Hot Tub Graduation by Lyndon Perry
Janelle stared at the seventies style medicine cabinet mirror and gave herself – and her black and white polka dot bikini – a final appraisal. She tried not to grimace. Trusting her counselors was part of her therapy.
The real test was what reaction she got from James.
She put on some cherry lip gloss, tasting the fruity flavor as she smacked her lips together twice. Wrapping a scratchy white towel around her, she slipped on her fluffy pink flip-flops, and headed to the back door of the girls cabin. The other three sophomore campers were still in their shared bunk room getting ready for their final day of their winter retreat.
Opening the door, a swirl of dusty whiteness bit at her toes. She shivered. The old stone barn with a new slate roof sat imposingly across the yard; the four inches of freshly fallen snow a seemingly non-traversable glacier separating her from her future.
Janelle pulled a strand of her long brown hair out of her face and curled her tresses into a loose knot that sat high on her head. It was now or never.
Bracing herself against the whistling January wind, she grabbed tight at her towel and made a beeline for the barn. Her toes pinched at her flip-flops to keep them from slipping off as she lifted her feet in a kind of high-step run, quickly crossing the camp’s common area.
The barn door was ajar and she entered with a gasp, pulling the door shut behind her to keep out the cold and snow. The newly renovated barn was warm and cozy and had an earthiness to it, a slight musty smell of old hay and damp stone which she found comforting once inside.
Lancaster County’s Youth Services had purchased the farm a few years ago, turned it into a retreat center, and offered various rehab programs for Philadelphia’s messed up rich kids. The old stone barn was now a recreation room that sported a pool table, ping-pong, foosball, and a variety of games students could play old school style. No electronics allowed.
The barn also boasted a hot tub in the corner.
Alone in the tub awaiting the rest of the campers, James waved his fingers. Janelle waved back and smiled nervously, making her way to the wooden paneled spa, the gurgle of the hot water inviting her to relax with her best guy friend in the whole world. The pulsating jet streams and bubbles offered to take her insecurities away and she decided to let the whirlpool make good on its promise.
“Hey,” she said as she walked up the steps on the outside of the hot tub. She kicked off her flip-flops, her cold toes matching their color.
“Hey back at ya,” James said, his dark eyes following hers. He sank to his chin, letting the bubbles play with his long blond hair.
Janelle stood fast, suddenly frozen, though the old barn was warm, well lit, and doing its best to be friendly.
“Big step today,” her friend said, suddenly pushing himself out of the water and onto the ledge where he sat smacking his gum. His skinny frame was not as skinny as when they’d first met at this same camp two summers before. He was making good progress and it looked like it.
Janelle nodded to herself. “Almost like graduation,” she replied, her thoughts scattered.
James smiled. Waited.
Janelle breathed in, held it, and let it out. Now or never. It had become a kind of mantra as of late. Taking the top edge of her towel, she untucked it and pulled it open. Her pale skin nearly matching the white fabric of her swimsuit, allowing the bikini’s black dots to pop.
Like her friend’s eyes! She blushed.
“Wow. You look great, Janelle. Really. You… you’re perfect.”
He frowned. “Am I fat?”
“Then there’s your answer.”
In her heart, she knew the truth. Her body type was perfectly normal. But her mind had played tricks on her heart for so long, it was hard to believe. But James would know. They’d shared this journey together for a year and a half. He was perfect. She was perfect. They didn’t need to purge or binge or hide or cut. They could just be.
She stepped into the hot tub up to her knees, her cold toes burning at the immediate heat. Surprisingly this gave her arms goosebumps as the air temperature seemed to drop. She quickly immersed herself to her shoulders and James got back in the swirling water. They moved close, eyes locked on each other. She put a wet hand to his cheek and as he leaned in she kissed him.
“And I like spearmint.”
He grinned, took his gum out and proclaimed, “Doublemint, actually.” He put it back in his mouth and they both laughed.
A noise at the door alerted them to the other campers making their way into the recreational barn. Conversation and shouts and giggles accompanied the six other girls and guys, fellow students on their way to health and wholeness.
Janelle stole a quick kiss and said, “I’m glad we got here first.”
“Me too,” James said. “And even though I’ve sorta gotten used to this place since our freshman year, hopefully, this will be our last time here.”
“Happy graduation day,” she said, and kissed him again before the others joined them in the relaxing, healing waters of the hot tub.
Tub Graduation © 2018 by Lyndon Perry
Originally appearing at Every Day Fiction, January 5, 2018.
Here's the story behind the story...
I wrote this flash fiction (about 930 words) as an exercise at being more descriptive. A lot of nouns we read are throw-away words - flip-flops, mirror, swimsuit, barn. They describe nothing, really, leaving the reader to import what he or she thinks those objects look like. Writers can take more control of their story by describing more of the details of the setting and character to advance a theme or provide a certain texture to the story. At least, that's the premise I wanted to work on.
So this exercise focused on barns, of all things. There are all kinds of barns. What just popped into your head when you read the word? A red painted, tin roofed country barn, with a faded Mail Pouch Tobacco ad? Or a rough-hewn, splinter-ridden horse stall? For me, it was a stone barn from Pennsylvania that I wanted to describe. You'll have to let me know if I succeeded.
Oh, and the story? It developed from me simply describing the barn. I next imagined what was inside - all the cool games I mentioned in the story plus a hot tub! And what does that spa inspire? For me, relaxation. Peace. Acceptance. Who needs that kind of zen? Everyone, really, but teens especially. And teens with hangups even more. Which pretty much describes all of us at one time or another, I imagine.
Thus, Hot Tub Graduation was born. It seemed like a good fit for Every Day Fiction and I was excited that they accepted it for publication a few years ago. And as we 'graduate' from 2021 into 2022, I hope this story helps with the transition. Have a Happy New Year and may God's richest blessings be yours.
- Lyn Perry, Dec 31, 2021