The first time Frank swam in a pool, he didn't really swim. He almost drowned.
He didn't recall much except that it was a hot day, one of those he still hated as an adult because they drained him of energy. He remembered unimportant details that one tends to forget, like the annoying sensation of his hair getting stuck to the base of his neck and the way sweat dampened the back of his shirt.
It was the start of summer, and as they were fresh out of spring and its nice breeze and soft sunlight, the heat appeared to be even more intense.
He had spent a good amount of time eyeing the pool, the seemingly infinite blue of it, counting down the hours to reach the days where Gemma would allow them to swim. The time had finally arrived and he didn't care his parents would complain about the water bill rising, as it happened every summer. It was worth it.
Nate warned him about the danger and asked if he wanted a floatable, which Frank considered an affront to the experience of swimming and his own abilities. He was ashamed to admit he didn't know how to do it.
Frank didn't have an ounce of sense in him, so he threw himself into the water as soon as Gemma entered the house to bring them some snacks. Now, he couldn't say what the reasoning behind this action was since his only previous experience had been watching professional swimmers on the sports channel, which in retrospect was no way enough to understand the mechanics of swimming.
He did remember, however, the rush of adrenaline that ran through his body before getting in contact with the water and immediately sinking into the artificial blue. And then just disconnected snippets came to mind: the way his throat constricted as he couldn't help swallowing the water, the chlorine taste of it burning his insides and the pressure of Nate's arms around his body, bringing him back to the surface with great effort.
Years later, he still insisted he never felt afraid, that fear came after, with Nate's frightened eyes on him, his voice almost a sob. Nate had a hard time showing his emotions, especially the negative ones, so it definitely scared Frank.
Years later, Nate would confess that his father taught him to swim by letting him alone in the water. The way he recounted the episode was seemingly nonchalant, but something in the quality of his voice let on that it was a secret that perhaps not even his mother knew. He mentioned that his dad had told him that that was the only way to become a man, to fight for his own life. At the moment, Frank thought that growing up in the system had probably given Nate much more survival skills than his dad had ever needed in his privileged life.
Although Nate wasn't happy about it, they never told Gemma. Frank begged him not to, too worried about the possibility of something like this spoiling his chance of truly enjoying the summer. And he did, while staying close to the edges of the pool, never straying too far from Nate, always within reach.
He often thought about this as he drove around the city. How his childhood was inextricably linked to danger no matter how much his parents used to warn him, how Nate meant both fear and saving for a while. The sense that, to the adult world surrounding them, they were just two dumb twelve years old starting a friendship, but in reality, what they shared was a bit more complicated than that.
Frank was the dumb one, though, adults weren't exactly wrong about that. Nate always possessed a certain cautiousness that he masterfully hid under his easy smile and warm eyes, a sort of barrier. 'This is all I'm willing to show you', it appeared to warrant.
No matter how hard he tried, Frank couldn't bring himself to be like that. Since the beginning, he had already given himself completely, first as a friend and then as a boyfriend. For a while, he thought he was the only one who could go beyond Nate's walls and make a home there, in the often dark place he didn't dare to show anyone.
So, yeah, Frank was naive from the start and then he fell in love. Not a good combination. Sometimes, when he was feeling particularly destructive, he told himself it was no wonder things ended as they did.
He got his job as a taxi driver at twenty-four. His first shift came accompanied by the gut feeling that this time it would last, that his years of wandering and feeling lost, without a clear purpose, had come to an end. It was funny, in a sense, finally feeling settled by getting a job that required constant transportation.
The more he came and went, the less uncertain he felt. Remembering every street, knowing every hidden little place in the city made him feel ready. Not a single direction by his passengers took him by surprise or filled him with doubts, he was prepared.
The day Frank started driving the taxi, a ratty old car that had seen better days and he spent a considerable amount of his firsts paychecks to improve, was also the day he decided to stop suffering for Nate. Up until that moment, he had gotten used to it.
His life had come to a stop and thinking about Nate was a way to fill the emptiness. Frank never entertained in what-ifs and ideal scenarios, though, because he knew Nate and he was completely sure he wouldn't come back. Not to him, at least.
At the impossibility of a future, Frank guarded himself in what had been. It was a defense mechanism, he supposed, except it usually destroyed him even further. He always ended up evaluating the words they'd exchanged, the things Nate had done for him, the secrets they'd kept, all in an attempt to find a crack, to discover at which point things had gone wrong. Did Nate mean it the first time he told him he loved him? Were his smiles genuine? Was the glint in his eyes really there?
Going back always did more damage than good, but it was easier than facing the shambles that remained after Nate's departure. How alone and isolated he felt because for so long his sole focus had been on him, how unclear was the path now that he wasn't there anymore.
The day he could fix his schedule and cleared out his Wednesdays was also the day he started taking swimming lessons. For a while, the pool felt tainted by Nate's memory. Amazing how he could ruin a place he'd never set a foot in.
Frank persevered. He had already decided he would wash away the pain, leave it at the bottom of the pool, where it would eventually lose its shape and become barely recognizable.
Hooking up with the trainer certainly helped, coming first place in a stupid race organized by the club at the end of the year did too.
Different ways of saying 'I don't need you anymore, water has brought me other things.'