Chapter One CHAPTER ONE
School has been out for exactly thirty-two days.
Will and I have already watched a horror movie in my basement (we kept the lights on, but next time we won’t chicken out—or I’ll at least bring down my little brothers’ night-light) and finished off the extra-large pizza at Goodfellows (which barely fits between us in the back seat of the car without jabbing into our ribs), and today at the pool, the water is finally warm enough that our lips aren’t turning blue. There’s no new challenge for us here. The scariest thing is the high dive, and we’ve been jumping off that since we passed our swim test in second grade. We agreed that the pool would be a good place to come up with our next summer challenge, but so far Will is letting me make up the rules of the game and asking pointless questions like if he should get sunglasses or if his swimming shirt looks dumb.
“Look around, Alex. None of the other boys are wearing one,” Will says, and pulls on the shirt. He’s sitting across from me on a blow-up pool raft. The top of the raft is clear and you can see through it to the silvery bottom. It shimmers, and I half expect an answer to pop up like how it does in a Magic 8 Ball.
“Who cares?” I say. Since when does Will worry about what he looks like? My foot presses against the hot concrete, and I push us out into the middle of the water for our second round of Deep-Sea Diver. The diving sticks are in a pile between Will and me on the raft. My older brother, Brian, bought the raft for us with his employee discount at Big Lots. Even though he has a job, he’s a cheapskate and wouldn’t spend more than $3.99 on something we’ll use all summer.
The sun hits the raft at a slight angle, reflecting right into my eyes.
I swear I only squint for a second.
One second feels like a forgettable moment, but things that happen in a single second might just change your whole summer.
One second. That’s all it takes for Will to look away… and see Rebekah walk over.
Green bikini bottoms sit low on her hips, and the top is a mix between a sports bra and a regular bra. She stops at the edge of the water, looks right at Will, and says, “Hi. Do you guys want to get ice cream?”
I know Rebekah is not asking me, even though she said “you guys.” Her eyes are trained on Will.
Will practically jumps off the raft.
“What about the dolphins?” I yell. I want to say something that only Will understands, but once I hear it out loud, I feel like a little kid. It was my idea to pretend the diving sticks are dolphins.
He doesn’t even turn around as he follows her to the snack bar.
Rebekah does. She gives me this confused smile like she’s trying to be nice. But do nice people steal your best friend when you’re in the middle of a game? I’ll answer that for you. No.
As she turns back to Will and they make their way to the other side of the community pool, I can’t hear her, but she moves her mouth to say what looks like “dolphin.” Her hands turn up to the sky like she put a question mark after it. I dip my face underwater to cool my cheeks down. I should have just said “diving sticks.”
I squint hard at Will’s back. The back I’ve seen slathered in mud when we played war in the creek; that was covered in poison ivy the time we unknowingly lay in a bed of it, eating mulberries from Mrs. Branson’s trees. It’s a back with the right shoulder blade sticking out more than the left because of his scoliosis. I wait for Will to explain to Rebekah that Deep-Sea Diver is only the best game ever but she can’t play because it’s our game.
Instead he shrugs, and orders his usual chocolate éclair ice cream from his mom, who runs the snack bar. Rebekah orders a plain vanilla cone. Figures. Even though Rebekah has gone to school with us since we were eight, Will and I don’t know too much about her. She’s always hung out with the more popular kids. But you can tell a lot about a person’s character from their ice cream selection.
She leads him to a table in the shade. Will slides onto the bench. Rebekah waits and slides right next to him. Will scoots over a little more, but Rebekah just laughs and scoots so close that their arms touch!
The only reason Rebekah probably even said hello was for free dessert.
Rebekah says something that makes Will laugh. His real laugh is loud and comes out in ba-has instead of ha-has, which makes me laugh harder. But his laugh right now is way too shrill for a twelve-year-old boy. It sounds more like a yelp. Their mouths move and they keep smiling and eating. Which, by the way, looks disgusting.
I turn away and paddle out to the middle of the deep end. Paddling with one arm while holding diving sticks in the other makes me spin in circles. I yank on my one-piece as it rides up with all the paddling. You can’t deep-sea dive in a bikini.
I imagine myself in the middle of the ocean. I take a deep breath, filling my mouth with the sour, salty ocean smell, letting it burn all the way up through my nose and deep into my chest. The squeals of the little kids in the baby pool are seagulls. Unlike Will, I have a great imagination. I create all the games we play, and if I were going to ditch him for someone else, I’d choose someone way more imaginative than plain-vanilla-cone Rebekah Benton.
Still, when I close my eyes, all I can see is Will talking to Rebekah. What could he possibly be saying to her? Didn’t she notice the way the chocolate cookie pieces stuck to his bottom lip when he laughed? Or was that why she was laughing? Like chocolate crumbs and melted vanilla ice cream are so funny.
Whatever. I have more important stuff to do anyway. I lob the diving sticks into the water one by one. After counting to ten slowly, I roll off the back of the raft like scuba divers do and sink to the bottom of the pool. It’s important to collect as many diving sticks as I can before coming up for air. There are only three left, but my lungs are about to burst. Who knew your best friend talking to a girl in a bikini could be so distracting?
I hang onto the side of the raft for a few extra moments and arrange the sticks. I don’t care if Will and Rebekah are practically sitting on top of each other at the snack bar eating ice cream. Everyone knows the ice cream is way better at Mr. Dreamy’s on Main Street.
I head back underwater, grab the three diving sticks, and pretend to struggle with a fishing net, but manage to break away at the last minute.
Will stands at the side of the pool, smiling at me as I surface. I smile back and wipe hair out of my face. I knew Rebekah only wanted free ice cream.
“Hey, can I borrow the raft? Rebekah and I want to float on it.”
Rebekah walks up beside Will. “Hey.”
Did she forget she already said hello to me?
I open my mouth. The only reason I can think to say no is because I don’t want Rebekah on our raft, which isn’t the best reason. Technically Brian gave the raft to both Will and me, and Will had used just as much of his breath blowing this raft up as I had.
Since I don’t say anything, Will takes my silence as a yes and reaches in to pull the raft toward him. The diving sticks fall into the water. Will doesn’t even notice. Instead he waves his arm in this dramatic way that makes Rebekah laugh.
She holds on to the edge of the pool as she slides her legs across the surface and lies back, barely getting a splash on her. Who comes to a pool and tries to stay dry?
Will dives over her, even though you’re not allowed to dive anywhere but the diving board area. I swear, if Rebekah laughs again, that float is going over.
She doesn’t, but I also don’t see my raft for the rest of the afternoon.