I couldn’t keep myself away from the Monument pool. All that next week, I watched the Marlins do their swim practice every day, heartsick and mesmerized at the same time. I’d pick someone out and imagine it was me instead, swimming back and forth in the lane, counting strokes, executing perfect flip turns. It got so I almost believed if somebody had told me to jump in, I’d actually be able to swim.
Each afternoon, that lime green permission form sat on the bleachers next to me. I’d already filled the whole darn thing out except for the signature line. More than once,
I put my pen to the paper, almost signing Momma’s name. But each time I chickened out, whether outta fear or just knowing it was plain wrong, I wasn’t sure. But it made me crazy—that form just lying there, so close, so full of possibilities.
I avoided Jenna, thinking I was being real careful nobody saw me. I couldn’t see that I musta stuck out like nobody’s business—sitting there in the bleachers all alone, watching the Mighty Marlins swim.
On Friday, I musta been in a particularly dreamy mood. I had my eyes closed, and was sitting listening to the splash, splash, splash of the swimmers finished their laps, when all of a sudden everything got real quiet. When I quick opened my eyes, I saw that the pool was empty—and there was Jenna, standing no more than two feet away.
“Hi,” Jenna said, towel drying her shoulder length hair. “You changin’ your mind about joinin’? Tryouts are next week.”
It took me a few seconds to understand.
“Me? No—no, I don’t think so.” I could hear the shakiness in my own voice but Jenna didn’t seem to notice. She just nodded. “Well—you can’t beat the group of kids if you change your mind.”
She started to walk towards the showers, then stopped and called back. “Oh—I keep forgettin’ to tell you—I’m havin’ a birthday party. Next Saturday, six o’clock—it’d be nice if you could come.” Standing there, all dripping wet, Jenna looked smaller. “Well, lemme know. Okay?”
“Oh—sorry!” I jumped up, realizing I was giving her the wrong message. ‘I mean, yes!
I need to ask, but I’d love to come.”
A big smile lit up Jenna’s face. “Great!”
Crystal would be okay letting me go, I was sure of it. Excited, I started gathering up my stuff when Jenna called my name again.
“I forgot to tell you—,” she called back, “It’s a swim party! Right here. See ya!”
Jenna’s words echoed across the almost empty pool deck as she waved and disappeared into the showers. I watched her go and felt my body sink slowly back down onto the bleachers, like it had a mind of its own.
Great. Now what was I gonna do? Never mind that I’d lied and told Jenna I could swim—I couldn’t even go and make some excuse to not go in the water, because I didn’t even own a swimsuit. I watched the last of the Mighty Marlins head to the showers, mad at myself for being so powerless. Every single person who’d just climbed outta the pool was wearing a swimsuit—it wasn’t like they were rare or anything.
But they cost money, and where was I supposed to get enough to buy one in a week’s time? And what about a birthday present? Slumping into one of the ratty chairs in the waiting area, I tried to puzzle out what to do next. It felt like I had the weight of the world working against me. At the desk, the rec staff was busy handing out basketballs and answering questions. The soft pong pong of a table tennis game drifted in from the next room. Crystal’s words about swimming costing money came back to me. How stupid I felt now.
“You got a home, girl or you lookin’ for a job?”
That voice. I froze and looked up into Perry’s golden-flecked eyes.
“Gimme a hand here, will ya?” he said, dragging behind him a big round bin piled full to overflowing.
“Sure,” I mumbled, swallowing. Jumping up, I pushed a wire rack holding magazines outta the way to make space. “What is all that?”
“This? Lost & Found—mostly lost,” he laughed. “It ain’t even November yet, and we’re full.” Perry struggled to wedge the bin into place between the vending machine and the bulletin board counter. “There.” He straightened up and took a few steps back. “Whew. Thanks. Okay, I got another load in the back.” He turned and disappeared behind the staff counter.
I tiptoed closer and peered in at the jumbled contents of the bin, jammed full with everything under the sun—clothes, hats, sneakers—even flip-flops.
I remembered once losing my gloves at Cheatham. When I went to reclaim them at the office, I’d caught a glimpse of labeled boxes and clothes hanging neatly on a rack all organized by type. Here, everything was just thrown together in one big heap. Kids must have to rummage through that whole bin to find something they lost, even if they knew what they was looking for.
I leaned closer and pushed some stuff aside. My hand hit something hard. Goggles.
I dug further down past flip-flops and sneakers. How could people just forget this stuff? I didn’t understand how you could leave minus the sneakers you wore when you arrived.
“Looking for somethin’ particular?”
I pulled my head and hands outta that bin like they were on fire. Perry waited, another big load of lost items in his arms.
“If you lost somethin’ we’d better fish it out now before I dump more in.” He watched me, a funny expression on his face.
“It was Jenna—,” I lied. “She lost a sweatshirt, uh, navy blue, with a hood,” I said, thinking as I talked.
“Well, if she lost it today, it’d be here. I just did the daily sweep.” He shifted stuff around in his arms. “I don’t see it. Lots of swimsuits though, and a couple of pairs of those fancy swim pants the boys wear,” he laughed.
“I think she lost a swimsuit, too.” The words came out of my mouth so quick I couldn’t stop ‘em.
“What color?” Perry didn’t even raise his eyes. A rainbow of colors flashed by as he dumped the new load of clothes into the bin.
“Red and black,” I blurted out.
“This it?” Perry reached in and pulled out a swirly-pattered, one-piece red and black swimsuit. My heart fluttered as I reached out to take it from him. It looked my size not Jenna’s, but Perry didn’t notice.
“So—how things settlin’ out with—” Perry started to ask but I cut him off, mumbling something about my sister yelling up a storm if I didn’t get home quick. Desperate to get away, I whirled around too quick, not looking where I was going, and crashed into none other than Earlene.
“Hey! Watch where you goin’!” she yelled, throwing up her arms and scowling at me.
“Sorry—I’m—I’m sorry.” The swimsuit flew outta my hands and dropped to the floor.
I scrambled to pick it up but now it was stuck under Earlene’s sneaker. I pulled at a loose edge but Earlene’s foot stiffened.
“Give her a break, Earlene. She just gettin’ Jenna her suit—” Perry said.
“Jenna?” Earlene looked down at the floor and squinted. “That little thing? I don’t think so—” She took her sweet time moving aside.
The suit came loose under her foot and I grabbed to scoop it up, not waiting to hear the rest. I didn’t need anybody like Earlene to tell me claiming this swimsuit as my own was just shy of stealing—it was stealing.
I dashed outside, stuffing the red and black swimsuit into my backpack. As I ran, my thoughts were tick-tocking back and forth just like the swimmers doing laps—one part feeling guilty somebody would be missing their suit, the other reasoning instead that whoever was careless enough to lose it probably had three or four others like it at home.
Besides, I could return it after I got one of my own—that would make everything alright. Then it wouldn’t be stealing any more….would it?
I knew I was getting myself deeper and deeper in trouble but by the time I got home I’d convinced myself what I’d done was justified. By Monday, when I opened my planner and spied “Integrity” as the “Word of the Week,” I didn’t even blink. I’d done such a good job of pushing whatever little-bitty part of me still had doubts as to right and wrong so far down inside I could barely hear its voice calling to me at all.