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by Virginia Eggerton

CW: sexual assault

The chlorine burns my eyes when I open them underwater. Through the electric-teal haze, I am just in time to see Mr. Bailey pull his hand out from inside Olivia’s pink-striped bikini bottoms. When I surface, she’s wearing this pinched expression, squinting in the August sun. After a pause, she ducks under, swims to the other side of the deep end, and pulls herself up the little metal ladder. Finally, she wrings out her long brown hair and walks to the locker room. I just tread water.

When I was ten my mother taught me how to play poker. We would wager Skittles and chores in games of Texas Hold ‘em and five-card draw. She said that the hardest part was playing against someone you couldn’t read. She said I was a piece of cake because I wore my heart on my sleeve: pouted at a missed flush opportunity, a bad river. She was a much better bluffer. She once went confidently all-in on a hand with nothing in it. I folded, and I had a pair of jacks. I had to do dishes that night. 

A moment later, I swim to the same ladder and pull myself out. The concrete is prickly against my bare feet and I pause for a breath or two. Because of the heat, the whole place is packed. If I cross my eyes, it looks like ants clustering around a drop of melted blue popsicle. On the other side of the pool, I can see Mr. Bailey throwing diving toys for the grade-schoolers. Mrs. Bailey is asleep in a lounge chair under the shade of an umbrella just beyond them. When I get to the locker room, I call in from outside. 

“Olivia? Are you okay? It’s Sophie.” My stomach is in knots. I hear my voice echo against the walls.

“Uh, yeah. Why?” She snorts. I don’t know how to answer. Our middle school is huge, and we’d only ever spoken once. I feel like an idiot. 

“Okay,” I squeak. I hear flip-flops squelching on the slick tile and hesitate, waffling. A soft breeze raises goosebumps on my skin, though it must be nearing a hundred degrees. When I do finally go in, the locker room is empty, except for her swimsuit lying in a pile on the floor.

Virginia Eggerton is an MFA student at George Mason University. She loves peaches, old book stores, and playing Stardew Valley. Some of her work has recently been published or is forthcoming in Honey & Lime and MoonPark Review. You can find her on Twitter @eggertonhere.

Lead image: “the invitiation” (via Flickr user frankieleon)

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