Over the years, Marisol had discovered that there was no other activity that provided her with the same level of freedom from her confusing world as did swimming.
For one thing, it allowed her to just be part of the crowd for once. While at the community center's pool, she didn't have to risk appearing odd because of her long skirts or because she didn't have the latest clothing brands. Her aqua blue one piece could have easily been worn by any of the other girls or women who came here regularly, and once she was in the pool, completing several laps across the water, she was just one of several swimmers doing the same thing. Sometimes, people would tell her that she came across as quite fast, or that they thought she would be good for the high school swim team, but for the most part, they didn't bother her too much.
Also, there were no boundaries set in place when she was in the pool. She could go as deep as she wanted if she was in the mood for it, or she could stay within the surface at three feet if she couldn't go far enough for whatever reason. If her mother were to accompany her, she would probably give her a word or two over how she was risking drowning, making her stay within the least deepest part of the pool the whole time. But with her work schedule, there was rarely any time for her to go out, and even if she had the chance, she'd prefer to stay at home sewing or reading. It seemed that the older she got, the more the outside world made her uncomfortable.
Marisol, on the other hand, found life at home increasingly suffocating as she got older, as would any modern teenager whose activities at home had to remain within the boundaries of 1959. For instance, evening programming on television was still limited to shows like I Love Lucy, Father Knows Best, Leave It to Beaver, Lassie, and the same series of news reports which never changed as the years in the outside world went by. Weekends could include the airing of classic movies like Gone with the Wind, Casablanca, or Rebecca, but the big three networks mostly stuck to outdated movies with dialogue that was so cheesy and effects that were such an eye sore that Marisol could never watch than ten minutes of them without getting bored out of her mind.
She had more options when it came to reading material, including many of the nineteenth century classics that some of her classmates found so boring but which she found to be quite fascinating, like Jane Eyre, The Count of Monte Cristo, and Great Expectations. However, she had less luck when it came to good "modern" material. Books like The Catcher in the Rye and Lord of the Rings had proven to satisfying enough, but it was the more typical, romance-oriented young adult novels, like Looking for Alaska and The Vampire Diaries, that interested her even more, perhaps because of how impossible it was to bring them home to read. This led Marisol to try looking for similar books that had been published before 1959, but the only one she could find in the local library was Seventeenth Summer, and although she did enjoy that one, it didn't take a lot of experiences with romance for her to know that the book's descriptions of dating weren't what most teenagers these days experienced.
On the afternoon after Dean Parker spoke to her, she made a point of getting to the pool earlier than usual. The pool season was nearing its final weeks, and on the first week of school, the only people you usually saw there were young mothers (and sometimes fathers as well) and their toddlers, whom they often gave brief swimming lessons to where they'd wade around the water while their parents stayed at a short distance, holding out their arms so that their child stayed safe. One of these mothers, Lena Wheeler, gave Marisol a quick wave as she set her backpack down on one of the beach chairs and said, "Hi there, Marisol? How's school going?"
"Hi, Lena. It's okay, as usual," Marisol answered. "By the time senior year rolls around, you're going through the same routine you've been following along with for the past four years, except that you now have more time for electives than you did before. It's quite boring, to tell the truth."
"Tell me about it," Lena said with a sigh. "I went to Bloomington East too; graduated twelve years ago, and it's always the same for every student no matter what year is it. You start out as a freshmen with all these expectations and hopes, thinking you're in for the time of your life, and four years later, you may have taken some good classes, found some good friends, and joined a fun extracurricular or two, but your life is nowhere near as amazing as you thought it'd be when you started out. The best thing that happened to me was writing for the school newspaper, but I never became an editor or got any sort of scholarship for what I did. My husband was a basketball player for four straight years, and yet recalls nothing but long practices and constant pressure to keep his grades up. We all have to move on from it eventually."
"Yeah," Marisol said.
"Now, what are your plans for after graduation? If you're doing as well as you claim, I'm sure you could get into several of the good colleges here in the state; maybe even out-of-state, it that's an option."
"I don't think I could afford to go out-of-state, or to any of the private colleges. Based on what my mom has told me, the best I can do right now is go to community college. Then, if I work for at least two years, I could then go on to one of the public universities. UIC's my dream school right now, but I'm not sure if my GPA's good enough to them to accept me straight out of high school."
