On the Fringe
by Mary Haynes
In the summer of 1970, I fell for a guy in a fringed suede jacket. Even though it was summer, he wore it whenever he rode his Triumph 350 motorcycle. He wore a teardrop peace chain around his neck on his frequently bare chest. He played Classical Gas on the guitar around the campfire. In short he was the perfect 70's crush!
Greg had a place at the summer campground where I hung out. It had an enormous pool, and it was where we all learned to swim. We spent hours diving in the pool and sitting on the pump house roof, burning our baby oil covered bodies.
It was my awakening and my gentle nudge into becoming a woman. Greg was easy to like, friendly, and oh my, his button-fly jeans were strangely appealing.
It was a summer I will never forget and frankly searched for that feeling again for most of my life. Our age differences and circumstances made us star-crossed lovers, and summer faded into fall. School and responsibilities led us on separate paths. I tried to hang on to the memories. I bought a suede fringe purse; it made me think of him.
In my search to find myself after my divorce, I decided to rent a cottage back where I had felt happy and free.
I balanced on the edge of the pool and dipped my right foot down to feel the water. "Brrrr!" I shivered.
"Come on now, it's not that bad." A man chuckled from somewhere close beside me.
I turned my head to see the lifeguard smiling at me from his perch atop the guard chair. I guess I'd become a little soft.
I remember when I was like those kids running and jumping off the diving board, oblivious to the temperature. I better get this over with quickly before I chicken out and look more foolish. It was a bit shocking, especially where the water swished across flesh not covered by my blue bikini. Soon I got used to and I warmed up. I fell into a relaxed freestyle stroke. After swimming some lengths, I removed my foggy goggles and saw that the lifeguard was squatting on the pool ledge beside me.
"See, that wasn't so bad. Jumping in is always the hardest part," he said.
I felt a flush on my cheeks and hoped he would think it was from the exercise. I thought, yup, it's a bit like jumping back into the dating pool.
"It didn't kill me, but you might want to tell the owner to crank up the heat a little for us old folks." I felt uncomfortable in the water with him leaning over me, so I pulled myself up over the edge of the pool, ignoring the hand that he offered.
"I'll pass that tip along to the maintenance people, but I hardly think you qualify as old folks. In fact, with that body, you give the young things around here some serious competition." He grinned as he watched the beads of waterfall around my French manicured toenails.
"Ah yes, now I remember, the lifeguards here always were cheeky. Do you guys have to take a course in how to schmooze women, or do they put that quality right on the job listing? But thank you, I love to swim and hike, which does help, I guess. I would kill to be able to eat those French fries that skinny, young thing is munching on over there, although I'm sure they couldn't be as good as when I was a kid." I wrapped myself in a red and white striped towel.
"Since you have been such a good girl and swam your lengths already, please allow me to buy you some French fries. I'll bet they taste just as good now as they did in the olden days." He was already walking away, assuming I would take him up on his offer.
I grabbed a T-shirt, slipped my feet into flip-flops, and followed him over to the concession stand, where he placed his order.
I quipped, "I'm surprised you eat fries.
You look as if you spend a lot of time at the gym and scarf down protein shakes to keep yourself looking good for the ladies."
"I'll take that as a compliment. Thank you very much for noticing. I do exercise a lot, but I only eat real people food." They sat down at one of the plaster and mosaic patio tables, shaded by a blue and white metal umbrella. "I don't see a wedding ring or a telltale tan line."
"You really do live up to the lifeguard reputation, don't you? Don't you think we are a little too old for this game?" I rolled my eyes.
"Stop it already with the age comments, you're as young as you feel, and I bet you feel pretty young if you know what I mean!" He joked while tapping an imaginary cigar and wiggling his eyebrows like Groucho Marx. "So, you married or not?"
"Not. My husband, Dan, left me six months ago, said he needed to find himself. Of course, what he found, was a younger woman. Charming lass owns a pet grooming studio, so a least she should have some experience with handling a dog, like Dan."
"That's why the bitter jibes; glad to know it's men in general and not just me. Well, Dan's foolish loss is some lucky man's gain." He walked over to the concession and picked up the tray with the fries and two colas. Here you go, the best fries on the planet; they still use fresh-cut potatoes." Without asking, he sprinkled them with vinegar and salt.
"Yum, I don't believe it. I think these are even better than I remember, and they still come with the little wooden fork." I stabbed the two-pronged fork into the middle of a fry, bit first one end, then the other blew on the middle, and popped it into my mouth.
I noticed he was watching me with an odd expression. "Old habit. I swear it makes them taste better. I giggled. Besides, it helps cool them down."
I remember coming here as a teenager; I would drop all my stuff by the side of the pool and jump right in. When I finally got out, I was so hungry I used to burn my mouth on the fries every time. My cousins and I thought we owned the place; we spent every nice summer day here. Sometimes our parents got tired of driving us back and forth and rented us that little white cottage over there." I said, pointing with a skewered fry.
"Emma? Oh, dear Lord, I thought you looked familiar! I should have known you right away; I started cluing in, watching the weird way you eat your fries. It's me, Greg! He grabbed a couple of napkins and held them to his head. Look, visual aid. Picture me with hair."
I stared at him. Without his shaggy blonde hair, tie-dyed bell-bottoms, and peace medallion hanging from a leather necklace, I hadn't recognized him. But then, I hadn't expected to see him here, after thirty years. "My God, Greg, what are you doing here?"
"Yup, I'm still a lifeguard," he shrugged. Then, seeing me sputtering, trying to come up with the correct, polite response, he laughed, Of course, I own the place now."
"You bought Willow Lake Park?" I asked.
"Uh-huh; pool, cottages, campground, the whole shebang.
I came back into town about ten years ago, and this place was up for sale. It was a bit of a financial struggle for a while, but I think we've turned the corner, and we are into a bit of black ink, finally. The last I heard, you were living on the east coast. What brings you back to the good old Midwest?"
I looked at the willow trees, reflected in the sparkling pool. I felt silly. How would I explain I was trying to recapture a moment in time. I looked up at Greg, remembering his baby blue eyes, even though there were wrinkles that framed them now. "I was trying to see if you really can go home again," I said quietly.
"Welcome home," Greg said. He lifted my chin with the knuckle of his index finger and kissed me.
"I've waited thirty years to do that again."
I gasped, feeling the old familiar sparks shoot through me.
"Do you remember our first kiss?"
"Of course, I do, like it was yesterday. It was your last day here, and I kissed you behind that row of pine trees. He pointed to where he took me on a bright, moonlit night, thirty years ago.
"And I said, "Well, I guess that was goodbye?" I searched his face for a sign that he remembered how he had responded to that question.
Greg held my gaze for a moment before speaking, "And I answered you. No, that was just Hello!"
I leaned forward and kissed him, then whispered, "Hello again!"
About the author
Mary Haynes splits her time between a romantic old sailboat in tropical waters and a beach home in Ontario. A wanderer, by fate, she embraces wherever she roams! Mary recently completed her first children’s book, “Who Ate My Peppers?”