* Out of Water *
Prologue: Smiley Dolphin's Public Pool
I was doing a birthday party.
This usually wouldn't have aroused comment. Swim parties are a popular choice: kids love to swim, and their parents loved the dirt-cheap price. Smiley Dolphin's Public Pool - affectionately nicknamed "Smiley's" for short - wasn't exactly a high-end facility. Off-white paint peeling from the industrial cement-brick walls. Red life buoys so old that they'd faded to a soft pink. The neon lights over the diving board flickering erratically and the nasty foot-wart germs lurking in all corners of the change room. I suppose you really do get what you pay for.
Anyway, Tim Hogen was supposed to be doing the birthday party, an offense for which I will never forgive him.
Mum had picked up the phone, eyebrows wiggling suggestively as she brought it over to me at the kitchen table. "It's a boy," she crowed, not even bothering to put her hand over the receiver.
I didn't allow myself the luxury of excitement. "Yeah," I said drily. "Probably Jeremy Katz, asking for help with his homework."
My mother's tanned face went quizzical. "Homework?"
"Summer school," I supplied. "He failed tenth grade English. Again."
Gracie chuckled a little before flinging a chunk of orange squash onto the floor. "Tentgray englisheggen," she babbled. "Tentgray englisheggen!"
Holding out my hand for the portable, I quipped, "Yellow?"
"Hey, uh..." Tim Hogen's staticky yo-dude voice trailed off into confusion.
Oh, how soon they forget. "Cally," I said, resigned.
"Yeah, oh, uh, right, uh, Cally. It's uh, it's, uh, Tim, uh, Tim Hogan, uh from uh - " Oh, you're kidding. " - uh, the uh, the uh, the, uh, pool, the, uh, guy with the, uh, with the red, uh, the, uh, red hat, uh - " Somebody shoot me in the brain. " - uh, and I was uh, uh, I was, uh, wuh-uhndering if, uh, you could, uh, if you, uh, could, uh - " Now. Seriously.
The guy had the intellectual capacity of a grapefruit. I looked at my sister hopelessly, but all she could manage in response was a gurgle. A little trail of orange-squash saliva meandered down her chin and onto her hippopotamus-and-balloon-patterned bib.
" - uh, if you could, uh, uh, cover me, uh, on Saturday?"
In hindsight, saying "I'm sorry - I didn't catch that" would have been really funny. But why put myself through the torture? And, really, what use was there in making a mockery of Signor Grapefruit Head? It wasn't as if he would understand. He probably wouldn't even have understood the word "mockery." So, instead of the hundred-and-one sarcastic quips that jumped to mind, all I replied with was "Um, what shift are you working?"
"I'm, uh, doing, uh, nine to uh, nine to, uh, three."
It was perfect - and that's not sarcasm. Thea, the Recently-Boyfriended Blonde Bombshell, had been chattering endlessly about Josh Pawliszko's end-of-year party on Friday night. I'd been floundering for an excuse not to go. Our moms used to joke that Thea and I were joined at the hip. Maybe so, when we were in third grade. Now that she and Josh were perpetually joined at the lip? Not so much.
So I agreed. And quickly hung up before Tim Hogen could start on a five-minute-long variation of "Thanks, see you later."
Everything was, for the moment, going smoothly. Parents stood about uselessly, some of them seated in the worn plastic deck chairs that ringed the pool, not supervising their shrieking children. I wasn't exactly on high alert, either. It was all very routine - routine to the point of boring. That may not be a good state for a lifeguard to be in: bored. The pool was an aquamarine profusion of screeches, punches, splashes, water wings, and multi-coloured pool noodles. A couple of guys were swimming laps in the three open lanes. Not finding any of it particularly stimulating, I casually inspected my chipping green nail polish, trying to look alert, cool, and authoritative at the same time. Honestly, I don't think it was working.
Being up on the big plastic chair didn't exactly help things. I shimmied my red shorts down, trying to cover a little more of my thighs. The last thing I needed was for someone to faint out of sheer horror. Plus, I needed a buffer zone to keep my skin from adhering to the hot plastic. Blowing the air out of my nose, I thought, Stupid, stupid, stupid. Smart enough to bring a book and dumb enough to leave it in the car. I could picture it - lying, lost and lonely, on the seat of my mom's tan Corolla. It was cheesy, but something good for summer, and for staving off the boredom. I'd already finished my Advanced Placement summer reading list. It wasn't anything new: The Hound of the Baskervilles, Jane Eyre, Life of Pi, and something else that I can't even remember the name of, and which I'm sure, was supposed to "connect with my teenaged problems." I zipped through that one in about a day, and promptly threw it into a corner.
I dwelled on that for a while. Cheesy teen romance. Extreme boredom. Bright multi-coloured packaging. Crappy supernatural subplot. Backseat of Corolla.
I was staring off at one of the bleached-pink, unused buoys hanging on the wall, pondering my blatant stupidity, when I heard it.
"Hey!" It was a child's voice. "That guy's drowning!"
Now, I've already said I wasn't exactly on high alert. Plus, this was a kid talking. If I had a nickel for every time I'd heard some little jerk yell "HELP! I'M DROWNING!" before laughing at my expression of terror and panic... Well, let's just say I wouldn't have been working a shitty lifeguarding job. I didn't even look up until I heard the panicked voice of a woman, presumably one of the parents, cry, "Oh my God! Somebody help - that man is drowning!"
That brought my head to attention. My eyes flickered out into the three free-swim lanes and finally caught on a figure curled up at the bottom of the deep end the pool. Strangely enough, he wasn't kicking or fighting or screaming. Maybe... Maybe he was already... No. I wouldn't think that word - I couldn't deal with it. Terror and panic spread across my face this time, but it was actually real.
I sat there in my big, stupid plastic chair, emergency whistle hanging uselessly from the lanyard around my neck.
"Lifeguard!" another woman shrieked. Her plastic crocs squeaked against the grimy white tile as she rushed forward to scoop her screaming child from the pool, as though drowning was contagious. "Where's the lifeguard?"
That's me, I registered dumbly. But... And there was the rub. I'd never actually saved anyone before. Sure, I'd done mad CPR on some of those creepy, white plastic heads, but never on an actual person, whose life might actually need to be guarded. But... but...
That's when I realized, suddenly, that there are no buts. It was my duty to save those who need saving. I had to guard this man's life. It was what I was being paid $12.00 an hour to do. I violently peeled myself off of the chair and jumped down without using the ladder, snatching a flutterboard out of some kid's sticky grasp before jumping headfirst into the deep end.
Alright. Now, let's just pause for a moment.
If I could travel back in time to avoid the humiliation and embarrassment that was to follow my heroic swan dive, I would tell myself three things that I figured out much later. And these three things were:
1) That Ben Morris wasn't actually drowning.
2) All of the CPR I was about to perform was totally and completely useless, because
3) Ben Morris might actually be some kind of supernatural creature.