When In Doubt, Play Dead
"Everyone into the pool!"
I groaned inwardly and felt my hopes sink. Just like I would be as soon as I stepped foot into that blasted pool.
Our massive PE teacher stood with her meaty hands on her wide hips, her girth alone enough to make anyone tremble in fear. I attempted to quietly scoot away and blend in with the tiled wall of the indoor swimming arena, but since when have I ever been lucky?
That's right. Never.
"Katy, you have five seconds to get yourself into the pool." She trained her beady eyes on me and I could feel her willing me to jump in and drown. "Don't make me say it again!" she barked.
This is what I hate about compulsory high school swimming classes. There's always this unit where you have to wear all your clothes into the pool, tread water for an ungodly amount of time, pull them all off and then swim a bunch of stupid laps to prove that you could swim back to Prince Edward Island if you really had to.
And the only way I would be caught dead in the middle of the North Atlantic was if Mrs. McDermott kicked me there.
I sucked in a deep, shaky breath and slipped in. My clothes ballooned around me and Mrs. McDermott smirked victoriously. I tugged down on my bright blue swimming cap self-consciously. I was the only person who wore one – if I didn't, my hair wouldn't see it through to the end of the day. I tried to play the part of the confident individualist who could care less about what the world thought of her, but in truth, it made me feel like a stupid alien with a big bulbous blue head.
"Alright class, change of plans. Grab the person closest to you, we're going to practice life-saving techniques today."
Kill me now.
I tried to lower myself into the water so that maybe no one would notice me, leaving me partner-less and, therefore, unable to participate. But the minute my nose was submerged, I felt panic well up and wrap its thorny vines around my throat.
"Hey, Katy," a soft nasally voice said next to my ear as I gave myself a few seconds to catch my breath. I jumped slightly and came face to face with Elliot Fisher, nerd extraordinaire in desperate need of either growth hormone or a serious life.
I actually felt sorry for the poor kid. He was nice enough, and had a cute "I know absolutely nothing about the real world" smile, but the way he was staring at me, and the way his skinny white arm close to mine looked almost translucent under the water was kind of unnerving.
Then again, he probably thought I was pathetic as well. Why else would he ask me?
"Er…hi, Elliot." I flashed him a weak smile and floated slightly to the side.
"Okay! Choose one person to be A, and the other to be B!" Mrs. McDermott bellowed.
"Um…I'll be A, I guess," he whispered shyly.
I hardly heard him as I caught sight of James Reed and let my gaze linger for a brief second.
James Reed. He was only one of the most popular, sought-after guys on the swimming team. Slick black hair was sticking up in funny but nonetheless adorable angles, and his upper body was out of the water, muscular arms crossed over a broad chest. I would be lying if I said I didn't lie in bed dreaming about raking my nails down his pecs and snuggling into a warm, welcoming embrace.
And there was no doubt in my mind that he knew he was absolutely gorgeous, damn him. After 4 years of simply looking at him from afar without so much as a glance in return, I accepted the fact that a wallflower like me never had a chance with him.
I was snapped out of my daydreaming and reluctantly looked back at Elliot wearily. "Uh, yeah. Sure."
"Person B will be doing the towing!"
"And person A will be unconscious!" Elliot offered me a watery smile (no pun intended), and I could see that he was enjoying this just about as much as I was.
Everyone started lining up along the wall, and Elliot and I followed suit. James and a popular girl were partners, and I rolled my eyes. It wasn't hard to figure out who was going to be doing the towing. Slut.
I placed my fingers gingerly on either side of Elliot's head as he floated easily in front of me. How was it that a guy who spent 99% of his time in front of his computer knew how to swim, and I didn't? I shook my head and sighed.
"You will travel across to the other end of the swimming pool!"
No one said anything about having to swim across the valley of never-ending depth and doom! Good god, this was so much worse than doggy-paddling a couple of meters to the stairs to get out!
I did my best to quell the rising fear and prepared myself for the worst. I could die. I could…live with that. But I wasn't about to bring Elliot down with me.
He let out a tiny squeak.
"Sorry, Elliot. Nerves, you know." I released the death grip I had on his head a fraction.
When Mrs. McDermott blew the whistle, I squeezed my eyes shut and started kicking underneath Elliot furiously, trying to keep both of us afloat and actually maneuver us to the other side at the same time.
Sound ridiculously hard? Try impossible.
I heard the unforgiving sound of mocking laughter from the far end when I was about halfway through the pool. Even with the cool water lapping at my face, I still felt the telltale blush stain my cheeks.
"It's okay, Katy. Just…take your time," Elliot said patiently, if not resigned to the fact that he had picked a loser for a partner.
"I…I can't…I'm really just a freaking deadweight in water…" I said between gulps of water. This really wasn't working out for me. I blame my parents for their failure to provide me with swimming classes the moment I exited the womb.