Of course, she couldn't bring up how she wasn't sure what would happen if she were to move out of the house. Her mom claimed that she'd considered moving elsewhere, but something always came up that prevented her from leaving. First, it was the financial issues she'd had back when Marisol was a little, and now she said it was because Lucia and Federico insisted that she and Marisol were much safer here. Those two didn't pay as much visits to them as they did before, but they still maintained much control over the house.
"That sounds like a smart plan. With college tuition rates skyrocketing each year combined with our state's lack of a damn budget for so long, community college seems like the better option for so many. I get worried thinking about how things will be once Allison grows up. Although I always hope for the best, unpredictability seems to be the norm now, so you've always got to be prepared for the worst-case scenario."
Marisol couldn't disagree with that. Lena worked as a paramedic, while her husband Bryan was an accountant, so few would think they could ever have any financial struggles. However, Marisol and her mother didn't have what was considered a middle- class income, yet they'd never been in debt nor run short on any of their necessities. On the other hand, one of their neighbors made over forty thousand a month as a lawyer but had to file for bankruptcy two years ago because he'd developed a nasty gambling addiction where he'd go to a casino after each pay day and use up most of his salary within three hours through the slot machines. His three children could no longer afford to have new clothes, school supplies, or even buy lunch at school, and his wife eventually got frustrated and filed for divorce. And although Marisol doubted either Lena or Bryan had a gambling problem, she knew that other circumstances could go on which could change things, like getting laid off, salary cuts, or a health crisis, so Lena had every right to be concerned over the future.
Lena was holding Allison, making sure she didn't stoop too deep into the pool. The little girl, who was now four years old, inherited her mother's light brown, curly hair along with her green eyes, and like her mother, she smiled joyful upon seeing Marisol. "Mommy, can Marisol teach me to swim?" she asked. "You say that she's as good as a mermaid."
Lena chuckled. "That's what I'm here for right now, honey. Marisol's starting in on her last year of high school, so she's too busy to give you swimming lessons. Also, the pools will be closed after two weeks, so it will be a long time before you can practice every day."
"Can she do it next year?" Allison asked.
"I don't know. She's still trying to decide what she wants to do when she finishes school, so it will be hard to get her to do anything extra."
"But I could think about it, Allison," Marisol cut in. "I might have more extra time available once I graduate, so there's a chance that I could have time to teach you if that's what you want."
"Yay! That would be great!"
"We appreciate your willingness to help, Marisol," Lena said. "However, I'm sure Bryan and I can squeeze in some extra time these next two weeks to teach Allison a thing or two. Besides, we've been doing this all summer, but this young lady seems to think that it's not enough."
"That's not true!" Allison protested.
"Now, I don't want to get into any fights here, Allison, and especially not with…"
They were interrupted by the slam of the wooden entrance, followed by a complaint of, "God, class was such a pain in the ass today."
Lena shock her head. "And it looks like we have another chronic whiner in the room," she said.
The person entering was Beth Larson, a cheerleader at Marisol's school with a reputation for being both very pretty and very shallow. She had long, pixie blond hair, aqua blue eyes with long lashes, and a tall and slender figure, all enough to make her adored by most boys at school. As expected, she was usually surrounded by a big group of friends when she was at lunch or walking down the hallways. However, despite having all these admirers, she always acted as if she didn't care about them. If someone said something she thought sounded ridiculous, she would always roll her eyes and say, "Who cares?" without even cracking a smile, and even if they she liked what someone had to say, she always gave simple responses like, "Yeah, good point," or "Good to know," before rushing into some tiresome rant over how she never had the right clothes or couldn't go someplace during the weekend.
Funny enough, she frequently showed up the community center's pool. If seeing Marisol's swimming abilities left everyone dumbstruck, then seeing Beth make her way through the pool had them all mesmerized. At one point, she swam all the way through the pool within a minute. On another occasion, she went underwater and, while holding her breath the entire time, managed to swim across once again in one minute and twenty -two seconds. Some thought it was her experience as a cheerleader that allowed her to do this, while others liked claiming she either had some sort of super strength she was trying to keep secret or was under the influence of steroids.
