Read an Excerpt
Before she could chicken out, Grace took three quick steps forward and jumped.
Her arms flew over her head as she drove her left knee up. She hit the board, then propelled her body up, up, up into the air. As she bent forward, her hips rose above her head and her arms reached for her toes. For a fraction of a second, her body was completely weightless, high above the water at the top of her dive. Then whoosh—she unfolded her legs, straightened her body, and reached for the water that was rushing up to meet her. Down she plunged, deep into the sapphire-blue water. Under here it was another place, a Blue World, muffled, safe, her own private domain.
She swam underwater all the way to the wall. Then she popped to the surface, shook the water from her eyes, and pulled herself out of the pool. She headed over to her chair, where her friend Jaci, wearing huge sunglasses, was reclining and reading a book. Grace glanced down at the book as she grabbed her towel. “You’re reading our Spanish textbook over Memorial Day weekend?”
Jaci shrugged, set down the book, and shimmied up to a sitting position. “We have a vocab quiz tomorrow, remember?”
“Well, I choose to forget, just for a couple of days, how bad I am at Spanish. Every time I ask Ms. Pereira to explain something to me, she answers me in Spanish.”
“Yeah, I stink at it, too. That’s why I’m brushing up. I really need to improve my grade. Plus I have to get ahead because I have a big clarinet recital coming up.”
Grace didn’t know Jaci superwell, but in the one class they had together (the first class they’d ever had together), she’d quickly realized that Jaci was “That Person”—the kind that walks out of a test moaning about how she failed it for sure, but then aces it and makes everyone else feel bad about themselves.
“This Thursday I’m allowed to bring a buddy here again,” said Jaci. “You want to come with me after school?”
“Sure!” Grace said. Did she sound too eager?
“Do you think your parents will let you join RSC for the summer?” asked Jaci. “I mean, it’s nice to have you as my guest, but they only let you do that four times a month. It would be cool if you could become a member. I wouldn’t mind hanging out with someone with a brain in her head.”
“I’m working on it big-time with my mom and dad,” said Grace. “I’m doing my chores before they need doing, cranking out my homework before they start nagging, even practicing piano before they ask.”
“They’ll cave,” said Jaci. “Keep up the pressure.”
“It would be great to join this place.” Grace sat down on the edge of her chair and looked around Riverside Swim Club and its huge, T-shaped swimming pool. The diving boards and platforms were just begging to be used. On the other side was a lane pool, filled with splashing kids in one section and serious lane swimmers in the rest. Around the corner was the little-kid pool.
“It’s kind of a scene here, though,” Jaci continued. “I thought about joining the girls’ swim team, but it looks pretty cliquey. Plus I stink at competitive swimming.”
“Me too,” said Grace.
“The nice thing is, my mom has a zillion friends who belong, and they all take turns being the ‘responsible adult,’” said Jaci, putting air quotes around the last two words. “Middle school kids like us have to be here with an adult, but my mom and her friends let us do our own thing. It’s great.”
“That is great,” Grace agreed.
“The boys’ team is supercompetitive, but they’re all annoying jocks, especially their studly star, Mike Morris. They’re all about how they look, strutting around in their jammers.”
“Those tight swim trunks they wear. Speaking of studly—have you checked out Gorgeous Jordan up there? Drool!” She gestured with her chin toward the lifeguard chair at the far end of the other pool, where Jordan Lee, a high school junior, sat surveying the pool like a god looking down from Mount Olympus.
Grace glanced at him. “He’s okay.” Then she turned back to the water. “I love the diving boards here. I’m going back in. Want to come?”
“Nah, I’m good. I’ll be here, studying my irregular verbs.” She grinned at Grace.
“Gee, sounds like a laugh a minute,” said Grace. She headed back to the diving board.
Step-step-step–drive the knee–JUMP!
This time she got really high off the board, high enough that she had time to touch her toes, unfold, and stre-e-e-tch her fingers toward the water. Whoosh! The bubbles roared in her ears down in the Blue World. She knew it had been a good dive.
As her head emerged from the water, she was startled to see another head not far away from her, near the other springboard. A boy was hanging on to the edge of the pool, wearing tinted goggles, which gave him a froglike look. Where had he come from?
“Nice front pike,” he called. He had an unexpectedly deep voice, dark brown and velvety.
Grace resisted the urge to dive back down into the Blue World and wait for him to go away. Good thing she was in the cool water, because she felt the usual hot flush rising up to her hairline. “Thanks,” she said, and propelled herself to the side of the pool. All she’d done was dive. She had no idea it was called a front spike or whatever he’d said. She pulled herself out of the water and clambered clumsily to her feet, willing herself not to pluck at her wet suit, which was clinging to her in all kinds of embarrassing ways.
