Early spring morphed into mid-spring with more birds twittering and longer days of sunshine. When the days were finally warmer, Bella was able to swim in the outdoor campus pool at the Sim State Tower, a converted water tower and treatment plant, donated to Sim State University in the early 2360s. Bella certainly appreciated her mid-day swims as they helped her stay fit and gave her a place to think. She loved water. She missed Lake Misimigan. She missed the Simistral Ocean. That would be one nice thing about eventually moving to the west coast of the Sim Nation.
Since Daniel had confessed his secret and she sort-of shared hers, their bond had deepened. Bella tried to do a better job of prioritizing their friendship, especially since it seemed Jennifer was going home every other weekend with John and vice versa. Late night trysts with Malcolm still happened, but less frequently, and Bella noticed she had trouble sleeping without him. Sometimes on the nights when she wasn’t with Malcolm, Daniel let her crash at his frat house, even though it was technically against the rules. She just liked having a warm body to cuddle with and since they were both in relationships, they didn’t mean anything by it. Sometimes Daniel would share a pint of ice cream in the evenings or bring her foaming hot cocoa in the mornings before she would leave for class. She hardly slept at her own dorm anymore, and partially felt guilty about her parents paying for it when she didn’t stay there.
But they’re not… not really… Bella grunted as she began swimming her breast stroke laps across the pool. Mortimer was giving her parents a stipend and they, in turn, got to pay for her education, room and board and keep their pride. But not really… she missed the days when it was just her and Simis and Jocasta, when she was little, before Michael came along. Even with how busy her mother was with school and how swamped her dad was with his work for the church, they still made time for her. They would take picnics to the lake on Sunday after services and Jocasta would take Bella to the community pool on Wednesdays in between classes for a splash-n-play moms with kids group. Jennifer and her mom, Diane would be there too.
Bella would shout from the top of the slide, “Mom watch this!” or from the edge of the diving board, “Mom, look at me!” And Jocasta would beam with pride as Bella did perfect dives into the pool or beat her friends in races down the slide. Bella was a strong swimmer and a fast one too for as long as she could remember. Sometimes after swim group, Jocasta would take Bella for tuna fish sandwiches down at the little diner on the docks before taking Bella back to day care or school as she got older. They would tear off pieces of bread and toss it to the seagulls gathered on the shores of Lake Misimigan. It was one of Bella’s fondest memories of her mother.
Bella splashed as she whirled in the pool, noticing a blue-haired Emit Relevart standing beside the water. He was dressed in a white tee shirt and jeans shorts, holding a pol skimmer. He looked embarrassed, averting his eyes, though no color rose in his chalky white cheeks.
“Oh Emit,” her face relaxed into a smile as she tread water. “It’s great to see you. How have you been? I haven’t seen you since… well, last fall really.”
“Milady,” he knelt down dramatically next to the pool, draping an arm over his bent knee and bowing his head. “I can return when you have finished your refreshing exercise.”
Bella frowned. “Um… do you work here?”
“Yes, I have obtained employment at the pool tower,” he replied, still looking down.
Bella giggled. “The Tower Pool?” she arched a brow. “I am happy to see you Emit. How have you been?”
“It is not polite to have a conversation with a lady dressed as you are,” he replied. “I have behaved shamefully and I must retire to the locker room to think about my intrusion.”
Bella rolled her eyes. “Emit, it’s okay. I’m still clothed. I’m wearing a bikini for heavens sake. Don’t women wear swim suits in your country?”
Emit lifted his eyes hesitantly. “We are not permitted to see the women as they bathe.”
“I’m hardly bathing,” she scoffed. “I’m swimming. How did you get a job here if you don’t know what a swimming pool is?” she shaded her eyes from the sun, noticing another young man with reddish hair approaching their location.
“The Tower Pool is the only place in town where I am worthy of employment,” Emit explained. “Mr. Broke has kindly allowed me a location where I may earn a daily wage in exchange for my services cleaning the pool. I shall return when you are finished cleaning, milady.”
“Emit…Emit…please call me Bella,” she said, noticing the red-haired man staring as she swam to the edge of the pool. “And I’m done. I can get out so you can clean.”
“Allow me,” the skinny red-haired man said in a nasally voice and offered his hand.
