Mannequins and Poolies

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Young Adult  |  House: Booksie Classic

Rich and poor teenagers collide on the deck of a country club pool. They find out first impressions don’t tell the whole story.

July 11, 2018 – Glenview, Illinois, USA

The Meadowbrook Country Club parking lot rarely saw drama.  Politeness and constrained driving were the norm.  So when a BMW filled with teenage girls almost collided with a club employee on a bicycle, the skidding tires caught lots of attention from members arriving for midweek brunch.

Zach Dabrowski was riding the bike that came within inches of being mangled.  He should have been easy to see.  He wore red lifeguard shorts and a white tank top.  A few moments after the near collision, after Zach had taken a few breaths and realized he was unhurt, he leaned over and banged on the BMW’s hood.

“Watch out!  You almost killed me!” Zach yelled, glaring at the girls in the car.

Valeria, who was behind the wheel, sat frozen with shock and embarrassment.  She and her friends were in casual swimwear and anticipating the country club’s pool deck.  They were not looking for a confrontation.  Valeria was happy to stay quiet and hope that Zach simply pedaled away after blowing off some steam.  But Megan, sitting next to her, took personally Zach’s pounding on the BMW.

“Keep your hands off the car!” Megan yelled out her window.

“I’ll touch it if I want!” Zach yelled back.

“You better chill out or I’ll call security!”

“Go ahead.  I’m friends with the guys in security.”

“Why am I not surprised?  Just move already so you’re not late for your stupid job.”

Zach and Megan exchanged angry gestures until he stuck his foot on the BMW’s bumper and kicked away, rolling toward the country club’s outdoor pool.  Under his breath, he cursed the girls for being so selfish and brainless.  They were perfect examples of the club members he liked to call “mannequins”.  They laid around all day, useless and thoughtless, like pieces of plastic.

Inside the BMW, Megan turned to Valeria and noticed she was still shaken up.  “Don’t worry about it, Val.  You didn’t hit him.”

“I don’t know what happened.  I wasn’t going very fast.  Suddenly he was right in front of me.”

“It’s not your fault.  He should have been paying closer attention,” said Cassidy from the backseat.  “Don’t let him bother you.  He can’t do anything.  You know he’s only a poolie.”

“Poolie” was the term the girls liked to use for the young country club employees who showed up in the summer to clean the pool and mow the lawns.  Valeria took a deep breath to calm down and then steered the BMW into an open parking spot.

Zach left his bike near the iron fence that surrounded the entire pool complex.  He walked into the small office reserved for the lifeguards and greeted the head guard who had been there since very early in the morning.

“Anything weird today?” asked Zach.

“Same old stuff,” replied the other guard.

Zach grabbed a whistle and life preserver and headed for the first stop in the chair rotation.  He had been doing the job for three summers and knew the routine well.  When he reached the tall chair closest to the deep end of the main pool, he waited for the guard sitting in the chair to climb down.  Then he climbed up while keeping his eyes on the water below.  In fifteen minutes, he would rotate to the chair on the shallow side of the main pool and after that to the spots next to the wading pool.  Then he would get a break before doing it all again.

The sun was bright and hot.  The tall chair came equipped with a shade umbrella and Zach leaned so that he was mostly covered.  He was primarily there as a nanny to make sure kids did not act stupid or dangerous on the diving boards.  He blew his whistle occasionally to remind them he was watching.  The hardest part of the job was not falling asleep.  That was the reason for the position switch every fifteen minutes.  Jumping in the water was rare.  Rescues happened maybe twice during the entire summer.

From his vantage point in the chair, Zach had a good view of all the swimmers and those who were there to simply lay in the sun.  He spotted Valeria, Megan, and Cassidy in three lounge chairs between the main and wading pools.  That was their usual spot.  The only time they moved was to order food and charge it to their parents’ accounts.  Sometimes they walked around to show off their tans or say hi to other mannequins.  Zach and the other lifeguards never worried about them because they avoided getting wet the same way they avoided work.

Down on the pool deck, Valeria had positioned her chair to the perfect angle.  Through her sunglasses, she had a good view of the water and the entrance gate.  Megan was just returning from a trip to the concession stand.

