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But a Big Dream - Chapter 1

Sunlight, the Pacific variety, was always death for her. Maybe something to do with her name—but probably not. Late in the day, when her skin glowed and released its stored warmth, freckles coming into existence over her nose like the stars above the horizon, then she felt tied to the earth itself, its titanic history. The sun sizzled to a puddle on the horizon, with the wind pushing the palms and music coming from the beachside hotels—and she had a notion that she had witnessed the last and only sunset. On this otherwise non-descript day, on this otherwise non-descript beach. As if atom bombs were going off in the distance.

It’s not sense, of course, it’s a feeling, and like all feelings, so far as it actually meant something, meant something false; even now the night was coming nimbly, with beginnings sparkling over the archipelago.

It could be something evolutionary, she thinks, rolling up her towel into a neat bindle, poising her broad-brimmed ivory hat. The man who had been glancing at her all day was now sitting in the sand, listening to his wife cheerfully relate a story—it was in Dutch, so who knows what about. He seemed entirely absorbed in it, but his eyes still managed to look over his wife’s shoulder to fixate on Chi’s own not insignificant chest with a predictable regularity.

Suffering this for a few minutes, Chi finally paused and cocked her head with a weary, but gamesome smile. She was heading back to the hotel room, see which restaurant her parents had planned for dinner, judge whether or not that was to her taste, but she wasn’t in a hurry, so she just met his gaze, which had finally risen to her face. He was a bit overweight, tan, chest furry in an attractive way.

This is something as old as the waves and sunsets, n’est-ce pas? She raised her palms upward, lifted her eyebrows inquisitively, and now the guy’s wife might as well be speaking Ainu for all he’s paying attention. He’s not afraid of Chi, not at all, though he knows his wife will notice if he just keeps staring, so his eyes settle into a safe saccade. She can almost pick out that almond scent of an older man among the smells of blossoms and brine.

She shouldn’t do this; not that the guy doesn’t deserve it, but it is a bit cruel. Chi thought of herself as kind—she is kind. Just not to potential mates—which, granted, is a large pool. But hell, this might not even be cruelty at all, but a species of charity—a generous deposit to a stranger’s spank bank (a term she’d personally reclaimed for womankind through constant use with her girlfriends). She twisted her shoulder strap in a finger and pushed it slowly down her triceps, as if checking for tan lines, though she is far too the perfectionist to ever let such things arise.

Waves everywhere, torrents of air, torrents of blood. She hoped the kiss she blew was enough to get the guy crystal-hard, but she couldn’t be sure, so she added a little incisor lick as a post-script, then turned up the beach. Put you on rock, rock, motherfucker. There’s a particular walk she can use when needed to really drive the point home, but she just wanted to be playful, not get raped. Again.

Something evolutionary. For most human history, she reckoned, artificial light was unknown, and the coming of night was conclusive. Here ends activity—most activity, at least. And her brain, crammed with pin numbers and Li Bai stanzas and other assorted crap, may have been a modern creature, but her heart was still of the Great Rift Valley and its millennia of tutelage. Yonder Dutchman’s cock was forged in the same fires.

Is that a compound noun in Dutch, like German? Das Deutschendick or whatevs?

Then she stopped her slink cold. Beneath a giant parasol, off to the side of the path off the beach, someone was watching. A woman wearing très chère sunglasses tinted a crepuscular purple, pulled down her nose so that their eyes met. A glass of red wine, close to the same hue as her hair, was perched in her right hand, so precariously it looked as if a slight breeze could pluck it away and she wouldn’t care. Her legs, folded at a right angle, glistened with seawater.

Her radiant teeth were pressing into her lower lip, and she had a smile of utmost merriment. She shook her head in a mocking reprimand, then mimicked the tongue lick Chi had thought so inspired moments ago, showing it to have been trite. As if to ask, “It was something like this, right? How very cute.”

And now she felt like an utter moron. She blushed, and with the tan already keeping the blood right under her skin, her face felt like a radioactive experiment gone wrong. She gathered the shards of her philosophical musings and exited the beach, feeling of sexual mastery well and truly gone and replaced with the instinctive shame of some virginal teenager. Not a feeling she had any fucking nostalgia for.

Nor did being on a family vacation foment one’s feeling of adulthood and independence. She is not here unwillingly, let’s not be ridiculous. She loves her parents, she adores her brothers, and she treasures their interactions. But now for the first time, she missed Art, and wished she had pressed him a bit harder to join them, at least for a few days. Just as another source of gravity in the arrangement, something to validate her as something more than daughter and sister.

