A week after I returned home my youngest brother Jake returned from boarding at the same high school that all of the Keller children did. He was 16 years old now, 9 years my junior. I hadn't seen him since he was nine, when I had left to pursue my modeling career. When he first stepped into my room the day he arrived I didn't recognize him at all. I had forgotten what puberty could do to a boy. I was standing on the balcony and heard my room door open. I looked inside to find a boy with very dark brown hair that stood up in all directions, a dark tanned skin and deeply flushed cheeks. It was like looking into a mirror at age 16. His shoulders were already broad and despite that he had my hair and face and skin tone I knew at once that, as he got older, he'd grow taller and stronger just like my two older brothers.
I walked towards him and took him in my arms and whispered in his ear, 'You are going to break all the girls' hearts, you know that?'
'I missed you when you were gone,' he smiled whispered back.
'I'm so sorry, I will never leave you like that again,' I kissed his forehead and pulled him in for a too tight hug.
'I'm sorry too, about what happened in London,' he said softly, not fighting the extreme embrace although it was beginning to tire me out. His words caught me off-guard and I held him away from me so that I could see his face.
'What do you know about what happened? Wait, how did you find out in the first place?' I questioned. I pulled him to the bed and sat him down next to me.
'Well,' he began nervously folding his hands, 'most people know actually, you're kind of a celebrity here in South Africa. Your photos are always in the magazines and newspapers and stuff.'
'What kind of photos?'
'Like photos of you at parties or events, and your advertisements. That kind of stuff.'
'So there aren't photos of you know what?'
'There were, in some of the newspapers. One of the boys at school showed me. Our English teacher confiscated the newspaper. It's actually made you more popular.'
'Yeah, but for all the wrong reasons. I'm so sorry, I hope your teachers and friends aren't giving you grief about this.'
'The teachers have been really nice actually, and my friends don't bring it up for discussion. It's just some random people who enjoy annoying others that remind me, and those around me, of it every time. But by the time I go back next year most of them will have forgotten about everything.'
'I hope so, anyway...' I fell back onto the bed and pulled a pillow under my head, 'What have you been up to all this time?'
For a few weeks after my return home, I busied myself with reading and cooking and swimming and playing tennis with Jake. He was such a great kid. It was harder to spend time with Stephen since he was always helping out on the farm, usually in tandem with Hugo, as he had just completed a viticulture internship-like programme in France. My oldest brother, Brian, who now lived in Pretoria, with his wife and two kids, had called me once since I had been back only to lecture me about all the shame I had brought to the family and hoped that I would learn a lesson from what had happened. I almost fell asleep on the phone as he said the same things over and over again.
My interaction with Hugo, or rather the lack of interaction wasn't improving either. He had come by the house a number of times for an array of reasons. Sometimes it was to watch a game of rugby with my dad and brothers, to deliver or receive instructions or various things for the farm and more often than not to have dinner with my family. What annoyed me the most was how easily he folded to the contours of my family yet between him and me we were like those kids toys where I was the circular hole and he was the square block and somehow we just couldn't get through to each other. Like a circle and square, were we completely different shapes now after being separated for so long? Was it our pasts that had shaped us to be incompatible? Or is it just that we're so scared to find out what will happen if we did interact that it's easier to ignore each other? What did scare me was the fact that, although I had grieved him for so long, I'd always loved him and wanted more than anything to speak to him again. But it was hard with both lines of communication closed and neither willing to be the first to reopen.
It was nearing the end of December and the South African summer was blazing. It was late afternoon and the sky had turned a beautiful burnt orange with splashes of yellow and red. The burning sky inspired me and I grabbed a very tiny pair of red speedos from my drawer and slipped it over my naked midriff. It sat snugly and I knew that, even though I was far from my recommended body weight, I was beginning to put on some of my lost muscle mass. I grabbed a towel and headed downstairs, through the lounge's open doors that led to the pool area. I stopped as soon as my bare feet hit the hard slate the decked the patio. My eyes focused on the large body gliding smoothly through the water. It came up for air and two emerald green eyes stared at me though wet hair that plastered to his forehead. I was about to turn and leave when it spoke.
'Wait,' said Hugo urgently, 'don't go, please.'
I carefully laid my towel over the back of one of the deck chairs and strode to the deep end of the pool. I dived in and did at least ten laps before stopping to catch my breath. Hugo was stuck to the side of the pool, a few meters away from where I sat on a pool step. The water was cool and came as a welcome relief to the heat of the surrounding air as well as the rising temperature in my own body caused by Hugo's presence. I ran my hand through my hair to get my fringe out of my eyes before setting out for a couple of laps of backstroke. After two laps I felt a moving body next to mine, disturbing the water around me yet matching my strokes perfectly. I began kicking harder and quickening my rotations. Hugo fell behind, but not for long as he caught up with me once again. As soon as I reached the shallow end of the pool I turned onto my stomach and started to freestyle. It was my best stroke and often helped me win galas back in school. I pushed away strongly from the pool wall and glided into open space as I was ahead of Hugo. After two laps I once again felt his presence behind me and I started kicking harder again moving further and further away from him until, from one lap to another, I could no longer sense his presence challenging me in the water. So I stopped. I brushed my hair out of my eyes once more and when I opened them was surprised to see Hugo standing right in front of me.
The water dripped onto his shoulders from his dark, matted hair and trickled ever so seductively over his big, bronzed chest that was lightly covered in blond hairs. The muscles in his arms, shoulders, chest and midriff were bulkier than they had been before, manlier, more mature, like they were set for life. The water came up to his waist and his light treasure trail disappeared into the depths of the water and his black swimming trunks. I gulped and bit my lip.
'Your still a dolphin in the water, I could never keep up with you. Some things never change,' he said, speaking slowly as if making sure he didn't say the wrong thing.
'And some things do, some things do change. Things did change, have changed. We are changed,' I said standing up on the step. Hugo suddenly took me by the hands and led me deeper into the pool. I didn't resist him and I drifted silently in his wake. It was hard to manipulate my body the way I wanted to in the water and I couldn't keep myself from moving closer towards him.
'We need to talk, I have a lot to say, to apologize, to make you have faith in me again,' he continued.
'I don't think the pool is the best place for a conversation like that, as a matter of fact I don't think that any place will be the right place because I don't think I'm ready to confront you and the past and everything that has happened. I'm just not comfortable in my own skin yet and until I am I'm putting off any serious talk that may confuse the way I feel about you and myself and where my life is currently at. I just hope that you can accept that, you don't really have a choice.'
'I can accept that,' he said and suddenly, without warning, kissed me lightly on, my cheek. I backed away immediately toward he steps and climbed out of the pool. I took the towel from the chair and ran it down my smooth legs, over the scar that had been caused by that day in the vineyard. I further continued to dry my torso and arms and lightly ruffled the towel over my hair. I could feel Hugo watching me. Watching the way my body moved as I lifted my arms and twisted my neck; watching as I arched my back and spread my legs and moved my toweled hand between my thighs. I caught his gaze and he looked away. I wrapped the towel around my waist and returned to the sanctuary of my bedroom. I shut the door behind me and leaned my back against it, sliding my body to the floor. I curled my knees against my chest and rested my cheek on my knees. I could still feel the brilliant warmth of his kiss on my cheek and, as I closed my eyes, let it spread to the rest of my body.