Amy Pond wakes up with her head in her sock drawer, and groans coming from the other bed in the room.
“Fuck,” Mels is saying. “Fuck, fuck.”
“Don’t talk,” Amy manages, but the volume of her own voice in her ears is too much. Now there’s a pain in her skull, a knot of nausea in her stomach, and the sun streams too violently through the window, burning her irises. Fuck hangovers, she thinks.
They accompany each other silently to the dining hall for Saturday morning brunch, both wearing sweats. Amy’s poking listlessly at her egg white omelet when she gets a text from Rory: what happened to you last night? She replies, who knows.
After a little food and coffee, she and Mels are both doing better. So much better, in fact, that Amy asks if she’d like to go to one of the Greek parties or this kickback at an off-campus house later that night.
“Actually, I’ve got a date.” Amy squints at her friend, who’s smirking across the table. That’s—weird.
“A date? You, Miss Commitment?” Mels doesn’t date, as far as Amy can remember. She hooks up. People are usually surprised to find out that Amy does not, in fact, hook up as well.
“Said the girl with a boyfriend of over a year.”
“Has it really been that long?” Amy’s phone buzzes, another text from Rory: nice finals coping strategy. He hadn’t been going out much as of late—at least not like in freshman year, when he relished every opportunity to accompany his girlfriend to social functions. Granted, his eagerness mainly stemmed from his desire to be the person she spent her evening grinding on. She had to grind on somebody, after all; she’s a grinding aficionado. It was Rory’s own talent for grinding that had convinced her he might not actually be the human personification of boringness, an essential step in their progress towards serious-relationship-ness. She’d nicknamed him “magic hips,” and after one particularly heated night of dancing and making out, she agreed to a real date.
Mels was right: it had been over a year since then. In three weeks when finals finished up, they’d be halfway done with college. That thought nearly brought her nausea back in full swing.
“No wonder you forgot that anniversary.” Mels smirks and Amy pulls a face.
“Who’s your date with, anyway?”
“Ah.” Mels’s smirk gets smirky-er, if that’s even possible.
“Oh, are we really going to play this game?” asks Amy, glaring.
“No, we’re not, because you’ll never get it out of me.”
“Is he in our year?”
“How do you know it’s a he?”
“Good point, doesn’t answer my question.”
“You don’t know him.”
“I know everybody,” Amy shoots back derisively, because their school is small enough that it really does feel that way.
As much as this frustrates Amy, it does remind her why she and Mels get along so well. Mels is definitely not boring. And whatever, she decides, in regards to her roommate’s clandestine tryst. She’ll find out eventually: secrets don’t last very long around here.
Rory comes by that night, when Amy is getting ready to go out.
“Who’re you going with if Mels is with somebody?” he asks, cross-legged on her bed. She’s in nothing but her bra and panties, shuffling through her closet’s selection of miniskirts.
She raises an eyebrow. “I was thinking my boyfriend.”
“You mean the one with two hundred pages of Biology notes to memorize? I think he’s busy.”
“No, I mean my other boyfriend.” Rory tries to make his laughter sound forced, so he’ll seem properly insulted, but he quite genuinely finds her hilarious and Amy can tell. She pecks him on the cheek. “I was going to meet up with Laura.”
“You know how long it’s been since we did anything together?” he asks. Buzzkill.
“You want me to come sit with you in the library tonight or something?” She pulls a skin-tight black tube skirt—referred to by her and Mels as “the booty skirt”—off the hanger and begins tugging it up from her ankles.
“I mean, that’d be—” Rory must glimpse the look on Amy’s face. “Okay, so you’re not serious. And it’s fine, I’m fine with you going out, I want you to have fun.” He plucks at the stitching in his jeans, deject. Amy has to suppress an eye roll. He adds, “But there are two weekends left in the term after this.”
“So come out with me, idiot.” Still shirtless, she climbs on to the bed and then into his lap. This rather entrances Rory, who runs a hand through her hair like he couldn’t stop if he tried.
“It’s not my fault that you took an easy semester and I’m suffering through pre-med,” he protests.
She grins. “Every semester is an easy semester if you do the bare minimum.”
“You’re so wise,” he gushes sarcastically, but doesn’t hesitate to kiss her. They mack for a while, until she tries to undo his fly and he declares that he really, really needs to get back to the library. Cue a moan of displeasure from Amy. She makes sure to slap his ass while he’s on the way out.