“As woman,” she thought, and though the antiquated phrase sounded like one of Emma Goldman’s delightful moral scoldings, it accurately encapsulated the urge. It was a lovely word, woman. Underappreciated. Velvety and earthy, a garment one could twirl and wrap themselves in. A garment that felt overlarge at times, but then skintight, accentuating every movement. She felt the latter way a fair amount.

Not now, though. The red-headed woman’s silent laugh and its judgment had made her feel skinny and boyish again. A few golden young men and women in bodysuits passed her carrying surfboards, and she heard giggles a moment later, the kind that follow ribaldry. This, to be sure, increased her confidence instantly, but was, for the record, entirely unattractive, and compared quite unfavorably with Deutschendick, who had the good sense to simply cast appreciative rapey-eyes. It’s comforting to observe older men better approximating what women want; makes one think that, though the sex is boorish, simple, and often downright stupid, it can be taught.

One of the men retraced his steps and tapped Chi’s shoulder. She turned, and the smile lit her face, as if she was recognizing an old friend; actually, she did recognize quite a lot in him. Blond, with a rumbling bass voice, and three lonely chest hairs that set his age at nineteen to twenty.

He stuttered a bit—which made it even more admirable that he’d taken the plunge—and she let him put his number in her phone. When she placed her hand on his arm, he shuddered a bit. “I should let you know, I have a boyfriend.”

“Oh. Uh. Is he the, um, jealous type?”

“Well, kind of.”

“Kind of?”

She practically had to look straight up to maintain eye contact. “Kind of. But he’s pretty woke socially, so he’d blame me for anything—not you.”

“That’s better?” he said, stepping back and screwing up his face. He was so tall she felt like she was beneath an immense parasol.

“Yes. But, it’s ok. I don’t mind the spanking.”

His mouth did a sort of fish out of the water effect, but he had run out of vocabulary.

“I think your friends are waiting,” she said, and spun around. There, see if your friends believe I said that.

She received the first text before she’d even gotten back to the hotel, which she deleted without reading. Just when she became a bitch in these situations was an open question; she didn’t remember the transition. She remembered being seventeen, getting into drawn out text convos with even those guys who were too timid to identify themselves (stashing her phone under a pillow when her parents knocked). That was long ago.

She showered, as she preferred, in the coldest water she could endure. This is supposed to have some sort of dampening effect on lust, the cliché goes, something that in her trials was entirely without confirmation. When she was in high school and compulsively interested in her own ripening genitalia, committing sins so frequently and thoroughly that she actually feared heavenly reprimand and stopped going to church because of it, she had tried the cold shower trick repeatedly, only to find herself twice as sensitive when it was done, every sensation setting her ringing like a sheet of metal. After a few years, she regained control of her bucking body, but by then she preferred the cold water.

She emerged covered in gooseflesh, her breasts pimpled and nipples irritated by the fabric of the towel. But her mind was clear, her desires were sharp and separate, carefully poised and easily examined, like a set of knives in a block. Her periwinkle top she slipped into a plastic bag, and headed for her room. It opened onto the ocean, tropical bushes escorting the stone path to the rear door, with a fragrance of dill and pepper.

Chi had agreed readily to accompany the family that summer, on condition that she have at all times her own room. To her parents’ credit, the only indication of resistance to the idea was one raised eyebrow on her father’s face. He had exchanged a look with her mother, signifying a wordless conversation which Chi could read quite easily, though it lasted only a moment.

“My parents would never have allowed such a thing,” her father’s eyes said.

“She’s a responsible young woman, and it’s not easy for me either, but we have to put our trust in her,” her mother’s eyes said.

“Woman? She’s barely twenty-one.”

“She’s twenty-two.”

“She’s barely twenty-two.”

“My mother had two children by that age. Yours had three.”

“You’re trying to make me feel better?”

“What can you do?”

“Hmmm. Shee-yit.”

There was another raised eyebrow when Chi specified that her room was not to be adjacent, and her mother made some joke about her father’s snoring coming through the wall, and the three of them laughed, though not one believed it was the reason, and not one was dense enough to think the others did.

Honestly, she had never heard her father snore anyway.

