“Last week of the season,” the big boss man announced when the employees gathered before opening time.
Sweet shack girls in their yellow polos and khaki shorts, along with lifeguards, a recent addition to the team, and pool boys. The guys who kept chlorine levels right and screws on the slide tight filled in on the front lawn.
“This isn’t worth $1.25 an hour,” Camille whispered to the girl next to her.
Ed stayed in the back, the way most of the pool boys did. Except he stood to the far left so he could have the perfect view of Camille. While his co-workers murmured under the boss’s announcements, Ed watched Camille. She sat at the perfect angle, Ed thought. The sun glimmered through her auburn hair. It made her nose shine. It looked sweet, Ed thought; even though, he heard that girls hated shiny faces.
“Pool boys,” the boss called to get their attention, “We’re doing the hiring and promotions on the manager and maintenance teams before the end of summer. Keep it in mind. I want people who know this place.”
Ed tried to look at his coworkers without being obvious. The sweet shack girls noticed though. Ed avoided their eyes. He shifted his weight so the pavement couldn’t burn his toes. The sun made the floor hotter than it should be, the boss asked the pool boys to throw water buckets across the deck.
As the group broke to start the morning, Ed stayed in the yard. Camille talked with some girls. Go away, Ed willed no that he knew what he would say to her anyway. Ask her out? No he didn’t have the money for that. Make small talk? NO she would think he acted awkward or confuse his motivations.
“You’ve been watching me,” Camille said. Ed’s head snapped up. Damn, he thought, let her speak first.
“What else you noticed?” Ed asked. The cool indifference some guys pulled off didn’t suit him, but Ed needed to try the attitude. He heard that the last time Camille went on any dates, she went with Adam. Adam rode bikes and his parents were divorced.
“That you asked Cathy about me.”
Damn, caught again, Ed thought. Cathy was his friend Joe’s baby sister. She started working in the sweet shack that summer.
“Heard she told you I’m a Sophomore. Got four brothers, and love going for malts and burgers.”
“She said something like that,” Ed bit his lower lip and checked that no one spied on them. Camille didn’t offer a response. Shit, Ed realized, all on him.
“Look Camille, you’re a great girl. I just don’t have the money, like for malts and burgers.”
She turned to leave the yard and go to work. No, Ed thought, gotta do something. He thought of the bust in that Joe and he orchestrated. It could work again.
“But,” he caught her attention, “what are you doing when the pool closes tonight?”
“Nothing really,” Camille said.
“Maybe meet me back here around 8?”
“My folks won’t just let me leave the house alone at night like that,” Camille said, “you’ll have to meet them, take me out ya know?”
Christ how did Adam Henderson deal with that one? Ed chewed for a second, “Yeah okay.”
Meet the folks before committing a crime with their darling girl. Ed snorted what an impression. They wouldn’t send a pretty thing like Camille to the big house for trespassing. Ed thought, only him and that was okay.
The four other pool boys worked at removing the filter pipes from the storage closet. Ed jumped in and put his hands on the pipes. The men’s arms strained against the rope burn.
“Why are we doing this?” Ed asked.
“Pool closing in a week, Boss man wants it clean,” one of them said.
“Algae not the appearance of family fun he’s looking for?”
The hose loosened from the closet and coiled at their feet. While the other guys hoisted it away towards the pool, Joe hung back with Ed.
“Saw you talking to Camille,” Joe said, “What’s the plan?”
“Can’t take her out, gotta have money for the car,” Ed told him before explaining the rest of the plan.
“Sounds like Minister Paul knew a thing or two about the desires of the flesh at the pool,” The pool boys left around them laughed, but Ed hung back. What did they know. Joe had never even had a steady girl. Christ and T turned 23 last week and they still weren’t married. They knew nothing about true love, but what did Ed know? At seventeen he had only been on one date. His cousin’s friend when his family visited their cousins in Corpus Christi. Ed played wing man to his cousin Matthew. The girl was nice and all, she let Ed kiss her for a bit while they walked on the boardwalk. She didn’t even compare to Camille.
“Camille,” Cathy said, “are you going to help us with this popcorn or not?” Camille jerked up from her lean spot on the service counter. A purple indentation bruised on her elbow, “Come on honey, you’ve got it bad.” Cathy tugged Camille out of the sweet shack before she could utter a word of protest.
“Cathy the pool opens in five minutes, the boss man will fire us for sure.”
“Then we’ll find new jobs. This is more important,” Cathy said. She leaned against the cinder block wall and lit a cigarette despite Camille’s disgusted look, “Eddie talked to you?”
“Ed,” Camille corrected and Cathy rolled her eyes, “I did most of the talking.”
“Oh he’s quiet, I told you that.”
“You Shouldn’t do that.”
“Oh please,” Cathy flicked the cigarette away from her lips, “Look Camille are y’all going out or not?”
Camille nodded and blushed. She wished she could talk to her friends, instead of her co-worker, about Ed. She had real friends, without jobs, who deserved to know before Cathy. Still the girls optimism and excitement were contagious.
“But we have to act cool okay? Look, he knows I’ve been out with Adam. That means he thinks I’m an adult or something,” Camille said.
“Ooh, Camille’s gonna do some necking tonight,” Cathy laughed.
“Be quiet, I am not!”
Cathy nodded before retreating into the sweet shack. Alone, Camille snuck a peak around the corner onto the pool deck.
