Needing to hurry, Courtney dug her bathing suit out of her bottom drawer and prayed it still fit. A lot of her clothes didn’t anymore, and she had to go through several contortions to zip up her jeans. Most of her shirts no longer buttoned without leaving a gap, so she wore them open over a tank top. It wasn’t so easy to hide her weight gain with jeans, though, and already the stitching was threatening to rip.
“I have an extra towel.” Her grandmother’s voice floated up the stairs again. “Don’t take any of the ones from the bathroom. They’re part of a set.”
“I won’t, Grandma,” Courtney yelled back. She stripped off her pjs and stepped into the one-piece suit, pulling it up over her thighs. It fit, but just barely. Pride demanded that she not look in the mirror. The consolation was that she probably wouldn’t see anyone her age at the pool this early in the morning. She donned sweatpants and a T-shirt, slipped her feet into flip-flops and trudged down the stairs.
Her grandmother was waiting by the door and handed Courtney a towel, purple cap and goggles. “They’re old,” she said, referring to the goggles, “but they’ll be all right until we can buy you a new pair.”
“You’re really into this, aren’t you?” Actually, Courtney was impressed. She hadn’t known that people as old as her grandmother went swimming.
More surprises awaited her. The Olympic-length pool was in the high school. The adult lap swim session started at six and lasted until seven-thirty every morning. The lobby was filled with older people who all seemed to know each other.
Courtney walked in with her grandmother and, from the greetings she received, one would assume Vera had been gone for months. Her grandmother painstakingly introduced Courtney to her swimming buddies. A dozen names flew by so fast she had no hope of keeping track, but she did try. As much as possible, she attempted to blend into the wall. The sun might be up and shining but no reasonable person should be, in Courtney’s opinion.
“So how do you like living in Seattle?” one of her grandmother’s friends asked.
Courtney thought the woman’s name was Leta. “Oh, it’s great.” She forced some enthusiasm into her voice. Well, it might be if she met someone younger than eighty. This whole knitting thing was a major disappointment, too. First, she’d had no idea the class would be so small. There were only two other women and both were way older. One was around her grandmother’s age and a real biddy. She looked like she’d been sucking lemons half her life. The other woman was probably close to her mother’s age—if her mother had been alive.
A sick sensation hit Courtney in the pit of her stomach as she thought about her mother. It shouldn’t still hurt like this, but it did. Her brother and sister seemed to deal with the loss so much better than Courtney. No one wanted to talk about Mom anymore, and Courtney felt as if she was supposed to forget she’d ever had a mother. She couldn’t and she wouldn’t.
Julianna, her sister, hadn’t gained thirty-five pounds the way Courtney had. In fact, her sister had lost weight. Jason thought weight was a nonissue. The one and only time Courtney had talked to her brother about her problem, he’d shrugged it off. His advice was to lose the weight if it bothered her so much. He said it like it was easy. If getting weight off was that simple, she would’ve done it long ago.
“We have rules here at the pool,” Leta said, moving closer to Courtney. “No one’s ever written them down, but it helps if you follow them.”
“You should know the middle shower is mine. I’ve used it for eighteen years and if you get out of the pool first, I’d appreciate if you’d leave that shower for me.”
“No problem.” Courtney made an effort to remember this.
“Wet your hair before you get in the water,” another of her grandmother’s friends advised, joining Leta. “Drench it real good, otherwise the chlorine will ruin your hair.”
“You’ve got a cap, don’t you?” someone else asked. “I hate swimming and having my hands come up full of someone’s hair.”
Yuck. What a disgusting concept. “Grandma gave me a cap.” She hadn’t planned to use it, but Courtney could see that she was likely to get booted out if she didn’t.
“How fast a swimmer are you?” Leta asked.
“She should use the middle lane,” Courtney’s grandmother suggested. “Most of us swim in the first lane,” she explained to Courtney. “The third lane is for the fast swimmers. Start in the middle lane and see how it goes.”
“Okay.” Courtney was waking up now, and everything was beginning to make sense. Sort of. Don’t use the middle shower, but swim in the middle lane and wear a cap, but get her hair completely wet first. So far, so good.
Courtney just hoped all this exercise wouldn’t make her hungry.
When the doors opened, the group flowed into the pool area. The men turned right and made their way to one end, while the women went left toward their locker room.
Courtney followed her grandmother, Leta and the others. Vera already had her bag inside her locker when Courtney caught up to her. She took her time climbing out of her sweatpants, unwilling to have these older women view her chubby arms and legs. Her fear was that one of them—or even her own grandmother—would comment on the fact that her swimsuit was too tight.
She needn’t have worried. The women were intent on getting into the water and no one gave her any attention, for which Courtney was grateful. Nevertheless, she waited until the locker room had cleared out before she stripped down to her swimsuit.