That's when I felt myself going under. My legs went first, and for the life of me I couldn't remember how to make them float back to the surface. I felt my ears fill with water, and before long I had my lips puckered at the surface trying to suck in as much sweet, sweet oxygen as I could before the rest of me went under.
My body must've kicked into survival mode, because all of a sudden my whole head was out of the water! Holy mother of God, by some miracle I had actually managed to propel myself out of the water at lightning speed and swim Elliot and I back to safety!
"Katy! Katy King! Release Mr. Fisher AT ONCE!"
"Huh?" I looked in front of me, confused.
Elliot was waving his arms around frantically as I held his head underwater. His face was puffed up and his eyes wide and panicked. I had been using him as my flipping buoy!
I quickly released him and watched him scrambled to resurface. I kicked pathetically a few more times and cautiously felt for the bottom of the shallow end. When I was finally able to stand, all I wanted to do was sink to the very bottom and die. I felt horrible.
Elliot was pounding his skinny chest and sounded like he was coughing up half a lung. Despite it all, though, he still managed to grin at me and put his hand up in mock salute. I returned the gesture and slowly climbed out of the pool, wrapping my arms around my shoulders instinctively. I was so going to get it.
"Katy King, what on earth has gotten into you? You put both of you two in serious danger!" Mrs. McDermott growled menacingly, and wagged a finger in my face. "That was completely unacceptable! I don't care how much you don't like swimming, you do NOT, and I repeat do NOT put others in harm's way to try and show me how much you hate it."
What?! Where was she getting this from?! Did she see me rejoicing at my "successful attempt to piss her off"? Hasn't she had to put up with my complete incompetence in the water for the past month we've been having the lessons? I forced back the tears of frustration, annoyance, and mortification that were starting to blur my vision.
"I don't know what you were thinking, but this is definitely going to affect your final grade." On that gruff note, she turned on her heel and stormed out, leaving me looking at the ground in shame.
"I didn't know you couldn't swim," James said nonchalantly, addressing me for the first time in what, forever? I whipped my head to face him, mouth agape.
Then I remember what an idiot I must've looked like. Plain girl in a plain black bathing suit and fluorescent-colored bathing cap, shivering out of the water after having almost killed a fellow classmate. What a wonderful first impression this must be.
"I…I can so!" I cried defiantly. Shut up now, Katy, just shut up now.
"Then what the hell was that?" The popular girl said loudly under her breath, eliciting a few laughs from the crowd. What was it with popular people and having the right to be bitchy? Ugh.
"I really can swim!" You man-stealing freak.
James raised an eyebrow at me. I fought off the urge to strangle him. I was not about to be embarrassed yet again in front of the only guy I had had eyes for since practically the beginning of time.
"And…I'll prove it to you!"
"Katy, you don't have to—"
"Shut up, Elliot." I grit my teeth together and metaphorically rolled up my sleeves. "In fact, I've been on a swim team for as long as I can remember." I casually brushed at an imaginary piece of hair out of my eyes and surveyed the skeptical looking crowd as boldly as I could. "That was just a momentary lapse of judgment on my part. Yeah."
This is a stupid idea, this is a stupid idea, this is a stupid idea, my mind was chanting.
"Why don't you use the diving block, Katy?" The popular girl said sweetly. I hesitated.
"Yeah, you know. The thing you jump into the water off of? Jeez." She rolled her eyes and snickered attractively.
I cleared my throat. "Oh, yeah. I mean, I know what a diving block is. I just didn't think…you wanted me to demonstrate my diving abilities as well. Because…you know, I happen to be on the diving team as well."
This is what happens when you ramble, Katy. You start digging your own grave!
I slowly walked over to the intimidating white block that seemed to be meters up from the pool. I looked behind me with what I hoped looked like reassuring self-confidence, and found James, arms still over his chest, staring at me with an unreadable expression on his face.
Why wasn't he stopping me!? Did he WANT me to die?! Oh, god…what if he knew that I liked him? And he purposely goaded me into this because he wanted to get rid of one more stupid, geeky fangirl?
I stood up on the block and stumbled a bit.
"Oh, my god," someone crowed, "she can't even keep her balance!"
"I've got a vertigo problem, alright?" I snapped, gripping the edge of the block with my toes even tighter.
Goodbye, cruel world.
I launched myself off with as much grace as I could and performed a stunning belly-flop. That was the last thing on my mind, however, because I really needed to focus on being able to breathe. I flung my arms out of the water. This had better look like freestyle, because I swear, if that—oh, shit.
I really was sinking.
Not good, not good, not good…
I was really desperate now. This wasn't a joke. I wasn't fooling around. I should never have tried to impress him. Oh, god…please…
I inhaled what seemed like a liter of water and felt my chest constrict painfully. The silence that welcomed me underwater was almost peaceful. No one was laughing at me here. No one was ignoring me, and there wasn't anyone to make me feel useless. I surrendered to it.
