Living Water

"Whoever drinks of this water will thirst again,but whoever drinks of the water that I shall give him will never thirst. But the water that I shall give him will become in him a fountain of water springing up into everlasting life."

~John 4:13-14

Chapter 1

It all started when Simon first learned how to sink.

"All you have to do is blow the air out of your lungs first," his college teammate John was saying, looking somewhat stunned at his friend's ignorance. Incredulously, he added, "How could you not have known that?"

Simon looked up at him blankly from where he was standing in the campus pool, an automatic pool vacuum tucked under his arm. Evening practice had been over for twenty minutes and the sun was setting. As soon as everyone had cleared out, Simon had gone to the maintenance closet and grabbed the pool vacuum. John had asked him what-in-the-name-of-200-meter-butterfly-sets did he think he was doing; he had answered that he was fed up with the incompetent lack of consistency with which the pool was getting cleaned.

Swim practice had always been a meditative time for him. Some people liked staring at Zen gardens; Simon liked watching the bottom of the lane zoom by underneath him as he swam. Being in the water had always given him a feeling of freedom, a sense of calm tranquility. But lately, this was being encumbered by the increasing amount of sticks, debris and—horror of all horrors—floating band-aids, drifting along the bottom of the pool and invading his field of vision as he swam.

Why are swimming pools ALWAYS full of BAND-AIDS?! Simon thought to himself, feeling furious at the blatant inconsideration of humanity.

Although the stroke that he specialized in was freestyle, he was starting to see the wisdom of being a backstroker.

Maybe he should switch strokes. Coach would kill him, probably literally, but at least then he wouldn't have to endure runaway band-aids swimming past his face anymore. Unless hell was full of swimming band-aids.

The thought made him shudder.

No amount of complaining to either Coach or the maintenance staff had had any effect. Coach had told him to shut up and swim. The maintenance worker had stared at him blankly, probably wondering to herself if college jocks had anything better to do than tell her how to do her job. She had probably let the pool get dirtier after that just to spite him, he thought to himself.

And so, today after practice, Simon had dragged the pool vacuum over to the lanes, hooked it up, and promptly jumped into the pool with it.

Which was totally unnecessary, since the device was automatic.

John had lingered behind to observe his teammate's antics. He watched for a few minutes, unsurprised, as Simon dove to the bottom of the pool and proceeded to manually push the vacuum along the bottom.

After two and a half years of training together, John had become familiar with the other boy's odd tendency to immerse himself in water as much as humanly possible. It baffled even the other members of the team, who of course were no strangers to water themselves. But Simon seemed to be a special case. He would come early to practice and simply float on his back, staring up at the sky. He would stay late after practice to do the same thing, rather than join the rest of his teammates in getting a meal. They often joked between themselves that when Simon wasn't at the pool, he was probably in the bathtub. It was as if he lived and breathed water. But, because he was one of the team's top swimmers, no one bothered him about his unusual habits. Whatever got him in the zone was fine by them as long as he continued to garner them victories at each swim meet.

So John kept his mouth shut and refrained from saying the obvious—which was that the vacuum could run by itself, without anyone having to get in the water with it. However, once he noticed Simon's awkward attempts to stay at the bottom without floating upwards, he could stay silent no longer.

"Haven't you ever done this as a kid?" John continued. "Sink to the bottom of the pool and just sit there? Make funny faces at your friends and see who could hold their breath the longest?"

"No," said Simon flatly, "I didn't have any friends as a kid." He thought for a moment. "But, if I did, I would've beaten them at that game…so it would've been pointless to play it."

John rolled his eyes. "Can't imagine why you didn't have any friends, with an attitude like that," he commented dryly.

"And in any case," continued Simon, pointedly ignoring him, "I had no idea I was even capable of sinking. It seems counterintuitive. Why on earth would I want to practice it?"

"Everybody is capable of sinking!" exploded John in a fit of exasperation. "How do you think people drown?!"

Simon gave him a pointed look. "Precisely why it's counterintuitive," he said smugly.

His teammate glared at him. John swam the breaststroke, and thus didn't have to compete against Simon usually. Hence why they still managed to be friends…sort of. The other freestylers on the team, on the other hand, couldn't stand Simon. He was the best one; and his signature trick was his incredible lung capacity and breath control…in every race he always took under three breaths per lap. It decreased his time tremendously, and that was what made him win first place almost every single time.