Probably the saving excuse was Arthur: although an inchoate idea to them (they had yet to meet him), they assumed the relationship would keep their daughter innocent of any sort of extracurricular depravity. He wasn’t Japanese, but her parents learned fast during high school years that that particular rule was not one their daughter intended to follow, and that if they insisted, she would rule out marrying all Asians as a matter of principle. Hence, Art would do… for now. And for now the mere suggestion of him sufficed with the parents: powerful job, clean-shaven, no tattoos or piercings visible in any Facebook photo they viewed (or that Chi had ever found through personal exploration, though there was a delightful birthmark shaped like—her parents would approve—Honshu, that marked the skin under his cloud-white left buttock).

Her phone chirped several times in quick succession, while she examined the effect of arranging her auburn mane around her breasts in some Blue Lagoon tribute, which was even more tantamount to juvenility, and a shitty movie besides, but it actually felt surprisingly mature. She learned young what most women cotton to at some point: nudity can be weaponized. The silk of her hair, riffled by the sea breeze, developed a pleasurable friction there. Danae must have felt this way in her entombment, getting rain-fucked by Zeus.

She said fuck too much, even mentally. Rain-ploughed. Rain-reamed. Rain-ravaged.

She smiled quite genuinely at the mirror as she divided her hair into tributaries over her chest, separating her pelage in braided rivers, three, two, all left, all right… nice to have tit enough to hold a pigtail. She gingerly scraped her legs and hips with her fingernails, freshly-lacquered, an indulgently baroque pattern that resembled—intentionally—Van Gogh’s Starry Night.  Her body had all these wonderful parts, all so completely different from each other. Corn silk, dark honey, ripe fruit, bashful mollusk, all yoked together into one lithe machine.

Rain-raped. Rain-rammed.

Precipitrated.

Now she’s even picturing Zeus, who stalks through the French door, dripping with rain as lightning flays the sky behind him. Vines of gray ringlets in his beard, French curls in his hair, granite chest, pressing his full lips to hers, a smell of ozone wafting from his skin. Unfailingly gentle even though he could snap her in two with a twitch.

She spread her arms like a crucifix and fell backwards onto the bed with a flump: her eyes closed and her breath increased. The waves outside crashed with an accelerating ferocity.

The thunder god moved a trunk of a leg between her own, as if to force them apart, but they opened wide at the merest suggestion, like a dandelion spilling its seeds to the wind. Her vagina was diluvian. His hands on her shoulders were meaty, imprisoning, and those sky-blue eyes willfully told her that for all the omnipotence crackling through his muscles, and his complete mastery of creation, he had lost control of himself. Their thighs met in thunderclaps. The mirror fractured and then burst outward, its pieces scattering tiny rainbows around the room; the TV turned on, displayed deafening static, then erupted into a debris cloud of sparks and pixels. Her every movement was a provocation.

And his chest, she noted, was delightfully hairy. She stopped him for a moment by pressing her spindly fingers against it, enraging him. This produced an interval she savored with a few deep breaths, before she invited him with a fingertip to resume his rutting and give her everything he’d been holding back, which turned out to be a considerable reserve. As the sheets ripped and the bedframe splintered beneath them, a plume of fear thrilled through her, and she wondered if she’d even survive this, but nevertheless continued to slap her crotch against his with gusto, cause if you’re gonna go, go doing what you love.

Her panting subsided, and she gave off a tiny cry and turned to the right, her fingers clenching inside her. Her clitoris was aware of each contour line that made up her thumbprint. The rhythm of the breakers diminished.

“I suppose, if you’re going to fantasize, might as well aim high,” he said, curling his endlessness around her, cock limp but gargantuan against her buttocks. “How do you feel?”

“Rain-fucked,” she said, opening her eyes. The world was very still. She studied the intricacy of the thatched roof. She listened to her own breathing slow. She probed the sudden forgetfulness, the desire faded, echoes of thunder and their twin defeats. She pushed her fingers into her mouth up to the first knuckle and sucked. She kept them there thoughtfully, then reached for the phone with her other hand, thumbing through the missed texts.

Arthur Molyneaux: How’s Hawaii?

Chiasa Sato: Dude, it’s fucking Hawaii. I swam with sea turtles yesterday.

Arthur: You hate reptiles.

Chiasa: Untrue. I tolerate you. 

