Scott stands on the secluded lake shore with his hands on his hips and his face turned towards the bright blue sky, eyes closed as he absorbs the long-awaited summer sunshine. He has weeks of freedom ahead of him before he returns to school for his senior year; time to rest and relax, and not to worry about his parents and teachers on his back, nagging him about grades, detentions, and university applications. This summer is for him; away from the bubble of toxic masculinity that is his group of friends at school, and away from the gaggles of girls following him, desperate for his attention. He breathes deeply, allowing the peace and calm of the deserted lake to wash over him. His moment is interrupted, however, by a splash and a gurgled cry coming from the water, several metres from where he is standing. He opens his eyes and looks straight ahead, squinting at the water, which shimmers with the reflection of the hot morning sun. Then he sees it, a small, pale-skinned hand waving above the water, grasping at the air as if trying to grab onto something that simply is not there.
He is running towards the water now. Not bothering to remove his short-sleeved shirt or the thin cotton trousers he’s wearing over his swimming trunks. He dives in as soon as it is deep enough to do so, and swims furiously towards the person struggling ahead of him, adrenaline coursing through his body. Just as he reaches them the kicking and splashing intensifies, and he takes an elbow to the shoulder as he attempts to grab the person and haul them to safety.
“Stop struggling…” he yells as he grasps the distressed swimmer around the waist, “I’m trying to…” he manages to inhale just before he finds himself being dragged under the water too. He opens his eyes, they sting slightly as he tries to find his bearings beneath the surface of the murky lake, though he is pleased to quickly register that he is not too far out of his depth, the sandy lake bed clearly visible beneath his swirling feet. He brings his attention back to the struggler, his hands still on their waist. He meets a pair of fearful eyes, her face partially hidden as shoulder-length brown hair swirls around it. He grabs her shoulders forcefully, pulling and kicking with all his might to bring both their heads up from under the water.
They break the surface with a gasp. He holds her torso tightly so as to try and calm her and stop her from going under again, she splutters, drawing deep, ragged breaths as he treads water for the both of them.
“It’s ok, you’re ok,” he says against her ear, slightly breathless in his efforts to keep them afloat. His front is to her back, one arm over her collarbone, the other around her waist. He purposefully takes in a deep, steady breath in order to calm both her and himself. After a few moments, her breathing evens out and synchronises with his, and her legs begin to circle to hold herself up above the surface.
“Are you alright?” he asks gently, still holding onto her. She hums squeakily and nods her head slightly, he slowly slackens his grip and lets her go. She turns in the water to face him, and Scott swears her eyes must be mirrors reflecting the sun-kissed lake they’re treading water in. He swallows roughly and clears his throat, “Come on, let’s get out of the water, we’re not far from the shore, you can hold on to me as we swim back.”
“It’s ok,” she says timidly, an unfamiliar accent on her lips, “I think I can swim there myself.”
And boy, can she; taking off towards the shore in a powerful front crawl before stepping shakily out of the water, turning to look back and see him making his sluggish way towards dry land with a lopsided breaststroke. A look of incredulity flashes over her face, which turns to a small smirk as he emerges from the water, his soaked shirt and trousers clinging to his body, utterly exhausted from his efforts.
“Adrenaline, eh?” he says with a shrug and his arms outstretched, looking down at his soaked clothing. His eyes flick over her; she is wearing a pale pink one-piece, which almost blends into her alabaster skin. Her eyes are stunningly green, and her nose and cheeks are scattered with delicate freckles. She reaches up and wrings out her wet hair, pulling it to one side over a similarly freckled shoulder. His mouth feels dry, but he can’t just stand there and stare at her open-mouthed, so he sticks his hand out.
“I’m Scott” he introduces himself, with a nervousness he has never experienced before.
“Tessa,” she replies, voice shy under his gaze, but meeting it as she takes his hand to shake it. “Thank you for rescuing me. I feel like a complete fool, though, I swim all the time at home but haven’t all holiday until this morning and I got cramp in my legs right as I was about to head back in. I don’t know what would have happened if you hadn’t appeared.” She lets out a shaky breath and swallows with a tiny sob, looking down at her feet.
“Lucky for us both I was here then,” he says smoothly, finding his confidence in his sudden desire to make her feel better, and to try to test his theory that a smile will make her eyes shine brighter. He decides to change the subject away from her near-death experience. “Where are you holidaying from? You don’t sound like you’re from Ontario.”
“Oh,” she says, looking up at him again, “no, I live in Melbourne, Australia. My mother is from Windsor though, and has family across the border in Michigan. We’re over for a family reunion, which was last week, and now we’ve come up here for a week on the lake to relax before heading home. It’s winter in Australia so we only have a short vacation.”
