"Todd Hammond," Randy called as the wobbly-kneed kid approached. Todd's shoulders caved forward like parentheses, and Luce could see remnants of a serious farmer's tan on the back of his neck.
"Weights," Randy commanded, chucking Todd inside.
"Pennyweather Van Syckle-Lockwood," she bellowed next, causing Penn to cower and press her palms against her ears again. "Pool," Randy instructed, reaching into a cardboard box behind her and tossing Penn a red one-piece Speedo racer-back.
"Lucinda Price," Randy continued, after consulting her list. Luce stepped forward and was relieved when Randy said, "Also pool." Luce reached up to catch the one-piece bathing suit in the air. It was stretched out and thin as a piece of parchment between her fingers. At least it smelled clean. Sort of.
"Gabrielle Givens," Randy said next, and Luce whipped around to see her new least-favorite person sashay up in short black shorts and a thin black tank top. She'd been at this school for three days ... how had she already gotten Daniel?
"Hiii, Randy," Gabbe said, drawing out the words with a twang that made Luce want to pull a Penn and cover her own ears.
Anything but pool, Luce willed. Anything but pool.
"Pool," Randy said.
Walking next to Penn toward the girls' locker room, Luce tried to avoid looking back at Gabbe, who twirled what seemed to be the only fashionable bathing suit in the stack around her French-manicured index finger. Instead, Luce focused on the gray stone walls and the old religious paraphernalia covering them. She walked past ornately carved wooden crosses with their bas-relief depictions of the Passion. A series of faded triptychs hung at eye level, with only the orbs of the figures' halos still aglow. Luce leaned forward to get a better look at a large scroll written in Latin, encased in glass.
"Uplifting decor, isn't it?" Penn asked, throwing back a couple of aspirin with a swig of water from her bag.
"What is all this stuff?" Luce asked.
"Ancient history. The only surviving relics from when this place was still the site of Sunday Mass, back in Civil War days."
"That explains why it looks so much like a church," Luce said, pausing in front of a marble reproduction of Michelangelo's pietа.
"Like everything else in this hellhole, they did a totally half-assed job of updating it. I mean, who builds a pool in the middle of an old church?"
"You're joking," Luce said.
"I wish." Penn rolled her eyes. "Every summer, the headmaster gets it in his little mind to try and stick me with the task of redecorating this place. He won't admit it, but all the God stuff really freaks him out," she said. "Problem is, even if I did feel like pitching in, I'd have no idea what to do with all this junk, or even how to clear it out without offending, like, everyone and God."
Luce thought back to the immaculate white walls inside Dover's gymnasium, row after row of professionally shot varsity championship pictures, each matted with the same navy card stock, each showcased in a matching golden frame. The only hallway more hallowed at Dover was its entryway, which was where all the alumni-turned-state-senators and Guggenheim fellowship winners and run-of-the-mill billionaires displayed their head shots.
"You could hang all the current alumni's mug shots," Gabbe offered from behind them.
Luce started to laugh - it was funny ... and strange, almost like Gabbe had just read her mind - but then she remembered the girl's voice the night before, telling Daniel she was the only one he had. Luce quickly swallowed any notion of a connection with her.
"You're straggling!" yelled an unknown gym coach, appearing from nowhere. She - at least Luce thought she was a she - had a frizzy wad of brown hair pulled back in a ponytail, calves like ham hocks, and yellowing "invisible"
braces covering her top teeth. She hustled the girls angrily into a locker room, where each was given a padlock with a key and directed toward an empty locker with a shove. "Nobody straggles on Coach Diante's watch."
Luce and Penn scrambled into their faded, baggy bathing suits, Luce shuddered at her reflection in the mirror, then covered as much of herself as she could with her towel.
Inside the humid natatorium, she instantly understood what Penn was talking about. The pool itself was giant, Olympic-sized, one of the few state-of-the-art features she'd encountered so far on this campus. But that wasn't what made it remarkable, Luce realized in awe. This pool had been set down right in the middle of what used to be a massive church.
There was a row of pretty stained-glass windows, with only a few broken panels, spanning the walls near the high, arched ceiling. There were candlelit stone niches along the wall. A ping board had been installed where the altar probably used to be. If Luce had not been raised agnostic, but rather as a God-fearing churchgoer, like the rest of her friends in elementary school, she might have thought this place was sacrilegious.
Some of the other students were already in the water, gasping for air as they completed their laps. But it was the students who weren't in the water who held Luce's attention. Molly, Roland, and Arriane were all spread out on the bleachers along the wall. They were cracking up about something. Roland was practically doubled over, and Arriane was wiping away tears. They were in much more attractive bathing suits than Luce, but not one of them looked like they had any intention of making a move toward the pool.
Luce picked at her saggy one-piece. She wanted to go join Arriane - but just as she was weighing the pros (possible entrance into an elite world) and cons (Coach Diante berating her as a conscientious objector to exercise), Gabbe sauntered over to the group. Like she was already best friends with all of them. She took a seat right next to Arriane and immediately started laughing, too, like whatever the joke was, she already got it.
