I had played board games with Pat and Walter often enough to know how competitive they could be. I hadn’t realized that competitive streak extended to games such as minigolf as well. While Meghan and I were playing a leisurely game, not caring about our scores, the boys bickered over every point. Ultimately, they made Meghan be the scorekeeper so neither could cheat.
They ended up tying for first place. I was glad. I wasn’t sure I could deal with Walter whining or Pat sulking. As soon as we returned our clubs to the rack, Walter’s mind went straight to food.
“So, we can go home and eat whatever Mom’s making, or we can have pizza and nachos here.”
Meghan just stared at her brother. “How? How do you still have room?”
Pat shook his head. “Home. I don’t care what Mom’s making. I want to go swimming.”
“Volleyball?” Walter turned to his brother as we headed to the car. “Me and you versus the girls.”
Meghan frowned. “How exactly is that fair? I’m horrible and Melinda has a broken foot. No offense.”
I waved my crutches as we reached the car. “None taken. I wanna be on Walter’s team.”
Pat looked pained. “Why not me?”
I waited until he had put the crutches in the trunk and slid in behind me before answering. “Because that way, I’m guaranteed to win. You’re not going to want to risk not getting your Christmas present.”
After changing into my suit, I left my brace in the guest room bathroom before heading to the pool. I walked slowly to the edge, putting my crutches behind me as I dangled my feet into the water.
“Ooh. It’s so warm!”
Meghan pointed to the glass ceiling. “It stays pretty warm in here most days. Plus, there’s a heater.”
I just slid into the chest-high water, careful not to land on my broken foot. I turned when I heard a loud yell behind me.
I turned to see Walter running straight at me. I barely had enough time to duck before he jumped over my head and splashed into the pool.
“Incoming!” Pat followed his brother, though slightly to the side.
Meghan also jumped in, feet first, and began swimming lazily around. Walter swam towards me.
“We should have a jumping contest. Biggest splash. Melinda can judge.”
“Sounds fun.” I smiled, although part of me was sad I couldn’t join them. I swam idly towards the steps at the opposite side of the pool while the boys created a long list of rules. Eventually, they were ready to start their contest.
Meghan came to sit beside me. “I’m gonna help Melinda judge.”
I turned to her. “Don’t you want to jump?”
“I really don’t.” Meghan made a face at the idea. It was one of those rare times I remembered how much older and more mature Meghan really was.
I pouted as I turned back to the boys. “I wanna.”
Walter called from the opposite end of the pool. “Round one. Biggest splash. Ready?”
After both boys jumped, Meghan and I huddled together for a moment. We both agreed Walter’s splash was bigger, but we stayed with our heads together longer than necessary to make the boys nervous. Eventually, I turned back to the boys.
Walter splashed his brother. “Ha! Point for me. Okay, round two: smallest splash.”
After Pat won the smallest splash round, they competed for fanciest jump, silliest jump, backwards jump, and furthest jump. When the contest ended in a tie, the boys tried to think of the best tiebreaker round.
I was growing bored. I wasn’t a big swimmer, but I enjoyed spending time in the water. As I moved to the edge of the pool, I realized I could move a lot better than I could out of the water. I could probably even dance. Or at least stretch.
I held on to the edge as if it were a barre. It was the perfect height. If I was careful with my bad ankle, I could point my toe in front of me without pain.
I closed my eyes, imagining I was in the studio, not a pool. My movements were slow, partially because of the resistance provided by the water and partially because I was favoring my bad leg.
But I couldn’t just stretch one side of my body. I turned around. Even though it wasn’t great form, I found a way to balance against the edge so I could stretch my good leg without hurting my broken ankle. When I finished stretching, I faced the edge of the pool to do my sautés. I made sure to start and land my jumps on two feet, though just barely on my left.
As usual, dancing cleared my head. I was so engrossed in my ballet world that I heard my favorite warmup music: the waltz from Tchaikovsky’s Sleeping Beauty. It sounded like it was echoing around the pool house.
I opened my eyes. It was echoing around the room. I looked around. I felt bad for ignoring my friends, but they didn’t seem to mind. Walter was swimming laps on the opposite side of the pool. Meghan had found a raft in the shape of a unicorn and was floating with her eyes closed. Pat was sitting on the stairs, grinning at me mischievously.