A lesser mortal would have sent an emoticon at this point, but Art liked his texts like his emails, and he liked his emails like epistles of a bygone age: properly punctuated, exclamation points unheard of, no foolishness beyond the meaning of the words themselves, which were to be assembled when at all possible into proper junctions of subject and predicate. She had appraised this style dispassionately, found she approved of its veneer of business, and made it her own.

Arthur: Cheating on me yet?

Chiasa: Does anal count?

Arthur: Penetrator or penetratee?

Chiasa: Both. It was a conga line type scenario.

She realized she was still sucking her fingers, which now seemed kind of gross. Not the first time she’s done that though. She popped up and hunted down a pair of jean shorts. When it came to whether or not to throw on underwear, she could go either way, but eventually decided to put on something simple and pink. Modesty was no issue; she liked the color.

As usual, the onanism had drawn tears, meaning she had to touch up her makeup. She preferred an inky blue around the eyes and something to deemphasize the irrupting freckle population.

Arthur: Hell, as long as you’re not flicking it to that weird Greek God scenario you talk about.

She smirked. Always share your fantasies, lest they fester. She shuffled outfits in the closet. Chiffon top, with Peter Pan collar and puff sleeves. Peach colored. And we are ready for most conceivable situations of tropical nightlife.

Chiasa: Dirty prick.

Arthur: So we’re back to anal then?

Chiasa: I miss you. Fuck off. I miss you.

Arthur: Miss you. Call me when you’re in between blowjobs.

Must review those procedures designed to prevent parents from having any access to her cellular telephone. You would think standard techniques would suffice, but you would be in error, as they are frightfully clever, quite determined, and believe curiosity to be a paramount virtue, particularly as it concerns their children’s goings-on. A fingerprint authentication would do the trick with most mortals, but consider that should you close your eyes for a power nap, one’s mother is not above seizing the opportunity to liberate the phone from your purse and covertly press it against your thumb, with a dozen excuses ready should you choose that moment to wake up.

“So,” Chi said, slipping into heels and squeezing the phone with considerable effort into her skin-tight back pocket, “I’m going out. You’re sticking around?”

Zeus had his giant legs crossed, sitting in one of the room’s chairs with The Times spread open in his lap, twirling a Montblanc. The room smelled of his cardamom-scented cum.

“Yeah, I’m good. Tell me something, love.” He uncrossed and recrossed his legs, shifted a bit, and a theophany occurred, smacking against the inside of his thigh like the clapper of a bell. His voice had the wuthering sound of a gale through a canyon. “Six letters, Matthew McConaughey vehicle.”

“Give me a hint.”

“Third letter, H.”

It’s a Wonderful Life.”

There was a clap of thunder. “You know, you’d do well to watch yourself, or I will start psychoanalyzing this whole fucked up thing we’ve got going here. We’ll examine whether I resemble your father. I will get fucking Freudian on your ass.”

Christ. They had the same eyebrows. Way past time to get out of here.

Sahara,” she said, inspecting her profile in the quite unshattered mirror.

“All righ’, all righ’. Hey, tell me something else—is there not some thunder god in Shinto that you can summon up when you’re feeling randy?”

“One, they’re called kami. Two, I know nothing about that shit and it’s kind of racist you’d assumed I would. Three—you’re complaining?”

“I could use a break now and then. You wear me out, nymph, and I have important things to do. Like figuring out twenty-five down. Also, scheduling typhoons. And you know, next time you have one of these filthy fantasies of yours, maybe we could invite Thor, Ba’al and ye olde Samurai Storm God, and tag team that mathematically ideal ass of yours.”

“Well, four men—quote unquote—are technically, according to the DSM-IV, a gang bang, not a tag team. But it’s an idea. You were… all right, today. Pretty good even. If your wife starts hunting me down, promise to turn me into a humpback whale or something graceful, please? Not a cow.” She batted her eyelashes.

“For you, Chi, I’ll create a whole new species.” He pulled his golden e-cigarette out and vaped great thunderclouds of smoke of unknown toxicity, blinking with intermittent thunder as they exited the room. “Maybe a whale with a unicorn horn.”

“Those already exist. “

“Yeah, well, I’m not the god of the sea, for Christ’s sake. Could’ve been, didn’t want to deal with the tides. In, out, spring, neap, yawn.” He waved her off—because males are male, blood or ichor, real or fictive. She locked the door behind her and headed into the evening sparkle, throwing off her myths and recalibrating her thoughts to all the human concerns that keep us from dreaming as much as we should.