"They always have notes to sit out," Penn explained, glaring at the popular crowd on the bleachers. "Don't ask me how they get away with it."
Luce hemmed and hawed at the side of the pool, unable to tune in to Coach Diante's instructions. Seeing Gabbe et al. clustered on the bleachers cool-kids-style made Luce wish that Cam were there. She could picture him looking buff in a sleek black bathing suit, waving her over to the crew with his big smile, making her feel immediately welcome, even important.
Luce felt a gnawing need to apologize for ducking out of his party early. Which was strange - they weren't together, so it wasn't like Luce was obligated to explain her comings and goings to Cam. But at the same time, she liked it when he paid attention to her. She liked the way he smelled - kind of free and open, like driving with the windows down at night. She liked the way he tuned in to her completely when she talked, holding still like he couldn't see or hear anyone but her. She'd even liked being lifted off her feet at the party, in plain view of Daniel. She didn't want to do anything to make Cam reconsider the way he treated her.
When the coach's whistle blew, a very startled Luce stood straight up, then looked down regretfully as Penn and the other students near her all jumped forward, into the pool.
She looked to Coach Diante for guidance.
"You must be Lucinda Price - always late and never listens?" Coach sighed. "Randy told me about you. It's eight laps, pick your best stroke."
Luce nodded and stood with her toes curled over the edge. She used to love to swim. When her dad taught her how at the Thunderbolt community pool, she'd even been given an award as youngest kid ever to brave the deep end without floaties. But that was years ago. Luce couldn't even remember the last time she'd swum. The heated outdoor Dover pool had always sparkled, tempting her - but it was closed to anyone who wasn't on the swim team.
Coach Diante cleared her throat. "Maybe you didn't catch that this is a race ... and you're already losing."
This was the most pathetic and ridiculous "race" that Luce had ever seen, but it didn't stop her competitive edge from coming out.
"And ... you're still losing," Coach said, chewing on her whistle.
"Not for long," Luce said.
She checked out the competition. The guy to her left was sputtering water out of his mouth and doing a clumsy freestyle. On her right, a nose-plugged Penn was leisurely gliding along, her stomach resting on a pink foam kickboard. For a split second, Luce glanced at the crowd on the bleachers. Molly and Roland were watching; Arriane and Gabbe were collapsed on each other in an annoying fit of giggles.
But she didn't care what they were laughing at. Sort of. She was off.
With her arms bowed over her head, Luce dove in, feeling her back arch as she glided into the crisp water. Few people could do it really well, her dad once explained to an eight-year-old Luce at the pool. But once you perfected the butterfly stroke, there was no way to move faster in the water.
Letting her aggravation propel her forward, Luce lifted her upper body out of the water. The movement came right back to her and she started to beat her arms like wings. She swam harder than she'd done anything in a long, long time. Feeling vindicated, she lapped the other swimmers once, then again.
She was nearing the end of her eighth lap when her head popped above water just long enough to hear Gabbe's slow voice say, "Daniel."
Like a snuffed-out candle, Luce's momentum disappeared. She put her feet down and waited to see what else Gabbe had to say. Unfortunately, she couldn't hear anything other than a raucous splashing and, a moment later, the whistle.
"And the winner is," Coach Diante said with a stunned expression, "Joel Bland." The skinny kid with braces from the next lane over hopped out of the pool and started raising the roof to celebrate his victory.
In the next lane, Penn kicked to a stop. "What happened?" she asked Luce. "You were totally killing him."
Luce shrugged. Gabbe was what had happened, but when she looked over at the bleachers, Gabbe was gone, and Arriane and Molly were gone with her. Roland alone remained where the crowd had been, and he was immersed in a book.
Luce's adrenaline had been building while she swam, but now she'd crashed so hard, Penn had to help her out of the pool.
Luce watched Roland hop down from the bleachers. "You were pretty good out there," he said, tossing her a towel and the locker room key she'd lost track of. "For a little while."
Luce caught the key in midair and wrapped the towel around her. But before she could say something normal, like
"Thanks for the towel," or "Guess I'm just out of shape," this weird new hotheaded side of her instead blurted out,
"Are Daniel and Gabbe together or what?"
Big mistake. Huge. She could tell from the look in his eye that her question was headed right to Daniel.
"Oh, I see," Roland said, and laughed. "Well, I couldn't really ..." He looked down at her and scratched his nose and gave her what seemed like a sympathetic smile. Then he pointed toward the open hallway door, and when Luce followed his finger she saw Daniel's trim, blond silhouette pass by. "Why don't you just ask him yourself?"
Luce's hair was still dripping wet and her feet were still bare when she found herself hovering at the door to a large weight room. She'd intended to go straight into the locker room to change and dry off. She didn't know why this Gabbe thing was shaking her up so much. Daniel could be with whomever he wanted, right? Maybe Gabbe liked guys who flipped her off.
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