“Oh right,” says Scott, a little taken aback by meeting someone from the other side of the world in this small Canadian lakeside town. He looks her up and down, taking her in again, “I thought Australia was full of tanned surfers with sun-bleached hair?” He thinks of the Australian shows and commercials he’s seen on TV and what the people in them looked like.
“Well most of us are,” says Tessa, clearly slightly amused by his remark, a small but brilliant smile pulling at her delicate mouth, “but as I said, I’m half Canadian. Plus, I don’t get out in the sun much. I spend most of my spare time in the dance studio or the swimming pool. No time for sunbathing and surfing, particularly not when I don’t live near that near to the beach anyway. Have I ruined all your stereotypical expectations of antipodean life?”
He opens his mouth to respond, but finds he has no comeback to this, mainly because he didn’t really understand her last sentence. After a moment she begins to laugh, highly amused by his impression of a fish as he stands there, opening and closing his mouth with a bemused expression on his face. He comes back to himself at the sound and returns her laugh.
When her striking eyes meet his again their laughter swiftly subsides.
They both know that the sunset is the cue for them to part ways. Both are expected by their respective families for dinner, and lateness is not an option. He pulls her to him as they watch the sun dipping below the surface of the lake in the distance, a red and orange glow filling the sky and reflecting off the water. He brings his face down to hers, noses brushing gently as he pulls her in for a tender kiss.
“This has been the best week of my life,” sighs Tessa as they break apart, “it feels almost unfair that I have to leave tomorrow.”
“It is unfair,” huffs Scott, downcast resignation in his body language, shoulders slumping as he continues to cradle her face in his hands. “Why does this have to be the end? Can’t it just be the beginning?” He kisses her again, endeavouring to remember everything about how her lips feel and taste before they part forever. A silent tear trickles down Tessa’s cheek as she returns the kiss with passion, arms moving tightly around him and hands reaching up to grasp his shoulders, leaving no space between their bodies.
“Tessa!” Her sister’s voice is distant but clear, and she knows that it is time to go. She pulls away, pecking Scott on the lips once more before she begins to walk back towards the path to their rented cottage. She turns before leaving the clearing, eyes meeting his one last time, forcing a watery smile and returning his wave. He watches her retreating form until she is gone, then he too turns to head towards home.
Tessa is crying early the next morning as their car pulls away from the cottage as she and her family head towards the airport to catch their flight home. When questioned she hastily wipes her tears away with the hem of her shirt, blaming tiredness and the prospect of a long flight ahead of her. She’s left to it in the backseat, her parents are bickering in the front over the route to the airport and where the hire car drop off is located. She sighs and shoves her headphones into her ears, attempting to drown out the noise and be lulled to sleep by the muffled whirr and vibration of the tyres on the road.
Tears prick at Scott’s eyes several hours later as he breathlessly comes to a halt outside her family’s rental cottage, which now stands quiet and empty. No hire car sits in the driveway, just the cleaning company’s van. In his clenched fist is the ruined scrap of paper she had written her email address on the previous morning, which he had accidentally left in the pocket of his shorts that his mother had put through the washing machine earlier that day. He kicks angrily at the gravel when he remembers that he had promised to write his down for her too, but had completely forgotten as the day ran away from them. He spends the rest of the day sitting on the abandoned dock a short hike away from his family’s house, his toes dipping in the water as he watches the birds come and go from the surrounding trees, staring wistfully up at the sky every time an aeroplane passes overhead.
For the rest of August, he seeks solitude whenever he can. He tries not to think about Tessa too much, or think about how upsetting it must be for her to have not received any communication from him. He hacks into Danny’s computer one afternoon while he is out playing softball with the neighbours and goes on his Facebook to try and search for Tessa, but he cannot find her. He’s not at all familiar with social media, and decides against making an account of his own, particularly if she’s not on there either. Instead, he fills his quiet hours reading university prospectuses and preparing his applications. His parents do not question his sudden quietness, they are thankful that he is finally taking his future seriously and doing what he needs to do to make something of himself once he leaves high school. He studies, he reads, he avoids his friends, and he gradually dreads returning to school.
Tessa’s crying does not stop after the drive to the airport, and she sheds many more tears during August as her life is turned on its head. They are tears of loss, of confusion, of separation she is not ready for. She stops checking her email, fed up of the hurt and disappointment of finding no new messages from him. Life becomes too busy and hectic anyway, her spare time is spent packing, saying goodbye, and attempting to reason with her father. She gives up on that too.
Come September she finds herself walking towards the doors of a large and intimidating public high school, a Canadian flag fluttering from the flagpole. Her Senior year will not be the one she wanted or expected, but it will certainly be one that she will never forget.