“They’re out of Diet Coke right now,” Megan announced.  “Since we said we aren’t supposed to be drinking our calories, I brought us some waters instead.”  She passed around the water bottles.

“They’re only out of Diet Coke or is the whole machine broken?” asked Cassidy.

“I dunno.  You can ask them yourself,” replied Megan.  She gestured toward the earbuds Valeria was wearing.  “What are you listening to?”

“Just some music.  New stuff.  We can share if you want.”

Megan shook her head like she was not interested.  Valeria closed her eyes and enjoyed the feeling of the warm sun on her arms and legs.  This was probably her favorite place in the entire world.  She loved the smell of the flowers and the pool water and how hummingbirds buzzed over her head.  She loved lying next to Megan and Cassidy and how they could share anything that came to mind.  They talked about parents and clothes, food and movies.  There was no pressure.  Everyone around her was beautiful, or at least trying to be beautiful.  If the rest of Valeria’s life could be spent like summers at the country club, she would be content. 

Valeria was laughing at something on Cassidy’s phone when Zach rotated to the lifeguard station closest to the wading pool.  He strolled slowly in his flipflops, glancing between the water and the girls on the lounge chairs.  His eyes lingered noticeably on Valeria.  When he was close enough to hear, Megan called in Valeria’s direction.

“Val, he’s staring again.  That poolie definitely has a thing for you.”

Zach instantly looked away and pretended not to hear.

Valera had to say something in return, so she replied to Megan with, “Creepy.  As if he has a chance with me.” 

Zach heard Valeria but he did not flinch.  He casually continued through the exchange at the next poolside chair.  Then he sat mostly facing away from the girls.  It was true that he had been eyeing Valeria.  She was cute and had a nice shape.  He liked her brown eyes and bright teeth.  Sometimes he thought she might not be as brainless as the other mannequins, but her latest reaction proved it was not true.  Not to mention that she had almost run him over without even thinking of an apology.  His years at the country club had taught him he did not want to get mixed up girls like her.

Behind her sunglasses, Valeria let her eyes slide toward Zach.  He had been with the pool since her very first visit.  She had been watching him for a long time.  He looked good in his uniform and comfortable in the lifeguard chair, but she did not know his name.  She had no idea if he had a sense of humor or if he liked her kind of music.  He talked to the other guards but never to the guests.

Maybe Valeria did not mind so much that Zach was staring at her.  Valeria imagined she and Zach exchanging phone numbers.  But she could already hear Megan mocking her for liking a poolie.  If Valeria was going to be interested in a boy, she should want someone who could afford to take her to nice places.  He needed to understand nice clothes.  He should live in a house that looked and felt like the country club.  She could appreciate that Zach was a hard worker and probably had lots of potential, but lots of guys had potential.  She did not want to wait around for potential.

Sometime after noon, Megan returned to the concession stand.  She brought back iced coffees and smoothies.  Cassidy asked again about Diet Coke and then another group of girls joined them on the lounge chairs.  Later, Megan got a text which interrupted their sleepy, poolside mirage.

“Guys, we gotta go,” she said, staring at her phone.

“What for?” asked Cassidy.

“My mom’s taking me shopping.  I forgot to tell you.”

After some grumbling, the three girls shuffled across the pool deck in slow motion.  They dragged their flip flops over the hot pavement of the parking lot and found the BMW.  Zach had finished his shift and was leaving at the same time.  He found himself being trailed by the BMW’s front bumper all the way to the country club exit.

“Ram into the back of him,” Megan urged Valeria with a laugh.

“No, I’m not doing that,” cried Valeria.

“Then how about just bumping him a little?” said Megan.  She leaned over and pressed on the horn.

Zach swiveled his head backward, looking annoyed.  Valeria pointed toward Megan, who doubled over in laughter.

“He’s gonna follow you home with a gun someday,” Valeria said to her friend.

Valeria slowed down the BMW until Zach was well out of sight.  Then she carefully drove to Cassidy’s house and dropped her off.  From there, she drove to Megan’s mini-mansion and pulled the car into the garage.  She and Megan got out and Valeria handed Megan the keys.

