“Class, I’d like you all to meet a new student,” said the swimming instructor as Erik entered the large beige and gray tiled room with wide bright spotlights, lighting the room and massive ten-lane pool.
The instructor, a tall slender young man with long shaggy brown hair and small hazel eyes that faded as lines on his face when he smiled, wore red shorts with orange stripes on the side and a white T-shirt with leather strapped sandals. A bright orange whistle hung from a black cord around his neck and he held a clipboard in his hand.
Erik smiled nervously and gave his name, noting he stood out of place wearing his street clothes when everyone else wore swimming trunks and school issued T-shirts. He folded his arms across his chest when the instructor asked him if he had done any competitive swimming before.
“No, Mister Leland,” Erik answered, “I’ve never done any swimming much.”
“Man, a beginner!” a student loudly moaned. “Great!”
“I’m just as good as you guys!” Erik snapped back. “It’s not that hard, is it?”
“Well, go see my assistant to get you fitted into a pair of trunks,” Leland said. “When you get back, go to Indoor Pool Three. We’re doing laps.”
Erik left the room, heading into a small hall that lead to the locker rooms and found a door with Leland’s name on it. Knocking, he heard a gruff voice telling him to enter and Erik opened the door. “I was just told…” he began.
“Yeah, I know,” snapped the assistant hidden from view from the swamp of papers on the desk. Many trophies and medals lined the back of the room. “What’s your waist size?”
The assistant rose from his seat, headed into a cabinet and sifted through many articles of clothing, then tossed Erik a T-shirt with the school’s mascot on the back and a pair of shorts. A pair of swimming trunks followed.
“Don’t lose these,” he said sternly as Erik caught the trunks. “If you do, then you owe ten bucks apiece.” Erik nodded. “You get locker fourteen.”
Erik left the office, finding his locker already occupied. “I guess I’m sharing with someone,” he muttered and cleared the top shelf of the other student’s articles jammed inside along with books and papers.
Stripping out of his clothes, he folded them and placed them neatly on the top shelf then pulled into the trunks and T-shirt. Shutting the locker, he slipped into his sneakers and headed back out into the gym, searching for the pool area.
Entering a glass hallway, Erik found there were three large separate pool rooms with various colored tiles and holding different sized pools. One room had alternating blue and white tiles that held an eight-lane pool and the other with green and yellow tiles containing a six lane pool.
Finding the class grouped in the beige and grey room, he saw Leland shouting instructions to the other boys who were doing laps in the water. Erik approached one slender student who had shoulder-length dark red hair and cool green eyes. His face had three long dark thin scars across the right cheek.
“Hey,” Erik said brightly.
“Hey,” he answered back. “I’m Garcia Leuong.” He put his hands to his hips, rocking back and forth on the balls of his feet.
“Why aren’t you in the water?” Erik asked.
“I’m not here for the sport. I just swim because it’s a favorite thing of mine.” Garcia turned to him. “Coach says you swim okay.”
“That’s right.” Erik crossed his arms.
“Lose the kicks. I wanna see if you can really be a fish.”
“Oh, alright.” Erik slipped out of his shirt and shoes and then headed for an empty lane. Before he could take a breath, a violent shove threw him in. Erik quickly surfaced, glaring at Garcia grinning madly down at him. “Have you lost it today?” Erik yelled. Leland approached them both.
“What’s the matter, boys?” he asked.
“He claims he’s not a good swimmer,” Garcia protested. “He came up like it was nothing!”
“What?” Leland scratched his head, appearing puzzled.
“If he wasn’t a good swimmer, he’d be flailing his arms and throwing up water!” Garcia pointed to Erik accusingly. “He’s trying to downplay it all; he wants my medals!”
“What?” Erik sputtered, treading water. “I didn’t even sign up for this class; someone else decided what I was taking!”
“I don’t recall you in my class before.”
“I guess my dad talked to you about my skills on the lake and wanted this class to reinforce my skills.”
“What’s his name?”
“John Greenfield…?” Leland’s face blanched, and then he cleared his throat loudly. “Do you do any diving?” he asked instead.
“What’s with that look?” Erik wondered.
“Well…?” Leland pressed.
“A little,” Erik answered sheepishly. “Why do you ask?”
“Get out and come over to the board. No cannons, okay?”
Erik sighed, wiping the hair out of his eyes. “That can’t be right,” he thought. “I don’t remember, yet…!”
Maybe it was planted…
Erik swam to the edge of the pool to lift himself out and Garcia glared down at him viciously.
“Why aren’t your eyes red?” he snapped, kicking Erik back by the shoulder.
Erik clenched his teeth as he gripped the edge to keep from falling back in. “You seem smart,” he said caustically as he hoisted himself up. “Figure it out.”
“The chlorine makes everyone’s eyes red!”
“So?” Erik got to his feet and shrugged his shoulders. “Big deal.” He followed the instructor Leland to the diving board, feeling Garcia’s burning gaze at his back. “Why isn’t the chlorine bothering me?” Erik mused after realizing most of the other students clustered in the room wore goggles and grew immediately sick in the pit of his stomach. “What is it about me…?”