Bella turned her head, almost shyly and laughed awkwardly. “I can get out myself, but thanks.”
She climbed up the pool ladder, and squeezed the tips of her hair as she stood dripping on the pavement. Emit seemed hulking compared to the scrawny mid-thirties-something bare-footed man, but he kept his head bowed almost as if shamed while the other man spoke.
“I haven’t seen you here before,” the guy said, sounding as if he was pinching his nose. “It’s nice to see someone making use of the place.”
“I typically swim in the indoor pool at the gym. Are you the owner?” she asked, reaching for her towel on the edge of the Adirondack chair.
“I’m Hamilton Broke, but my friends all call me Flat,” he grinned much too broadly. “I’m renting the joint from the college. Hoping to turn it around… get some of you sweet young things..” he eyed her up and down much to Bella’s discomfort. “…and the jocks over here for some pool parties. If you ever wanna rent the place out, let me know. I got ’em business cards in the office. Fancy, right?”
He looked smug, pleased with himself. Bella narrowed her eyes as she wrapped the towel around herself.
“Emit?” he said, looking at the blue-haired man who was twice his size. “Go clean the locker rooms for the lady, and let her relax here in the sun by the pool.”
Without a word, Emit nodded to his boss, and bowed politely to Bella before returning in the building from where he came.
“I fig’gure you wanna tan…” the man called Flat grinned. “All ’em girlies like to come here and tan. Can’t do that at the indoor swimmin’ pool.”
“Riiight,” Bella said, glancing after Emit.
“You know ‘im?” Flat asked, hiking his thumb over his shoulder. “Eee-mit’s a good guy. Though a bit of a pushover, ain’t he? How long you two been together?”
“Oh,” Bella flushed.
“He’s had a tough year,” Flat began.
“Tough year?” she repeated.
“Yeah, well, the campus admins and all didn’t seem to like ‘im. I hear he causes disruptions in class on account of all his strange politeness, ‘specially to the women and no one in town wants to hire a strange guy like Eee-mit. He’s not exactly got all the bolts in his big blue head of his. He’s got a strange way of talkin’ and I think it’s off-putting to folks. But I figured a guy like that would work great scraping pools and scrubbing locker showers and all… not having to talk to people, really,” Flat smirked. “I think it’s cute he didn’t tell me he got a girl. He needs a little gal like you. The feller’s so private about ev’rything outside work, I can har’dly tell what his person’nul life is like. Hell. You’re the first girl I’ve ever ev’n see him spoke to.”
“We’re not together. I barely know him. I met him once last fall,” Bella corrected. “And I… this is the first time I’ve seen him since then.”
“Well, hell, I…” a cocky grin began spreading across Flat’s face. “I never suss’pected Eee-mit to be the type.”
“And what type is that?” Bella narrowed her eyes.
“The submissive kind… I mean… hell, girl… you must’ve gotten him wrapped ’round your little finger last fall or what cuz he damn-near called you my-lady…and all his here bowing to you and all… and I watched him watching you for a bit from inside… all dreamy like… can’t say I blame ‘im. You must’ve gotten him to fall fer you somehow,” Flat explained with a smarmy smile, threading his fingers through a hole in his white tee shirt. “…Suppose I should dress up all fancy and all… might get folk like you to come back more often… especially if we treat everyone like Eee-mit does.”
The man snickered and gave a flamboyant flourish of his hand and a mock bow. Bella blushed, her cheeks turning a deep red. She began gathering her things, wishing she had gone swimming in the school gym pool. Flat Broke was creeping her out.
“Now listen here missy, I’m sorry… I embarrassed you… let me make it up to ya and I’ll bring you a drink on the house,” Flat said, reaching out his hand as if offering condolences. “I’d hate fer ya not to come back on account of my speaking to ya and all. I got top shelf quality stuff. Figured I better stock up with all you partying college kids. Might make some decent tips, ya know.”
“There’s a bar here?” Bella quirked a brow.
“Yeah, this here missy is a fine establishment for drinkin’ and swimmin’. I won’t have anyone sayin’ otherwise. And it’s a genius idea, don’t’cha think? I don’t know why nobody ever thought of it b’fore,” Flat tugged down on his tee shirt, proud of himself. “I’ll be right back. I know just the thing.”