He swam to my side, taking me in his arms. “I thought you would like some music.”
He pulled me close, and I kept my voice soft. “This is one of my favorites. How did you know?”
“I didn’t. I just asked the speaker assistant thing to play ballet music.”
Resting my head on his chest, we twirled in small circles near the stairs. I leaned on him for support so I didn’t have to put any weight on my bad ankle. Pat’s hand glided absently along my back. I leaned into him a little more.
“I like this. It’s like the Snowflake Ball.”
Pat didn’t respond. I glanced at him to make sure he was okay and his lips met mine.
My heart stopped beating, and I was filled not only with warmth, but with love. I could stay in this perfect moment forever.
Except, it stopped being perfect. Pat’s kiss became more greedy. The fingers of one hand twisted in my hair while those on the other made their way under the back edge of my bathing suit.
This wasn’t right. I put my hands on his chest and pushed him away. He stared at me with wide eyes. Before I could say anything, he swore and dove under the water.
I had to get out of there. I swam to the edge of the pool and pulled myself out. I crawled to my crutches and struggled to my feet. They clacked against the concrete floor as I hurried to the guest bathroom.
Walter caught up with me near the door. When he put a hand on my shoulder, I turned to face him, seeing that his eyes were full of concern.
“Hey. You okay?”
I shook my head. I was afraid to speak. Although I wasn’t exactly sure what I was feeling, I knew I might start crying if I opened my mouth.
Walter squeezed my shoulder. “Why don’t you rinse off the chlorine in the shower then come upstairs. We can talk in my room.”
“Top of the stairs. Turn right, then left. You’ll find it.”
I nodded again and disappeared into the guest bathroom.
I took my time in the shower, sitting on the floor to keep the weight off my leg. Luckily, the shower head was the kind on a long hose, so I could hold it in my hand and not drown. As soon as I pulled on my jeans, I put my brace back on my leg. Somehow, its presence seemed to give me a little strength.
I didn’t feel as panicked as I had a few minutes earlier. I still did not know what had happened in the pool. Should I go back to the pool deck and talk to Pat? What would I even say? I couldn’t even figure out if I was mad at him. No. Walter had suggested I talk to him first. As long as it didn’t weird him out, I wanted to see if he could help me sort out my feelings.
I had only been to this massive house once before, but I was able to find my way back to the main entryway with no problem. There was a curved staircase leading upstairs on either side of the room. Beneath one was a small elevator. But, no one had shown me how to use it. I couldn’t find the call button anywhere. With a sigh, I slowly made my way up the stairs.
The bedrooms were all clustered together on one side of the house. At the top of the stairs, I turned to the bedroom wing and turned right, as Walter had instructed. There was a door partially open on my left. I figured Walter had left it open for me.
The bedroom was cavernous. Through the open door on my left, I saw another room. I was pretty sure it was bigger than my living room. I was also pretty sure it was a closet. Rows of clothes hung on either side of the room, with shoes lined up neatly beneath them. I was a little surprised to see a shelf containing a stack of neatly folded jeans. Walter never wore jeans. Even on the weekends, he usually preferred cargo pants, which just barely passed the school dress code.
I could hear a shower running through the closed door across from me. Since Walter had invited me, I figured I would wait for him. I hobbled further into the room, sitting at the foot of the slate-colored bedspread, away from the black pillows. I glanced around the room, trying to picture Walter here. It felt nothing like his room at school.
The colorful posters on the light grey walls were mostly of airplanes, some of them cut in half to show their insides. It surprised me to see a guitar in the corner between the desk and the wall. I never realized Walter could play. The computer on the desk was different from the one Walter used at school. It never occurred to me he might have more than one. Beside it was a neatly wrapped Christmas present the size of a book.
Realization hit as I heard the bathroom door open. In my rush to stand, I dropped my crutches. They fell out of my reach. Before I could try to grab them, Pat emerged from the closet in a pair of jeans, a polo shirt in his hand.
“You’re not supposed to be here.” He eyed me warily as he bent to pick up my crutches. A mischievous smile flashed across his face as he handed them to me. He moved in close, tucking a stray hair behind my ear. “Why are you here?”
