Tuesday, Sept 8th, just before first period
On Monday, when I checked my folder, there was a note from the PE Department. Joel had one, too. They both said the same thing – our swim tests had been rescheduled for Tuesday morning, and that a note had already been sent to the teachers where we would be missing class. The rest of the school day was uneventful.
Looking in the student handbook, I was glad to see there was no longer a requirement to wear uniform swimsuits. There was a uniform swimsuit in the package of uniform bits that Dormer had helped us order, but it had much shorter legs than mine from home and the fabric seemed uncomfortable. Joel was fine with the uniform one.
I’d planned to bike to and from school every Tuesday and Thursday when Joel would have soccer. Even with my trying out fencing, because he was going for the competitive team and I was going for the bare minimum for PE credit, he’d be at it much later in the evening than I would. Today, though, we’d caught an early streetcar – Dormer had explained that a 1st period swimming meant we had to be changed, ready and at the pool when the bell rang.
Having arrived early and changed, we had found ourselves at the side of the pool with a lot of first year students, boys gathered on one side, girls on the other. Most people were in their uniform swimsuits, and most who weren’t were wearing similar-enough, non-flashy swimsuits. There were a few exceptions, but sadly, not a single bikini among the girls.
Joel recognized one of them. “Hey Mark,” he said, nudging me, “there’s Violet.”
“The girl I rescued last week. You saw her on the train on the first day.”
I tried to follow where he was glancing, and sure enough, there she was. She looked young compared to most of her classmates and she looked happy to be there. Chatting with her were two other girls – Tess, who was in my history class, and another girl. She looked really tall compared to the other two – she was easily 15cm taller than Violet, and while it was hard to tell from the distance, I was pretty sure she’d about split the difference in height between Joel and myself. Like Violet, she looked happy to be there. Tess really didn’t; I couldn’t hear them from across the pool, but she’d smile at things that her friends said, and then go right back to a worried frown.
“Stop staring, dude,” said Joel.
“What?” I said, looking away.
“I mean, I can’t blame you,” said Joel, and then he dropped to a near-whisper. “I’m not really a boob man, and even I’m impressed.”
“Shut up, Joel.” I mean, it’s not like I didn’t notice these things, but I really was mostly trying to figure out their social interaction. I looked over again, briefly, and really did have to stop myself from staring this time. Tess had looked well-endowed in her regular uniform, but in a swimsuit, to borrow what Joel said, she was… impressive.
Joel laughed and poked my shoulder. “She’s in your history class, right?”
“Maybe you should try to get to know her. Must be smart to be taking advanced honors history as a first year.”
“Most of the class is first years. They placed out of the regular world history class or took it in the last year at the lower school.”
“Oh,” said Joel, “well, still.”
I shrugged and changed the subject. “Does their taller friend look at all familiar to you?”
He looked over again. “Now that you mention it, yeah, but I can’t place her.”
Around that time, a gym teacher came out, and started explaining the swim test. “OK, kids, settle down. For a lot of you, you already did this in the lower school, but for everyone new or who has forgotten, it’s simple. Swim to the far end of the pool, whatever stroke you like, without standing up and touching the bottom. Any questions?”
One of the boys raised his hand, and after being pointed to, asked, “Is there a time limit?”
“No,” said the teacher. “Well, we only have the pool until the end of 2nd period.”
He paused, possibly expecting a laugh, but nobody responded. “OK, anything else?”
Nobody had any questions, so he went on. “We’re going to call you up in order. There are a lot of you to get through today, so go to the lane I indicate quickly, and when you get to the end, just check your name off with my assistant.
“We’ve got two lifeguards here if you have trouble, and if any of you are too afraid of the water to try, just head down and let my assistant know, we’ll start you on swim lessons.”
A few took him up on it and started walking over to the assistant.
After that, they started calling students up, in what sounded like last name alphabetical order. I didn’t recognize any of the names until they called Tika Allard early on. “Wait, isn’t that Jacks’s sister’s name?” asked Joel.
The tall girl who’d been talking to Violet and Tess walked up to the pool. “So that’s why she looked familiar,” I said.
The first few students ahead of her had done what I planned to do – lowered themselves in to hold onto the edge, and then started swimming. Tika, on the other hand, dove. And then took off -- the first students ahead of her were still in the water, and she handily beat them to the end.
“She must be good enough to be on the swim team,” said Joel. “I wonder why they made her take the test.”
“Rules are rules, I guess.”
It didn’t take long to get to Berg, and I headed in. They’d said any stroke, and it looked like a pretty long pool. I figured I’d conserve my energy, and after kicking off from the wall to get a start went into floating on my back and kicking gently.
I was glad the pool was indoors. I’d probably be sunburned by now outside, and be staring right into the sun too, with my luck. Not long after, someone in the next lane over went past me, pretty quickly. A while later, I heard someone coming up on the prior lane. I looked over, and I was maybe at the halfway point. Oy. I’d never been much good at side-breathing, but I worried I was going to get stared at for being too slow and turned over to try to swim normally. That lasted… well, a few moments, before I realized I was going to tire myself out and went back to floating on my back and kicking. Staring at the ceiling in the warm water was relaxing, and I kind of got lost in thoughts about nothing in particular until… thump I swam head-first into the back wall of the pool.
Fortunately, I wasn’t going fast enough that anything was hurt except my dignity. I got out of the pool, feeling very embarrassed, and glanced around. Nobody seemed to be looking at me, so it could have been worse.
After checking names off with the other PE teacher, most people were leaving to go get changed. A few hung around, probably waiting for their friends. Joel had been nervous about going in the water, so I figured I’d stick around to make sure Joel was going to be OK. I looked around and heard they were up to the Fs. I glanced over at the folks waiting to go, and spotted Tess on her own, frowning again. A couple of other folks looked vaguely familiar from my history class, but nobody I could remember the name of.
The teacher soon got to the H-es and called for Tess Hahn; she seemed fine in the water, so whatever had her frowning didn’t seem to be a lack of ability to swim. When she got out, I noticed that she met Violet and Tika at the entrance to the girl’s locker room and all three disappeared inside together.
It was a bit of a wait until they got to the Rs, and they called for Joel Ross. At first, he seemed fine; he kicked off the wall and was doing a normal stroke, and then, a short way into it he seemed to miss a breath, or something, and pretty soon he was sputtering and standing up a little less than half way through the pool. The nearer lifeguard called out to him to ask if he was OK, and when he nodded, asked “Do you want to go back and try again?”
Joel did, sort of walk-bouncing when he got to the deep end. Starting over, he kept up a proper stroke for a while, and partway through must have gotten nervous. This time, he tried to roll over, but rather than getting into a back float, he ended up with his head under water. He stood up again, spitting out water.
This time the lifeguard waved him out, and with nobody nearby in the lane next to him, he walked over to the side and got out.
The assistant PE teacher asked him his name and marked him down as a “didn’t pass.” I met up with him after that.
“This… sucks,” he said. “I hope they have a swim class that doesn’t conflict with soccer practice.”
Some minor typos corrected.