Bella sighed, and settled into a wooden pool deck chair, deciding she shouldn’t turn down free liquor, even if the man was a bit strange. It wasn’t as she got alcohol every day. She couldn’t remember the last time she had top-shelf anything, maybe save a glass of wine at Christmas with the Goth family. She closed her eyes, unwrapping her towel, and leaning back to enjoy the sunshine. Flat seemed a little off-putting, but perhaps he was just trying to be friendly, and he was just starting his business out. If things got too weird, she could call out for Emit, figuring he’d come to her aid. Or she could call Daniel. It was nice of Flat to give Emit a job, especially since he had such trouble obtaining employment in the first place. Bella was saddened to hear Emit was struggling in school.
Flat returned after a few minutes with a drink cart, a bottle of champagne, and multiple drink glass sizes. He handed her a cocktail glass with a pale pastel rosy liquid and a clear plastic question mark swizzle stick. Bella took the glass tentatively.
“A rosy lemonade for a rose,” Flat said dramatically.
Bella cast her eyes down to the ground, certain her face turned as red as the bricks. She hesitantly took a sip. The tart pink liquid did tingle her tongue, and the slight vodka aftertaste offered an intriguing sensation.
“This is delicious, Mr. Broke,” she remarked.
He seemed pleased with himself. “You think? Oh I sure is glad to hear that,” he grinned. “It’s on the house. Just…” he leaned in, lifting his hand to his mouth as if telling her a secret as he elbowed her gently. “…tell all your friends about this place, will ya?”
Bella laughed weakly. “Sure, I guess.”
“You here have a good time,” he smiled. “And when you’re ready, the locker rooms should be clean as a whistle for ya.”
Flat disappeared into the building, presumably returning to his office. If he had one, Bella frowned, but figured he did as he was boasting about business cards earlier. She hoped to see Emit again, but he never returned outside. Bella enjoyed her cocktail by the pool while sunning herself. The new owner of the Tower Pool was eccentric and a bit back-country, but the free drink was nice, and he didn’t say anything too crude. Besides, she figured, the man was looking out for Emit. While she barely knew anything about the blue-haired man, she found herself wanting to, as his odd mannerisms and innocent devotion was actually semi-endearing. She wondered why he was having such a hard time in school, and why people didn’t like him. Emit seemed like a decent guy.
Upon finishing her beverage, Bella wandered through the building looking for Emit, but was unable to find him. She had hoped to thank him for cleaning the bathrooms, even if she was the only customer. She also hoped to ask him to dinner. She had the feeling he needed a friend. By the time she reached the top floor sauna, Bella realized she had somehow missed him. Glancing out the window, she saw him down below, pulling a butterfly in his net, gently skimming the basket across the water. Emit knelt by the pool, and lifted the little trapped creature with his huge hands, whispered something, and then let the fluttering insect free. She smiled. He was such a gentle giant.
Bella returned to the main floor, and stepped into the bathroom. Stripping from her wet suit, she turned on the water and stepped into the tiled area of the women’s locker room. Bella picked up the complimentary lavender bath soap provided for her. She wondered if Emit had placed the bar in the room for her, and she let her fingers idle over the soap as she laid it on the bath shelf. She thought about his pale-as-ice-cold hands moving over the walls with a sponge… and then imagined his fingers lingering on her face again. Silly, she shook her head. What are you thinking about?
Bella began lathering her body with the soap, trying to put ridiculous thoughts about the strange blue-haired man from her mind. Little did she know another man was observing her from the other side of the very mirror fogging from her steamy shower. If she did, she may not have been able to comfortably bathe, nor would she have hummed the tune to her favorite song as she rinsed.
Hold me close and hold me fast
This magic spell you cast….
Author Note: Just in case you are wondering this is the same Flat Broke from Riverview. I gave him the real name Hamilton which actually means “flat-topped hill.” Flat is his nickname. Currently, he lives and works in Neighborly City, Misimigan, and he rents the Tower Pool from Sim State University. Although, I’m sure you’re probably pretty creeped out by him as you should be. Flat’s a bit of a “peeping Tom.” All I can say is remember the curse Bella is stuck with?
Emit, on the other hand, was a pure joy to write, and he has been making appearances all over my game since I removed his occult state… er… *cough cough* “freed” him. Thanks for reading.
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