Friday, March 26, 2021

Swimming Lessons - Cosmo and John


This was written a while back for my Patrons. 

But in honor of having finished, formatted and uploaded the many-many-times delayed Bell, Book and Scandal (Bedknobs and Broomsticks 3) I'm going to share it here as well. ;-) 

Swimming Lessons

“I’m not sure this is such a great idea.” The wood was warm beneath my bare feet as I walked to the edge of the deck and stared down.

John, looking uncomfortably like an ancient sea god—or what I imagined an ancient sea god might look like—moved toward me, blue water swirling around his lean waist. He gazed up at me, wet sparkling off his eyelashes.

“Why’s that?”

“I just…” The words stuck against the gummy dryness of my tongue, the roof of my mouth. Even at this distance, my heart was pounding so hard I was surprised he couldn’t see it. I shook my head. “What’s the point? It’s the end of August. The summer is over. You—we can’t swim anyway.” I swallowed, unhappily aware it sounded—noticeably—like a gulp. “This can surely wait till next year.”

He tilted his head as though listening for something else, some shorter and higher—much higher—frequency than the one I wanted to project.

“It’s northern California. We can probably swim through November, if we want to.”

“But I don’t want to.”

There. It was out. Smacking down on the glossy painted planks of our new redwood deck like a dead fish.

John gazed up at me with that dark does-not-compute gaze, then braced his hands on the cement lip of the pool and vaulted out onto the deck.

He jumped out of the pool. Which takes unbelievable upper body strength to be able to do.

Water rained down from his lean, brown body, puddling between us.

I took an instinctive step back and seeing this, he froze. I braced myself, trying to pretend like I hadn’t just recoiled, raised my chin.

John said—and he sounded almost shocked, “Cos. I’m not going to…”

“I know. I know that,” I said quickly.

“I’m not some fucking teenaged asshole who’s going to dunk you.”

I relaxed, a little ashamed, because I did know that. But fear—phobia—is not rational. And John, supremely rational, couldn’t begin to imagine how terrifying this was for me. He was like a…a shark in the water. Water was his element. I’d been watching him swim for the last week, ever since the pool—this beautiful, deadly, glinting reservoir of blue and green tile and silver liquid had been installed in our previously lovely upper garden— watching him flashing up and down the choppy aqua length, muscular arms and legs cutting with silent, certain speed. He could go twice the length of the pool holding his breath.

“I’m not going to force you,” he said.

“I know,” I said again, but I still sounded afraid—and he could hear it.

I was afraid. Because he didn’t have to force me. I wanted to show him—didn’t want him to know I was afraid and weak—but water would kill me. I was certain of that.

“Listen to me,” he said, and he sounded nearly as winded as me. “Listen, just listen for a second.” He was not a man to waste words, to repeat himself, and I understood that my fear rattled even him.

He put his arms around me, and I cringed—as much as I welcomed the reassurance of his touch—as all that wet, all that water, slithered and trickled down my dry skin. He wasn’t cold though—that was a surprise. His wet skin felt warm and burnished. The pool must have been heated, although he had said he didn’t want a heated pool. That was a concession to me, the guy who didn’t want any pool at all, ever.

“This is your choice.”

My cracked laugh was muffled against his shoulder.

He squeezed me, said, “I’m not just saying it. It is. But. Can I tell you why I think this—you learning to swim—is important?”

I raised my head. “I know why you think it’s important. But I can’t do it, John. I can’t. You saw what happened when I was pushed into the Seine. I sank. I couldn’t swim at all. I was breathing in water. I couldn’t help it.”

“Okay. Now that’s a different thing.” His gaze was serious, he sounded much more assured. “What you experienced is called cold shock response. That’s a physiological reaction to sudden immersion. It’s not unique to you. It could happen to anyone. Hell, it could happen to me, under the right circumstances. In that kind of situation, you—your body—reacts with an initial cold water gasp. It’s automatic, instinctive. It’s a reflex. You try to suck in a huge gulp of air, but of course what you get is water, not air, and you panic and start to hyperventilate. That’s what happened in the Seine. It didn’t have anything to do with a-an inherent inability to swim.”

I frowned, thinking that over.

He said, “Drowning is a combination of suffocation and cardiac arrest.”

I shuddered.

John squeezed my shoulders, guiding me toward the steps at the head of the pool. Let’s just sit down and talk it out. Okay? You don’t want to be so afraid you can’t dangle your legs in the water on a hot day.”

“The lounge chairs are close enough. And more comfortable.”

He ignored that. “And you like baths, don’t you?”

“No. I don’t like baths,” I said shortly. The sunken tub in our master bathroom was strictly for John, whether he knew it or not.

He considered, said casually, “No? I bet you’d like taking a bath with me. A little champagne, a few candles, maybe some bubbles?”

I swallowed, because…yes, I did kind of like the sound of that. I made an unimpressed hmmpf, which didn’t fool him because his arm tightened briefly around my shoulders.

We stepped into the shallow end of the pool, seating ourselves on the wide first step. The water was tepid, lapping gently around our shins.


I made a face because it was embarrassing to be so stupid. And I was stupid. My heart was hammering as if we were sitting on the edge of a boat in the middle of the ocean, as if I was in imminent danger, when in fact the biggest danger was burning my bare feet on the hot planks of the deck.

“The pool’s heated,” I said.

“Yep. No cold water shocks for you, sweetheart.”

I made a face.

John got down to business. “Now pay attention. We’ve got the steps here. We’ve got a Baja shelf all around the deep end, and metal ladder steps at the midway point. If you can swim even a couple of strokes, you can get yourself safely out of this pool.”

I sucked in a breath, nodded.

“And that’s all I’m asking. Let me show you just enough so if you were to fall in, say, during a barbecue or a pool party, you could paddle to the side and climb out.”

I swallowed.

John said, “You might even find you kind of like the water.”


“Or maybe not. But, Cos, you didn’t fall into the Seine. Not being able to swim is a vulnerability, but a greater vulnerability is being this fearful.”

I rested my face in my hands, breathing in the smell of salt water and chlorine. “I know.”

He pulled me over to him, so that my face rested in the curve of his neck and shoulder. He said against my ear, “I’m not going to let anything happen to you. I promise.”

I nodded. I knew what he was saying—and what he wasn’t saying. I drew away from him, turned my face. He gently squeezed the back of my neck, stroked my back, waiting.

As I stared at the blue and green squares of “moonbeam” tile, I suddenly noted a break in the pattern. Every few squares, there was a silvery blue tile with a five-point star design. I scooted away from John to peer more closely at the nearest silver tile.

Yes. It was a star.

I looked back at him. “I didn’t know you changed the border design.” Granted, I had not been paying much attention to anything connected with the pool. I had hoped until the moment the bulldozer appeared that it wouldn’t really happen.

 “Yes. I don’t know what stars mean to you, but I know they mean something. I want you to feel safe.” John’s smile was wry. “By land or by sea.”

I sloshed back over to him, rested my head on his shoulder once more. Resigned to, but hoping to stall a bit longer, on these bedamned swimming lessons.

I sighed.

“You’ll see,” John said softly. “It’s not going to be nearly as bad as you think.”

I made a disapproving huff.

I felt his smile against my face.

He added—and my eyes popped wide open as the words sank in, “And then we can think about driving lessons.”





While I'm thinking of it, you can still get Bell, Book and Scandal at the preorder price. The book goes live on the 30th.