It took several minutes to convince Alina to even consider swimming. Finally, she conceded that she needed to buy a swimsuit anyway and cooling off in a pool did sound appealing. They made a plan to head to a nearby, outdoor wading pool that Noah frequented where they could rent towels and lockers to store their items.
Luckily, Alina knew her body pretty well and figured she'd be able to find a swimsuit that fit quickly. Unluckily for Alina, all the swimsuits were less modest than she would've preferred. She finally settled on an eggplant purple two-piece that would fit her smaller breasts and round butt.
Noah led Alina through the mall, out the north entrance, and across the busy street to an outdoor wading pool filled with people. The attendant at the entrance of the locker room smiled when he saw Noah approaching.
"Noah, how's it goin man!?"
Noah reached out and initiated a funny, small handshake that involved their palms and thumbs.
"Good, good man, Carlos this is my friend Alina. Alina, this is Carlos."
"Nice to meet you Alina," Carlos said.
"You too," Alina said.
"You just swimming for the hour?" Carlos asked Noah.
"Yeah, and we also need a locker."
"Alright, with the friend discount that'll be five bucks," Carlos said as he winked at Noah.
"You're the best, here you go brother," Noah handed Carlos a bill and then held his hand out to gesture for Alina to go into the woman's locker room. "I'll meet you by the pool Alina."
Alina put her new swimsuit on and considered herself in the mirror. It was definitely more revealing than she would've liked, especially with her pale Oregon skin showing. She considered her tan line where her shorts and tank tops rested, barely visible but still there. She did not feel swimsuit ready at all. She took a deep breath, and walked out of the locker room with her bag of clothes in hand.
Noah was lying on a chaise lounge chair by the lockers when Alina emerged. His hands rested under his head, his shirt and shoes lying in a pile next to him. Alina noticed his tan chest and general casual demeanor. She suddenly felt incredibly out of place and considered bolting before he saw her. She'd just make up an excuse about not feeling well and go back to the hotel. It wasn't far from here right? Which direction had they come from?
As if he could hear her thoughts, Noah looked over and saw Alina. His eyebrows shot up and his lips parted in surprise, then he quickly closed them to mask...whatever that was. Alina blushed and willed her legs to move forward.
Noah offered to take her bag while trying to look anywhere but the small amount of fabric covering her torso. As he put their items into a locker, Alina, stepped out of her flip flops and waded into the pool. She walked past small children and woman with babies until she was in a deeper section of the pool, finally dunking her whole head under the cool, blue water.
She popped back up and breathed an audible sigh of relief. She ran her hands over her wet, uneven hair and then looked around for Noah, she saw him sitting on the edge of the pool, feet dangling in, watching her. She made her way over to him and smiled for possibly the first time since they met.
"Feeling better?" He asked.
She thought about making some comment about how she didn't feel bad before and maybe if he hadn't insulted her hair and it wasn't so freaking hot but instead she just said "Yes," followed by a quieter "thank you."
"No problem," he said. "I used to work at an athletic store in the arena and would come here on my lunch break to cool off, that's how I met Carlos."
"He seems nice," Alina said.
"He is, we have a lot in common," Noah said with another smirk on his face. Alina was both annoyed and intrigued by the slight smiles he offered, like he was about to do something mischievous.
"Where do you work now?" Alina asked.
"A local bar," Noah said, his smirk disappearing. "I started out as a dishwasher, then a bar back, now I'm bartending but what I really want to do is cook."
This surprised Alina and it must've showed on her face because Noah broke into a wide grin.
"Really?" She asked.
"Yeah, my dad really wanted me to go into the athletic world like he did. And don't get me wrong, I love basketball, but I don't want it to turn into work. I love cooking and learning new techniques," Noah said.
"Was your dad cool with that?" Alina asked.
"Not at first but he came around. I think when he noticed I wasn't giving up after a few months and started to get into experimenting with new dishes he realized I was serious. Plus he likes the perks of having a son that'll make him food," Noah added jokingly.
Alina smiled then started to look around the pool at all the happy, smiling people. Noah put his hands on the edge of the pool and leaned forward, eyes squarely on Alina.
"So we gonna talk about this self haircut or what?" Noah said with a smirk.
Alina narrowed her eyes at him and said "What?"
Noah held up his hands like she was pointing a gun at him.
"Hey I'm just saying, if you want to talk about it, who better to open up than a handsome stranger?" He gave a big grin and leaned forward again with his elbows on his knees, hands clasped.
Alina sighed and considered him for a moment.
"We broke up not that long ago. Well, he broke up with me. We were together for a few years," she said quickly and quietly.
"Ahh, so you do have a broken heart."
She blushed but attempted to stay casual and light.
"I guess," she shrugged in the water, not liking how easily this person could see through her. "He said he felt like he had never been single as an adult and wanted to get to know himself before settling down."
"And?" Noah asked, as if he knew there was something else bubbling under the surface.
"And then he was dating someone else within a week...exclusively," she said.
"Theeeere it is," Noah said as if he'd just found the short in a very long wire. "And you decided to get back at him by chopping off your pretty hair?"
"What? No! I...I don't know," she said, offended at the idea of allowing Chris to have any control over her actions, then realizing it to be exactly what happened.
"Hey, like I said, I think it's cute," Noah said. "But you should let my friend Gen even it out...if you want to of course."
Alina paused for a minute, thinking about the offer and this strange, revealing person she met no more than an hour or two earlier. Why was he so easy to trust?
"Ok," she said.