by Nora B. Peevy
It was Saturday afternoon at the pool and Billy’s father toted a blue inner tube, flippers, and an orange beach bag crammed full of towels and sunscreen. Mike Chase, Billy’s classmate, stood poolside, tubby in his orange and brown swimsuit, his hair greasy and sweaty. Just looking at Mike made Billy want to scurry in the other direction, but George, Billy’s father, marched oblivious to any danger. His father’s comical bone-white knees jutted out from his too-short blue Hawaiian print shorts. Billy wished he could fade into one of the blue and white striped lounge chairs flanking both sides of the pool, as his father slathered sunscreen on his freckled shoulders. Billy’s red cowlick wavered like an alien antenna in the slight afternoon breeze.
"Go get 'em, tiger. I’ll be back in a couple of hours.”
Billy shielded his eyes from the sun, watching Mike Chase. His stomach hurt with the reminder of the last time Mike beat him up at school this week; he’d taken a few blows to the stomach. Billy dipped his big toe in the water. The smell of chlorine burned his nostrils as he entered the shallow end, keeping one wary green eye on the bully. Mike stole a little boy's beach ball, flinging it into the deep end at a pretty girl in a pink bathing suit, gabbing with her friend.
The water wasn't too cold as Billy waded out to where he could barely stand and sank down like a crocodile, keeping only his eyes above the surface, hoping to remain unnoticed as Mike turned in his direction. He’d only come swimming at his parents’ urging. He’d rather be home in his room reading his comics.
Billy dove underwater and swam through a jungle of legs and feet, hoping Mike hadn’t spotted him. His lungs burned. He needed air soon. He kicked to the surface, sputtering to find Mike Chase looming in front of his face -- mean, ugly Mike Chase, water dripping from his flaring horse nostrils.
"Hi Seal Boy! Wanna do a trick for me? It's called duck and dive!" Mike swung his fist, his face red with exertion from swimming to catch Billy.
Billy dove right under Mike’s fist and swam off towards the ladder in the deep end. Escaping into line for the high dive, he felt water dripping on his head. He looked up to see Mike towering over him.
"Bark, bark, bark! C’mon and bark, Seal Boy!" Mike jabbed Billy in the ribs with a fat finger before he hopped back in the pool to snap the strap of a girl’s bikini top.
The other kids in line laughed as Billy tried to ignore them, waiting his turn. Two kids stood in front of him and then he was next. He stared straight ahead. His ears burned red, wanting to shrivel up and fall off. He wouldn’t cry. He just wouldn’t because that would only make it worse. Billy continued to wait, shuffling his feet and staring at the wet cement. He climbed the twenty steps to the diving board with Mike Chase barking at all the way and plummeted into the pool, letting the water rush over his ears, drowning out the other kids’ laughter. For a moment, everything was blue and calm -- quiet and safe.
End of Excerpt