Clean Cool Water

Submitted by Ledezma Dreiss to Contest #4 in response to: Write a story based on the song title: "Beside The Sea"... view prompt

Steve believed that if he made the wrong choice everyone would laugh at him. It was about 4:45 am and he was standing chest deep in the little man-made lake near his house. Soon the trail would come alive with the movement of early morning runners. They always seemed to have their shit together, with content looks on their faces. Their tan, fit bodies moving only to taunt the onlookers. 


What right do they have to look down their noses at people like me? Steve was overweight, always had been, he’d always been able to overlook his feelings by eating. When he was younger he could at least keep the weight off with all the sports he played. He was into everything that involved full contact. Beating the shit out of someone or something, made him feel better about himself, even now as much as it did back then. 


Steve stood in the water, feeling like a failure. He came out super early so he could do a little exercising before the beautiful people came out for the day. He had been trying to get more active in the past month or so. The cool water surrounded him, How the hell did I even get here?


Must have been that he had to drive the few blocks over to the park, when a regular person would have walked and used it as a great warm-up. Could have been the reflection he saw in the plastic of the bulletin board on the way in. Among the flyers about campfire demonstrations, how to tie knots, and practicing bird calls, it was always something for the kids that was of no interest to him, his reflection mocked him while he stretched his thighs by pulling his brand new Nikes up to his butt. How the hell did I get to this point? Back in high school I was a superstar. 


He remembered making the game-winning shot during a basketball game his junior year. And that night during his senior year when he lead his football team to a 40 zip win over their rivals. His high school sweetheart, was the hottest cheerleader on the squad. High fives in the hall. Best seats at the best table in the lunchroom. Hanging out at all the cool parties. 


He recently saw her Facebook post about vacationing in some unknown European seaside town with the kind of amazing views you would kill your own mother to witness. Fuck her, man, he thought. Even after popping out 2 perfect kids she was still so amazing to look at. That bikini-clad body was still so nice, how did she even do it? Sold her soul to the devil at some crossroads or something? He didn't keep track of many people from high school, and hated Facebook for the time-suck it was, but everyone that contacted him out of the blue was usually fat, with ugly kids, and a crappy-ass job. 


Steve was no different, a bank teller, divorced, with a son who didn't even like him. At least she didn't want the house, why would she, her other kids ruined it. “I'm glad she left me,'' he mumbled under his breath as the water was now up to his ears. Then he thought about the half box of moon pies in the back seat of his car. 


Now, I have more time to work on myself. I can get in shape, maybe apply for that management position at the bank? He often thought about moving to another city. There were banks all over the world I could work at! Not that Steve was the best at his job, but he made very few mistakes, always brought donuts for everyone on Monday mornings, and breakfast tacos every Friday morning. He flirted with the girl that sat next to him. Most importantly she flirted back. He never asked her out or anything since he was married. After his divorce he found out she had just started seeing someone. 


Jenny was also a little on the heavy side, but wore it well, she was curvy. Her smaller waist accentuated her large breasts and nice round butt. He always thought she must have been a great person to be with, she was always happy. At least she seemed happy. They never really spent any time together outside of work. There was that one time they all went out for drinks after work when Carlos retired. Poor bastard, worked there his whole life. 


Steve’s workplace was a small plain looking building with a bank in it. Floating in the middle of a sea of fast food, strip malls, loan places, and salons for everything from your head to your toes. There was a big thrift store at the end of the block he recently started walking to and back from during his lunch breaks, instead of eating. He started skipping breakfast and went home and ate a big dinner, mostly pizza. He cut out the deserts and soda and tried to stick to only eating half a pie. He would then eat it cold the next day and washed it down with beer. Or a few beers, as he started drinking more since learning about craft beer from an old college friend. 


On a bike ride that crossed the state, Ben, one of the only people Steve still kept in touch with after college, would be riding near his house. Ben laid out his whole trip for the world to follow on Facebook. “Come hang out, have a shower, spend the night when you come out this way,” Steve told Ben over the phone. “Sure man, would love to, I’m gonna be in desperate need of a shower.” Steve met up with him at the local brewery since Ben was sort of touring them. They loaded the bike up in Steve’s pickup and went back to his place for a home cooked meal. 


