Authors: Robin Constantine
“I get leg spasms sometimes, not so much anymore though. I just never know what my body’s going to do. It was worse in the beginning. Still kind of learning.”
“Well, it looks like you’ve got the swimming thing down pretty good.”
“Yeah, took a while to get strong enough to be here on my own, but I love it. I got Jena and the other lifeguards to look out for me. Sometimes I just want to pretend to drown to see if she’s paying attention, she’s so chill.”
I laughed. He pulled his legs up, one at a time, and hugged them in closer to his chest.
“Do you need help?”
“Ah . . . yeah, could you put a towel down on the seat of my chair? I forgot to do that this morning.”
I grabbed a towel, went over to his wheelchair, and fanned it out to cover the cushion, then held the chair steady while he gripped one of the wheels. He propelled his body up and into the seat with his other hand. Then he placed his feet, pulling one, then the other, onto the footplate.
“Thanks. Hey, could you hand me my pull buoy?”
“That,” he said, pointing to the strappy flotation thing he’d been using. I picked it up and handed it to him.
“Well, I guess I’ll be seeing you in the morning then, if, you know, we’re here at the same time,” I said.
He rubbed his hair with the towel that had been around his shoulders, making it stick up every which way, like Hunter’s had been this morning. It was endearing. He smiled.
“Sure hope so.”
I laughed, at a loss for what to say all of a sudden. Was he flirting?
“I’ll just, um, get back to the towels. Later, Bryan.”
I WAS SUCH A LIAR.
A white lie maybe—it had been too sweet to pass up—no, actually, I didn’t swim
morning. I shot for three to four times a week; it was necessary to keep myself toned and to help with my eventual goal of getting back into the ocean. There were days I slacked off, though, took the extra time at home, then went in the afternoon. And sometimes I did have bad mornings, but not lately. The fifteen minutes I spent with Cass each morning had become my incentive. I hadn’t missed a day all week.
On Friday, Cass was at the rec center before me, already stacking the towels on the pool deck when I came in to do laps. It bummed me out because I thought maybe she would leave without sitting with me during my cooldown,
but maybe Tori needed her for something. I put in a good workout, even though between
stroke, breathe, stroke, breathe
What should we talk about today? Maybe I can ask her to time me, pretend I’m trying to train harder. Or maybe I should look extra pathetic and ask her to help me with drying my hair?
Looking pathetic occasionally got me extra fries in school
The lunch ladies were suckers for the wheelchair. #wheelchairperk
I’d lost track of where she was when I turned for my last lap, and then what I saw nearly made me go under.
At the end of the swim lane.
Wearing a blue bikini.
Stroke. Breathe. Stroke. Breathe.
I stopped midlane to watch her, as she first dipped a toe, then sat on the side and shimmied in, shivering when she hit the water. She held her arms up as she shuffled toward me. When she saw my face she flinched.
God, I hoped I wasn’t staring.
“It’s okay that I’m swimming, I mean, I just assumed . . . the pool’s open to everyone, right?”
It was wicked to leave her hanging, but she was too cute. I tried to keep a straight face as I held on to the ledge and reached for my swim noodles, which Jena kept for me at the
base of the lifeguard stand now.
“No, it’s only open this early to seventy-year-olds and people who don’t have use of their legs. You have to get out.”
She raised her eyebrows as she looked to the other side of the pool and saw the senior citizens in water aerobics class hoisting weights over their heads, then back at me—working it through—until she narrowed her eyes. She flicked her fingertips across the top of the water and splashed me.
“Ha, you almost had me. Oh, man, I thought you said it wasn’t cold.”
“This is cold? You must not go in the ocean much.”
She shook her head, took a breath, and plunged under the water, popping up with a splash.
“What made you come in?” I asked, maneuvering the one noodle behind me to slide under my knees. Cass grabbed the other noodle off the ledge and handed it to me.
“Thanks,” I said.
She sank down into the water until it was up to her shoulders. “It’s your fault, you make it look so fun. That, and I thought it might be good to burn off all the junk I’ve been eating at the inn. There were cinnamon rolls this morning.”
“And you didn’t bring me one?” I teased.
“If I’d known you liked them, I totally would have snagged you one. Maybe next week.”
Next week was way too far away. I’d never been so disappointed about it being the weekend.
“I’m kidding, but you know, I’d never say no to cinnamon rolls.”
“Noted,” she said. “Hey, so when are we going to start the scavenger hunt thing?”
“So you didn’t just ask me to partner up as a way to say no to Wade? Don’t want my wheels to slow you down, you know.”