The boy swiveled up and out of the pool in one smooth movement, and a moment later was standing a few feet away from her. He pulled up his goggles, drained out the water, and snapped them on top of his head. Then he began flinging excess water off his arms. His hair was slicked-back and smooth like a seal’s. He looked about her age, or a year older, and was several inches taller, with powerful shoulder muscles. Grace was tall for her age, and usually towered over boys.
She darted a second glance at him, which was time enough to take in the huge green eyes spiked with long eyelashes. He was take-your-breath-away gorgeous. Her paralyzing shyness flooded in like a wave swirling and eddying around rocks.
“You swim too?” he asked. He didn’t even look her way, but now bent over to brush the water off his legs.
“Um. Not actually.” Not actually? Inward groan. “I stink at swimming.” Great. Tell him all your other faults while you’re at it, she thought. Maybe you can work in what a disaster you are at Spanish. She prayed her feet wouldn’t spontaneously slip out from under her or something.
The boy straightened up and turned to go. “Well, see ya.”
“Um, see ya.” She turned her body toward Jaci’s chair, but out of the corner of her eye she followed him as he walked away.
“Want to get a snack at the snack bar?” someone next to her said.
Grace jumped—literally—out of her stare.
“I didn’t mean to startle you!” the someone continued. It was Jaci.
“Yeah, sure,” said Grace, absentmindedly. “So who’s that guy over there?” She tried to get her voice back down an octave as she gestured with her chin toward the boy. He had stopped to talk to an older guy with a whistle around his neck.
Jaci snorted. “Oh. Him. That’s Mike Morris.”
Clackety-clack-clack. Grace quickly flicked off the vacuum cleaner. No telling what she’d just vacuumed up from under her bed. Still, it looked pretty good in here. She’d kept her word and had maintained a pretty decent level of cleanliness in her bedroom for at least three weeks now. Not an easy feat considering that she was an artist, and what artist is expected to maintain a tidy painting studio? Still, her art corner looked pretty good. Brushes and pencils in their cups, pastels and charcoals on the shelves, paper stacked in organized piles, the worst paint stains scrubbed out of the carpet.
Last year her mom had helped her put up mounting board along one whole wall of her room and then painted it the same color purple as the walls, so now she could tack anything she wanted on that wall from floor to ceiling. You practically couldn’t see the purple anymore, what with the drawings, paintings, posters, and pictures of her favorite musicians, celebrities, and fashion designers that she’d torn out of magazines.
Grace retracted the cord on the vacuum and then fell back onto her bedspread, a riot of funky geometric shapes in different shades of purple, green, and silver. Her back felt pleasantly unpleasant: just a hint of sunburn despite her having slathered herself with sunblock. It felt like summer.
She thought about that boy Mike. Was there such a thing as love at first sight? Those eyes. Those broad shoulders. And he was tall! She didn’t think real boys actually looked like that outside the pages of magazines, and without the miracle of Photoshop. But he did exist.
She made herself snap out of it. Yes, this is definitely a sophisticated teenager kind of bedroom, she thought as she scanned the crowded wall of images. No one needed to know that she stored her tattered old toddler blanket and stuffed hippo in the cabinet next to her bed. Ages ago, she used to bring that hippo to sleepovers with her best friends, Christina Cooper and Mel Levy. Christina would bring her teddy bear, and Mel her stuffed monkey.
Over to the left, almost behind the door, Grace had tacked up a piece of paper—actually, two pieces, taped together lengthwise—folded like an accordion and filled with scribbled words written with different-colored inks in large, bubbly handwriting. It was a story she and Christina had written together back when they were in second grade, something about a dragon and a princess. Below that she’d tacked up several friendship bracelets she and Christina and Mel had woven at day camp together and that she couldn’t quite bring herself to throw away.
Sometimes she really missed those days, when life seemed so much less complicated and when she and Christina and Mel had sworn to one another that they’d be best friends for life. But lately, well . . . things had changed. She lay there contemplating her wall until her mother called her to set the table.
At dinner Grace brought up the most important topic right away. “Soooo, have you guys thought more about it?”
Her father pronged his carbonara and spun it around and around his fork. “Thought about what?”
She sighed. “You know what. About letting me join RSC this summer. Have you noticed how clean I’ve been keeping my room? And how my Spanish grade went up? Well, a little, anyway.”
