I know what those three little words mean. At sixteen, I’m not supposed to, but I do. They’ve been so diluted by music and television and movies that it seems pop culture’s most touching uses of them is how they get substituted with little codes like “I know” and “Ditto.” They still do mean something. I’m not stupid, you know.
Sometimes they’re used to manipulate; my friend Hakim does that. Sometimes guys say them to each other when they’re too drunk to know better; my friend Dusty does that with his frat brothers. Sometimes they’re used to stop an argument; my sister and her boyfriend do that. Sometimes they’re used as an apology; my step-uncle and aunt do that.
This is not what happened. She just whispered those three little words into my ear. Okay, it wasn’t just those three little words. She started with three other words: “Maximiliano Alejandro Fuentes”–two big words and a medium-sized one, I guess, followed by those three little ones.
It started last night. Before that, it started in the afternoon, when I said, “I’m not getting naked. Not for anybody.”
“Not even for Heather?” asked Hakim.
I did have to think about it. “Not even for Heather.”
“Oh, come on!” he whined. “You made it to second base with her!”
I cleared my throat. “Third.”
“So you’ve been naked.”
“Well,” I said, “we kept the rest of our clothes on.”
“You must be the only sixteen-year-old who’s never done it.”
“I have,” he told me.
“That’s because you’re a slut.”
“Dude,” Hakim insisted, “I’m not going skinny-dipping without you.”
“That’s wrong on so many levels.”
He clarified, “I’m totally chickening out if you’re not.”
“But Ange and his girlfriend, Whatshername, said they’d go.”
“Not the same.”
“And…” I gulped. “… Lisa…”
“I get to see Lisa naked anytime I want.”
“La, la, la-la, la!” I repeated.
“Come on, dude!”
“My name’s not dude.” And then, with utmost finality, I told him, “And I am not taking Heather skinny-dipping!”
And so last night I took Heather skinny-dipping.
Getting to that point was only a small challenge. The weaknesses in the security of the municipal swimming pool were the windows above the locker-room doors. These windows were really narrow, mind you, but, fortunately, Hakim was much, much narrower. He was tall enough that it only took the slightest boost to get him within reach, but, unfortunately, Hakim was as awkward as he was tall.
The only person with the strength and stubbornness to lift him up was Lisa, who steadied his legs with uncharacteristic patience. Her hands, perpetually grease-stained from the tune-ups she performed on her piece-of-shit truck and my piece-of-shit car, cupped his ass for balance, and her raised arms lifted the hem of her hoodie and turtleneck, exposing the bare skin of her hip as it thrust his weight upward.
“La, la, la-la, la!” I whispered.
“What the hell are you doing?” Heather whispered back.
“Did I just do that out loud?”
She giggled. “God, you are so weird.” She gripped my cheeks in her palms and drew me in for a clumsy kiss, complete with anxious squirming. “Sexy and smart and totally weird.” That’s all it took to snap me out of whatever the hell that was.
A glance at Lisa stretching out her taxed limbs snapped me back into it.
In moments, Hakim cracked open the locker-room door, and we scrambled inside. Ange wasted no time stripping and getting into the water, which was just as well, since I had no desire to see him naked. His girlfriend, Whatshername, took her time, which was not just as well, since I had no desire to see her naked either. Teenage curiosity made me look anyway, though, and I was not happy about that.
Heather did a slow striptease for me. This would have been much more exciting had it not been for three things: the first was that, having rounded 75 percent of the bases, I was already very familiar with her long, creamy white torso–perfect for stroking with my tongue, and her barely swollen breasts–perfect for holding in my hands while my fingertips squeezed her nipples. The part of her I hadn’t seen was covered by black denim, which she had yet to dispose of.
If she had gotten that far, I just might have missed the second thing, which was in my line of sight behind her. Hakim had removed his shirt to reveal the jutting ribs and shoulder bones I’d always suspected were hidden there. He’d peeled off his fishnet sleeves and half of his pants before he remembered he was also wearing tightly laced, calf-length leather and canvas boots.
The third was something I would not have missed, no matter how many girls might be rolling her hips for my benefit. And no amount of la-la-las could hide the way Lisa whipped off her hoodie and turtleneck and unhooked her bra in one smooth movement. I couldn’t stop it–a teenage heterosexual boy was blessed and cursed with a photographic memory when it came to exposed female flesh, even if it was just an arched, muscled back.
And then, almost as if she could feel me fighting the urge to stare, she turned her head, smirked, and uttered to me three little words that seemed at the time to be just as–if not more important than–the earth-shattering three little words I would hear later. “Don’t look now,” Lisa said.
Just like that, a door slammed shut in my mind, reinforcing the wall of the status quo, echoing with the loudest la-la-la of them all.
That settled, I focused again on Heather, noting that most of her jeans were gone, and her thumbs were hooked around the elastic of her underwear. After they dropped down to her ankles, she kicked them over to the rest of her clothes and told me, “Your turn.”
Home plate now in sight, I obeyed, with considerably less grace than she had shown.
“Wow,” she said.
“Yeah,” I repeated.
The other four were comfortable enough with each other’s bodies to splash around the pool, squealing with the goofy innocence of five-year-olds. Heather and I, however, stared into each other’s eyes in stunned silence. We drifted away, my arms holding her waist, her arms draped over my shoulders. After a romantic eternity, she leaned in close and said those three words–well, those six words. But it was those three at the end that were the most important. And though even though we’re both only sixteen, we know they’ll last forever.