She laughed. “I’ve seen you, I doubt you’d slow me down. Besides, you were the first person I met, why wouldn’t I ask you?”
“Oh, right . . . Mr. Beckett’s office.”
“Actually, at the beach that first night. I met you before I even knew you. Not sure if that makes sense.”
“Right,” I said. I remembered how she seemed to just appear off the beach. She was hard not to notice, the way she put on her flip-flops like she was pissed with them . . . and crying.
Why were you crying?
The question was on the tip of my tongue, and maybe she sensed it too because she dunked herself under the water. She smoothed her hair back when she broke the surface again.
Just say it.
“Why were you crying?”
“What?” she asked.
“That night, at Crescent Beach—you were upset. It wasn’t just because you thought the sunset was that beautiful, was it?”
She laughed. “No. I was . . . um, homesick. I mean, I want to be here, but I miss my mom and Nana, and my friend
Emma. She might come down to visit soon. At least I’m hoping she will. Maybe we can hang out.”
“Yeah, that’d be cool.”
“Hey, guys, it’s almost eight o’clock,” Jena said.
“Wow, already?” I asked.
“I better hit the shower,” she said. “This was fun.”
“Yeah, we should definitely do it again,” I said.
As I sat in the shower, I replayed our conversation. Maybe I shouldn’t have brought up the beach thing. Maybe she was homesick, but then why go to the beach by yourself? And that beach in particular? Was she forced to be here for the summer? Why did I even care? I had no business wanting anything from Cassidy Emmerich . . . but I did. At that moment she was just a wall away. Naked.
Maybe the summer did hold possibilities for me after all.
“We should do something tonight,” I said.
We were outside, on the blacktop—the kids running crazy on the playground in the midafternoon heat. Our little guys were playing a rule-less version of kickball with a group of six-year-old girls. We were basically keeping watch. On Friday afternoon, even Owen was lax on organization. One more hour until send-off. For some reason I was pumped.
“Dude, I’m working, remember? I get off at ten—after that maybe?” Wade said.
“Why don’t you call Nick and those guys? They’re probably up to something.”
“You need to stop avoiding them, Bry.”
“I’m not avoiding them; what am I supposed to do with them? Hang out in the parking lot and watch them do stupid shit?”
“You used to be leader of the stupid shit, remember?”
Did I remember? I’d never friggin’ forget.
I dare you, Lakewood
“And look where it got me.”
“C’mon, I didn’t mean it like that, I just meant . . . you need to do more than
dude. It’s time.”
“Since your mom is cool, I’ll take that,” he said, punching my shoulder. Just then one of the bigger kids from another group grabbed the kickball and threw it away from the game.
“Aw, shit, can’t these kids just chill?” Wade said, and trotted toward them. I pushed over to get the ball, but someone came out from behind the Dumpster to retrieve it. Nick. He palmed the ball and threw it with one hand to Wade. Then he noticed me.
“Oh hey, sorry, Bry. I didn’t see you.”
I dare you, Lakewood.
I’d been mouthing off, throwing shade about Nick’s recent
obsession with parkour. The Dumpsters were close together, the tree branch right there. I’d watched him do it. I knew I could do it better.
The tree branch had been in front of me when I jumped out. I’d calculated the distance. My fingertips grazed it.
You used to be the leader of stupid shit.
“No worries, I get that a lot,” I said. He laughed, came closer. Nick had taken my fall the worst. Blamed himself.
I dare you, Lakewood.
I knew it wasn’t his fault. He knew it wasn’t his fault. But things had been strained since then. As close as Tori and I had become, Nick kept his distance.
“So, you’re Monty, huh?”
“Hey, shhhh, have to keep my identity on the down low. You know, like Peter Parker and Spider-Man. Right now I’m just, you know, janitor, doing my daily walk of the grounds. Or as I like to call it, lying low until the weekend.”
Cass walked out of the building carrying a large plastic garbage bag and headed for the Dumpster.
“Duty calls. Later, Bry.” Nick jogged over to the Dumpster and opened the top for Cassidy. She smiled at him and laughed at something he said. My jaw clenched watching the exchange, I wasn’t sure why—nothing extraordinary was going on between them, but all I could think was
I knew her first.
No. Nope. Nuh-uh
Falling for her would be asking for annihilation. I had to admit, though, when she talked about being homesick that morning, I’d noticed she didn’t mention a guy.
I’d been stoked.
“Think he’s making the moves on your partner?” Wade asked.
I wheeled around. “No.”
“You should go for it, Bryan.”
“I don’t know.”
“What’s to know? She’s here for three months—she’s perfect. A summer rental.”
