He says he’s allowed to watch Jerry Springer, and that he’s slept in every room in his house, and one time he drank a whole bottle of wine.
Our parents say that his mom is probably depressed and lies around in bed with her clothes on and the lights off, and his dad is far away, sending money and never calling, even to say where he is. They met his mom at the farmers’ market at the end of the summer, they told us, and haven’t seen her since. They told us that this is probably a family that moves around a lot, so we shouldn’t be too disappointed if one day our new friend is gone.
The counselors are whispering to each other now, and they keep looking over to see if our eyes are still open. They have their phones out, probably texting their friends who are waiting in the parking lot, telling them when to come in and hang out, after the kids are asleep.
We know that they all leave the room at the same time, and don’t come back until morning. All we have to do is pretend to be asleep until they go, and then we just get up and leave quietly. The big teacher who’s in charge of everything and who makes the reports to our parents has already gone home. We saw him talking to the counselors outside the door, and then he zipped up his jacket and left.
The only challenge is to make sure we don’t really fall asleep while we’re pretending. It can be hard, especially with our stomachs so full, and having watched so many movies in a row, and being in our sleeping bags with our eyes closed, thinking about the water way down inside the lake. We’re even making pretend snoring sounds.
We all focus hard on replaying the final moments of Lake Boy, when the three seventeen-year-olds leave the lake, and their friend bobs for one second longer before sinking again. It’s tiring to imagine what it would be like to really be seventeen, knowing that you’ll never be seven again, but we can’t stop imagining it.
“Okay,” I whisper to Miles, my face sweaty from fending off sleep. “It’s time.”
He leans over and looks at me, yawning. He nods, and reaches over to nudge Corey, who nudges our new friend.
The counselors are gone now. The TV is switched off, and all the other kids are sleeping. Their deep breaths smell like Cooler Ranch.
We’re up and out of the room, running down the smooth white tiles. We know that the counselors are out in the parking lot now, but, still, it’s a little scary to be out here. We don’t know who might see us, so we’re running as fast as we can.
Our heads are just above the railing on the side of the corridor that looks down over the basketball court. Down the stairs now, which smell like cement and spilled water, and have red doors so heavy that all four of us have to push at once, our eight hands completely covering the handle in skin. Miles and Corey and I are whispering to each other, giving updates on the mission. Our new friend doesn’t say anything, and we can tell that he isn’t even listening.
After we go down enough stairs, we come to the long hallway that leads around to the pool. We push through the last of the red doors, go past the Men’s Strength Room, which is behind glass and opens only with an ID card, and up to the door of the Men’s Locker Room, which is propped open.
The lights are all off. There were some all-night bulbs burning in the hallway, but not anymore. We feel around on the walls for a moment, looking for a switch, but, when we don’t find one, we quit. We think, “They didn’t have any lights at the lake,” and we’re a little ashamed that we hoped to find some here.
We take off our clothes and put them in open lockers. Our shoes are still up in the sleepover room, along with our clean underwear and pocket money, but when we take off our socks we feel how cold the floor is.
As we walk side by side into the shower room we realize that no one brought towels, but that’s okay. It would have been hard to run with them.
We all feel pretty proud, like we’ve just made a daring journey through enemy territory and now we’re safe on the other side.
We each go into our own shower stall and crank the handle. The water comes out freezing and we duck away from it, down in the corner, and then it starts to steam and burns our shoulders and armpits. We have to reach under and push the handle toward the middle, and then we can stand it. We warm up and cool down at the same time. It reminds us of the outdoor showers we had at camp. They had only cold water, so you had to wait until the day warmed up to wash off the morning’s lake scum.
When we’re done, we line up in the middle of the shower room, nod to each other in the dark, and push through the door that leads to the last hallway, past the Women’s Locker Room and the pile of kickboards and rope, and out to the pool.
None of us has ever been here before.
The room is freezing on our scorched skin, and we can smell the cold chlorine, and hear it lapping. We can’t see the ceiling, or any of the walls.
“Okay men,” I say. “Here we go.”
On the count of three we smash through the surface and are underwater, where the only light is the glow from the side-lights down at the deep end that stay on all night. When we poke our heads up for air, we can’t see anything except the glowing greenish water around our necks, like the lake under the moon through the trees.
Me, Miles, Corey, and our new friend are all wiggling our hips and kicking our feet as fast as we can, trying to get used to the water. Shiver-bumps run up and down my arms and thighs, and I try to shake them off like they’re the source of the cold and not a reaction to it.
We duck under and swim around and around, our ears popping as we strain toward the bottom of the deep end. I go all the way down and scrape along on my belly, pulling with my hands like a stingray.
When I blast back up, I shout as I break the surface. My voice echoes louder than I expected it to, and I decide not to do this again. I duck under to where I can’t hear the echo, but I hear a low hum or growl instead, so I come back up and look around, but now my eyes are too blurry to make out who’s who. I can see only the shapes of heads.