The Olympian had started visiting her, as was his wont, when she was scandalously young, but she should stress that the early appearances were mere (literal) recitals, he accompanied by himself on lyre. (Since his set list had to come out of her own twisted brain, these were less Homer, more Lavigne.)

Her copy of Edith Hamilton splayed beside her on the bed, he had infiltrated her bedroom in the guise of a gray cloud from which he precipitated in all his glory: the alien-blue eyes of Hugh Grant, body a lovingly accurate facsimile of the high school swim-team butterfly champ, Pedro Rodrigo. For that, how bizarre the early epiphanies were entirely platonic: even Chi hadn’t understood why she had conjured him.

Maybe, she just liked the (mind’s eye) sight of him. The swagger. The lazy confidence, reclining in his chiton, popping gigantic grapes into his mouth, watching her do her calculus homework. “My people created that, you know.”

Procumbent on the bed, she’d looked up from the textbook, her hair still in its ridiculous sexless pixie cut. “Um, it was Newton, actually, and he was English.” She could be insufferable at that age.

“No. Archimedes, look it up.”

The cockiness appealed, too. Omniscience doubly so. But all those old myths about him being a mindless sex fiend were completely overblown, in her experience; he remained perfectly well-behaved until well after her eighteenth birthday. And even then, she had played the seductress.

Her phone buzzed again, and she was curious what depraved nonsense Art was proffering now, but it turned out to be the surfer again, this time an invitation to a beach campfire. It was actually the kind of event she’d been looking for for the past couple nights, but nineteen year olds were a taste as antiquated as all the rest of her teenage obsessions.

“I’m antiquated?” Zeus was lying on an osier beach chair by the side of the path, drinking golden syrup from a crystalline goblet. The tiki torchlight actually seemed like his natural environment. Maybe something to incorporate later…

“You’re timeless, my love,” she said. “I thought you were staying in the room.”

“Eh, I finished the crossword. Thought I’d enjoy the night air. Find me a nice little hamadryad. Screw her brains out. Tell the ‘rents I say hi.”

“Out of all my disgusting sexual eccentricities that I would die if my parents ever learned, you’re at the top of the list.”

He gave a triumphant laugh. “I know the competition, and I am flattered. Still got it after all these millennia! Zeus out!” There was a sudden hash tag of lightning bolts, a boiling of smoke, and he was gone.

The family was not in their room. She found them on the patio of the hotel restaurant, where her brothers were simultaneously devouring chicken tenders while playing with their iPads.

“Jesus Christ, Chiasa, you are going to get a melanoma,” her father said. He was drinking his customary Heineken, wearing a faded striped shirt with too few buttons done up.

“Ken!” her mother yelled. She didn’t dig blasphemy.

He waved her off. “Look at her. She’s emitting gamma rays.”

Her mom assessed Chi and wrinkled her nose. “You do look a little pink, darling. Make sure you moisturize, or you’ll end up like your grandmother.”

Her father was battling a son for a chicken tender, resorting to distracting him by pointing over his shoulder and then lunging for the basket. He looked up after applying ketchup: “Wait, you can insult my mother but I can’t say ‘Jesus Christ?’”

“Your mother didn’t die for our sins.”

“Don’t tell her that. You’ll give her ideas,” her father said. He gesticulated wildly at the waiter. “Chi, what do you want? They have sashimi, but it is repulsive. But try some of this Portuguese bread. Here, I’ll order some more.”

“No bread,” Chi said, sitting down. Her brother explained to her the game he was playing. It involved zombies and Knights of the Garter.

“Oh right. Bread is evil. Carbohydrates.” Her father nodded and cross his arms, as if positing some timeless piece of wisdom.

Her mom looked up from her phone. “How was your day, sweetheart? Want to go snorkeling tomorrow?”

“Maybe,” she said. Chi was pretty agile, so she managed to snaffle a tender quicker than her father had. Also she and her brothers were tight; free food was the perk she got for patiently listening to them recap their school lessons. By now, she could recite the water cycle in her sleep. But it was summer now, class was out, so tonight instead they described the mongoose they saw on the black sand beach today, and how it looked like Uncle Haruki’s ferret. By the way, Uncle Haruki’s ferret was a rank little rat that should be drowned for the sake of the biosphere.

