Party central was one mile from the college. Jasmine's friend, Tara, threw them on the rocky shore of a wide lake that was hidden from view by a dense forest. Amber and Jasmine arrived together. The bonfire made the whole shore glow, flickering off of the deep water and beer bottles. Jasmine had convinced Amber to put on her shortest denim shorts, but she wore a long-sleeved shirt and kept her auburn hair straight and free; she didn't have the patience for curling irons. The girls sat down with a few friends from their classes. Amber knew Ash from History, and he handed her a beer.
"Hey, Amber," he greeted.
"Want a cig?"
They clinked their beers together and drank. It didn't take long for Jasmine to end up in some boy's lap; another couple formed across from her. Amber felt awkward. She couldn't just throw herself at someone like that. She glanced over at Ash, and he winked. She smiled politely and finished her beer. Then she stood.
"Do you want another?"
Ash grinned; his body language was tense, hopeful. Amber considered the option for a moment. Ash was quite good-looking, actually. Blond hair, blue eyes...He played some kind of sport. What was it? Lacrosse? Maybe. Amber reached into a cooler and grabbed two bottles.
But Ash had no idea what he wanted. Not many of her friends did. Amber was the odd one out. She was studying Psychology. After she graduated, there would be graduate school, and then she'd work under a reputable psychologist and eventually open her own practice. Men were in there, of course. Somewhere. But it would take someone special to make her look twice. Someone interesting.
Her mind flitted to the man from the college café before she could stop it. What was it about him? He was so attractive, so intriguing, but so...not dangerous, exactly, but certainly not safe. Amber told herself he'd only entered her brain as an example of someone she would never be interested in.
She felt a hand on her shoulder, and she jumped. It was Ash, cigarette in hand.
"Everything okay?" he asked.
"Yeah. Daydreaming. Here you go." She handed him the beer and touched his cigarette lightly with her index finger. "That will come back to haunt you, you know."
"So they tell me." He took a puff and blew it out again. "I like you, you know."
"Oh." He seemed taken aback.
Amber blushed. That hadn't been the right response. "Um, sorry, I'm just...focusing on school right now."
Amber smiled, and they clinked bottles. The mood was light again.
"Hey, do you...want to go for a swim?"
Amber looked from Ash to the water. The idea of swimming at night had never really occurred to her. She supposed it was warm enough, but she hadn't brought any swim wear. Ash was grinning. She could do it. She could be spontaneous. And it might help to make up for the fact she just rejected him.
Ash threw his cigarette down and stomped on it. Then he tossed his keys down beside the cooler and peeled off his shirt. His shoes and sneakers came off next. Amber hesitated, then pulled off her shirt and tossed her slip-ons aside. It wasn't much different than wearing a bikini, and she left her shorts and glasses on. She wasn't planning on going under water, after all. She glanced around. No one seemed to be paying much attention. People were playing volleyball or roasting marshmallows or making out. Ash took her hand and tugged, encouraging her to join him in the water. She waded. He dove in.
Germs. Germs were on her mind. What exactly was in this water? Algae could carry E. Coli, couldn't it? But Ash pulled her down, laughing and splashing, and she let go of her reservations. The water was cool, refreshing against her skin. She and Ash had known one another for a year, and while they didn't talk often, conversation was free and easy when they did. Amber began to backstroke, pushing herself along. The full moon shone on the surface. Ash splashed her, and she swam after him.
Before she knew it, they were far from shore, and she couldn't find the bottom of the lake with her feet. The sensation was terrifying and exhilerating all at the same time. Ash shook the water out of his hair. Amber's glasses were wet; she could barely see. But she could feel. Strong arms grabbed her around the waist. She thought Ash was just goofing around, but then his lips pressed down on hers. Amber struggled and finally managed to break free, swimming clumsily away. Ash grabbed her again. Fear and anger erupted in her heart, and she smacked him.
"Cut it out!" she shrieked.
"Ow! Dammit, Amber. You're such a bitch."
Ash rubbed his face and headed back to shore. Amber watched him go as best she could through her foggy lenses. She should have known the swim wasn't as innocent as it had seemed. She was upset, embarrassed. She wasn't ready to follow him back yet. She kept herself afloat, anxiety burning in her chest.
But Amber's problem quickly became insignificant. Something brushed against her leg beneath the water. The depths remained dark, even with the full moon shining. Before she could decide whether or not to be afraid, something snapped closed on her calf and tugged, trying to pull under the surface. Panic was at the forefront of Amber's mind, making her dizzy, near fainting. She thrashed wildly, struggling against the insistent weight.
Through her terror, she caught a glimpse of the opposite shore and what she thought was the tall, naked figure of a man. Moisture dripped from her glasses. It could easily have been an illusion. But she screamed the first name that came into her terrified mind. It just seemed right somehow.
Then she was pulled under.
More next week! Be sure to check out the other flashers! Julie Hayes (m/m) Sui Lynn (m/m) RJ Scott (m/m) L. M. Brown (m/m) Lindsay Klug (m/f) Pender Mackie (m/m) Ryssa Edwards (m/m)