“You’re not supposed to be in here,” said a stern voice from the doorway. I dropped my crutches again as Mrs. Evans stormed into the room.
“I—Walter—” I was too mortified to find the right words.
“Out!” Mrs. Evans pointed to the door.
She didn’t need to tell me twice. After Pat again handed me my crutches, I half-hobbled, half-ran out of the room.
I could hear Pat’s mother yelling as I headed down the hallway.
“I told you she couldn’t be in here! What would have happened if I hadn’t walked in?”
Tears formed in my eyes. I never meant to get anyone in trouble. This day had started off so perfectly. Was Mrs. Evans going to send me home? What would she tell my mother?
Walter appeared in the hallway. “What’s going on?”
“I got mixed up!” I could feel the tears falling, but I didn’t care. It wasn’t the first time Walter had seen me cry.
“You’re half-naked!” Mrs. Evan’s voice reached us from down the hall.
Walter raised his eyebrows with a smirk. I just shook my head, crying harder. Walter pointed to his room. “Go wait for me. I’ll be right back.” I watched him head down the hall to join the shouting match.
Walter’s room looked a lot like his brother’s, but it definitely felt more like Walter. I saw the open bathroom door through a closet about the same size as Pat’s. This one had a shelf filled with folded cargo pants. I sat on a rich blue bedspread with lighter blue pillows and tried to calm down by looking around. The pale blue walls were filled with NeoGenesis posters. Walter’s computer, the one I had seen him use at school, was sitting on his desk. Tucked into the corner was a guitar.
Friday, December 29
(Author note: I am not sure what this journal entry should be about. Any suggestions? Leave a comment below.)
After Walter and I tied for first place, we decided to go home. When I mentioned swimming, everyone thought that sounded like a great idea. I went upstairs to get changed while Mom showed Melinda to the guest room. She was the last one on the pool deck.
I watched her walk to the edge slowly, having removed her brace from her foot. She left her crutches by the side of the pool and eased herself in. Walter ran towards the edge, cannonballing right over her head. I jumped in after him, although slightly to the side. I wasn’t positive I could clear her head. Meghan opted for a simple pencil dive.
The water was heavenly. I think Mom may have warmed it a little more than usual.
When Walter suggested a jumping contest, I couldn’t resist. The girls elected to judge from the stairs. Melinda seemed a little upset that she couldn’t join us, but she cheered us both on.
Walter and I devised six rounds: biggest splash, smallest splash, fanciest jump, silliest jump, backwards jump, and furthest jump. Somehow, it ended in a tie, so we tried to figure out a tiebreaker. We must have taken too long.
When we looked up to tell the girls what we had decided, they were no longer sitting on the stairs. Meghan was lounging on her floatie. What was the point of swimming if she was just going to fall asleep on an inflatable unicorn?
Melinda, meanwhile, was practicing her ballet at the edge of the pool. The first time I had seen her dance, she was a tap-dancing gingerbread cookie in a production of the Nutcracker. I knew she was an amazing dancer. The only other time I had seen her, she had been tap dancing while doing some serious thinking. It was an incredible sight, watching her keep perfect time with the music without even being aware of what she was doing.
I had never watched her do ballet. She was graceful and her movements were so fluid. Her eyes were closed, and she obviously had some music in her head as she stretched, using the edge of the pool as she would a barre.
“You’re drooling,” Walter whispered.
I splashed him and made a very rude suggestion. He ignored me, going off to swim laps away from Meghan. I went over to the speaker assistant thing Dad had bought Mom and no one ever used. I asked it to play ballet music.
Since Dad was a rock musician, every room in our house was wired with amazing surround sound. The music resonated throughout the pool deck. It was a familiar song, although I couldn’t quite place it. I went back to the stairs to watch Melinda.
She was facing the edge, holding on with both hands as she rhythmically made small jumps. That could not have been good for her ankle. She stopped jumping and looked around, smiling when she saw me.
I swam over to her, taking her in my arms. I wanted to be as close to her as possible. The charge I felt when touching her was so strong, my heart started being faster. I murmured into her ear.