Amy stumbles out of the house into the backyard, disoriented and exhausted, smelling of spilled beer. Someone had seriously mislead her by calling this party a kickback; there’s a hundred people packed into the darkened front room, and more in the halls, the very foundation of the building shaking with their gyrations. She lost Laura and their friends an hour ago, which had been fine because she could dance with strangers for days, it felt—until sickness started coming on and she had to fight her way off the floor to the bathroom. While she’s doing exceptionally better on an empty stomach, she thinks just then that the air indoors could have suffocated a person.
The clean warm breeze of the almost-summer night hits her the moment she steps outside, and she swells with relief. The yard, a good-sized fenced-in lawn with a few trees, a little patio, and—a swing set, how weird—is empty. Some guy’s passed out on the garden bench, a beer bottle resting on his stomach, but he’s her only company. Amy collapses into a lawn chair.
She’s begun dozing off when a pitchy voice sounds from behind her: “Have you got an apple?”
The suddenness of her swerving to investigate this noise nearly sends the flimsy lawn chair out from under her, but she keeps her balance. There’s a boy there, kind of a sight to behold, maybe the most striking boy she’s ever seen—which isn’t necessarily to say he’s handsome, because she wouldn’t call him that. He’s cartoonish, if anything, his features drawn a little bigger than real life. His hair falls in his face and he handles himself like some noodle, she can already tell, just from the gentle stoop of his posture and the way he’s standing braced for the answer to his question. His clothes—Christ, what on earth—a battered tweed jacket with elbow patches, ridiculously tight pants (is he fucking bow-legged?), and she thinks she spots some suspenders as he moves in front of her, pouting.
“An apple,” he repeats. God, his voice is so strange, like an incantation. She gapes at him.
“Excuse me? An apple?”
“Yeah, yeah.” He begins to pace. “I want one.”
He’s drunk, Amy thinks. He’s got to be plastered. He must have gone to a theme party, that’s why he’s wearing that. Perhaps a dress-like-your-favorite-professor kind of thing, though she didn’t know of any professors who’d deign to elbow patches. This wasn’t Oxford, after all.
“There’s some apple rum inside, if you want that.” She feels thirsty, her mouth still a little dry and sticky from the vomit, but she’s got a hunch water will be tough to find here.
Patches is shaking his head. “I don’t like alcohol. Tastes bad, dehydrates you.”
So what, he’s high, then? Well, a high, hot stranger. She’s really hit the jackpot.
Hot. Had she just thought he was hot? Fuck.
“I guess it does dehydrate you,” she replies dumbly.
“Of course it does!” She bursts out laughing at his exclamation, and he pouts even more profoundly. “What? What’s funny?”
Amy shields her face, trying to squash her giggles. “God, I don’t know. Who are you?”
He stands there with his hands on his hips, somehow dramatically hurt by the question, like she’s just asked his most treasured secret. “Why, who are you!”
“I’m Amy Pond.”
“I’m bored, Amy Pond.”
Amy grins. “So what do you suggest we do?” She half surprises herself with this inquiry, which is a little sultry, but there’s something about this guy’s pheromones, and she’s not really thinking straight right now. She can just, you know, brush it off on the alcohol. She’s dehydrated!
He peers down at her intently, probably trying to figure out if she’s serious. And then he says, to her one-hundred-percent surprise, “I want to go for a swim.”
“Is that a euphemism?” Amy replies, frowning.
“No. So, coming?”
That one has to be a euphemism, but she’s got a feeling he doesn’t really deal in euphemisms. She sits there with her mouth hanging open for a beat and then composes herself. “No.”
“Because I don’t know you!”
“Well, you’re never going to get to know me unless you come along, are you, Pond?” She likes that, him calling her Pond. It makes her smack her lips.
“As if that’s an insult.” She settles back into the chair, arms across her chest, feeling satisfied at the furrow in his brow.
He takes a step toward her, leaning down, which admittedly does a number on her: her heart beats faster against her ribcage. “I’m going to break in to the athletic center,” he whispers, and then grins a grin that she can’t help but mirror. Somehow this strikes her as the best idea in history, breaking into the athletic center for a swim. The kind of thing you’re supposed to do in college. He pulls back and starts striding towards the gate. Amy shuts her eyes.
“Can you get me back in time for tomorrow morning?”
He halts, spins around. His face is in shadow. “Why, what’s tomorrow?”