I couldn’t think of Cassidy in those terms, but I smiled. I didn’t want to look interested for fear Wade would get involved. I didn’t need to be fixed up. If something was going to happen between me and Cassidy, I wanted it to happen on its own.
Colby dashed up to us then, holding his hand over his left eye, tears rolling down his cheeks. Hunter was by his side.
“He got hit in the face.” Hunter turned to Colby. “It’s okay, you’re not bleeding, Colby.”
“C’mere, let me see,” I said, pushing closer to him. After being around him for two weeks, I got that Colby was the kind of kid who needed to have the seams of his socks lined up exactly or he would pitch a fit. He was beginning to come out of his shell though, which was cool. He stepped closer, his breath in quick gasps.
“Okay, buddy, listen, can you take a deep breath for me? Just one, real slow, then let it out.” He tried to do it, but couldn’t.
“I’m going to look at it, okay?” I pried his hand, which was surprisingly strong for a little kid, away from his eye and saw . . . nothing. He was red, but it didn’t look like it would bruise. I hadn’t been paying the best attention—what if something worse had happened? Maybe parents were right to worry about me.
“Oh, no, Colby-Wan, I think you’re going to need major surgery,” Wade said. Colby paled. “Yeah, you know, like a bag of ice or something.”
She knelt down so she was eye level with Colby and Hunter.
“I think we need some ice,” I said. She stood up.
“I’ll get some; hang tight, okay?” Colby nodded while she ran off toward the building. Nick followed Cass inside.
“I don’t like kickball,” Colby said.
“Me either,” I said. “I always miss kicking the ball.”
Colby and Hunter looked at each other, then back at me, eyes scanning my legs. I could see them working it through.
“But . . . you can’t kick,” Colby said.
“Yeah, kind of a bummer, but that’s not why I don’t like it; I just like volleyball and basketball better.”
“You play basketball?” Hunter’s eyes widened.
I smiled. “Yep, but I’m not very good at it. I’m pretty decent at volleyball.”
“And he can do more chin-ups than me,” Wade said.
“Really?” they said together.
“No, he lets me win.”
“Not true, wanna go?”
I dare you, Lakewood
“Not today,” I said.
Colby and Hunter moaned.
“But hey, watch this,” I said, popping up and balancing on my wheels. I didn’t usually like performing, but my diversionary tactic of doing a wheelie so Colby would stop thinking about his eye had worked. Popping was one of the first things I learned to do, even though my mom went ballistic. It wasn’t the cool factor, although for some reason people found it impressive. #wheelchairperk. It was practical for going up and down curbs that weren’t accessible. I’d even handled stairs that way. I did it a few more times when I saw Cass emerge from the building.
“Coool,” Colby said. Cass jogged over, a little breathless. She was holding a baggie with ice and two cake pops in her hand. She knelt down again.
“Here,” she said, putting the ice bag on Colby’s eye. He reached up to keep it in place. She held out the cake pops to both Hunter and Colby. They each grabbed one.
“Keep those pops quiet,” Cass said, putting a finger to
her lips. “Tori doesn’t know I swiped them.” Hunter nodded, already half finished. Colby took a smaller bite, wide grin spreading across his face.
“That was pretty cool of Cass to swipe those for you. What do you say, guys?” I said.
“Thank you, Cassidy.”
“You’re welcome,” she said, standing up. Hunter swallowed the rest of his pop, handed Cass the stick, and took off for the game. Colby nibbled a bit more and handed it back to her half-finished, then took off after Hunter. Crisis over.
“Hey, you mind?” Wade grabbed the half-eaten cake pop out of Cass’s hand before she could even answer. “I love Tori’s cake pops.”
“Why does that sound dirty coming from you?” Cass asked.
He laughed and scarfed down the pop.
“Hey, um, what are you doing tonight?” Wade asked.
Cassidy blinked fast, looked at me. I had no idea what he was up to.
“My dad is taking us out to a lobster place. We have to get there early or else there’s like a three-hour wait or something. I don’t even think I like lobster, but you know, I have to go.”
“Bummer. Bryan here was looking for something to do.”
“Oh, um . . . I’m not sure when I’ll be back, but maybe . . . what about tomorrow afternoon? We could look for that first scavenger-hunt clue? I’d really like to do something other
than hang with my family.”
“Um, yeah, that would be cool,” I said.
“Great, I better get back before Tori realizes I’m gone. See ya.”
We watched Cass jog away.
“Hmm, that was pretty cool of Wade to pump Cass for info and get her to ask Bryan to hang out tomorrow, wasn’t it, guys?”
I shook my head, but could not contain my smile.
“You can thank me later.”