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First there’s the air, coating his skin in salt as he steps out of the house. He breathes it in, finds his center of gravity. Second he dumps the sand out of his sneakers; a mile from the beach but it still finds its way into his Cons. Third he checks the wheels, freshly greased in the last minutes before leaving and yes, smelling ready. Then, then.

Seth knows he’s home at the sound of it, a grinding roll, snapclackthud down from the edge to the sweet curve.

It’s like ice skating but leaving no traces, whittling everything away until there’s only you and the board and the air.

 

His parents bought him a board when he was ten: he’d done the research online, so he knew enough to order the right parts for street skating. He’d worn that board out over the next year, leaning in and out the whole way down the boulevard on Saturday afternoons, working the steep hill until it felt flat.

Carving, circling and spinning around his parents, Summer, his life. Regular ellipses, a trajectory, even, getting too close and then getting nothing at all.

 

Seth owns three boards now, but one rarely gets used. It’d be different if he had a lookout, or a friend to hold up the link fences so he could wiggle through. He never did, so those longer trucks he’d spent hours picking out never got scraped, the decks never wore down. It was practically new, perfect for sneaking into a half-made house and staking claim.

He’s always thought there was poetry in physics: they didn’t have to explain something like centrifugal force with "To flee from the center," did they? Feeling the wake of the force as his body moves along a curved path, Ryan smiles at Seth and there it is: his tendency to go in a straight line.

But it’s backward. Everything is different now, his stance off, his balance shaky, the ground altered underneath him. Seth’s board feels heavy in his hands; his eyes burn when they light the torches and move to sit on a bench nearby, but not near enough. He’s here, but he’s not really here.

 

Seth runs his fingers over the sandpaper on the deck, feels the strips he’d laid down one Tuesday night. This is why he’s here, isn’t it? Why he isn’t barricaded in an empty room, listening for Marissa’s giggles and the inevitable murmurs, moans, gasps. He wants to sway like a boat on land, finally smooth and untouchable in this blue-tiled oasis, which isn’t a Blue Haven, but it’s almost as good.

And pools, when they’re good, pools are art.

And really, if he just looks at it, lit up grayblue in the torchlight, it’s one of the finest pools he’s ever seen. Ten plus foot bowl with square corners, loveseats, deathboxes, and all kinds of fun lines. He noticed it the first time he came on the site, and promised himself he’d come back for it. Just waiting for him to slide over the tile, dig into the concrete, press that gritty pool-bottom pattern into his skin.

He just knew his mother had shrugged and picked out the pool with the prettiest shape, the one that would set off the landscaping and the tall windows at the rear of the house. Never thinking Seth would sneak out and make it his, drink beer under the stars and hit just the right groove in the deep end, fingers dragging the bottom, head swimming.

It’s the only finished part of this place, Seth thinks; among piles of dirt, unfinished beams and unmixed bags of concrete, the house is sad like a beginning cut short. It’s his space, dusty but untouched.

 

Seth loves the board because it makes him freer than other people, suspended above ground and winding his way through pedestrians down at the pier, sliding through crosswalks with hardly any effort.

But Seth knows Ryan’s the free one. You wouldn’t think so. Ryan’s tied down, stuck on the ground, and he can’t catch air or cross ditches with an ollie. But he’s not dependent on twelve pieces of maple glued together, on bearings that keep sand and gravel out. He can just go, anywhere, even plant himself in a million dollar house that echoes like a full pipe even though he doesn’t belong there.

This place is like a bus station to Ryan: he doesn’t care how much it cost, how it looks. He’s just waiting, hasn’t even unpacked. Blink and he’d be gone, untethered, unmarked by anything that’s happened to him here.

And Seth wants to keep him, wants to be a drag line or new tape on a board holding your toes down. He wants Marissa to take off, go find her party or her boyfriend or some new lost cause, but instead she keeps leaning closer, flicking her eyes up at Ryan in a way that anyone, even Seth, knows is an invitation.