Rory: Rory’s tomorrow. “I don’t know. Stuff. Life.” She finds herself standing, walking toward him.
He keeps smiling, and takes her hand, an ecstatic gesture. His palm feels warm and dry. “All right then. Back in time for stuff.”
As she’s being led out of the yard and down the block—they’re not a half-mile from the athletic center, their campus and the town being all sort of compounded together, as it tends to be in small places—she wonders vaguely if anyone will see them holding hands and think something very bad is about to happen, like bad in the naughty sense. She wonders if they’d be right to think such a thing. Everyone knows about her and Rory.
She thinks, absurdly, that she wouldn’t mind it. Something bad, in the naughty sense. Her stupid ambitious boyfriend has been so busy these past few weeks.
“You really don’t seem like the petty criminal type,” she mutters to him, as they pass under streetlamps, their hands still linked.
“Well, I’m not, but this is a victimless crime. It’s all in the name of youth and fun and romance, you know.” His voice continues to bowl her over.
“Romance?” she echoes, sounding involuntarily smug.
“Yes, romantic! I feel like we’re in The Breakfast Club.”
Amy squints at him, the edge of a smirk on her lips. “Have you ever actually seen The Breakfast Club?”
“Well. No. I’m not one for movies, there’s so much—sitting still.” He squeezes her hand more tightly, she notices. “That’s not really my thing.”
“It’s not really mine, either,” she says. She had never really though about why she didn’t finish half the films she started, but Patches had some weird insight into the issue. Even if he was talking about himself, which he was. And then she feels a little embarrassed for experiencing any kinship with him; she’s got to remember that she doesn’t know him, it just—seems that way.
They reach the athletic center’s main entrance, a rotunda of paneled glass, and to her confusion he keeps walking.
Amy pauses in the sidewalk. “Where are you going?”
“Around the back!” He gestures for her to follow. “They leave the loading dock unlocked for early morning deliveries. It’s the best kept secret in the local college sports world.” She snorts at this but follows. The amount of trust she’s instilling in a stranger—oh, better not think about that.
He’s right: the door by the loading dock is very much unlocked. Hands swinging in the space between them, they creep across the building in half-darkness, first through the warehouse-like environs of the loading bay, and then into the lobby, and finally towards the swimming pool. The entrance is at the top of the bleachers, and it’s here that he lets go of her for the first time, leaving her fingers lonesome. Patches bounds down the steps towards the pool, his coattails splayed out behind him. The water reflects writhing ribbons of light upward, swathing the cavernous room in aquamarine. The shadows created by the constant rippling of the water lick at every surface she can see, and it’s all rather beautiful, in a way she’d never thought this school was capable of being.
The sight dazzles her to the point where she doesn’t see him start taking off his clothes.
She doesn’t say anything, but finds herself descending the stairs toward the floor, watching him.
Patches has apparently been talking the whole time: “—used to have a pool when I was a kid, before we moved, and then once after we moved again. We moved a lot, you know, but I liked the places that had pools the most. You weren’t supposed to go in by yourself, but I always did,” he says proudly, shrugging out of his shirt. He has fabulous shoulders. “Wasn’t big on ‘supposed to’ as a kid. Still am—amn’t? Still aren’t? Still am not!” He drops the shirt on a pile with his jacket and weathered boots. His suspenders hang limply from the waistband of his trousers, which he begins unbuttoning in earnest. “Do you ever just ponder grammar? I do, all the time. Switch two words around and a phrase is completely meaningless! It’s all so delicate, you know, like you’re—you’re a glass blower.” Amy watches his trousers drop to his ankles, and he hops out of them, so he’s just standing there in his underpants. They’re covered in rocketships. “You’re a glassblower, and if you make one tiny little mistake, the whole vase is ruined! That’s language.” He has smooth skin except for a few choice moles, and an elegant smoothness to his muscles, for he’s not skinny and he’s not toned, he’s just—formed. Perfectly. Like someone plucked the mold of a man from her head and poured it full of pasty boy.
She lunges for him, intending to hang her arms around his neck and stick her tongue down his throat, but he chooses that moment to throw himself headfirst into the water. Standing bereft on the lip of the pool, Amy nearly whimpers.
“Are you coming?’ he calls when he’s surfaced. Another not-euphemism. His shorts drift up his thighs dangerously, but the wavering of the water jumbles her view.
“Oh, I’ve got to take everything off now, too?” She glares, but not really because the idea of getting mostly naked offends her. “Surprised you haven’t asked me to go skinny.”