"You know," said John, "You might get along with some of the other guys better if you didn't act so much like some kind of swimming god, or something. That and maybe join us after practice for dinner some time, instead of staying out here floating around like you're Poseidon's long lost son."

Simon eyed him humorlessly. "I'll keep that in mind for the day I start to care."

John sighed. "You see, this is why you don't have friends."

If it wasn't for Simon's wholly unengaging demeanor, he could've made a great replacement for John as team captain once the latter graduated this year. As it stood, however, he was probably going to have to consider someone else. Two and a half years of trying to engage this kid—brilliant of a swimmer as he may be—had only earned John some reluctant respect and a little less contempt than Simon used to display as a freshman, when he first joined the team. An improvement, certainly. But captain material, as John had first hoped when he saw how much of a swimming prodigy Simon was? Hardly.

"Fine," he said at last, deciding to give up. "Go on and keep floating about like an awkwardly buoyant penguin. Just don't say I didn't—"

He was interrupted by a loud splash as Simon dove back underwater with the vacuum. A stream of bubbles surfaced in his wake, indicating that he had taken John's advice and expelled all the oxygen from his lungs. He soon sank easily to the bottom.

John smirked to himself. Start critiquing Simon's form underwater and he might actually start to give a flying flip. It was unfortunate that he didn't have nearly the same amount of concern when it came to interpersonal relationships.

John waited patiently on deck as Simon proceeded to steadily propel himself across the bottom of the pool like a sea cucumber on steroids, trailing the vacuum after himself. He stayed underwater for a full minute.

Finally, he resurfaced. "You don't have to wait up for me," he told John, his mouth barely out of the water.

John's smirk grew. "You liked it."

Simon's expression stayed infuriatingly vacant. "Liked what?"

"Sinking! Admit it, it was fun."

Simon didn't concede to give a response but simply arched an eyebrow, as if the last word John had said was a completely foreign concept to him. Which, now that John thought of it, it probably was.

He sighed. "Whatever," he said, turning to go. "I'll see you at practice tomorrow. Don't drown!" he added over his shoulder, then quietly he laughed to himself at what an irony that would be.

Simon waited for his teammate to go and then sank back underwater, bubbles blowing out of his mouth as he released all of his air once more. Cleaning duty momentarily forgotten, he closed his eyes and splayed out languidly on the bottom of the pool. He wondered to himself why he had never done this before. This was brilliant. Now he could be fully submerged in the water without any struggle. He could be one with the water. And that familiar feeling of freedom could wash over him once more.

Forty seconds later this sentiment was shattered, when a disrupting splash erupted next to him…and a pair of arms started to roughly pull him upwards.

Christine was typically a very calm individual. But she completely panicked when she saw the body in the pool.

Sure, she had worked summers as a lifeguard back when she was still in high school. She had once even supervised a pool party for the little kids from her neighborhood, all on her own. But all that meant was sitting lazily in a lifeguard chair and getting a tan. She never actually had to save anybody before. All she ever had to save was a five pound brick in order to pass the lifeguard test.

A brick was not a human.

All these thoughts passed through her head in the space of a second. By then, she found that she had already impulsively kicked off her shoes. It seemed only logical, then, to run to the edge of the pool and dive in. So she did.

She had barely gotten her arms around the victim's torso when she suddenly remembered what the next step was supposed to be. Did she remember how to give CPR? She frantically racked her brain. She kind of remembered how to give CPR. Maybe.

Not really.

She was about to panic even further when something caught her attention.

The body she was lugging to the surface was not deadweight. In fact, said body was actually swimming…swimming out of her grasp. Swimming very capably.

She broke the surface and stared into a pair of deep blue eyes.

"Are you okay?" She gulped in air. "I thought—I thought you were—"

"You know," said the boy coldly—for it was a boy, she realized now, "I can swim."

She stared at him. Something clicked in her brain—a memory of one lone face in the back of her morning class, a recollection of whispered gossip in the hallways—and recognition dawned on her face.

"Simon Petersen," she stated. "The kid with a full swimming scholarship."

He said nothing, just coolly returned her stare.

Christine was painfully aware of the irony of this situation. She had just tried to save one of the best swimmers on campus from drowning. She thought about laughing. But then she remembered that she was fully clothed, standing in the middle of a pool, in front of a guy in a Speedo. There was only one of them here who didn't look crazy, and she was losing any hope of it possibly being her.

To burst into laughter at this point would not win her any sanity points.

"Well." She tried to muster up the minimal amount of dignity that she had left. "This is embarrassing."