly, measuring out my last remaining breaths. And then it stops.
Out of the darkness a figure approaches, swimming into focus. It's Wilson, smiling, in crisp slacks and glossy French shoes. He kneels beside me, bends down, and kisses me at the corner of my mouth. And then, having bestowed this benediction, he rises smoothly to his feet again and backs away. The world fades to black.
After many a summer dies the swan.