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Saturday, February 16, 11:32 a.m.
Reese and I sat on the top bleacher against the back wall to watch the season’s last home swim meet. The announcer called the first heat of the first event, and the medley relay teams began to assemble. Keagan waved to me from his towel-and-snack nest on the far side of the pool deck. I stood to give him a proper Swim Fast Salute (elbow up and arm bent; fingers kissed, then flung wide). He pulled on his swim cap and wandered over to the rest of his heat-three relay team. The butterflyer helicoptered his arms. The freestyler held his above his head, stretching onto his toes, elongating his body. Keag tucked stray pieces of his straw-blond hair under the edges of his cap.
The first-heat backstrokers jumped into the water, fixed goggles one last time, adjusted hands on block pegs, foot stances on the wall. The buzzer chirped once and they readied, pulling up tight, waiting for the start. Twice, and they dove. Arms flung, backs arched, legs pushing away from the wall.
I sat down. “It’s kind of pretty, you know?”
Reese, hunched over her work--i.e., a blank white Adidas sneaker she was carefully making less blank for her Etsy store--made a sound in her throat. “Teenage-boy junk crammed into tiny Speedos?”
“No. That’s less ‘pretty’ and more . . . what do you call a perpetual almost-wince?”
Reese pushed her hair (half shaved and electric blue with dyed-black roots) over one shoulder, then blew on the fresh lines of ink on the less-blank sneaker. “Pre-wince?”
“Dear all that is holy, don’t let that thin patch of spandex slip?”
“Yeah, that one.” The swimmers completed their first length, one after another except for the two slowest ones in the outside lanes, and flip-turned on the opposite wall. The breaststrokers mounted the blocks at the other end. “But also no. I meant the way they all take off like that at once. Synchronized.”
“Except for the ones that back flop.”
Shouts echoed off the water, the concrete walls, the tile floor, as the backstrokers touched the wall and the breaststrokers dove into the water.
“Butterfly is pretty,” Reese said. She stared down at the pool, half-finished sneaker in her hand. This one was covered in a collage of tiny cartoon characters, all a little ugly-cute. Ugly-cute being Reese’s specialty.
“Or looks like drowning,” I said.
“Right. No middle ground with that one.”
Santiago joined Keagan on the deck, where they alternated cheering on their teammates and laughing about something with the other accumulated relay team members. San, being the team’s fastest butterflyer, wouldn’t swim till the last heat half an eternity from now, but he stood with Keag and the other guys anyway. “Santiago looks pretty doing fly,” I said.
“Yes, well, San looks pretty doing everything. He is a pretty human.”
This was true. Apart from his generally pleasing aesthetic, Santiago’s one of those people who are good at basically everything physical. Like swimming the fly and running cross-country and playing basketball, if he were to, in fact, play basketball. Even walking. He’s a very good walker, smooth, graceful, which is totally not a talent worth remarking upon, but hey. It’s the diving thing. While San swims the fly beautifully and fast, as in he’s top three in the state, he’s also a diver. First and foremost a diver. As in, top three not just in the state but in the country. As in, fosters Olympic dreams that are not in the least bit pipe-like despite what his parents think.
I fidgeted on the metal bleacher. Fleece-lined leggings were proving a poor choice for swim-meet attire. In retrospect, obviously. Even if it was mid-February. The butterflyers mounted their blocks. “You should tell Bellamy that.”
“I’m pretty sure Bells is aware.”
“Yeah, yeah, I know.”
Reese looked up. “Yes, you do. Like how you know that . . .” She stared me down, waiting for me to finish her prompt.
I rolled my eyes. “That it’s none of my business.” Someday Reese’s steely gaze shall be a thing of legends. Legends! “Even though they would be so freaking cute together and Santiago already--”
“Okay! Fine.” I fluttered my hands into the balmy chlorine air. “Farewell, brilliant intentions! You’re fate’s problem now.”
“Good.” Reese bent her head back to her work in progress, adding a pair of googly, unmatched eyes to a tiny, roundish something-or-other with a yawning mouth and single tooth.
The freestylers followed the butterflyers, the faster teams nearly lapping the slowest. One of the doors to the lobby opened and I turned, looking for Bellamy, but instead of my favorite aspiring astronaut it was a herd of freshmen girls followed by Keagan’s mom wearing a T-shirt with the quote “If I only have one day left to live, I hope to spend it at a high school swim meet, because those things last FOREVER,” printed over a watermark of our school logo. Preach, Autumn Lotus Breeze (not her real name, but you get the idea). I waved at her, smiling my biggest I-love-your-son-like-mad smile. She waved back, then got waylaid by another swim parent in the third row. No sign of Brent, Keagan’s dad. Which meant he was probably in his pottery studio or off selling his wares, leaving Paisley Star (yes, that’s her real name) to represent.
I watched the second heat of the relay and the concurrent filling up of Reese’s white sneaker to the beat of the pool drains gurgling, the water splashing, the crowd cheering, until Bellamy clomped up the bleachers and sat beside me.
Yes, clomped. Like a Clydesdale? you say. Isn’t that a bit, you know, rude, Narioka? This is our first impression of dear Bellamy Bishop! Your oldest and bestest friend! Don’t you want her portrayed in a more, dare we say, attractive light? To which I reply, Pish-posh. And balderdash! Bellamy is beautiful and she clomps. Just as Reese is beautiful and she wisps. And I am beautiful (and terrifying, like a Siren, luring the unsuspecting to their demise) and I pirouette or flit or even storm.
Bellamy clomped up the bleachers in her heavy-soled shoes and sat beside me in her jeans and too-big Goodwill T-shirt, today’s being adorned with a faded picture of the Backstreet Boys worn without intent and utterly unironically. (“Clothes are for warmth and adherence to social constructs concerning the inappropriateness of nakedness, Nari.” Actual Bellamy quote, btw.) Her brown hair was pulled back into a ponytail.
Excerpted from "Immoral Code"
Copyright © 2019 Lillian Clark.
Excerpted by permission of Random House Children's Books.
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