“Class, for those that are still in the pool ought to get out. We’re going to do a diving test,” Leland announced. “Those that are interested, line up behind Mister Leuong. Those who aren’t sit on the edge of the pool and don’t horse around!”
Erik looked up at the ladder that led to the springboard. “What could I have possibly done to tick Garcia off?” he muttered.
“Oh, before I forget,” continued Leland, pointing a pen in his direction. “How deep can you swim?”
“I’m not sure,” Erik replied nervously. “I don’t know how deep the lake really is…”
Putting his hands to his hips, Erik waited to see if anyone else were going to take the diving test as well. He found to his dismay that he alone stood the only one.
“I’m assuming that you can do more than five feet. Now, please, climb up the ladder for me.” Erik did as told. “Whenever you’re ready, just dive in, Mister Hart.”
Erik looked down at Garcia who fumed in silent anger. “What is his problem?” he thought, and then turned to the water, looking down at the true blue color.
Erik backed up and then ran forward. Diving in with a splash, he swam to the edge of the pool and surfaced; tapping the edge, then swam back quickly and grabbed the edge of the other side. Erik came up for air, finding shocked looks on Leland’s face and the other students.
“No way!” a student said in awe.
“What,” Erik asked, “did I do something wrong?”
“Are you sure you never took diving lessons before?” Leland asked and Erik shook his head, afraid to answer. “Don’t be so modest!”
“Well…” Erik’s face burned as he answered. “The lake at the vacation house in Lost Valley was too shallow for dive bombing.”
Is that so…?
“He did!” Garcia howled. “He’s trying to take my medals!”
“I don’t want anything!” Erik yelled back.
“You just performed a somersault with a half-gainer,” Leland said in a matter-of-fact tone as he clicked his pen. “That’s a diving technique.” He wrote a note down on a sheet attached to his clipboard.
“Listen, I don’t want to join the team!” Erik snapped as he pulled himself out the water. “I’m just here to take this lousy class and try to get a decent grade!” He stormed to where his sneakers and discarded shirt lay and retrieved them, slipping his feet into his shoes and pulled into his shirt. “If that’s too much for you all, then I won’t be returning to class tomorrow!”
“He’s trying to take everything I’ve earned!” Garcia screamed as Erik stormed out for the locker rooms. “I’ve worked hard for this!”
“Shut up, Leuong!” a student snapped.
“He’s gonna show you up good, Leuong!” Gay laughter followed.
“Shut up!” Garcia screeched. The door to the locker rooms swung shut behind Erik.
Coming out of his trunks, he squeezed all the water out of them in the showers. The material dried rather quickly after a few wrings with his hands and Erik slipped out of his gym shirt, heading for locker fourteen.
“Hey!” Garcia yelled, “They gave you my locker!” Erik cried out in surprise and jumped back, quickly throwing the shirt in front of himself.
“Some warning would’ve been nice!” Erik snapped as his face burned bright red.
“I don’t care if you don’t have clothes on,” Garcia screeched. “I’m still better than you!”
“Either hand me my clothes or get out of here!”
“No way,” Garcia grumbled, “I’m not doing a damn thing for you, Hotshot!” He clenched his hands, baring his teeth at Erik. “You think you’re so great, trying to pretend you suck and then show off!”
“I’m not really trying that hard!” Erik protested. “Please, I just want to grab my clothes and go home!”
“Stop lying to me!” Garcia stormed out of the locker room.
Erik puffed a hard sigh and approached his locker, immediately changing into his clothing. While tying up his sneakers, Garcia returned with a metal bar and swung at him, striking Erik across the shoulder. Erik stumbled back and held his shoulder in mute shock when the bar twisted and part of it shattered from contact. Garcia dropped it as if it was hot and shock shadowed his face.
“Why are you trying to hurt me?” Erik yelled and shrugged his shoulder, checking for breaks. He gasped when he registered no pain and nothing had become dislocated. “How can that happen?” Erik thought, taken aback. “A bar that heavy--!”
“I was making sure you didn’t join the team,” Garcia snapped, “but I see you’re taking Junk! I’ll let the coach know for sure!”
“Taking what?” Erik grumbled as he grabbed his assigned clothes. “I don’t know what you’re talking about!”
“You’re not slow in the head, Hotshot, now come on!”
Garcia suddenly laughed at Erik’s apparent lack of knowledge on the subject. “Whether or not,” he crowed, “I’m making your life hell!”
“Whatever you’re talking about, I’m not taking it!” Erik pushed Garcia back by the chest and Garcia quickly backed up, clenching his hands. “I’m not taking anything!” he said evenly. “Just leave me alone, Garcia; I am no different from you!”
“Is that so, Hotshot?”
“So what if I can swim better than you can? I’m not planning on joining the lousy team anyway!”
Garcia’s smug expression turned stony. “Oh yeah?” he snapped as Erik stomped past him. “What are you trying to say, huh? That you’re one of those freaks?”
“You’re not worth my time!” Erik grumbled, leaving the locker room. “You can’t prove I’m taking any Junk,” he called over his shoulder, “even if you could!”
“I’m onto you!” Garcia shrieked.
“What is with him?” Erik muttered as he headed upstairs.