Then, as I stay on the surface treading water, I hear what sounds like the door opening and someone with very quiet feet walking in. My skin gets so tight it tries to go inside me, leaving my bones to rust like exposed pipes.
I hear those feet walking up to the water, and I dive under, as deep as I can, back to being a stingray who’s invincible. I feel the impact of something landing as I pull myself all the way to the bottom of the deep end, and stay under until the pain in my ears and lungs makes me about to cry, and then I shoot back up to the surface and suck in the air, and hold my nose and blow out hard, something like snot coming out of my ears, and I’m crying so I duck back under to wash my face.
When I come up again I’m holding the edge of the pool at the corner of the deep end, with the High Dive way up above me. I can’t hear anyone now, no voices nor footsteps nor paddling fingers anywhere in the world. I want to breathe a lot, but the air tastes bad.
I stay like this until I hear, “Get up here, we’re jumping!”
I turn to look at the base of the High Dive where the curving ladder starts, and hear several sets of feet walking up. I get out and tiptoe over, holding my shoulders. I look up, and think I can see four bodies, three of them waiting on the stairs, and the other one way out on the board. It barely hesitates before jumping in, and barely makes a splash when it does.
Now there’s only two up ahead of me, with the third in the air.
Pretty soon, I’m alone at the end of the High Dive.
I try to look down, but all I see is green ripples and buried black shapes.
Standing here with the grooved bouncing board under my feet, I want to shout “Something’s in here with us!” but I don’t.
I want to stand on the board until it gets light and there are people around, but I feel something about to creep up from behind and push me in, and my back caves so far forward that I have to jump to keep from falling.
The water feels like the edge of a table when it hits my head. I get so dizzy that I feel something pulling on my ankles. I go down and stay under a long time. I keep trying to get back up, looking at those lights on the tiled edges, but it’s like trying to climb a wall. The back of my head feels nailed to the bottom and bubbles rush up from my nose, straight to the surface in the dark.
I stay under longer than I ever have before, and feel my lungs pounding on my ribs and my stomach pressing out all the chips and cookies I ate, into my throat that wants to throw them up but is tied too tight.
At last, it lets me go. I fly clean out of the water and into the air, which is rattled with screaming. “Aaah aaah aaah aaah!!” something in here goes, like it has burning paper stuffed way back in its mouth.
I see heads flying around the water, too fast to count, fighting to stay where they can breathe. I hold onto the edge of the pool and bury my face in my arms.
Then the lights come on.
Janitor Pete, in jeans, sneakers, and a red sweatshirt, is standing by the shallow end, looking at us. I see our new friend floating in the water, and I close my eyes tight and crawl up onto the tiled edge and lie there facedown, smelling the tile and the water lapping over it.
After a while, I feel a strong hand on my shoulder, rolling me over. I go onto my back, but don’t open my eyes. Then I hear Corey and Miles call my name and rough fingers reach down to my eyelids, forcing me to look straight up at Janitor Pete, crouching over me with his morning breath.
He starts to hoist me up, pulling hand over hand like he’s reeling me in. My feet touch the tile and remember what it feels like to stand.
I see Miles and Corey wrapped in towels, and Janitor Pete holds one out to me, and helps me get it around my shoulders. He must have taken some spare ones from the supply closet after he found us here. He takes me and Miles and Corey up through the heavy doors and out to the parking lot where our parents are waiting.
Everyone looks pale and I don’t hear anyone talking. The counselors are slouched by the gym entrance, their long hair hanging around their downturned heads.
I see my parents, and Corey’s, and Miles’, and also a woman who I think is our new friend’s mom, even though I’ve never actually seen her before. She has big purple bags under her eyes and her lipstick is smudged out onto her cheeks, like she was driving too fast with her head out the window. She looks like she’s not totally awake, her arm hanging limp at her side. A kid with her same purple eyes and bruised lips is trying to hold her hand, looking at the place where his fingers become hers.
At first I think this must be our new friend, but then I think it can’t be. I close my eyes and try to remember exactly what he looked like, but all I see is those black heads bobbing in the green water. I stay there with them until someone gently shakes me.
As I walk toward where my parents are waiting, I look back at that woman and the boy next to her and can tell that soon we won’t be seeing them around.
Just before we split up into our different Saturdays, I say to Miles and Corey, “I guess we’ll have to wait ten years until we can come back here and find out what happened.”
“Yeah,” says Miles, hesitating for a moment. “And by then we’ll be seventeen, and able to drive and watch rated R.”
As our parents’ three cars pull out of the parking lot, I start to wonder what we’ll do on Friday nights now that Ainsworth Gym is behind us. I lean against the backseat and look at the clock radio under the windshield, ticking in the silence of the car like we’re not driving home to breakfast but to a funeral in a dim stone church instead.