Ed hoisted the filter hose into the pool with Joe and the other strong young men. She hid again before he could see her, pressed down her polo and got back to work before the boss man would come around like he always did every morning for his coffee from the sweet shack.
“You wanted to see me sir?” Ed knocked on the boss man’s office door as if it were his first day on the job.
“Come on in Ed,” the boss man set his coffee aside in an act of openness and hospitality. Probably a good sign, Ed thought, why would he bother with pleasantries if he wanted to fire Ed. “Do you have any plans for next year?”
“No sir,” Ed said.
“No sir, I don’t know have the money for it and don’t know what I’d want to do.”
The boss crossed his hands, sat back and looked at Ed the way he imagined some parents look at their children. Ed tapped his fingers on the edge of his metal chair.
“I need help around here. That announcement earlier? I’d love to have you on full time after graduation.”
Ed leaned back in his seat. It wasn’t that he hadn’t thought about what he would do when the school year ended, but he assumed he would leave the pool behind. Maybe get out of Fields. Maybe have a life someone else dreamed about. But how to tell that to the hopeful boss across from him.
“Gee I’ll have to think about it, Sir,” Ed said, instead of saying all the things he wanted to say.
“Yeah, take a few days,” he said, “Oh and you and the other pool boys need to pull the drowning ropes out of the pool. Apparently we can’t use them anymore.” Ed nodded and left the room. Out of the claustrophobic office, Ed sat down on a bench.
The rhythmic sound of lap swimmers slapping the water then flip turning lulled Ed into his daydreams. He could imagine it. Graduate from Fields High School and work as the pool manager. One day he’d have enough money for a little house, not an apartment because almost no one in Fields lived in an apartment. Just the African American families that Ed’s mom told him not to hang out with. They never came to the pool, though.
Maybe he’d move Camille into his little house. Only after a wedding with their families in a church. And after the wedding, without the money for a honeymoon, they’d go to the little house and do what married people did.
Yes, thought Ed, that’s how it would all go. And that sounded okay to Ed. He couldn’t tell the boss that yet, not yet, because he needed the last cog in the machine, the one crucial part to that plan that he didn’t have yet. Camille.
The sun hadn’t set when Ed arrived at Camille’s house after work that night. No car. They could walk everywhere in Fields. As he climbed the front porch steps, Ed checked off his mental list for the third time. The food, the backup plan, the kiss at the end of the night. All accounted for. He rang the doorbell, opened immediately.
“You must be Edward,” an older woman answered the door.
“Ed,” he said, “Hi, are you Camille’s mother?” The woman chuckled.
“You’re about thirty years too young darling. Grandmother.”
As the grandmother continued to chuckle, Camille appeared at her shoulder. She looked stunning, thought Ed. Blue jeans, only recently in style for women and white blouse. Already wearing white like a wedding day.
“I’ll be home by eleven nan,” Camille said. They kissed cheeks before the door closed and Ed and Camille were alone.
“How was work?” Ed asked, no stupid he thought sounds so boring. If Camille noticed she didn’t care.
“Not bad, I like having my own money.”
“Don’t mind going back? It’ll be fun I promise.” Camille shrugged.
Around the next block Ed could see the pool office and the dive tower, but dusk hung over Fields. The dive tower wouldn’t be visible for long.
“Okay, my lady, you first,” Ed said when they reached the fence. He expected hesitation or at worst protest, but Camille climbed up and over the fence with a smile and a laugh. Ed followed her. No wonder she got Adam Henderson, he thought.
They walked to the base of the dive tower where Ed proceeded to pull out a bag of food. Good sign, he thought, she’s smiling.
At the top of the dive tower they sat down with their food. Christ, Ed thought, what if she’s afraid of heights. But she stayed up there, thirty feet above the ground, so there was no way she was afraid of heights. Stop speculating and start talking Ed demanded of himself.
“Ham or Turkey?”
“Turkey,” Camille said and she took the wrapped sandwich from his hand. Their hands brushed against each other. Oh god, touching.
“So I thought you said I’d have to meet your folks?” Ed asked, “Gran?”
“Easier to say what everyone says,” she explained, “but my nan raises me.”
Ed nodded. He didn’t want to push, but Camille kept talking. She talked about her parents (or what she remembered) how she got a job, her friends, her collection of sea shell stunted by not living on the coast. All the time Ed smiled and listened. He listened to the way her ‘e’s’ and ‘i’s’ faded into the same sound. He watched her auburn hair lose its curl while the wind blew through it. He almost grabbed her hand, a few times.
“Do you remember swimming with me,” Ed asked, “That summer we were 13 and James acted like a fool.”
“I remember, I don’t think I ever walked to school with you, though,” Katie laughed. She pulled up a knee under her arm. Probably a defensive thing, Ed figured.
“No, no we never walked to school together,” Ed said. They looked at each other in silence.
“I’ve talked too much,” she said at last.
“No, you’ve been entertaining,” A chance, maybe the only chance. In a second of silence between the two Ed leaned forward and kissed her. Not the kiss he had planned on his checklist, not the cool, intentional kiss he thought she probably had with Adam Henderson. This was their kiss. Ed leaned out, still staring into her eyes. Camille smiled and leaned back in. Ed saw himself sharing that kiss for years. The anniversary kiss, the wedding kiss, the pregnant kiss, the promotion kiss, the last kiss.