“Doing anything tonight?” Her father made eyes at the waiter and pointed at his empty beer. “They’re doing karaoke at the bar.” For some reason, her dad, a native English speaker who had forgotten whatever Japanese he had ever learned, always pronounced ‘karaoke’ in traditional Nipponese fashion. “Your mom and me, something from Grease. Epic.”

“Dad.”

“Epic! Sick! Hella hella hella. I am a master of modern slang. Christ, I’m hip.”

“Ken!” Her mother did not dig blasphemy.

He waved at his wife again and went angling for another tender.

Chi smiled, and she felt a deep love in her heart. But, to be perfectly honest, that love was a sort of snare, and she had the sudden desire to get as far away from them as she possibly could. She imagined running down to a dock, finding a boat with keys and speeding over to the Big Island where she could go absolutely wild (it was a fantasy, so she pretended she had some idea of how to pilot a boat). Christ, she’d even prefer to slam beers down at the beach with the surfers. Maybe a couple of guys would jostle for her attention. Maybe she could get some coke.

By the time she’d eaten—coconut shrimp, subpar—the desire to run was like some animal clawing inside her chest (maybe a ferret). She said her alohas and went trotting beachward, the moon a wan bulls-eye above the water.

“They infantilize you. They don’t mean to, but you feel like a child around them,” a voice said from above. Zeus had his mammoth thighs clapped around the top of a palm tree, looking for coconuts. He plucked one off and gave it a shake, grimaced, then threw it away.

“Would you cut it out with that? If I wanted psychoanalysis, I’d fantasize Freud.”

“Ha!” He slid down the trunk and slammed into the sand, sending a little shockwave outward. A sudden downpour of coconuts occurred. “Think of what he could do with that cigar.”

“Don't make a Clinton joke. I’m not old enough for the reference.”

“Bah, fine. Do you know coconuts aren’t even native to Hawaii?”

“Really, where are they from?”

“Cocorado. Hey, you don’t dream me up for the jokes. At least I hope not. But let me tell you this.” He came close, his white robes rustling in the breeze around her.

“What?” she said, suddenly a little flush.

“You,” he said, and touched her chest with his finger, “are a blossoming sexual dynamo. You’re crackling like a nebula about to become stars. You’re like a five-foot caterpillar forcing big, giant, painted wings out of its back. All Cronenbergy. Sometimes it even scares me.”

She lifted a leg and they kissed. His hair moved around them of its own accord. And, of course, he copped a feel.

“You say the right things, sometimes,” she said.

He grinned. “Did I ever tell you about the time I fucked the moon?”

“Good night.”

The beach was mildly populated, with the moon giving things a semblance of a photographic negative. Orange lights from hotels and restaurants and homes were garlanded around the lagoon, speared by palms, all above an apron of damp sand. The waves delivered little snatches of moonlight to the beach and withdrew in darkness. With her shoes on a finger and the water sopping her feet, she broke into a run and gamboled, springing on her tiptoes in a series of kicks. She missed ballet, although she was always perfect rubbish at it, and, around age twelve, the girls had started teasing her about the size of her ass. She had had a chronic nightmare that one day her leotard would just snap from the pressure.

Art had said if nursing didn’t work out, she should consider a career as a beanbag chair. She had told him if investment banking didn’t work out, he should consider killing himself.                                       

She slunk into the orbit of the campfire with a demure wave, sidling between a couple of beach chairs and taking a slap to the face from the marijuana smell. “Hi, I’m Chi. I think I got an invite here.”

The surfer leapt to his feet. “You! I didn’t think you’d come.”

A guy to his left rolled his eyes: “Smooth, Case. Always act surprised when they accept an invite.” He took a turn with the joint, swelled up his chest like a dragon getting ready to blow fire, then leaked out smoke from a sort of vaudevillian grin. “New bitch. You want?”

She was about to refuse, because she had a terrible track record with post-blunt decision-making, but her surfer stared at her and said, “You don’t have to,” so she grabbed the thing and toked deeply. This seemed to generally impress the group, six or seven undergrads from the look of it, who had the contented peace of a day well-wrung out. She fell backwards into a seat and asked for a beer.

“He called you Case,” she said.

“Oh yeah,” her surfer said. “That’s the name they gave me. Casey. I… kind of hate my parents for that.”

