Mitchell Karmi stared at the two people lying on the poolroom floor and thought, the weirdos were cracked. Didn’t they realize he’d just acted heroically? He’d never in his life seen a drowning person, but when he had, he’d only acted…rushing to save the man in a feat of complete idiocy, he now realized. What did he think he was going to do? He wasn’t trained in CPR. He would have blown into the guy’s mouth and then pounded on his chest like a fucking monkey with a blow-up doll. The lifeguard knew it. The swimmer probably knew it too. They both looked him over, sending them into peals of laughter whenever it tried to subside.
The sound wasn’t unpleasant, and oddly it didn’t embarrass him. As he mentally stepped back and looked at the situation as though he were an observer, he had to admit it was sort of funny. But two could play at this game.
He pointed at the lifeguard. “Need I remind you I’m not the only one still clothed?”
She looked down at her body, the baggy janitorial coveralls plastered to her. “Oh my Jesus,” she barked on another fit of laughter. “I am.”
“You too?” the swimmer asked, taking his goggles off.
Mitchell almost choked on his laughter. The man was not only handsome, but his eyes were also the most shocking pale, opaque blue Mitchell had ever seen. It was as if the swimmer were a real man, but his eyes had been drawn by an artist.
“Yeah, the damn things are so baggy on me I’m amazed I was able to even swim in them.” The janitor-lifeguard was smiling down at the swimmer, switching her gaze to Mitchell every few seconds. It was then Mitchell was hit with the acute realization that both the man and woman, dripping wet and one barely dressed, were quite beautiful.
The swimmer had an effortless magnetism about him. Mitchell couldn’t help but chuckle and smile in the man’s presence. He was lying on the floor in a tight pair of men’s swimmer shorts, he’d bumped his head and had been dragged from the pool by a lifeguard—and a stupid guy in a suit—to save his life, and yet here he was, without shame and laughing jovially at the ridiculousness of the circumstances. His eyelids creased wildly as he cackled harder, the lines imprinting indelible marks that would remain with him throughout life. He had a fair amount of scruff on his face, and his hair, as it dripped, seemed to curl at the ends. It would probably look a bit like an afro if not properly cut and maintained. Mitchell knew something about that as well, his own hair a mess if not kept properly.
It was impossible to ignore the state of the swimmer’s half-naked body, especially when his defined abs tensed every time he laughed. Dark curls speckled his chest and arms, and as his trim hips narrowed on the descent from his thick shoulders, the hair thinned, almost as if it pointed to what Mitchell knew would be a tantalizing surprise underneath his skintight shorts.
“You could have used the jumpsuit as an inflatable,” Mitchell pointed out.
The woman’s laugh sounded like a wind chime Mitchell’s grandma—his savta
— had hung on her porch in the old Brooklyn house. Light and breezy, musical in its cadence. The lifeguard’s dark skin was slick with water, her black hair matted in a large braid hanging over her shoulder. Mitchell thought of unweaving it from the intricate layering, running his fingers through it, and combing the strands out so they wouldn’t knot. She’d look exotic with it hanging around her petite face, framing her dark eyes and thick eyebrows. And her lips…those lips were made for laughing, smiling, kissing, and some other things he shouldn’t think of when his clothes were sticking to him like a second skin.
She caught him staring at her, and her cheeks turned dark and ruddy. She looked away and cleared her throat.
“I think we should get up and dry off.” She switched her gaze between the two of them, back and forth. The column of her neck pulsed as she swallowed, and she kept biting her bottom lip. A nervous tic? She was alone in the building with two strangers, the merriment having faded. He couldn’t blame her for being cautious; he knew all too well the perils of being alone at night.
A familiar intuition told Mitchell it was something other than nerves making her bite her lip. Something better.
“How are you feeling?” she asked. “Dizzy? Light-headed?”
“Me?” the swimmer asked, still on the floor, but now with both hands cradling his head as though he were lounging.
“No, the other guy who hit his head on the ladder. How did that even happen? Were you swimming with your eyes closed?”
The swimmer sat up abruptly, his head down, elbows resting on his knees. “They’re always closed,” he mumbled.
“Huh?” she asked, bending to look at his face. “Are you gonna barf?”
Mitchell snorted. “Is that how they teach you to address people who nearly drowned?”
“Hey.” She pointed at the swimmer. “He’s alive. I’d say mission accomplished.”
“Too right.” The swimmer stood, and when he wobbled a bit, they were both there on either side of him, grasping his arms. “Thanks. I’m Armstrong Croft. Call me Armie.”
“Croft?” Leighanne’s big brown eyes widened like saucers. “Armie Croft? Of the Croft Siblings?”
“Are we that infamous?”
Mitchell and Leighanne spoke at the same time, which only resulted in another burst of laughter from Armie.
