Amy Kuhns and I sidled up the swim team bus aisle past the upturned noses of the chlorine-silvered blondes, the fastest girls on the team, toward our usual spot in the middle. We could take ten seconds off our 100 Free times and still not blip onto their radar.
Whatever. We were used to being treated like freshmen even though we were in tenth grade. Due to overcrowding, Martin County High School housed only tenth through twelfth grades.
Amy and I were hard core serious about swimming and worked our butts off in practice. I’d gotten the genes from Dad, a Backstroker in the Olympic trials. I’d perfected my strokes when Dad was a lifeguard at a Miami city pool, even pulling a couple stints at competitive swimming. Amy had trained in the catfish pond on her family’s farm in Pretty Prairie, Kansas. We were going to own this team.
We scooted onto the bench in front of Aida Gale. Jane Miller took a bench across from us and Becky Blackford collapsed in an exhausted heap on the seat in front of us.
Another sophomore, Kurt Sailor, kneed his gym bag up the aisle in front of him. Late afternoon sun fell through an open window and picked up golden streaks in his damp, chestnut hair. Six pair of female eyes followed the progress of his sleek swimmer’s body. Someone sighed.
While everyone was distracted I whispered in Amy’s ear.
Amy squealed. “You got a date for Homecoming!”
So much for my secret.
Aida whipped around. “What? Why didn’t I know this?”
Becky combed the tangles from her dripping, pale tresses. “That’s wonderful!”
Matt Kelly, who had a knack for hearing everything we didn’t want him to hear, edged toward the back of the bus. “Who with? Your invisible friend?”
I knew I shouldn’t take his bait, but I couldn’t help myself. “With Clark Cason. He graduated last year.”
Matt plopped into the seat beside Kurt. “What’d you do, pay him?”
Amy narrowed her eyes. “Buzz off, Matt.”
I stared at Matt’s laughing blue eyes, the blond hair curling as it dried, the freckles and braces fighting for dominance in his handsome face. He made me so mad I could spit. “Oh, like you have a date.”
I hated to admit it, but I enjoyed swapping insults with Matt. He added much-needed zing to the daily hour commute to Indian River Community College’s pool.
“Maybe I don’t want to go,” Matt shot back.
Amy flipped her hair over her shoulder. “Ha! As if you could dance.”
Aida said, “Kurt, are you going?”
He shot her an are you kidding me? look and returned to ignoring us.
We turned our backs on the boys.
Aida volunteered her mom to sew me a dress and we made plans to shop for a pattern and material.
Jane said, “How did he ask you?”
I lowered my voice so Matt wouldn’t hear. “Clark lives across the street. When I told him I didn’t have a date, he said he’d take me, no problem. Too cool, right?”
The Monday after Homecoming before we all had a chance to grab seats on the swim bus, Amy blurted, “Did Clark kiss you goodnight?”
“No. Long story—”
Matt’s voice came from behind me. “Yeah, who’d want to kiss you?”
“Like girls are lining up to kiss you,” I said without turning around to look at Matt.
Amy said, “Butt out, Matt. Nobody was talking to you.”
“If I had a line, you girls would be climbing over each other for a spot in it.”
Aida leaned up on one knee on her seat. “Matt, read my lips, I am never going to kiss you.”
I turned in time to see Matt clamp his mouth shut.
Kurt almost smiled.
The girls huddled around me for the long version.
At the end, I summed up, “So, I didn’t know anybody at the after-party, so I found a ride home. I’m pretty sure Clark’s pity dating career is over.”
We talked about the youth worker Amy mooned over, Aida’s boyfriend, and tried unsuccessfully to weasel out the name of Becky’s crush.
I asked them if they knew the upperclassman I’d spotted every day last week in the hall between second and third period—tall, curly blond hair, super hot.
When I met his eyes the first time, the symphony orchestra broke into the theme from Love Story in the courtyard. Sunflowers bloomed along the walk as though caught in time lapse photography and their scent overtook the normal smell of sweaty bodies. Okay, so no music played, no flowers bloomed. But I know he felt the magic, too, because he nodded at me and today he waved.
On Wednesday, someone tugged my elbow on my way to catch the swim bus. I stepped onto the grass and looked up at Mr. Tall, Blond, and Super Hot. My pulse raced like I’d sprinted a 200 Individual Medley.
He’d found out my name! “And you’re…?”
“Sam. Sam Pease.” He shifted his weight from one foot to the other. So cute. “There’s a party Friday night. Do you want to go?”
Like I wanted to win the 500 Freestyle at State. I gripped my swim bag. “Sure.”
Sam picked me up on Friday in a Jeep. None of the guys my age had their licenses yet. When he pulled up in front of a new condo on Jensen Beach and asked if I minded stopping to meet his parents, I swear I heard tiny birds chirping, wedding bells tied around their necks.
The party turned out to be a kegger in the woods.
Sam downed a couple paper cups of beer.
Sissy-me poured mine out when no one was looking.
He took my hand in his larger one and it felt like our hands were meant for each other. He could be the one.
“Let’s get out of here,” Sam said.
I didn’t know where we were going, but I hadn’t been this excited since I won my heat in the last swim meet.
We tromped back through the nearly pitch black woods the way we’d come.
He stopped and asked me to turn my back.
I heard a stream of liquid hitting the sandy dirt about thirty-six inches behind me.
Eew! Sure, I knew guys peed, but in sort of a theoretical sense. This was way, way, way too up close and personal to get with a guy I hadn’t even kissed.
Would never kiss.
As we drove away, I pitched Love Story, the sunflowers, and the humming birds with their wedding bell necklaces out the window in the general direction of the contents of Sam’s bladder.
Because Sam Pease—not his real name—was probably being thoughtful by not leaving me alone in the dark while he took care of business. And, hey, he was a sixteen-year-old kid.
For the rest of the semester I limited my girl-boy interaction to sparring with Matt Kelly. I’d spent enough time around him to know he might make me mad, but he wouldn’t conduct any bodily functions in my vicinity. And he’d be darn cute once he got his braces off.