Jake’s mom squeezes his fingers harder when they walk through the gate. “Ouch,” he says and pulls loose which hurts even more, but he has to, nine is too old to be holding his mom’s hand in public, and everyone at the pool is staring at him. He slows down by the showers, but his mom keeps moving. “It’s a waste of water,” she says. “You’re not going in anyway.”
“I can go in the shallow end, can’t I?”
The footsteps next to him stop. Jake turns to see what has happened. His mom stares at him. “No. The only reason I brought you along was because you said you wouldn’t go in at all.”
He drops his head and follows her to where his older sister Micah is lying on a lounge chair next to her friends. They all have on matching sunglasses and white tinted skin.
“I need to talk to Vickie,” his mom says, waving to a woman on the other side of the deck, “then we got to go.”
There isn’t a chair anywhere near so Jake sits down on the cement next to Micah’s and pulls up his knees. He feels his swimsuit slide down his butt, so he tugs on it. One of the girls giggles.
“Go swim you moron,” Micah forces between her lips.
“Mom said I can’t.”
“Then just get out of here. You’re making me look stupid.”
Jake doesn’t look up until he is back at the gate. He scans the waves of kids to see if anyone he knows saw him. The sun is bright and his eyes start to water.
Jake’s mom pulled him out of swimming lessons when he was five and never put him back in. The instructor hadn’t been looking when Jake jumped in the deep end, and it freaked his mom out. It freaked him out too, and until this year he didn’t care that he couldn’t swim.
“Hey, man, you just get here?”
Jake swipes at his eyes. It’s Tyler, the kid everyone wants to be friends with.
“No, just leaving,” he says, hoping Tyler doesn’t notice he isn’t wet.
“You’re mom ain’t here. Let’s jump in and play some hoops while you wait.” Tyler runs toward the deep end and cannonballs in. He comes up and shakes his head. “Throw me a ball.”
A white rubber ball sits under a chair near the edge of the pool. Jake grabs it and throws it to Tyler. “Jump in,” Tyler yells, miming throwing the ball back. Jake looks for his mom. She is laughing with Vickie. He turns back to the pool.
“Naw,” he says, “I got to go.”
Jake doesn’t see what happens next, only feels it. A wall of force hits him square in the chest. He stumbles backward, and the cement disappears under his feet. Laughter hangs in the air. He sucks in a breath just as he hits the surface, then everything goes quiet. The water stings when he opens his eyes, but he doesn’t want to close them. Blades of sunlight cut the pool in sections. It looks like an underwater city. When his lungs begin to burn, he kicks his legs together and feels himself rise like a rocket through the atmosphere.
He gasps for breath and spins around until he sees his best friend Alex laughing so hard he has to hold onto the edge. Jake kicks his legs and reaches his right arm, then his left, then his right, clawing his way across the pool.
“I was only having fun!” Alex says, pushing off of the side.
Jake kicks harder. Moves his arms faster. He imagines how good it will feel to catch Alex. To get him back for what he did.
A familiar voice cuts through all the other sounds. “Jake!”
He stops in mid-stroke. Turns to see his mom. Staring. Mouth open. Hands reaching. She doesn’t move. “Jake.” She says again. This time quieter. A smile relaxes onto her face.
“Wow,” she mouths.