I meet James on a cool August night at my friend’s house party in San Jose. Initially I’m intrigued by him—after all, he’s dressed decently in a navy sweater and seems chill in demeanor. Admittedly, this is also before any alcohol has made its rounds.
“I don’t think I’ve ever met you before. I’m Irene,” I say, proffering my hand.
“James.” We shake hands.
“Are you from the area?”
“Nah, I’m from New York.”
“Ah,” I reply, teasingly. I lean back as if he’s got some sort of contagious disease, just for effect. “You’re one of those.”
He laughs, looking somewhat surprised. “Yes, indeed I am.”
“What’re you doing in the Bay then?” I continue.
He laughs again, this time more expectantly. “Finance.”
“You’re one of those, too?”
For some reason, James takes to my snarkiness. Before I explore the option, though, I ask him about academia, just in case.
“Oh. I went to school in Massachussetts.”
“Yeah? Where’d you go?” I prod.
He hesitates. “Err, Harvard.”
“Smooth,” our mutual friend Bernie cuts in. He turns to me. “Homie’s trying to downplay his Harvard cred.”
“Yeah, whatever,” James says, waving Bernie away.
This’ll be a fun night, I think, laughing at them.
A few vodka shots later, James and I are flirting and dancing, and I’m having good mindless fun. I have an epiphany that the reason I like alcohol so much is because I can lose myself in the moment and quench my usual tendency to think too much. I stop thinking about it. In fact, I’m so wrapped up in my heady oblivion that I don’t notice that James is aggressively blocking off every other male specimen even remotely considering coming up to me to even say hello. I find out later from the host that his tactics include mad dogging, physical blocking, and even the occasional shove.
Around the middle of the night, the crowd decides the best way to honor the host of the night is to hurl him into the pool. Joe is a portly guy, and the water greets him with a splash more resounding than the gasps and cheers of the crowd around us. Luckily, Joe has anticipated this, and it’s only his T-shirt and a pair of basketball shorts he has to change out of.
All the same, I eye the water warily. “I bet that water’s super cold,” I say, shivering a little just at the thought of being submerged in the pool in this weather.
“Ah, I bet it’s not that bad,” James says smugly. “It’s a nice night.”
“Yeah, should we throw you in there?” I tease, turning around toward him and pointing over my shoulder toward the water.
“Looks like you want to test it out,” he responds, grinning.
I’m about to roll my eyes and object when suddenly, I feel myself being lifted off the ground. Before I can even say “Don’t you dare,” I’m airborne. The moment rolls in slow motion, and my stomach does a sickening lurch as I feel myself falling involuntarily and out of control. Seconds later, my body breaks the pool’s surface with a loud splash, and water rushes up my nose.
I gain my footing and stand hacking up water, soaked hair plastered to my face. I remember a second later that I’m still fully clothed, and my heart sinks as I feel the clammy clutch of silky blouse and cotton pants on my skin. I lift my arms and gape at my ruined outfit. I wonder if my mascara is running down my face yet and hope, defeated, to decide to rely on DiorShow’s waterproof marketing plug.
The crowd is laughing, and I resist the urge to fling water at all of them. Instead, I scrounge up as much dignity as I can and, smiling, calmly make my way over to the side of the pool. Grabbing onto the side of the pool, I make two mini jumps then lift myself up over the edge.
Just as I rest my knee on dry ground, James kneels down to meet my gaze.
“You sure you’re done swimming already?” he says. He lifts a finger up and presses it against my shoulder.
“You better not,” I start, but I’m already falling backwards into the water again. “What the fuck,” I exclaim, trying to stand up, slipping along the sudden decline of the pool floor into the deep end, then treading water back up to the surface. My vision is obstructed by water and hair all over again.
“How’s the water?” James asks.
“Shut up,” I say, this time wading over to the stairs. I gingerly step out of the pool and start walking toward the house.
At this moment, Tom, one of Joe’s friends, decides it’s high time for him to try his hand at tossing me into the deep end. For the third time in a row, I’m swept off my feet and waterbound.
This time, I’m more prepared to go down with a fight. As I start to defy gravity, I quickly grab the collar of Tom’s shirt and pull as hard as I can given my position. We both go tumbling into the water.
When I gather my wits this time, most of the party crowd has already grown tired of the pool routine and are headed toward the kitchen for more liquor. Thank goodness. Tom exits the water first, since he’s closer to the edge of the pool, and I follow suit. By the time I’m out, everyone except James has dispersed from pool’s edge.
“You asshole,” I say, shaking water out of my ears and futilely squeezing water from my shirt at the same time.
“Come on, you had fun.” He smirks.
“Are you sure you don’t want another dunk?
“Quite sure,” realizing a moment too late that James is quickly moving toward me and bending over to hoist up my legs. He’s picked me up before I can even attempt to escape.
“Put me down!” I demand, struggling in his arms.
“One last time, what do you say?” he ignores my command, focusing his attention on not dropping me and bring his arms down to throw me again.
I’ve already resigned myself to my fate, so I’m determined to give James a taste of his own medicine and bring him down with me. He’s probably asking for it anyway. I grab James’s shirt and hang on for dear life as gravity pulls me south.
I’m surprised he doesn’t expect that. “What the…?” he exclaims as we both go down.
After we hit the water, we both stand up and are facing each other.
“Shit, my wallet was in my pocket,” James says, pulling out the drenched leather. A flash drive drops from the center of the wallet into the water. “Shit,” he says again.
I couldn’t care less. “I hate you,” I grumble as I wipe the water off my face with both hands. Then I look up.
Suddenly, James moves toward me. I take an instinctive step backward, but hit the corner of the pool. James lips meet mine, and while I struggle to find another exit, his tongue tries to force its way into my mouth.
Eyes wide open, I brings my hands up against James’s chest and push him away. “What’re you doing?” I demand.
He grins, then moves in again, but I splash away from him.
“Are you fucking serious?” I say. “You throw me into a pool fully clothed three times and you think I’m going to kiss you?”
I climb out of the pool for the last time and search for Joe. To my chagrin, I hear he’s passed out on his bed. Not too comfortable rummaging through his clothing while he’s unconscious, I go back outside and call another friend who lives nearby instead.
“Hey, I’m at this house party and I was just chucked into a swimming pool. Would you mind bringing me a change of clothing so I can go home?”
While I wait for her to arrive, the two bedraggled victims of the pool huddle around the firepit, shivering despite the happily dancing flames. My teeth are chattering, and I curse the breeze that sporadically strides through the backyard, ignorant of my plight.
Bay Area weather isn’t the only force heedless of my foul mood. Still pumped up to rage, James jumps up, trying to rouse his immediate company. He turns around and sticks his butt toward the flames.
“Ah,” he sighs, patting his cheeks. “That’s much better. Getting all dry already.”
Suddenly, Tommy materializes out of nowhere. With no provocation nor warning, he pushes James.
James immediately yelps. He flails his arms in panic for a few seconds then finally extricates himself from the flames. “What the fuck?” he yells. Fortunately at that point, my clothing arrives, and I’m able to change into dry clothing, jump in my car, and drive for the safety of home. I hear later that his severe third-degree burns warrant a visit to the hospital the next morning and three days off from work due to his inability to sit in a chair.
In leaving the party early, I miss another critical event of the night, I’m also told.
Some time after I depart, James suddenly announces to the crowd, “I want to make out with someone. Who wants to make out with me?”
To everyone’s surprise, a homely (not my observation) girl steps up to the challenge. After they kiss amid half-hearted cheers from the rest of the host, James hums appreciatively.
“You, sir,” he declares loudly, “are the first fat chick I’ve ever made out with.”