My toes curl and uncurl on the sandpaper-rough diving board. I shiver as I stare into the glittering pool. The chlorine smell turns my stomach.
I know I’m eventually going to have to jump, but I just can’t. I stand, letting the wind chill my tan skin. It’s the last day of summer, and I’m determined to conquer the high dive. I hear another groan escape from behind me. I glance back. Marcy, my best friend, impatiently taps her pink nails along the metal ladder.
“Hurry,” she mouths at me.
Another mosquito nips my arm, and I slap it away. I try to ignore the incoherent whispers down below. This time I’m going to do it.
I bend my legs, flex my muscles, and do a little hop. The whole board quakes, and I let out a little scream before grabbing the railing. I hear Marcy’s snort over the racing of my heart. I grip the railing with my shaking hands. Just don’t look down. Just don’t look down. I stare at the deep blue sky patched with pink.
“She’s never going to do it,” I hear Amy Andrews grumble from below. Dark strands of hair flutter in front of my face, escaping my thick ponytail. That’s when I know I can’t do it. I begin to make my way towards the ladder with wobbly steps before disappointment and embarrassment can overwhelm me. Don’t let them see you cry.
“Jeez,” Marcy says, stepping onto the diving board. She strides towards me, forcing me to take about seven steps back.
“What are you doing?” I squeak.
She takes a few steps toward me and pushes, hard.
I scream, falling and falling towards the water. My arms and legs flail uncontrollably. I hit the water with an icy slap.
My skin stings as bubbles tickle their way up my body. I hang there a moment, suspended under water. My heart screams in my head. I can’t think anything. Finally, I kick hard and break the surface.
I stare up at Marcy. She looks like a queen on top of the diving board.
“Why did you do that?!” I shout, sputtering. She rolls her eyes.
“Oh, relax. You finally jumped off the diving board. Aren’t you happy?” she says, glancing nervously back at the people in line. Most of them didn’t even pay attention, but I know she hates it when someone makes a scene.
“You pushed me,” I accuse lamely.
“I was only helping,” Marcy says, rolling her eyes again. “Now you might want to move, or else I might crush you.”
I force smooth strokes to the edge of the pool. Acid tears fall into the water. I hear Marcy’s happy squeal and splash. I climb out stiffly, wrapping a fresh towel around my waist and slinging my new swim bag over my shoulder.
“Excuse me,” says a voice behind me. I quickly wipe away tears.
I turn and stare at a girl with sunkissed skin in a red bathing suit. She smiles at me, and her smile feels like a refreshing spray.
“I’m Lisa,” she says, cheerfully. “It really sucks that you got pushed.” I adjust my bag strap and look at my feet. I feel the tears about to well up in my eyes again. How could Marcy do that?
“Do you want to sit with me?” she asks.
What I really want is to go home and lie down in the clean sheets and forget about today. “Sure,” I say, smiling as kindly as I can. “I’m Mia.” She sucks in a breath of air and then gives me a small smile.
“Follow me,” she says, before leading me off. Together, we brush past the dry hedges and go behind the locker rooms. You get a perfect view of the high dive. Queen Marcy is right back up there. We reach a fountain, and I can’t help but notice the sunset reflecting on its calming surface. It’s filled with pleasant round pebbles that remind me of sea glass. It’s a special place.
I take a seat at its base and face the hedges. How I wish I could ignore the kids jumping off the diving board with ease. I stare longingly at them. Why is it so easy for them? I wonder. I imagine how weird I must’ve looked falling, flailing, and screaming from the diving board. I want to cry all over again, but I just sigh.
Lisa lies next to me, her curly hair stretching across the cold cement. Unlike me, she’s staring up at the sky, her eyes butter-soft. My muscles begin to unclench, and I listen to the trickling water.
I turn to her and say, “I want to be able to jump off the high dive just like everybody else.” Lisa turns and stares at me. I push a soggy strand of hair behind my ear.
“I know. You’ll do it someday” she says, giving me that ocean-spray smile.
“Have you ever felt that way?” I ask. “I mean… about anything?”
Even though I’m being very awkward, she just closes her eyes and sighs. “I moved here at the beginning of summer. My mom wanted me to go to this pool, so I came. I watched everyone buy frozen lemonades together and take selfies. I was always alone, sitting in my chair, with a melting lemonade and a camera with no memories. I never had the courage to ask somebody to hang out with me, but then, I finally did.” Her eyes sparkle as she turns to me. “I found this place a few weeks ago. I call it The Golden Fountain. It looks like it’s come straight out of a fairy tale, right?”
“Yeah, it does,” I smile.
I’m done with Marcy but I’m not done with that diving board. I will conquer it.
We watch the sun sink and stars slowly sprinkle across the sky. Lisa tells me about her brothers and her dog. I tell her about my favorite restaurant and school. Lisa is the only girl I’ve ever seen at the pool who doesn’t go to my school, and I’ve never seen her until now.
As I walk home, a new swing in my step, I remember what Lisa said to me.
“Lisa, I’m going to jump off the high dive, OK?” I said.
“I have no doubt,” she said, and squeezed my hand.