Taking the advice she’d been given, she walked over to the shower area, turned on the faucet in the end shower and stuck her head inside. She wrung out her soaking wet hair and stuffed it inside the purple cap, thankful she didn’t know a soul. Anyone from home who saw her now would be hysterical.
But this was no laughing matter to Courtney. When school started in six weeks, she wanted to walk into class looking good—and she didn’t care what she had to do to achieve that. If losing weight meant waking up before the birds, consorting with women five or six times her age and abiding by all the unwritten rules at the pool, then she’d do it.
Leaving the change room took courage and she made a dash from the doorway to the water, attempting to look as cool and nonchalant as possible. The shock of the pool’s temperature when Courtney stepped down from the ladder nearly made her gasp. It was cold. The sign might say 81 degrees, but she swore it was closer to 70.
Her grandmother and friends had already begun their routines. Observing them, Courtney realized they swam in circles inside each lane—down one side and back up the other. Several of the women were walking in the shallow end, chatting as they went, and Courtney scooted past them, keeping her arms raised and out of the cold water. When she came to the lane divider, she had no choice but to go under. Freezing! The water surrounding the Titanic couldn’t have been this cold.
Once she was positioned in the middle lane, Courtney braced her feet against the wall and pushed off. She was panting by the time she swam to the far side and grabbed hold of the pool’s edge until she caught her breath.
Her grandmother and friends had no such problem. They might be eighty years old, but not only did they swim the entire length of the pool, they didn’t pause before turning and going back. Not even to breathe.
Courtney went a total of ten laps, resting after each one. When she finished number ten, she stopped long enough to adjust her goggles, even though they were fine. It gave her an excuse to take an extra breather. She was now ready to start her eleventh lap and felt downright proud.
Her grandmother had explained that sixteen laps was half a mile. In that case, half a mile in the water was a hell of a lot further than on land. Doing a quick calculation, she decided she’d already swum three-quarters of half a mile. This was great!
As soon as she got back to the house, Courtney planned to weigh herself. After such an intense workout she had to be down. It would be a relief to see that thin dial move in the opposite direction for once.
“Time to get out,” her grandmother told her before she could start the eleventh lap.
“I want to do a couple more,” Courtney protested.
“Not on Wednesdays. The swim team comes in at seven.”
A chill that had nothing to do with the water went through Courtney. “Swim team? Please tell me this isn’t the high-school swim team.”
Her grandmother lifted the goggles from her head and stared at Courtney in puzzlement. “Is that a problem?”
Of course it was a problem. It was bad enough to expose her body to her grandmother’s friends, but she was horrified at the thought of anyone from the high school seeing her like this.
What a disaster. To complicate everything, she hadn’t even brought her towel out from the locker room. She glanced through one of the large windows enclosing the pool. Just as she was about to leap out of the water and run for it, the foyer door opened and a line of impossibly thin girls filed in. Courtney didn’t dare look at the guys who followed. The girls on the swim team were intimidation enough.
She froze, unsure what to do. If she climbed out now, she’d expose her too-tight swimsuit and her fat to all those girls. They’d certainly notice someone her age with all these old ladies.
“Courtney,” her grandmother said loudly, standing on the deck. “It’s time to get out.”
“I know.” She sank to the bottom of the pool and sat there for a moment, wishing she could just disappear.
Eventually she was forced to climb out of the water and reveal herself to the world. She kept her gaze on the floor as she shuffled into the locker room, now crowded with stick-figured teenagers.
For two weeks Courtney had been dying to meet someone her own age—but not like this, when she was practically naked and at her worst. These swim-team girls didn’t have an ounce of extra weight on them. They were perfect.
Head lowered, Courtney hurried to her locker.
“You need to shower,” Leta said, stepping up next to her. “I’m finished, so you can use the middle one.”
“I’ll shower once I get home,” Courtney muttered. She grabbed her towel, wrapping it around her as if she were in danger of freezing to death.
“You should take a shower,” her grandmother’s friend continued. “Get that chlorine off you.”
No way would Courtney strip off her swimsuit in the shower, especially now.
She happened to glance up just then and saw two girls with their heads together, whispering. They looked directly at her. Sure as anything, Courtney knew they were talking about her. Turning her back, she buried her face in her hands. One day in the not-too-distant future, she’d see these very girls in the high-school halls.
“To grow as a knitter, don’t be afraid to take chances. Knitting is a far safer sport than sky-diving. Very little is ever irrevocable!”
By Saturday it was all I could do to keep quiet when it came to dealing with Margaret. I was hurt and angry that she’d been so secretive about Matt for all these weeks. Now that I did know, I found myself watching her more closely. The longer she kept up this charade, the more offended I got.