“I don’t think my mom can come get me right now.  Can your mom drop me off?” asked Valeria.

Megan acted put out, but she said, “I’ll ask her.”

Valeria followed Megan into the kitchen, feeling embarrassed about asking for a ride.  She had a driver’s license but not a car of her own.  Since Megan’s license had been suspended for reckless driving, it was Valeria who drove Megan’s BMW around if she could find a way over to Megan’s house.  It was too far to walk.  She had ridden her bike a couple of times, but she hated arriving all sweaty and with messed up hair.

When Megan’s mom appeared, she was wearing sunglasses and taking long strides through the house.  Megan asked about giving Valeria a ride and her mom replied with, “I suppose,” while letting out a frustrated huff.

Valeria sat in the back of a second BMW as they drove to the potholed streets of a more modest neighborhood.  As soon as they reached Valeria’s split-level home, she jumped from the back of the car and yelled thank you.  She did not want to linger and give Megan and her mom more time to pass judgment on her house and neighbors.  A carpet cleaning van was parked in Valeria’s driveway.  She ran across the overgrown grass to the front door.  Her dad stood there waiting for her.

“I need you to help me with a cleaning job,” he said to Valeria.

“I thought you had Rico helping you.”

“He’s busy and it’s a big job.  Big house.  It’s gotta be you.”

Valeria knew there was not use complaining.  She had heard a million lectures about how carpet cleaning put food on the table and if she wanted to eat, she would have to help.  She would inevitably spend the rest of the afternoon and evening hauling hoses around.

Closer to the country club, Zach had reached his home and pedaled up the semicircular, cobblestone driveway, which was surrounded by a landscaped lawn.  He left his bike hanging in the multi-car garage, next to his Jeep.  He preferred taking his bike to the country club because it was convenient, and it spared the Jeep from baking in the sun all day.

The lifeguarding job did not start off as his idea.  As soon as he was fifteen, his dad had signed him up for it.  His dad was a big believer in working and making something of yourself.  That was how he remembered his childhood and he expected the same thing from his son.

Zach had learned it was pointless to argue.  He wanted to keep his Jeep around and keep getting an allowance in addition to his paycheck, so he put in his time at the country club.  Being a lifeguard was easy.  He mostly had to show up and sit there.

“Shouldn’t you be the head lifeguard by now?” his dad kept asking him.

“Nah, I’m not really interested,” was Zach’s usual reply.

“I’m not sure lifeguarding is challenging you enough,” Zach’s dad told him.  “Maybe you should find a job that makes you think more.”

“But I like the pool,” said Zach.  It was not really true, but he was afraid of alternative jobs his dad might find for him.  They were sure to involve getting bossed around by old dudes.

After leaving the garage, Zach walked into the immense kitchen and found his mom unwrapping packages on the marble topped island in the middle of the room.  Zach walked to the refrigerator and pulled open both doors.

“How was work?  What are you up to for the rest of the day?” asked his mom with a distracted voice.

“I gotta meet some friends.”

“Oh yeah?  What friends?”

Before Zach could answer, the doorbell rang.  “Can you get that?” asked his mom.  “It should be the carpet cleaners.  They’ll know what to do if you let them in.”

Zach walked across the polished stone entryway and pulled open the door.  Standing on the porch was a middle-aged man in coveralls.  Behind him was a teenage girl, also wearing coveralls which were too big for her.  As soon as she saw Zach, she ducked her head in embarrassment.

“We’re here for the carpets,” said the man.

“Yeah, my mom says to come in.”

The man in the coveralls noticed that Zach and his daughter recognized each other.  “You know my daughter?  You two go to school together or something?”

Zach replied with a half grin.  “No, but I’ve seen her a few times.  At the pool.  That’s kind of a different world.  I’m Zach, by the way.”

“Nice to meet you, I’m Jake,” said the carpet cleaning man.

Valeria awkwardly raised her eyes.  “And most people call me Val.”

“Hey Val.  Looks like your dad has you working this summer too.”

 

For more stories like this one, including audio versions, please visit 500ironicstories.com


Submitted: July 02, 2022

© Copyright 2022 Aaron Hawkins. All rights reserved.

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