“I thought you would like some music.”
She kept her voice just as low. “This is one of my favorites. How did you know?”
“I didn’t. I just asked the speaker assistant thing to play ballet music.”
Smiling, I started dancing with her, making small circles near the stairs. Her bathing suit had an open back with the straps crossed near the top. I ran my hand along her bare spine, thinking about how soft her skin felt under my fingers. My memory drifted to last week’s dream and my brain craved more of her.
Melinda rested her head on my chest. “I like this. It’s like the Snowflake Ball.”
I pulled her a little closer. When she looked at me, I kissed her, pulling her as close as I possibly could. My hands danced along her back, but it wasn’t enough. I needed more of her.
Lacing my fingers in her hair, I tried to pull her even closer. I grabbed a fist full of hair and kissed her greedily as my other hand slipped under the edge of her suit near the small of her back.
Melinda put her hands on my chest and pushed me away. I stared at her, trying to figure out what had just happened. Her eyes told me I had scared her. I was pretty sure she was upset with me, too.
Swearing, I dove under the water, resurfacing on the opposite edge of the pool. I swam long hard laps until my head was clear enough to have at least one rational thought.
I looked around. Melinda was gone. So was Walter. Meghan was floating blissfully. I called to her as I climbed out.
“I’m getting out. You’re alone. Don’t drown.”
Mom had a rule against swimming alone. Meghan chose to ignore it. She did, however, open her eyes and look at me as I toweled off.
“You okay? You sound upset.”
I knew she didn’t believe me. “Where is everyone?”
“Dunno. Don’t care.” I stomped towards the front entrance and stormed up the stairs. I usually showered after swimming to get rid of the chlorine. The cold shower had the added benefit of clearing my head a little more.
I stopped in my closet to throw on some jeans. When I heard a noise in my room, I grabbed a shirt at random and went to investigate.
Melinda was balancing on one foot just in front of my bed. Her crutches were splayed on the floor as if she had dropped them.
My eyes never left her as I crossed the room. I couldn’t read her expression. I bent to retrieve her crutches. “You’re not supposed to be here.”
As I stood, I remembered my dream and had a few wild ideas about why she might be standing by my bed. I handed her the crutches, coming closer. I tucked a hair behind her ear, my hand lingering on her cheek. “Why are you here?”
Mom bellowed from the doorway. “You’re not supposed to be in here!”
I jumped a mile and Melinda dropped her crutches again. She started stuttering as I again picked them up.
Mom pointed to the door. “Out!”
I gave Melinda her crutches, and she did her best to run away. Mom watched her leave before rounding on me.
“I told you she couldn’t be in here!” Mom might be tiny, but she has a fierce Irish temper. “What would have happened if I hadn’t walked in?”
“Nothing, Mom! I swear!”
“It didn’t look like nothing. You’re half-naked!”
I held up the shirt in my hands, still partially folded. “I was getting dressed, and I heard a noise. When I came to see what was going on, she was standing here. I didn’t have a chance to put my shirt on!”
“What was she doing here in the first place?”
“I don’t know! You kicked her out before I could ask her!” Okay. So, maybe I had a bit of an Irish temper, too.
“She was looking for me.” Walter was calm as he entered the room. I had to admit, it took guts walking into this firestorm.
Mom turned on him. “Why was she in here?”
“She got lost. She hasn’t been in this wing before. She got confused.”
Mom processed this information silently. “I don’t want the two of you alone together.” She turned to Walter. “She’s your friend. You are to stay with her at all times.”
Walter smiled. “Does that mean she’s having a sleepover in my room?”
Too soon, Walter. Too soon. Mom turned bright red. “She’s sleeping downstairs.” Garing at me, she stormed out of the room.
Walter followed her to the door, then shut it and turned back to me. He was no longer smiling. “What did you do?”
“Nothing! I came out of the shower and she was here.”
“And the pool?”
I swore. “Nothing. I can’t talk about this with you.” I returned to my closet to change my clothes. “Tell Melinda I’m going for a run.”
“Wear my cleats,” he called after me.
Melinda is always trying to build her vocabulary. What were some words in this episode that were new to you? She will add them to her vocabulary journal.