“I would never ask that.” How does he manage to sound so innocent when they’re stripping and swimming together, when everything is so goddamn perfect for this kind of moment, except the world that’s on the other side of the thick concrete walls?
Amy takes a deep breath and pulls her shirt over her head, but he’s not even watching her—he’s doing the dead man’s float, which leaves his goddamn crotch right there out above the water, and she can sort of—oh, no, no no. She turns away from him abruptly, remembering herself, but she still pushes her skirt down and tugs off her cowboy boots. This is flirtatious, she thinks, but it doesn’t have to be wrong.
Now, in bra and panties, she glances around quickly for the diving board. It’s at a separate end of the pool, away from the lane markers and starting blocks, and she pads over. Amy picks the lower of the two heights, because she’s not insane, and clamors up the ladder to stand above everything. Patches is finally watching her, she notices.
She dives cleanly, she thinks, but it’s such a brief instance of movement she can’t be sure. When she comes up, he’s leaning on the floating lane marker at the edge of the diving section, his big chin propped on his arms.
“Ogling, are we?” she asks, swimming to him. Thank god her bra is a thick one, though her panties must be nearly see-through. But, again, weirdly, he’s looking at her face with this curious expression, and then at her hair, fanned out in the water around her.
“I don’t ogle,” he mutters, ogling her shamelessly.
“I don’t ogle, too.” Amy bites her lip, deciding to test the limits of coyness. “I’m not ogling right now.” His eyes narrow but he doesn’t seem to understand her. Humming, she swims away from him, hoisting herself up to sit on the pool’s edge. She pats the spot next to her and he obliges, stroking towards her. She makes a distinct effort to keep her eyes above the waist while he’s pulling himself out of the water.
He sits there for a moment, looking out across the water, and then says stiffly, “Beautiful dive.” The hitch in his voice when he says beautiful overwhelms her.
“Thanks,” is all she can manage. He seems to be searching for words, which must mean something, because they’ve yet to have an awkward pause in the conversation. She has a feeling like they could talk forever, about everything and nothing, if given the opportunity.
A little bit of liquid gathers on the end of his nose and falls. His hair is dripping likewise. For some reason, this makes her want to kiss him even more.
So she does. He’s half-clammy and a little slippery from the pool but she slips her arms around his neck anyway, pulling his mouth toward her, letting them crash together. She doesn’t hesitate to slide her tongue wherever it will go in his mouth, and then she nips at his lower lip for good effect. She feels his hand struggling through her wet hair and he squeezes her arm desperately, which is her cue to keep going, until it isn’t. Her fingers have just found their way under the elastic of his underwear when he grabs her hand and forces her to leave the premises, having gotten a hold of absolutely nothing. And suddenly, bizarrely, she’s being pushed away and held at arms length and he’s spluttering her name in a way that’s more horror than ecstasy.
“What—what’re you—” He scrambles to his feet and away from her, and she stands to chase him.
“What’re you doing, Patches? You were all-freaking-for-it just a minute ago!”
“I don’t do that, Amy.” The look in his eyes recalls fear, but something tells Amy it’s a fear bigger than virginity, which is what she would have assumed. “I’m not—you, and me, and this—this can never work.”
“You’re very sweet, but it’s a Saturday night, right before finals, so I didn’t have anything quite so permanent in mind.” She spreads her arms out wide, full of nonchalance. “Let’s relieve our stress together.”
“A Saturday night before finals,” he echoes, and she realizes that he’s realized something, though she’s miles behind on what the something could be. “I’ve got to go.” And he runs to his clothing, trying to reassemble his elaborate wardrobe in haste.
“What, are you going to turn into a pumpkin or something?” Amy’s got an odd sensation in the pit of her stomach, which she thinks might be rejection. It’s a new sort of experience. She hugs herself, overexposed.
“No, no, no,” Patches mutters. He goes about his business as if he’s forgotten her entirely, which enrages her.
“Where are you off to, raggedy boy?” she demands. He’s dashing up the stairs with his shirt untucked, clinging to his damp frame, and his suspenders flapping uselessly at his sides.
“I am sorry, Amy Pond,” he calls back to her. “I’ll be back. Give me five minutes.”
She waits there until her hair is bone dry, and tries not to let it hurt too much.
Only after she’s gotten dressed and started to leave does it occur to her she never found out his name.