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secondhand embarrassment

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The day started with Allison smacking Matt’s ass.

Matt scurried away from her, laughing, trying to hide his body behind Dan, who elbowed him in the stomach.

“Good game?” Nicky said, grinning. Allison turned to him next.

“Can we stop?” Aaron said, scowling as Allison and Nicky chased each other in the squelching sand as the rest of them—Kevin, Dan, Matt, Renee, Andrew, and himself—carried their beach day stuff down to the shore. “I don’t want sand all over me.”

“You’re at the beach,” Nicky panted, stopping for a moment to evaluate the spot they had chosen: perfectly perched at the cusp of the sea, not too many people around—but not too few, either—and far enough from the lifeguard chair that they didn’t have to worry about constant reprimands for their possibly suspect behavior (depending on how rowdy any of them got).

Nicky was just nodding at the chosen locale when Allison caught up to him and gave him a quick smack. Nicky yelped. Allison cackled. The chase resumed.

Aaron, sighing, dropped the cooler and beach bag he was carrying.

“Help me with the shade,” Kevin demanded of anyone, and Dan and Matt dropped their own bags and totes to help.

Renee and Andrew searched around for a picnic table to drag over to their spot.

The midmorning sun beat down on their backs, soaked into their skin, dried their sweat, and all the Foxes were too busy setting up their spot to get in the water to cool down, and Allison and Nicky were still goofing off, and Kevin was a bit of a dick, and it didn’t take long for snipes to turn genuine, and everyone was yelling, and Aaron was just trying to lay down, and when their arguing got too loud, someone from down at the beach yelled, “Hey!”

Each Fox stopped fighting and turned their head in the direction of the holler. They watched as a figure emerged from the waves, water sluffing off his body as he stomped toward the shore. He was wearing a red and black singlet swimsuit, hems stopping at his forearms and above his knees. The wet fabric suctioned to his tanned and freckled skin, showcasing his firm muscles and toned stomach. Once he was closer, the Foxes noticed his garish scars, lines carved into his cheek and hands, burns scrubbed onto his knuckles and below one of his eyes. His hair was a deep red, like blood. His eyes were an icy blue, like a glacier. He was scowling at the Foxes, like they were still arguing and fighting, though they hadn’t made a sound as soon as they’d had the man’s attention on them.

“Are you done?” he asked, like an exasperated mother, or a tired teacher, or a bored lifeguard scanning the beach for troublemakers.

The man did not wait for a response. He turned from the Foxes and walked toward the lifeguard chair just as the lifeguard on duty called his name and waved: “Neil!” The Foxes watched as Neil took his spot atop the chair and stared balefully down at the beach. He did not look at the Foxes again. He put a whistle in his mouth but didn’t blow.

The beachball that had been in Allison’s mouth as she blew it up slipped from her lips and bounced pitifully on the sand, half-filled and sad. Slowly, a feral grin stretched across her face. Slowly, similar grins stretched across a few of the Foxes’ faces, save for Andrew, Aaron, and Renee.

“Oh yes,” Allison said.

“Oh no,” Aaron agreed.

*

“I just think that whoever can get his number by the end of the day should win a hundred bucks.”

“By the end of the day? What sort of game do you think you have?”

“Um, big tits?”

“Oh my god.”

“Jesus Christ.”

“A hundred bucks, you say?”

“Oh, so you’re in?”

“I like money.”

“And I like cute lifeguards.”

“Great. Wonderful. May the best Fox win.”

*

Around one that afternoon, the sun sweltering skin off people’s backs and sand caking into creases of people’s skin, a lifeguard wearing a full body swimsuit patrolled the beach, a whistle perched carelessly on his lips, and three sultry individuals waited until he was right in front of them before falling at his feet. 

Like, literally. 

A mass of bodies and sand kicked a flurry in the air. 

“Oof,” said one, the tall one, a gentleman named Matt. 

“Oh god,” said one, a fierce one, a captain named Dan. 

“Seriously?” said one, an annoyed one, a twin named Aaron. 

“How did you even get here?” Matt asked, spitting sand out of his mouth. 

“I’m literally just trying to go to the beach. You know. To swim.” Aaron scowled, trying to untangle his limbs from his companions—if he could call them that (he wouldn’t). 

Dan shook sand out of her hair. “And you had to get in our way?” 

“What was literally the plan here? To fall at his feet and have him help you up? He’s literally gone.” 

Aaron pointed off into the distance. The cute lifeguard Neil was twenty paces down the beach, having not paused at all when the three fell at his feet. 

The three sultry individuals, really just three hot and sweaty Foxes, watched as the lifeguard walked the beach and half-heartedly whistled at a good-natured fight about to break out. 