Her parents exchanged a look. This generally meant they’d already discussed the issue privately and had come up with a joint decision. Her mother set down her glass. “Grace. Honey. We’ve had a membership at the lake for practically your whole life. Why all of a sudden do you want to up and join a different club? I never knew you to be that interested in joining a swim club.”
“That’s because I didn’t know what I was missing!” said Grace. “It would be really fun to hang out with more kids my own age for a change. The kids at the lake are all little. RSC is awesome, and only a bike ride away. You should see the facilities. They have a three-meter diving board and a diving platform.”
Her mother shook her head. “It’s too expensive to belong to both places. Remember, we do have your brother’s college tuition bills to contend with these days.”
Her father looked thoughtful. “You know, Kristin, it could be a nice change for us as a family. I could take up lap swimming in the morning.”
Grace had just taken a sip of milk, and it very nearly went down the wrong pipe. “No!” she said after she’d stopped coughing. “I don’t mean joining as a family! That’s . . . that’s way too expensive! And you guys love it at the lake! I’d never dream of taking that away from you! I’d just join RSC as an individual member. You just need a parent or designated responsible adult to be there with you—and Jaci’s mom and her friends are there all summer long. It’s only two hundred dollars if you’re under eighteen. I looked into it.”
Her father took off his glasses and set them down on the table, then massaged his temples. This was his way of thinking about what he was going to say. It probably works really well when he is arguing his cases in the courtroom, Grace thought, not for the first time.
“Okay, missy,” he said, looking at her from beneath his dramatically dark eyebrows, which, unfortunately, Grace had inherited. “Here’s the deal. Your mother and I are willing to entertain this idea of yours, provided you continue to keep your grades up—”
“Oh, wow! That’s awesome!”
“Not so fast. As I was saying, provided you keep your grades up, and”—he paused to put his glasses back on, probably another courtroom mannerism—“you get a job and earn the cost of the membership yourself.”
The smile evaporated from Grace’s face like a wet footprint on a hot day. “But how am I supposed to earn two hundred dollars over the next two weeks? By robbing a bank?”
Her mother smiled and swiveled Grace’s plate around so the carrot sticks were right in front of her. “Let’s hope that won’t be necessary. Actually, I already have two leads for you. At Ellie’s piano lesson this afternoon, Mrs. Orben asked me if I thought you might be interested in babysitting her kids for the next two Saturday nights. She has to take the evening nursing shift at the hospital, and as you know it’s Mr. Orben’s busy season at the garden store.”
Grace nodded thoughtfully. The Orben kids could be a handful, but they were basically good kids. “What’s the other job?”
“Please don’t tell me for Boomer.”
Grace groaned and shoved her plate forward so she could lay an anguished cheek down on the table. She looked up and blinked at her mother. “Boomer is the dumbest, most annoying, slobberiest dog I have ever met. He jumps up and tries to knock you over. And if you so much as look at him he drools all over you.”
“They’re leaving Wednesday for a week of vacation, and Mrs. Barber’s father just had shoulder surgery, so Boomer’s doggy grandparents can’t watch him as they’d planned.”
“Did Boomer dislocate his shoulder or something? I wouldn’t put it past him. He weighs more than I do.” She took a moody bite of carrot, being careful to use her molars due to her braces.
A smile tugged at the corners of her mother’s mouth. “No, Grace. Boomer is a sweet dog. And they’re willing to pay you eight dollars a day.”
This bucked her up. Grace stood up and collected her dirty dishes. “Okay,” she said.
“That’s the spirit,” said her father, standing up to help clear more dishes. “You’ll appreciate RSC more if you work for it. And look at your brother—he landed a summer job at that camp.”
Grace rolled her eyes. “May I remind you that Cam’s in college and I’m just in middle school?”
“So it’s settled, then,” said her mother. “Now go call the Orbens and the Barbers and get your instructions. And after that—”
“I know, I know. I’ll practice, just like I always do with hardly any reminding,” said Grace in a singsongy voice.
Her mother shook her head and muttered, “You’d think the daughter of a piano teacher wouldn’t ever need any reminding.”
Grace raced off to make the calls. After she spoke with the Orbens and the Barbers, she texted Mel with the news. She thought about texting Christina as well, but didn’t. Christina always spent a big chunk of the summer at a sleepaway camp. But they’d always spent the first three weeks of summer vacation hanging out together. Maybe she’d think that if Grace joined RSC it was Grace’s way of saying she didn’t want to be such close friends. Grace decided she’d wait to break the news to Christina, in case it didn’t actually happen.