Marci, Steve’s soon to be ex-wife, actually used to road bike, something Steve knew nothing about. I really didn't know her, he thought to himself. I should have asked more questions. Marci had always been active, crossfit with the girls, yoga with her mom. She mostly ate vegetarian and left Steve to fend for himself after fighting too many times about picking up take out every day on his way back home from the bank. “I need real food after working all day,” he secretly despised her for her online business of making purses and selling them on Etsy. What made it worse was that she was doing pretty good. Obviously, she saved enough money to pack up and leave him.


It must have been the thought of Ben riding across the state that was just enough to put a dream in Marci’s heart. He saw the way her eyes sparkled in the evening light over dinner. The two of them eating their salads, talking about stuff Steve had no idea about. Discussions about diet and exercise always went over his head. They didn't even touch the bread he picked up, that super crispy crust, with butter poured all over it, and once you got to the warm inside, so soft. But no, they dismissed it in a heartbeat. 


At least Ben, or Benjamin, as he keeps reminding me, drank a flight of beers with me. Steve didn't know much about nutrition, but he knew those were the bad carbs. Even If he didn't want to split an order of nachos from one of the best food trucks in the city, his loss.  Steve even started regretting contacting him and meeting up, especially after showing up with that God awful t-shirt with the words “I only RUN so I can drink BEER,” maybe it was some bad pun about a beer run, but it was stupid. 


I remember he was fatter than me in college. They had late-night study runs to the 24-hour donut shop just off campus, consumed gallons of coffee, and smoked cigarettes on the balcony. They scarfed bags and bags of Spicy McChicken sandwiches and 3 liters of Mountain Dew. He stopped and I kept going. 


Now the image of catching the two sneaking kisses after they thought Steve had gone to bed was burned into his mind. He kicked both of them out, but had to let her back in. He didn't see Ben again until he came to pick Marci up after she was all packed. As the box truck drove away it finally dawned on him that Ben wanted Steve to contact him. He had started liking more and more of his pictures, mostly the ones with her in them. 


“I can’t believe it.”


“I would've never guessed it.” Steve smirked to himself. 


She later told him over coffee at a cafe near where she now lived, as they were talking about their lives together, it was clear they were meant to break up. She hadn't touched him in years. They had 3 kids - her older one was 20 and off working in oil somewhere, I didn't really care. The other one just about to graduate high school and their little boy, at the nice ripe age of 11, just old enough to pick up on his mother’s feelings toward Steve. It could have been all the negative talk he heard while she hung out with her friends and he would tag along, but the boy didn't care too much for him. Steve never had time for him unless of course it involved food, and it always involved food.


Marci said, “I had been following Benjamin’s travels online after he bought one of my purses for his sister.” Ben knew where she was from, said he knew a Steve living there, she said she knew a Steve too but didn't tell him they were married. Months went by and they were chatting almost every day for hours on end. That's probably why she always had her nose in the laptop, keying away with her lovely hands, hands I missed, hands now holding a cup of coffee in front of me. 


She went on and on about how long she had been wanting to leave him. How long she had been madly in love with his old friend. These are two people I felt I trusted, two people I had once loved...not anymore, what the hell was I doing? What did I think? That I was going to drown myself? 


The pinkish light was starting to come over the trees and sounds of car doors slamming could be heard. I need to get outta this water now, stupid, stupid me, what the hell was I thinking? Dripping from head to toe, shirt clinging to his lumpy body, squishing in his new Nikes, Steve made his way to the parking lot. A cute girl passes him on the left, they make eye contact, and she winks at him just as she starts jogging down the trail. Everything is going to be fine.



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4 likes 1 comment

19:08 Sep 03, 2019

This turned into a surprisingly heartbreaking story -- it started off with the health and fitness elements, and then unfurled like a flower to really stab at your feelings. The self-loathing and self-destructive parts of Steve are written perfectly -- so human! Really nice piece.

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