There is a long and hallowed tradition of novels set in universities. My favorites are by David Lodge, whose witty, intricate plots possess remarkable and unexpected symmetry. When the final puzzle piece snaps into place, you feel a sense of satisfaction and pleasure at the beauty of the thing. I am no David Lodge, but observing the strange species who prance, creep and stride through the groves of academe, I sometimes feel compelled to chronicle their doings. This is the most “academic” of my stories.
- Sweet is the Breath of Morn
Jennet Thorne sat in the hot pool in the Student Wellness Center, a huge recreation complex on the campus of Parnell State University. She’d come to Parnell one year before, and the first question on her list during the job interview had been whether there was a good gym with discounts for faculty. Jennet hated team sports, but she loved to exercise, and once Kyle had left for college, she enjoyed the newfound leisure time. Her usual routine at Parnell was to do circuit or weight training, then take a 30-minute swim in the lap pool, followed by a luxurious soak in the hot pool. Other days she ran or walked on the indoor track and did yoga.
She looked forward to the daily ritual of greeting the other early morning regulars, and over time became casual friends with a few. She always noticed when someone new showed up. After her first holiday season at Parnell, there had been a small wave of New Year’s resolutionists, which quickly dwindled to a hardy one or two. Others came and went as their work schedules changed. Now that the Fall semester was about to begin, she anticipated another shift in the population. At six in the morning, she rarely saw an actual student in the Student Wellness Center, except for the occasional ROTC squadron running laps. She preferred it that way. Meeting her own students in the showers wouldn’t be the end of the world, but it was something she’d rather avoid.
Today a man caught her eye as he exited the locker room and headed for the salt water lap pool, wearing a tight, short pair of black swim trunks. He was tall and lanky, but unlike most tall, thin men, he didn’t have chicken legs. His body was covered in lean muscle, with so little fat that she could see the definition in his abs, and his thighs were substantial, like those of a swimmer. Moving with the supple grace of a dancer, he dove into the pool, swam smoothly to the other end, then stood up, shaking his head like a dog. He had longish hair, and something around his neck, a short chain with a pendant.
“See anything you like?” asked Renée, a retired secretary who came to the Wellness Center every morning to soak her arthritic bones in the hot pool. Renée enjoyed observing and commenting on the male visitors to the pool area. Now she smiled knowingly at Jennet.
“He has a nice body,” said Jennet, laughing. “I was just enjoying the view.”
“Me too. I’ve never seen him before, but I hope he keeps coming in the mornings. I could use something to cheer me up at the start of the day.”
The man continued visiting the pool in the early mornings, and once when Jennet took a yoga class in the afternoon, she caught sight of him in one of the studios, chatting with a group of young men dressed in fencing gear. If he was a fencer, that would explain his musculature. Two young men from the PSU fencing team were in her Greek Civilization class, and their bodies resembled those of ballet dancers, with well-developed thighs and buttocks, and very little fat. This man, though, looked to be nearing forty. Jennet was impressed that he’d kept himself in such good shape. She herself was forty, and was finding it increasingly difficult to keep weight off as her metabolism slowed. She had to decrease her portion sizes of almost everything to stay in the size six clothing she’d worn since college.
Jonathan Sebelius was glad he’d been able to arrange such an efficient schedule this year. His Seventeenth Century course didn’t start until nine-thirty, so he was able to spend a good two hours at the gym every morning of the week. In the late mornings and early afternoons, he attended to his duties as Graduate Coordinator of the Literature program in the Department of English, and in the late afternoons Mondays through Wednesdays he worked in his other capacity, coaching the Parnell fencing team. He would gladly have performed this latter task even without compensation, but fortunately the university saw fit to count it toward his workload. Thursday and Friday afternoons were usually given to various committee or department meetings. And of course, his evenings were always free for research.
He warmed up and then swam thirty laps, timing himself on his sport watch and alternating between freestyle, backstroke and breaststroke. He felt at home in the pool, and it was the place where he did much of his best thinking. Today, he was pondering the upcoming Graduate Program review. There were two Ph.D. programs in his department, and the bitter rivalry between them was bound to come to a head during the review. That bastard Jenko is sharpening up a blade for me, no question. But how to parry a knife in the back?
Emerging from the pool, he exchanged a few words with the lifeguard. Across the cavernous room, he noticed a woman standing at the edge of the leisure pool and laughing as she talked to a white-haired companion who was lazily treading water. That woman… she has a shape like Lorraine’s. She had short, boyish hair and wore a red athletic-style swimsuit with a modest high neck, the form-fitting cut of which nevertheless revealed small firm breasts, a flat belly, and a narrow waist. Her hips were slim but rounded and feminine, and though she was not tall, her legs were long in proportion to the rest of her. It was the body type he was most attracted to, and as he watched, the woman stretched, arching her back a little. The sight called forth an answering twitch between his legs, and he turned away. Enough of that. He showered in the locker room, using colder water than usual.
In the days that followed, he found himself looking forward to seeing the Woman at the gym. Usually by the time he arrived, she had finished her laps and was soaking in the hot pool. He took care never to let her see that he was watching.
Copyright 2015 by Linnet Moss
Notes: Well, I didn’t waste any time, did I? I introduced the heroine and the hero, described them in each other’s eyes, and made it clear that they admire each other. Jonathan is the only hero I’ve written who bears not even the slightest resemblance to a certain Actor. He is based on someone else, quite a different physical and temperamental type.
With each of my stories, I have set myself a new writerly challenge. This story was my first (and only) attempt to write from a man’s perspective. I wanted Jonathan’s thoughts to sound like a man’s. And not just any man, but a man who has some serious issues with women. Writing Jonathan was harder than I expected, even though I had a very clear idea of his personality. It makes me marvel at the audacity of men who write women characters…