15. INSULTING HIS MASCULINITY IS SUCH A DEAL BREAKER

“You guys are looking lazy. I want to see better form!” Coach Lauren yelled at them from the deck.

On Thursday afternoon, Emily bobbed with the other swimmers in the crystal blue water of Rosewood’s Anderson Memorial Natatorium, listening to their youngish, former-Olympian coach, Lauren Kinkaid, scream at them. The pool was twenty-five yards wide, fifty yards long, with a small diving well. Huge skylights mirrored the length of the pool, so when you did backstrokes in the evening, you could look up and see the stars.

Emily held on to the wall and pulled her cap over her ears. Okay, better form. She needed to really concentrate today.

Last night, after getting back from the creek with Maya, she’d lain on her bed for a long time, flip-flopping from feeling warm and happy about the fun she and Maya had had…to feeling uneasy and antsy about Maya’s confession. I’m not sure I like guys. I think I’d like someone more like me. Did Maya mean what Emily thought she meant?

Thinking about how giddy Maya had been at the waterfall—not to mention how much they’d tickled and touched each other—Emily felt nervous. After getting home last night, she’d rifled through her swimming bag for that note from A from the day before. She read it over and over again, picking apart every word until her eyes blurred.

By dinnertime, Emily decided she needed to throw herself back into swimming. No more skipped practices. No more slacking. From now on, she’d be the model swimmer girl.

Ben paddled over to her and put his hands on the wall. “I missed you yesterday.”

“Mmmm.” She should make a new start with Ben, too. With his freckles, piercing blue eyes, slightly stubbly jaw, and beautifully chiseled swimmer’s body, he was hot, right? She tried to imagine Ben jumping off the Marwyn trail bridge. Would he laugh or think it was immature?

“So where were you?” Ben asked, blowing on his goggles to defog them.

“Tutoring for Spanish.”

“Wanna come over to my house after practice? My parents won’t be home till eight.”

“I…I’m not sure if I can.” Emily pushed away from the wall and started to tread water. She stared down at her blurrily pumping legs and feet.

“Why not?” Ben pushed off the wall to join her.

“Because…” She couldn’t come up with an excuse.

“You know you want to,” Ben whispered. He took some water into his hands and began splashing her. Maya had done the same thing yesterday, but this time Emily jerked away.

Ben stopped splashing. “What?”

“Don’t.”

Ben put his hands around her waist. “No? You don’t like to get splashed?” he asked in a baby voice.

She took his hands off her. “Don’t.

He backed away. “Fine.”

Sighing, Emily floated over to the other side of the lane. She liked Ben, she really did. Maybe she should just go over to Ben’s after swimming. They’d watch TiVo’ed episodes of American Chopper, eat pizza delivered from DiSilvio’s, and he’d feel underneath her unsexy sports bra. Suddenly tears sprang to her eyes. She really didn’t want to sit on Ben’s itchy blue basement couch, picking oregano spices out of her teeth and rolling her tongue around the inside of his mouth. She just didn’t.

She wasn’t the kind of girl who could fake things. But did that mean she wanted to break up? It was hard to make up your mind about a boy when he was right in your swimming lane, four feet away.

Her sister Carolyn, who was practicing in the lane next to her, tapped Emily on the shoulder. “Everything all right?”

“Yeah,” Emily mumbled, grabbing a blue kickboard.

“Okay.” Carolyn looked as if she wanted to say more. After her trip with Maya to the creek yesterday, Emily had skidded the Volvo into the parking lot just in time to see Carolyn exiting the natatorium’s double doors. When Carolyn asked where Emily had been, Emily had told her she had to tutor for Spanish. It seemed like Carolyn believed her, despite Emily’s damp hair and the funny ticky noise the car was making—something it did only when it was cooling down from a drive.

Even though the sisters looked alike—both had broad freckles over their noses, chlorine-bleached reddish brown hair, and had to wear a lot of Maybelline Great Lash to lengthen their stubby lashes—and even though they shared a room, they weren’t close. Carolyn was a quiet, demure, and obedient girl, and although Emily was all those things too, Carolyn seemed really satisfied to be that way.

Coach Lauren blew the whistle. “Kicking time! Line up!”

The swimmers lined up from fastest to slowest, kickboards in front of them. Ben was in front of Emily. He looked at her and raised an eyebrow.

“I can’t come over tonight,” she said quietly, so the other boy swimmers—who were crowded around behind her and laughing at Gemma Curran’s fake tan gone wrong—couldn’t hear. “Sorry.”

Ben’s mouth flattened into a straight line. “Yeah. As if that’s a surprise.” Then, as Lauren blew the whistle, he pushed off the wall and began dolphin-kicking. Uneasy, Emily waited until Lauren blew the whistle again, and pushed off behind him.

As she swam, Emily stared at Ben’s pumping legs. It was so dorky how he wore a cap over his already-short hair. He got so OCD before races, too, shaving off every hair on his body, including the ones on his arms and legs. Now, his feet made exaggeratedly huge splashes, which sprayed right into Emily’s face. She glared at his head bobbing in front of her and pumped her legs harder.

Even though she’d left five seconds behind him, Emily reached the opposite wall at almost the same time Ben did. He turned to her, pissed. Swim team etiquette dictated that no matter how big a swimming star you were, if someone caught your feet on a set, you let them go ahead of you. But Ben just pushed back off the wall.

“Ben!” Emily called, the irritation in her voice showing.

He stood up in the shallow end and turned around. “What?”

“Let me go in front of you.”

Ben rolled his eyes and ducked back underwater.

Emily shoved off the wall and kicked crazily until she caught up to him. He reached the wall and turned to face her.

“Would you stay off my ass?” he practically yelled.

Emily burst out laughing. “You’re supposed to let me go!”

“Maybe if you didn’t leave right on top of me you wouldn’t be on top of me.”

She snorted. “I can’t help it if I’m faster than you.”

Ben’s mouth fell open. Oops.

Emily licked her lips. “Ben…”

“No.” He held up his hand. “Just go swim really fast, okay?” He tossed his goggles onto the deck. They bounced awkwardly and landed back in the water, narrowly missing Gemma’s fake-tanned shoulder.

“Ben…”

He glared at her, then turned and got out of the pool. “Whatever.”

Emily watched him angrily push open the boys’ locker room door.

She shook her head, watching the door slowly swing back and forth. Then she remembered the thing Maya said yesterday.

“Fuck a moose,” she tried out quietly, and smiled.

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