Chi leaned way back and watched the Milky Way inch across the face of time. Christ, she was going to be starving in twenty minutes. The absolute bestest thing about Art was he was a provider: if they smoked up, he always sprinted out and returned with a bag full of fries, KFC biscuits, and Sour Patch kids, and that’s the kind of order that you have to hit three places to fill—all in ten minutes, tops.

“Wait, like Casey at the Bat?”

“Yeah, like the goddamn poem,” he said, and looked off to the left sullenly. He knocked some sand around with his foot and was otherwise quiet.

“What’s your story?” the big toker asked, not looking up from his phone. He had spidery tattoos down his forearms, and an alpha vibe that made him the most attractive prospect around the fire, but the woman next to him obviously had him claimed: she was currently attempting to decapitate Chi with her eyes.

“How do you answer a question like that?”

“You know, open your mouth, produce some words that provide relevant information.”

“Here with my family on vacation.”

“Sexy,” he said.

“Yeah, that’s the word for it. How about you?”

“Here with your family on vacation.” Some scattered laughter around the fire, and now the toker’s girlfriend was staring so intently Chi could almost feel her windpipe constrict. She had short tomato-red hair, an industrial art nose ring, and an apparent inability to even pretend to smile.

“Are those real?” the girlfriend asked. Apparently she was able to smile.

“You, uh, don’t have to answer that,” Casey said.

So, you see, you’re twelve, your glands start producing some weird magic potion whose main toxin is estrogen, your hips balloon overnight, the girls in dance class make sure you’re aware that it’s noticeable, and one time, cunts, somebody makes a joke about “Save two seats for Chiasa!” Ten years later, weird beach pixie chick thinks that it’s somehow within bounds to talk about your tits, as if the unspoken commandment that we pretend to leave all body judgments to the dudes had never been enacted. There’s no fucking sisterhood, Lena Dunham, and fuck you for making me believe there was.

“If you can’t tell, why should I?” Chi said. This seemed to please the group, and got at least a few appreciative snickers. It also meant that now every male in the group could not resist a full ten-second visual inspection of her chest.

“And that’s enough about me,” she said, and gave what was, in her opinion, a quite gracious smile considering the circumstances. She devoted herself to the beer.

The chick was too possessive, which meant she and toker weren’t an item, or maybe they fucked but he liked it open and she said ‘Cool’ but who actually means that? Either way, Chi thought, I am now going to make a half-hearted attempt to fuck him. Or maybe go see if the Wendy’s franchise ever made it to Maui, whatever. Island air had something of the post-orgasmic to it: it made her want to do something terribly, but she didn’t have the energy for it right now.

She actually ended up having fun. The record-skipping beginning of the evening notwithstanding, it turned out to just be some sophomores from BU who liked to surf and got a good group-on. The big toker—Andrew—was the sickest history major she’d ever met, funny as fuck, with no other mode than the acidic, world-weary sarcasm of a man twenty years older. He interlarded his not uninteresting monologues on US foreign policy with references to Chomsky and Fellini movies. And though he did want to fuck her—a girl knows; also he winked at her when he proposed skinny-dipping—she in the end ruled it out. She was positive he had crabs.

Also, his girl-whatever turned out to be surprisingly sweet. Clémence (like the anarchist, Andrew said—it was a reference Chi would have to look up later. The irritation of not getting a reference always rankled). She apologized for being bitchy, said she’d just had a fucked-up day, though she offered no details. When the skinny-dipping began, she was out of her clothes in the lapse of a breath and ran giggling into the water. Breasts pert, cute vulva, pierced hood—which always struck Chi as a bit of a hat on a hat, but to each her own. She had a violin hickey, which merited respect.

Casey was the last one to take the plunge. He walked around in little circles in the sand, repeating “are we really doing this, are we really doing this, are we really doing this,” before finally hollering, “FUCK IT,” disrobing, stumbling out of his boxers, and diving into the waves, rather impressive cock trailing behind him like a rudder.

Chi had been the penultimate, and since it wasn’t her first rodeo, she stripped delicately without hurry, like a surgeon readying for an operation. She rocked back and forth to shed her jeans, drew off her underwear, tucked them carefully in a pocket, and disengaged the bra. The firelight lit her in flashes and pops as she walked ceremoniously forward. Inch by inch, the warm water surrounded and penetrated her. Casey came crashing in next to her.

She floated easily, which lent itself to various lazy jokes. Some splashing led to chicken fights, which got surprisingly competitive before ending in laughter and a bruised boob. Zeus went drifting by, riding a dolphin bareback, and made a series of vulgar puns about crabs, clams, and starfish, then said he was heading for Rapa Nui.

