The stucco of the pale blue diving board scratched the bottom of Maddie’s feet as she stood on the edge. She eyed the crowd of sunbathers and mother’s basking in each other’s summer gossip for her best friend. There she was—all legs and a haze of nut-brown tanned arms waving furiously up at her. Maddie breathed out, jumped up, and flew down. The moment right after she reaches the water is what she liked best. It was quiet. The chlorinated world muffled everything above it and muddled the silhouettes of everyone standing over her—toes curled over the ceramic pool tiles and ice cream cones dripping over Band-Aid hands—into fuzzy mirages. She pushed off the bottom and emerged from the noiseless underbelly of McPherson pool to be greeted by Lindsay’s outstretched hand.
“Come on,” she ushered Maddie out of the water and back to their outstretched towels. A supply of chips and freezies had been safely packed in a cooler by Maddie’s mom that morning and due diligently encouraged to be kept in the shade. She sat cross legged as she tore open a pink freezie with her teeth and ignored the small cut the tough plastic always made at the corner of her lips. “Want one?” she asked Lindsay.
“No thanks,” Lindsay replied. The pool was a maze of lawn chairs that had emerged from the hidden corners of people’s garage’s at the first sign of sun—soon to be mournfully carried back to their respective alcoves when school started in a week— discarded flip-flops, and chewed up noodles. Three summers ago they were finally allowed to go to the pool by themselves. Maddie had crashed her bike on the way there, popping a tire, and leaving her in a dismantled clump of torn jeans by a speedbump. Against Lindsay’s advice, she had refused to go home and the two of them pushed the disheveled bicycle the rest of the way. Lindsay carried most of the weight with Maddie leaning on her arm and limping blissfully into an afternoon of independence. When they got home, Maddie’s mother took her to the hospital and scolded her as the doctor sewed six stiches on a right angle into her knee. She smiled the whole way through. Lindsay called later that night and they snorted into the telephone while watching syndicated episodes of All That. That’s just the way it was.
“He’s coming over here,” Lindsay said in a hushed voice. Her face went a splotchy shade of red as she quickly lay down on her towel. “Who?” Maddie asked, throwing her head back and slurping the last of her freezie. She gulped the remaining bit of syrup in time to see Shawn approaching. Shawn was fourteen, he parents spelt his name with a ‘W’ rather than an ‘EA’ to try and distract from his otherwise un-remarkableness. To the on looking adult he was gangly and awkward and had stubborn ingrown sprouts of facial hair. To Lindsay, he was God personified.
Shawn sat down beside Lindsay, knees folded into his chest and his skinny concave frame hugging his legs. He nodded at Maddie, who waved back. This was the most they had ever interacted and she could feel her face going flush. Suddenly it felt weird to sit. “Hey Linds,” Shawn said. Lindsay had closed her eyes under her sunglasses and turned her face up towards the sun, her shoulders pressed back and chin pressed forward a little too much—an air of indignation that had only appeared on her repertoire of faces in the last year or so. Maddie watched Shawn’s eyes and the way they kind of ogled over Lindsay’s body contently, like watching a watching a balloon float away, tracing it rising into the blue canvas sky as it ebbs and flows in curvy ascent. His eyes landed on the sharp corners of her hipbones peaking out like anatomical mountaintops from the waistline of her bikini. She pressed her hands against them, arching her back with a heavy sigh before flipping onto her front. Maddie looked down at her own hips and squeezed her sides. They were soft. The contours were round and forgiving, not angular and acute like Lindsay’s. She looked down the barrel of her nose and eyed her belly button with a newfound disdain. Last summer was the first time she had worn a two-piece to the pool—because now it mattered if you were a two-piece or not. Persuaded by Lindsay’s reflection in the Sears mirror she had been encouraged and convinced it looked good. “That blue is such a nice colour,” she had said. Now it looked out of place and taught, it cut into her thighs and the top’s straps kept falling off her shoulders. It was like a top-coat of paint that didn’t cover the walls quite right. She laid down on to her stomach.
“So I was thinking,” Shawn continued, his gaze undeterred, “Do you usually walk to school? Are you walking next week? Wanna walk together?” His questions rattled off one after the other not waiting for a reply, getting it all out while he could, in a hurry of courage. “Linds and I usually walk together to school,” Maddie chimed in. Lindsay turned to her annoyed, “Yeah, but we won’t be going the same way anymore. The high school is closer to my street so it doesn’t make sense. I’ll walk with you Shawn.” He muttered a cool and walked off.
The girls packed up their towels, donned a set of oversized t-shirts, and grabbed the cooler out from under the shade, exposing its porcelain white plastic to the blazing elements, charring the sugary insides.