Matt flopped onto his back. 

Dan flopped onto Matt’s stomach. 

Aaron sighed, standing up. 

“When will love come for me,” Matt said. 

“Never,” Dan lamented. 

Aaron abandoned them in the sand. 

The lifeguard still never looked back. 

*

At two that afternoon, sun-soaked and sweat slick, Renee and Allison ventured to the smoothie stand and stood in line behind a lifeguard wearing a full body swimsuit and scowling at two teenagers trying to flirt with the waitress and holding up the line. 

Allison took a step closer to the man in front of her, and then another step, right into his space, and said, rather loudly, “I think I’ll have sex on the beach.”

“No one is taking your order,” the man in front of them informed her. He didn’t even turn around. He sounded bored. 

Allison faltered, and then rallied, and then tried again. Her smile was big. She let one of the straps of her swimsuit coverup slip off her shoulder. She let her hair tumble to the side as she cocked her head. She put a hand on the man’s forearm. 

Her voice like a purr, Allison said, “I’m not talking about the drink.” 

The lifeguard immediately shook off her hand. He still hadn’t turned around.  

“This isn’t even a bar,” the lifeguard told her. 

Disgruntled, Allison snapped, “I don’t want a drink.” 

The lifeguard finally turned around. With a look of great contempt, accentuated by the thick and ugly scars on his cheeks and the icy blue of his dead eyes, he didn’t even do Allison the disservice of a once-over before intoning, droll and bored, “Then what are you doing in line at a smoothie stand?” 

The patrons of the smoothie stand within a three foot radius of Renee and Allison sputtered a laugh behind closed fists. 

Allison huffed. 

The lifeguard turned around just as it was his turn to order.

“Is this what it feels like for normal people?” Allison asked. 

“What?” Renee asked. 

“Rejection.” 

Renee smiled kindly—or maybe more mischievous, but Allison was too busy staring at the lifeguard and glaring to notice. “Well,” she said. “Maybe not for everyone.” 

*

At three that afternoon, Nicky was skipping along the beach, spinning a small, lacy parasol and blowing bubbles with the giant, sticky glob of bright pink bubblegum he had in his mouth, large oval sunglasses on his face and hair slicked back from the salty sea, in search of a cute lifeguard wearing a full body swimsuit. 

He eventually found the man helping detangle a girl from a trashed fishing net.

Nicky slowed to eavesdrop.

“Thanks for helping me,” the girl said. She looked about nine years old. 

“It’s my job,” the lifeguard said. 

The girl cocked her head. “So you wouldn’t help me if you weren’t a lifeguard?” 

“No.” 

She laughed. The lifeguard didn’t even crack a smile, but he didn’t stop detangling the lines of wire wrapped around her legs, either. 

“Aren’t you hot wearing that?” the girl asked. 

“Yeah,” the lifeguard answered, right when he finished detangling. He balled up the net in one hand as he reached out with the other to help the girl stand up. She nodded in thanks, brushing off sand. 

The lifeguard turned to leave and Nicky, seeing his chance, whistled, catcalled, and called out “Hey!” 

The lifeguard paused. The girl he had just helped out paused. Everyone in the area turned to Nicky.  

Nicky, grinning at the attention, looked right at the lifeguard and said, “You can’t park that here!”

The man frowned. “Park what?” he asked. He seemed very serious.  

Nicky faltered. “What?” 

“What?” 

“Uh…” 

The lifeguard persisted. “Did you park something on the beach?” He took a step toward Nicky.

“No!” Nicky nervously spun his parasol. “No, I’m saying—I’m talking about your—” Nicky gestured helplessly to the lifeguard’s…um… 

The lifeguard raised an eyebrow. The girl he helped out of a fishing net raised an eyebrow. Everyone in the area raised an eyebrow.

“Oh,” the lifeguard said. 

“Wow,” the girl said. 

Everyone in the area stared at Nicky. 

“Um,” Nicky started, and released a nervous chuckle, and his giant wad of bubblegum tumbled out of his mouth and plopped, wet and sticky, on the ground. 

The lifeguard stared at the gum. 

The girl stared at the gum. 

Everyone in the area stared at the gum. 

“You can’t park that here!” someone yelled out eventually.

Tension broke. Nicky laughed with the rest of them. 

“I hate this job,” the cute lifeguard said to no one in particular. 

“I can see why,” the girl he helped out agreed. 

*

Around four that afternoon, Kevin was sloshing around in the waves while a lifeguard in a full body swimsuit scrubbed sunscreen on his nose and wished for the end of his shift. 