Either way, she remained just as oblivious of these people's opinions as she was at school. And whenever she noticed Marisol, she made a point of not even bothering to glance in her direction, sometimes shaking her head or rolling her eyes when she thought no one noticed her. She never outright taunted Marisol, but this habit she had of ignoring her was just a method of silent bullying, as Marisol liked to think of it, where you resented someone but made a point of treating them as if they were invisible instead of saying what you thought of them to their face. When Marisol had hung out with Steven Vaughn this summer, he'd admitted that Beth had a habit of doing this with many of their peers, perhaps so she'd feel like she wasn't alone in this, and Marisol had to admit that it did make her feel this way. She felt some pity for those who were probably Beth's victims, perhaps without them even knowing, but she also experienced some sense of relief that she wasn't the only freak, the only one having to go through this silent bullying.
Upon hearing Lena's comment, Beth gave her a smug look. "What's your problem?" she asked.
"And a good day to you too, missy. Is this a thing among kids these days, to give adults snarky comments as their own little way of saying hello?"
"I don't think so," Beth answered, taking her comment a little so seriously. "Just because I do something doesn't mean everyone else my age does it. Look at Marisol, for instance. Do you ever see her talking to anyone older than herself in that way?"
"No. But then again, the last time I checked, you two are very different girls. Now, why don't we all just ignore our differences for a while and have a good swim?"
"I think I'd rather be alone." But instead of leaving, Beth stepped out of her pink flip flops, sat on the edge of the pool, and slowly stepped through the water before lying flat on her belly and starting in on three quick laps.
"It's back to business as usual for her," Lena remarked, starting in on Allison's swimming lessons again. "Despite her attitude, I've got to admire how dedicated she is to her swimming when she's here. Not that different from yourself, in fact."
Marisol had to admit she was right in a way. It seemed like both she and Beth kept their distance from others at certain times. Of course, it was hard to determine what Beth's motives could be -if she had any at all, that is-, but maybe there was a chance that she had other reasons behind her actions than just indifference or resentment. Maybe all the attention she got for a being a pretty cheerleader secretly bothered her, or she had strict parents that didn't want her developing close relationships with anyone at school. Whatever it might be, the mere thought that Beth wasn't simply a shallow popular girl gave Marisol an odd sense of ease.
Meanwhile, Allison was now complaining about how she couldn't go through the deep end of the pool. "It's not fair, Mommy! If you hold me the whole time, I won't sink. Maybe I'll become just like that girl that just got here," she said, pointing at Beth as she spoke, who was now wading at six feet.
"Allison, the more lessons we have, the more you can do. Because we're just getting started, we have to make sure you're safe, and the best way to be sure of this is by keeping you in the safest part of the pool, which is why we must stay on this side," Lena explained.
Looking at Marisol, Allison begged, "You think I can do it, right Marisol?"
"I don't think you're ready yet, Allison. I wouldn't want you to risk getting hurt right when you want to try something new," Marisol answered.
"She couldn't be more right, Allison," Lena said, settling the question.
Allison groaned, but stuck by her mother's side for the rest of their stay, following her mother's instructions as best as she could. She did quite well, managing to complete two full laps without too much help by the end of the lesson. Lena continually encouraged her, gently explaining any mistakes Allison made while also cheering her on as she completed her laps.
As nice as this was to see, Marisol couldn't just sit around the pool's edge watching for too long. After the long conversation with Lena, she was itching to get moving on the water, and so she stepped in, stretching her legs and arms to prepare for the laps, and was soon swimming quickly across the pool. Allison eyed her with a mixture of awe and jealously as she watched her going around the pool with so much ease, while Beth gave her a brief but intense glare.
However, Marisol barely took in these reactions, losing herself in the adrenaline rush she always experienced when she was in the water. While swimming, it didn't matter if it was the 1950s or the 2010s; you just had to take notice of the liquid which surrounded you and the movements you made to help yourself get through it. When she was little, she always liked saying that if she could be any magical creature, she'd choose to be a mermaid because they didn't have to leave the water, and could swim around to other places as often as they wished, while people who were stuck in land had to use transportation of some kind if they wanted to go somewhere that was too far. Mermaids probably didn't have to worry about being trapped in a house where the year couldn't change.
She only wished there was some way she could escape for good once she was out of the water.