Something cold nudged Janna’s sun-soaked arm and she startled, swiveling as tenderly as a person can in a fold-up beach chair. She squinted to make out the outline of Aaron Mendelsohn, Shira’s younger brother, holding out a juice box.
“Here,” he said. “Hydrate.”
She kept her eyes on him as she took it. His features were starting to fill in, and she wanted to get a look at him—see how today was gonna go.
“Mo-ther-fucker I am hung over,” he said, lowering himself gingerly onto the dock. “How are you even upright?”
She watched as he lay all the way back, laced his fingers in front of his chest, and closed his eyes.
“Pfft,” she said. “Practice.”
He opened one eye and said, “Looks like they nabbed the wrong girl.”
She said, “That’s not funny.”
They’d sat on this dock together before. Of course they had. They’d lived next door to one another since she and Shira were eight and Aaron couldn’t even read yet. They’d invented the J.S.A. Dockside Drama Club out here and made up skits for their parents, always casting Aaron as “Lulu”—a baby or a dog, depending on their needs. They’d held swim tournaments and rated one another’s handstands. They’d pilfered buckets of pea gravel from the Mendelsohns’ driveway and had contests to see who could throw the farthest.
Still, Janna supposed it was possible that last night, after they’d gotten home from visiting Shira at “court-ordered rehab,” might have been the first time she and Aaron had been down here just the two of them.
She looked at his pale, narrow feet sticking straight up now, not far from her smaller, tanner ones, planted flat on the dock. Skinny-dipping had seemed like a funny idea last night. A really funny idea, actually, and the perfect way to shake off the creep factor of seeing Shira in that place, and the queasiness that had filled the car during the drive home. Not to mention the interrogations that had peppered the parent-dinners that followed.
Janna, still trying to get the image of Shira—who had seemed fat and bitter and, let’s face it, a little accusatory—out of her head, had blasted out of her parents’ back door with a bottle of Cuervo, and Aaron, already down on the dock—“just thinking,” he’d said—had whistled to her to join him.
His foot twitched next to her now and she jolted, then exhaled. He was asleep.
She inspected him in the bright sunshine then, from the knees down. She couldn’t take her eyes off the unevenly clipped toenails; the raised veins radiating from his anklebone and across the plain of his foot; the patchiness of the hair on his calves. She’d seen him naked now. There was no undoing that. And he’d seen her. Touched her. Lots of things to her.
She pulled herself to her hands and knees and threw up over the side of the dock and into the water.
Still, he didn’t stir.
She lay still in the sun for a long time, one arm dangling off the dock and the other draped across her eyes: thinking of Shira’s bloated face, her ugly pajamas, and her dull-eyed new “friends”—and the way she had looked at them when Aaron pulled his keys from his pocket while she was still talking, and said they’d better hit the road because it was getting late. It was revolting. Janna didn’t know what she’d do if they ever tried to make her go to a place like that, but the options didn’t include actually arriving.
Eventually, she sat up and stretched an arm across her chair to grab the juice box, and held it against one cheek and then the other before sliding its tiny straw into the hole and sucking it down.
Then she crawled over and lay down next to Aaron: unlacing his hands, and laying one of his arms out flat so she could use it as a pillow. He mumbled something and she looked up at the side-by-side houses, checking the windows, before she slid her hand into his shorts and whispered, “Hey Lulu. You gonna swim with me tonight?”