Standing near their lockers after lunch Lindsay told Maddie that she gave Shawn head last week. There was a group of four girls, Maddie, Lindsay, Sara, and Melissa. Melissa wore too much make-up and sweat it all off in gym class to the embarrassment of her teacher who had to keep thinking of creative ways to explain that gym was not the best place to wear runny eyeliner. Sara didn’t believe in zippers, she was well-endowed with a set of cleavage that sprouted last summer and was happy to show it off. Lindsay’s legs had grown into the rest of her body and she was now proportionally exceptional. The three of them had persuaded Maddie to steal handfuls of lip glosses and sample concealers from London Drugs which she now wore on and off in a cosmetic blend of guilt and excitement. Like a Catholic at confession. Sara and Melissa screeched and whispered various high pitched WHATS in enthusiasm to Lindsay’s big news. Maddie wrestled her books out of her locker and looked at her friend. While she was smiling and explaining how it happened, all Maddie could wonder was if Mrs. Sherman had been home. “Was your mom there?” she asked. The chatter stopped. “Well, no. I mean, she was in the kitchen I guess but we were in my basement.” Lindsay replied. “Oh,” Maddie nodded, “I think you still have my toboggan down there.”
Maddie was late again. She had taken off during lunch to buy cigarettes and time had gone by too fast. Her jacket smelled of smoke and her throat hurt. She still hadn’t gotten used to smoking, but it was social and had a purpose. Buy, smoke, talk, laugh, stub, walk. She slipped into the back row of seats and pulled out her portfolio. Pages of thick parchment were covered in pencil sketches and charcoal rubbings of blurry faces and distinguished portraits. She etched a freckle onto the face of a girl and rubbed pencil shavings into her dark hair. Maddie had found art by accident. She dropped out of Biology because she couldn’t keep up and transferred into Mr. Walker’s class. He was short and pudgy and wore a set of thick round glasses that hid his green eyes. He offered Maddie abstract pieces of advice and obscure art analogies for life, like, there’s only one sharpener and a box full of pencils. Maddie would laugh under her breath but go back to her desk and wonder if she was the sharpener or the pencil. She could never come up with an answer. Today, he came back and tapped her on the shoulder. “If you’re late again I won’t be able to give you your scholarship,” he said. Maddie rolled her eyes, he winked, and she went back to drawing a world of faces she would never meet.
Lindsay sat at the front with her usual troupe of girls who wiped the seats off before sitting on them and took black and white photographs of chain link fences for group projects. Sometimes she would turn around and her and Maddie would lock eyes for a few seconds until one of them looked away.
Tequila is for the strong at heart and the weak in peer pressure. This is what Maddie was thinking as she stumbled to the bathroom in a house she had never been to before. It was one of those kinds of parties when someone throws up in the sink and it clogs and suddenly everyone is a plumber, arguing over plunger protocol or yelling, “Don’t worry about it!” because cleaning at a party sounds counterintuitive. Maddie tried the locked door handle and knocked loudly, there was a muffled scramble across the tile floor and the door creeped half-open, blocked by the bunched up teal bathroom mat on the ground. Lindsay sat leaning against the bathtub.
“Madssssss,” she looked up at Maddie and slurred a series of sauced S’s together. “Hey Linds,” Maddie walked in and closed the door behind her, “fun night?” Lindsay smiled, eyes half closed into thin slits like blinds that won’t open in the right way. “We’re graduating,” she sighed, “and I hear you are an artist.” Maddie sat down beside her friend who cracked her knuckles, always picked her nail polish off, and made running look fun. “That’s what they tell me,” she replied. “Always ‘they’, never ‘us’,” Lindsay replied slouching over the ceramic tub edge. “I guess so,” Maddie added. “You know what,” Lindsay paused and stared at the framed needle point picture hanging on the adjacent wall with the phrase, Don’t Distress, Keep the Mess, “Sara and Melissa are dumb,” and puked into the toilet.
Maddie handed her a wad of Kleenex to wipe her mouth, “Why do you hang out with them then?” she asked. “They never ask me, ‘and?’” Lindsay answered, “I tell my mom I joined soccer and she goes, ‘and?’, or I tell teachers I get pretty good marks and they go, ‘and?’, or I put out for Robbie and he looks at me like, ‘and?’ Sara and Melissa never ask me that. They don’t think about adding anything else to what already is.” She closed her eyes and rested her head on Maddie’s shoulder. Maddie reached over and pulled her hair back into a messy ponytail and tucked the few straggling strands behind her hair. She grabbed her under the armpits and helped her to her feet. Lindsay bent forward and sniffed her t-shirt, “Do you smoke?”
They walked home together, a mess of arms and shoulders and unbuttoned cardigans that managed to not be left behind on the back of chairs. Maddie’s frizzy hair was caught in a perpetual tangle of wind and summer humidity. It was June and the pool would be opening soon. Lindsay tried to mount a slight sidewalk curb and broke the strap on her sandal; she bent down to fix it – MacGyver style. She twisted and fumbled with the leather strap until finally she tripped and fell apart over the thing she was trying to hold together and landed roughly on the concrete. The bottoms of her palms were scraped raw from the asphalt and her left knee was cut into a bloody crescent moon. Maddie bent down and took her shoes off her feet, held them in her hands, and helped her up. She balanced Lindsay on her hip and they started to walk again. Later that night they would snort together in laughter as they watched syndicated episodes of All That until they fell asleep. The next day they would return to school, pretending they didn’t know what the other one looked like while they were dreaming.