Here is the latest in the series of short stories written by members of the 390-strong Portsmouth Writers’ Hub
‘It’s been ages since we swam in the sea,’ said James, as the two friends walked the quiet streets from school to the beach.
‘I’m going to swim to the green buoy today, it will give me a bit of a challenge. I asked Sally if she wanted to join us but she said she had better things to do than have me ogling her in her bikini.’
Gary gave a sigh of relief. It was bad enough James deciding to swim to the green buoy which was a lot farther than he would venture but to have had Sally along as well made him shudder.
Sally was James’ girlfriend and the pair had it all – golden hair, good looks and the easy manner of expecting to be the centre of attention.
Gary, dark hair and slightly lanky, was good looking in his own way but lacked confidence, always being in the shadow of James.
Gary liked Sally but much preferred Sally’s friend, Anne, a pocket Venus with jet black hair. He would have liked to ask her out but wouldn’t have dared in a million years – she was way out of his league.
They soon reached the shoreline. ‘Oh, no,’ cried James reading the ‘Beach Closed’ sign. Gary cheered up. No swimming today.
‘Hang on though,’ muttered James. ‘My dad said the council was rebuilding the sea defences but won’t be starting until next week. So we’ll be okay to swim.’
‘Are you sure?’ asked Gary, not convinced.
‘Of course,’ came the reply as James scrunched over the pebbles to the sea. Gary reluctantly followed.
‘What do you mean you haven’t got any trunks?’ Gary said, exasperated, as James’ trunks failed to materialise from his unrolled towel.
‘I’m sure it was there when I spoke to Sally,’ James said, puzzled.
‘Now we definitely can’t go for a swim.’
‘You haven’t any trunks.’
‘We’ll go skinny dipping,’ James said, looking around the deserted beach. ‘There’s no-one else to see us.’
Gary looked at James in horror. It was one thing to change quickly from trousers to trunks and vice-versa, but the thought of having James constantly comparing his superb physique to Gary’s less-than-perfect body made his skin crawl.
Once again James’ dominance overcame Gary’s reserve and the two friends stepped into the chilly sea, stark naked.
Keeping within his depth, Gary watched as James effortlessly swam towards the green buoy. He was both angry and frustrated with himself for not swimming with James – he was sure he could tackle the distance but too frightened to try.
‘Help me, Gary,’ snapped him out of his self-pity. ‘I’ve got cramp.’
Conflicting emotions tore at his mind. The ‘I can’t do this’ feeling quickly evaporated by the determination to save his friend.
Swimming to the buoy was a struggle but the sight of James floundering kept him moving forward. By the time Gary reached him, James was trying to make for shore but it was obvious he wouldn’t make it without help.
‘Don’t struggle,’ Gary yelled, as James clung on to his arm. ‘Just try and float and I’ll take us back.’
If the outward journey was
difficult, the journey back was hell. With reluctant limbs burning in pain, Gary slowly edged them towards the shore.
At last the exhausted pair flopped onto the beach. The sharpness of the pebbles on their bare flesh had never felt so good.
‘I thought I was a goner there,’ wheezed James, starting to recover. ‘I managed to battle the cramps and would have made it back to the beach by myself, but thanks anyway.’
The words stung like acid. However, he no longer needed James’ endorsement. Gary had fought and beaten his demons of uncertainty and being second best.
Those stinging words made Gary realise James needed him as much as he had needed James.
His heart went out to his shallow egotistical friend. It was a strange sense of brotherly affection that made Gary decide he would remain in James’ shadow.
Gary’s only regret was that his heroic efforts would go unacknowledged and unrecorded. It was a silent pair that trekked their way back home.
Their inward reflections were broken by a cheerful call from behind.
‘Hi, you two. your swim didn’t turn out quite as you expected.’ It was Sally, waving James’ trunks. Anne was by her side.
‘What do you mean?’ James asked.
‘We watched you from the other side of the breakwater.’
A deep crimson blush spread across Gary’s face. His new-found confidence ebbed away, as he realised their nakedness had been observed.
He looked at the ground to avoid further humiliation. James was more brazen.
‘Well I hope you enjoyed the magnificent display.’
‘It certainly was,’ came the cool reply from Anne. ‘Gary’s swimming was really impressive.’
As she spoke, Gary felt a delicate hand slide into his. Seeing the hurt look on James’ face, Sally put her arm around him and gave him a squeeze.
‘Don’t worry James, we won’t tell. We shouldn’t have been on that beach either.’
As well as being part of PWH, novice writer Keith Baker is a member of Writers @ Lovedean. The writing group meets every Friday at 10am at Lovedean Village Hall. For more information, visit thewriterslovedean.co.uk.