It was either her drinking or Casey’s that did it (an unanswerable question, since they’d never be sober together), but somewhere in the course of the night he became downright tolerable, to the point she let him feel chivalrous and walk her back to her room. Relaxed, he started to talk with a nouvelle but enchanting enthusiasm about his twin loves of tennis and veterinary science.

Before they left the beach, they ran into a trio of adults—real, late thirties and beyond, adults—who were rapidly cycling between French, English, and possibly Spanish, laughing and hiccoughing. Two men, one older, with a Nietzschean mustache, glasses, a wreath of short white hair and a piercing, professorial stare; the other shorter, younger, dusky, Mediterranean skin, with thick black hair and incredible musculature. The woman, merlot-haired and loquacious and impressively voluptuous, made disarming jokes and cheerful comments about the beauty of two young lovers on a moonlit beach, leaving Chi as at ease as when she’d been floating beneath the stars earlier, though she hoped Casey wasn’t getting overly optimistic notions about their relationship and what the possibilities of the evening were. The Mediterranean said something lovely about her looks that seemed heartfelt but without the least agenda, though it did cause Casey to take a possessive step closer to her, involuntarily squeezing her hand. This was presumptuous on his part, but it made her feel pretty, a feeling that still made her feel like a child given a piece of candy. Perhaps a habit from ballet.

It was only when the woman brazenly leaned forward to whisper in Chi’s ear that she realized it was the woman from earlier on the beach. Chi’s knees spasmed in sudden insecurity, and she stumbled against Casey, holding on for support, which evidently surprised him and, also, made him grin. Instantly, she felt lost, and she was happy to let him lead her back to the hotel, after they bid adieu to the adults, who continued their macaronic riot across the island.

The woman’s breath had smelled of champagne and pears. She’d said, “Be gentle with him.”

It wasn’t the presumption that they were going to rut that stuck with her—that was just fair inference, plus Casey’s intermittent erection was difficult to ignore, try as he might to strategically position the Sox cap he was carrying. It was the idea that she needed any advice as to how to use it which was really intolerably rude. It was the type of thing Zeus would usually have a comment on, but he was evidently off shagging something.

“Well, thanks for coming out,” Casey said as they walked down the hallway. It was thatched, half open, lit with recessed lamps. “Sorry if my friends were, you know… too whatever.” The way he stood over her, supporting himself with an arm on the door, very little distance between their faces, could actually be interpreted as aggressive, but he didn’t know that. Chiasa Sato was well at ease.

“So…” she began, pulling the keycard out of her purse, “You’re nice, but I really do have a boyfriend.”

“Yeah, I understand. You do seem pretty cool, I mean, to say the least, so he’s a lucky guy. I really didn’t expect you to come tonight. But! I’m really glad you did and we got a chance to hang out and talk… and, uh, swim. I hope you have a great vacation, and life, I guess.”

Chi waved the key card, cracked the door, paused. She looked back, quirked her lips. “Look, you don’t know me, so there’s no reason you have to answer this. I’m mainly just curious about my radar for these things. So, if you don’t mind me asking—you’re a virgin, aren’t you?”

“Ok, nice to meet you. See you round.”

“C’mon, dude, it’s just a question. I’ve had my naked box against the back of your head.”

“It’s not just a question though, is it?” He clenched his arms and released them, took a few steps back and forth. “It’s like an accusation. It’s embarrassing.”

Chi spent an excruciatingly long moment staring at him, drumming her fingers against the doorframe. Her first time left much to be desired: she had no idea what she was doing or what was being done to her, and her partner was just as up to speed. Had things gone differently, she might have just given up the entire enterprise, redevoted herself to academic perfection, to her parents’ delight. Luckily…

In short, she saw a strong case for experiential asymmetry in these situations, and charity demanded that she do the right thing here.

“All right, Casey. Number one, I don’t want to hear from you after this. You’re sweet, but I’m attached. Number two, you leave afterwards—I like to stretch out when I sleep. Number three, you do not tell any of your friends. When they ask how tonight went, you say, ‘Mighty Casey struck out.’”

“I don’t understand.”

“Case, do you have a condom?”

“No.”

“Find one.” He was at the end of the hall by the time she remembered to yell, “And a pack of Marlboro Golds!”

 

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