Everyone on earth had a body, of course. Young people had bodies and old people had bodies and all bodies were different. Sylvia would never have described herself as someone who cared about muscles; pecs and abs did nothing for her, theoretically. That stuff was for idiots who didn’t have better things to think about. That was for girls like Carmen, her brother’s girlfriend, who didn’t know enough to see that their boyfriends treated them like garbage. Working out was a punishment, a gym-class nightmare. Sylvia tried to remember if she could even touch her toes, but couldn’t, because she was hypnotized by the sight in front of her. All of her speculation about Joan made the actual physical reality of him without his shirt on seem like a joke. She didn’t even know which muscle groups to imagine! They were all there, the little ones and the big ones and the ones like arrows pointing toward his crotch. She truly had had no idea that bodies were actually made like that, with no Photoshop in sight. Joan folded his shirt and laid it on the blanket, and then reached for his fly. Sylvia had to turn around.
“I’ll race you,” she said, mostly because she wasn’t sure her legs could take seeing any more, like they might just give out from under her and then she’d die on the spot. She quickly took off her clothes and threw them in a ball behind her, not caring where they landed, and then ran into the water. She ran until the water was as high as her hips, and then Sylvia closed her eyes and dove.
When her head bobbed up a yard later, Sylvia could hear Joan in the water behind her. She turned around, treading water, and watched him swim to her. She felt like a flounder swimming next to a dolphin. When Joan raised his head, his hair still looked perfect, just wet. Sylvia smoothed her own hair back, feeling all the knots from the windy drive.
“You know,” she said. “I think Anne Brontë is really underrated. In terms of the Brontë family. Don’t you think so?” She kicked her legs, and her right foot made contact with some unseen part of Joan’s body. “Sorry.”
Joan dipped his chin into the bay, showing no signs that he’d heard her.
“Elizabeth Gaskell, too,” Sylvia continued. “I mean, George Eliot gets all the love, and Elizabeth gets nothing, don’t you think that’s weird?”
Joan swam closer, so that his shoulders were only a foot away from Sylvia’s.
“I won’t kiss you if you don’t want it,” he said.
Sylvia wished for a camera, for her telephone, for a reality television crew. Her heart was beating so quickly that she thought the water around her would begin to begin to boil. “That would be OK,” she said, and Joan closed the gap between them. She let her eyelids flutter shut, and then she felt his mouth on hers.
Not counting whoever she’d kissed at the party, drunk out of her mind, Sylvia had kissed eight people in her life, roughly two a year since she was twelve. Joan was number eight, and the difference between him and the previous seven was so hilarious that Sylvia couldn’t contain herself. Gone were the searching tongues, the cumbersome teeth, the bad breath, the too-soft lips that belonged to every single boy in New York City.
“Are you laughing at me?” Joan said, pulling back. He reached for her waist, unafraid of her answer, and Sylvia felt herself lift her legs so that they wrapped around his torso. Her entire body felt warm and buzzing, like a fluorescent lightbulb. She wanted to kiss Joan until she couldn’t breathe, until they needed to call for help because they were both dead by makeout.
“I think we should have sex,” Sylvia said. Joan put his hands underneath her thighs to brace her weight, and then walked straight out of the bay, dropping to his knees when they reached the blanket. He deposited Sylvia gently on her back, and then slid one shoulder of her bathing suit off at a time, never taking his mouth off hers. When her bathing suit was off, Joan moved his mouth down her body. When he started going down on her, an experience she’d never particularly liked before, she realized that there were parts of her own body she’d never met, and he was introducing her to them, which felt chivalrous and empowering and like she’d been sitting in a dark room for her entire life, and now she was naked on a beach in Mallorca and maybe there was a God after all. There was a condom in the basket, or in his pocket, and when Joan leaned back to put it on, Sylvia got to look at his entire naked body, which was so phenomenally beautiful that she forgot to feel embarrassed about her own.
The actual sex didn’t hurt (as her ex-best-friend Katie Saperstein had told her it would years ago), and she didn’t bleed (again, Katie Saperstein). Sylvia couldn’t say that it actually felt good, either, but her whole body was still humming from whatever Joan had just licked and nudged and paid glorious attention to, and so Sylvia happily went along for the ride. He moved around on top of her, going in and out, and she could hear the bay sloshing around and the birds flying overhead. If anyone had walked down the steep slope and through the tunnel to the beach, they would have seen them, full-on, no question, but no one did. Joan finished with a final push, his beautiful face briefly changing into something complicated and taut, and then relaxing back into its natural state of perfection. Sylvia wrapped her arms around him, because it seemed like the thing to do, and Joan rested his head on her clavicle. He stayed inside her for a moment, and then gently pulled out and rolled onto his back. Their legs were wet and sandy and when Sylvia sat up, the whole beach seemed to spin. The world was different now that she knew this was a possibility.
“So,” she said. “I think it’s definitely time for a sandwich.” ♦