Soft waves were rocking me into a suspended state of almost-slumber. I really must be in heaven right now.
The waves came on stronger, and I vaguely realized that someone was beside me. I felt an arm wrap around my shoulders and a hand grip my thigh.
And then darkness consumed me.
"What did you do?!" I heard a girl shriek.
"I didn't do anything," I heard a male voice grind out as I slipped in and out of consciousness. A hand was pressing down on my chest, pumping water out of my lungs, and then lips moved over mine, helping me breathe.
Even though I was completely out of it, I knew that I probably didn't want to wake up and face the humiliation of having had the entire class witness my miserable failure.
Nope. No such luck.
I coughed out water and rolled onto my side, groaning. My head was pounding, and I had a scratchy, wholly uncomfortable feeling at the back of my throat. My arms and legs ached, and my eyes felt bloodshot.
I felt a large, warm hand on my shoulder. "Are you alright?" James asked with an edge in his voice. Great. Not only have I made a fool out of myself, but he's pissed that he had to save me.
I nodded mutely and stood up shakily, my knobby knees clacking together at an odd angle.
"You're such an idiot!" The popular girl scoffed with a manicured hand resting on her perfect hip, now that I was no longer in danger of being dead. "Anyone could see that you swim worse than a two year old."
I felt my face go up in flames.
What hurt the most, though, was that James just stood there beside her, staring silently.
"Yeah. I know," I whispered. Feeling the eyes of 30 students on my retreating back, I grabbed my towel and walked out.
I changed into my clothes as fast as I could and headed out of the change room before I could run into anyone. I could go cry at home, but I refused to do it in front of other people.
I made a mental note to buy buckets of ice cream and chips for a horror movie marathon to cheer myself up when I heard footsteps running toward me.
"Hey, Katy! Wait up!"
I turned and, much to my surprise, saw James jogging to catch up with me. My mouth went dry and my ability to converse normally immediately flew out the window.
He looked angry, though. His jaw was clenched, his lips set in a hard line, and his brow ever-so-slightly furrowed. When he was standing about two feet away from me, he pinned me with a glare and looked down at me.
"What the hell were you trying to pull in there?"
Oh, so this is what he wanted to talk about.
And here I was thinking he would finally pronounce his undying love for me. Hah!
I rolled my eyes. "Whatever. If that's what you came to talk about, then you can just leave me alone because you won't get anywhere."
"I want to talk about it."
"Yeah, well I don't. Goodbye."
His hand shot out and long fingers wrapped around my wrist in an iron grip, pulling me back.
"Let go of me." No, please don't. You can hold my hand forever, James, really.
"Not until you tell me what was going through your head when you attempted to commit suicide."
"NO!" I wrenched my arm from his grip. I couldn't risk letting him know that another sideline girl had fallen for him. I stalked off.
"You're still wearing your swimming cap," he said, and I could hear the slight grin in his voice.
"ARGH!" I ripped it off and shoved it into my bag, spinning around to face him. I suddenly looked like I had just rolled out of bed. I didn't need to put up with this abuse! "Alright, I get it, okay? I'm sorry that you had to go in there and save my sorry ass, I'm sure it really put you out. Just pretend it never happened, alright? Is that so hard? God, I am such an idiot." I quickly turned and resumed walking briskly through the car park, brushing away a tear with the back of my hand.
Suddenly, I was spun around and pushed up against a school bus. What the—
I didn't even have time to be disoriented, because James grabbed my face in both of his hands and kissed me.
I almost fainted all over again. I was wedged between his hard swimmer's body and a school bus, with his wet hair tickling my cheek as he angled my head upward to meet his. He sucked languidly on my bottom lip, coaxing my lips apart and slipping his tongue into my mouth. The hold he had on my face was strong and commanding, but his kisses were slow and gentle. I felt precious in his arms.
I had no idea what I was doing, but decided to give it a shot. Nothing can go wrong in dreams, right? Because that's the only explanation I could come up with for this surreal experience.
I placed my hands on his chest lightly, unsure of myself, and began to kiss him back. He groaned, and his hands moved to settle at the back of my waist, hugging me close. When we broke apart, he left a lingering kiss on the side of my mouth and inhaled deeply.
"Don't ever scare me like that again."
James looked at me with those beautiful amber eyes and kissed the tip of my nose affectionately. I gaped at him, breathless.
"I can't guarantee that," I managed to get out, still in a stupor. "I'm about as elegant on land as I am in water."
"Well, then…I guess that just means I'll have to be keeping an eye on you from now on."
And with that, he draped an arm around my shoulders and pulled me into an embrace.
Who knows? I might not be able to keep myself out of the water now…
Based on a true story, folks!
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