“I’m Leighanne Misra, David Goldberg’s neighbor. I was at your sister’s Thanksgiving dinner. David and I brought pie. Well, he made the pie and I arrived with him and sort of took half the credit.” Her face scrunched adorably. “To be fair, nobody would want my pie.”
Mitchell had to chant in his mind not to say something dirty. He suddenly had the brain of a fifteen-year-old boy.
“No kidding,” Mitchell said, trying to keep his mind off anything to do with the word pie
. “Me too. Mitchell Karmi.”
They began to walk toward the locker room, keeping a tight hold on Armie’s hands.
Leighanne looked shocked. “You were there too? What a coincidence.” Leighanne stopped midstride, looking up at Armie. “Wait a damn minute.”
“Here it comes,” Armie muttered, angling his head toward the ceiling.
“Armie Croft is blind. You’re blind! How can you be swimming in a pool at midnight by yourself? Do you have a death wish?” Her voice dropped. “Oh my Jesus, are you suicidal? Should I call your sisters? I should call them—”
“Stop, Leighanne. Stop, please. I’m fine.” He spoke to her, his face tilted down in her direction, but it wasn’t quite right.
Mitchell remembered there had been a man at the party with a cane, a good-looking man with a mile-wide smile. But Mitchell hadn’t been able to introduce himself at the time. There had been so many people in attendance, and he’d just got into town. He’d wanted to get a feel for the residents before engaging anyone. Now that he was seeing Armie with his shirt off, though, he regretted it a bit.
“I swim all the time. It’s perfectly normal and safe. I use the barrier rope as a guide…I think I must have swam under it when I was turning around.” He shrugged like it was nothing.
“You’re not supposed to swim at night without a lifeguard on duty.”
“You weren’t around.”
She spoke slowly, as if to a child. “So you wait.”
“Fine, fine. Whatever.”
They continued on into the locker room, stopping in front of one of the benches. Leighanne let go and walked toward the clean towel cabinet. Armie’s shins hit the wood, and he bent forward, his hand stretched out, searching for the seat. Mitchell didn’t know what possessed him to take Armie’s other hand and guide it down, but as their hands touched, a shiver ran up Mitchell’s arm and down his spine.
“Thanks.” Armie cleared his throat. “Is there a towel nearby?”
“Here.” Leighanne sat on Armie’s right, placing the towel in his lap. She offered another to Mitchell. Their hands brushed as he took it from her, sending an equally intense but different chill across his skin. This was interesting.
“I should change, I guess.” The lighthearted nature of the evening had passed, and Mitchell could see tension and awkwardness in the brace of Armie’s shoulders. Leighanne had also turned inward and quiet. He didn’t want any of that.
“I’m sorry I didn’t speak to either of you at Thanksgiving. I would have liked to get to know both of you. But since we’re here now, we might as well indulge. Let’s dry off, and I can make us some tea in the office. What do you say?”
Armie had been brushing the towel over his face and hair when he paused. The towel lowered slowly, and his head turned in the general direction of Mitchell’s voice. “You said your name was Mitchell Karmi?”
“You helped my sister with her deadbeat ex at Thanksgiving. You hooked her up with that great lawyer.” Armie stood, looking almost distraught.
“Right again.” Mitch wondered where he was going with this.
“It’s because of you that Ophi never has to see that asshole again, not unless he’s completed a series of anger management classes, attends regular AA meetings, and holds down a steady job for more than a year. A year!” Armie huffed, dropping the towel to run his hands through his hair, delightfully disheveling it. Mitch would have been inclined to help him straighten it out if the poor guy didn’t look so upset.
“All these are good things, Armie.” Leighanne stood and brushed Armie’s shoulder to calm him down.
“Yes. Very good things. You have no idea how much that meant to me, to my family.” He took a deep breath before sputtering, “I need to leave.”
Armie turned abruptly, then took a step forward and immediately knocked his legs into the bench, tripping him and careening him forward. Mitch grabbed him around the waist from behind before Armie could smack his head into the lockers, giving him a real head injury.
Leighanne was there as well, pushing Armie back, both hands on his chest. They were extremely close now. Mitch could smell the chlorine on Armie’s skin, see the indentation on the side of his face left by the goggles. If Armie’s tight body was anything to go by, he really did come to the JCA to swim often. Mitch’s hands were restricted, stuffed between Armie’s hard stomach and Leighanne’s wet and baggy clothes. The backs of his knuckles pressed into her soft belly, and when he spread his fingers, giving him more access to both of them and closing the distance, Leighanne didn’t pull away. She leaned into Armie more, looking up at both of them with those big, soulful brown eyes.
Mitch liked these two. They were sexy and funny, two winning qualities in his mind. Something had driven both of them to come here late at night. Whether it was to work a night job to support herself, or to swim until he lost his way, lost all thought. Both reasons were beautiful and sad, and Mitch wanted to make it better for both of them. He couldn’t help but feel the need to fix things if there was anything needing fixing.