Suddenly, abruptly, quite out of the blue, Kevin forgot how to swim. 

Barely keeping his head above water, sputtering and spitting out mouthfuls of saltwater, he pitifully called out, “Help! Someone!” 

The lifeguard stopped picking at the flaking skin on his nose and shouted, “Dude, just stand up.” 

Kevin, still frantic, toed a foot toward the bottom of the ocean. He scraped sand immediately. Oh. He was still in the shallows. He thought he had stepped out more. 

Kevin stood up. 

“Shit,” he said. He looked around at the scant children playing in the shallows with him. They all stared, up and up, at Kevin. They did not look impressed. 

“Want to race?” he asked any of them. 

“Dude, they’re children,” the lifeguard called out to him. 

Kevin, scowling, looked up and said, “So, what, are they scared?” 

“I don’t want to race,” one of them said. 

“I just peed,” said another. 

“Oh my god,” said Kevin. 

“I’ll race you,” said the lifeguard. Kevin turned back to him, raising a brow. 

“Aren’t you working?” 

The lifeguard pointed to the giant clock over by the smoothie stand. It read four thirty. 

“Shift’s over,” he said. He stepped into the water, sloshing to stand amongst Kevin and the children. He scooped water into both his hands and splashed his face, shaking out his head and hair like a dog afterward. The children shrieked at the water droplets hitting them. The lifeguard splashed more water until the children fled, giggling and starting their own splash fight. 

“Are we doing this or what?” the lifeguard asked, once they were alone. 

Kevin grinned. 

*

Around five that afternoon, Kevin sulked as the Foxes packed up their beach day fun and prepared to leave. 

“What a stupid day,” Allison said, deflating the beachball.

“I can’t believe he didn’t fall for your pickup line,” Aaron snarked. 

“I can’t believe after all their races, Kevin still couldn’t get his number,” Nicky said, snickering around a new piece of gum. 

“Oh, because you did so much better, Mr. Dump Truck,” Dan said, tucking a chair under her arm. 

Nicky shrugged, nonchalant. “I stand by what I said.” 

The Foxes cleared out their mess quick and efficient, leaving the beach with no trace of them at all, the mood a stark contrast to their earlier joviality and fun, except for Renee and Andrew, who started and ended the day the same: content to be in the sun and shade, and watching the happenings, and about to win a hundred bucks.

“Hey, Andrew!” a Fox called out, tossing a water bottle his direction so he’d have something to carry, but Andrew was not going to catch anything someone threw at him. He watched as the giant hydro flask approached his face and didn’t brace for impact—

—because he knew he didn’t have to, not when a lifeguard no longer in a full body swimsuit and just civilian clothes appeared at his side to catch the bottle centimeters from his face. 

“Some reflexes,” the lifeguard said. He tossed the water bottle back to whoever threw it, not bothering to make sure they caught it. The hollow thud and muffled “Ow, fuck!” suggested not.  

Renee smiled at the lifeguard. “Hey, Neil,” she greeted. 

Neil nodded at her in greeting.

“‘Hey, Neil’?” Allison asked. 

“Hey,” Neil said. 

“What the fuck?” Dan asked. 

“This is Neil,” Andrew said. 

“I’m not talking to you,” Allison snapped. “I’m talking to Cute Lifeguard here. You know Andrew?” 

Neil cocked his head to the side and said, “Yeah. For a while now.”

“Oh Jesus,” one Fox groaned. 

“Are you kidding me?” griped another.   

“Wait!” Nicky shouted, holding his hands up. “Wait. Does he have your number?” 

Neil frowned. “Uh, yeah?” 

All the Foxes dropped their stuff in frustration. 

“No!” 

“This doesn’t count!” 

“Fuck!” 

“Are you, like, a thing?” Kevin accused, pointing between the two of them. 

“No, I’m Neil,” Neil said. 

“Oh my god,” Matt said. “Wait. I just realized. Wasn’t it Andrew’s idea to come here today?” 

The Foxes reminisced about just the day before, when Andrew casually mentioned the name of a beach and the rest of them rallied behind him, even though Andrew usually never spoke to anyone ever at all.

“Goddammit.” 

“Are we stupid?” 

“This is rigged and, frankly, unfair and unjust.” 

“But binding and irreversible,” Andrew said. From beside him, Neil’s innocent and lost expression changed into something knowing and amused. Allison huffed. Nicky began cackling in delight. Dan and Matt blinked. Kevin picked up his totes and stomped toward the car. Aaron had disappeared to the vehicles a long time ago. Renee was smiling sweetly. 

Andrew held out a palm to the remaining Foxes and said, “Where’s my money?”