 

When it’s fine, when he’s lost in the rhythm, it sounds like the ocean. Vibrations up through his sneakers, into his knees and up his spine, a fast rush, a slow slide down. He’s not showing off for anyone, not watching his turns or catching the best corners. And he could forget about what’s outside the pool, what’s waiting when he steps off the board and emerges, but their shadows flicker as he skates over them. He does an ollie over Marissa and bisects Ryan, knees shaking with the effort of staying here, staying out of the way.

Only a geek would study aerodynamics in his spare time just to understand the grace of it, the three-way curve a pool gives. You can go toe-to-toe or heel-to-heel with the coping, body moving like planets in space. It shouldn’t even be possible for humans, Seth thinks. You can go forward, you can go up. You can even do both. But forward up across, cutting through space in a ball of momentum, that’s different.

You could call it skating in place; you don’t ever really get anywhere. But it’s exchanging breadth for depth, like instead of going forward, he’s going in. Following the same paths over and over, tracing 50-50s and grinding blocks until his teeth chatter. He’s finding out how to skate this, learning every dip and line in the concrete like they’re the ones born on his hands.

 

Seth is starting to feel like he’s in a concrete fishbowl, head coming up over the side every time he passes them. Like one of those fish that come up to breathe. She’s still there; he’s still there, leaned in close but still hesitant. No news yet. Seth kicks off where the diving board would be when he realizes he’s been staring so long his wheels have stopped turning.

Seth read some guy in the local paper who said that surfing was like losing oneself, becoming ‘One with nature,’ utterly free. They don’t know freedom, chained to a board and anchored down. He can go anywhere, sneak into parking lots and canals, and he can jump off anytime it looks like he’s gonna do a header.

He watches the lines they’d gotten around to painting in the deep end. He skates too close to the torches and gets a mouthful of smoke. Seth’s sweating now, hair sticking to his neck, and he can’t not hear them talking, dips the nose too far and goes sprawling all at once.

Something about boyfriends and fights and understanding, all nouns with no connecting parts. Urgent, confessional, Marissa’s voice become baby soft. He picks at the half-torn-open scab on his knee as his head stops spinning. Gets up, and looks to see if they noticed. They stopped talking, but only so they could stare at each other without even blinking. She’s never gonna leave.

 

Seth steps on and tries to get the rhythm back. It should be a sweet scrape slide, back and forth, up and down, like doing laps out of water. The board isn’t following him, it’s jerking and twisting. Catching on imaginary obstacles, and his low curses echo off the sides.

His fingers twitch at his side, jammed and aching and trying to climb into his pockets. But you can’t balance that way; you can’t keep parts of you safe and stay up.

Scrapes his elbow when he tries for a crooked grind—getting fancy, getting nervous. This should be the best part, leaving himself behind on the pool. Marking it his space.

But all he wants is to walk down to the water with Ryan, feel the land gritty as the bottom of his board, right near the water where it’s not mud but it’s not sand either. Something in between, only touched by the waves at high tide.

Seth feels like that, soaked one minute and bare the next, water pulling back and he’s not dry, he’s not free and light. Everything gets caught on his fingers, on the back of his tongue. Like the way Ryan half-grins when the world just showed him it was as shitty as he thought. Or the small of his back.

Seth can’t stop watching the small of his back peeking out from his jeans. He can see it now, and squints to ignore the skin next to it. He sinks down, knees shaky, and lets himself pump up right next to them, so close he can feel Ryan’s heat on his face. Then he’s coming down fast, keeping the momentum and heading blind for the wall. That firm smooth expanse is all he can see, gold and sweating in the summer heat, marked with dips and hills and the rocking jumps of vertebrae that Seth wants to ride.

He’d carve his way down it, slide his tongue in a long, curving arc. Let it roll underneath him, balance lost but still standing.