“Come on, Sebby. The minerals in the water and the heat will relax your back muscles. You’ll feel so much better.” Robin adjusted her swimsuit strap.
“I don’t know. That’s a lot of water.” Sebastian tugged on the belt around his bathrobe, tightening the knot.
“It’s only three feet deep, honey.” Robin eased her foot in. “And it’s nice and hot today!” She took the next step down. “There are places for you to sit around the edge. Even when you’re sitting, it’ll only barely go up to your chest because you’re so tall!” Wincing at the heat, Robin gently lowered herself down onto a seat by the stairs.
“Eh…” Sebastian took a step back. “I’m feeling pretty exposed.”
“What, your calves and your feet?” Robin laughed. “It’s just the two of us. You have a t-shirt and board shorts on under that robe. And you’re the one bitching about how your back hurts! Listen. You’ve taken the max doses of Motril and Tylephen. Dr. Harvey won’t see you until tomorrow, and you’re in pain. Just get in.”
Sebastian sighed. He walked right up to the stairs with his robe on, then quickly ditched it and ran down the stairs. “Hot! Ow! Yoba!” Once he was in the water, which only went up to his waist when he stood, he was able to catch his breath. “Wow. Yeah, Mom, that’s really hot. Smells weird, too.”
“That’s the minerals in the water. They soak in through the skin, that’s where the healing effect comes from. It’s why I dragged you out here instead of just telling you to take a hot bath. Come sit down.”
“Huh. Let’s see if this works.” Sebastian wandered over to where Robin was sitting and sat down a couple feet away. He cringed as the bubbles in the water blew up his t-shirt, and laughed as he released them with a fart sound.
“If the history of this place is right, tourists have been coming here for more than a hundred years to soak. Apparently, the minerals in this water are especially helpful for pain relief.”
“That’s right,” said a bright voice behind them.
“Ms. Penny!” Robin turned around and waved.
Sebastian turned around, too, cringing and turning bright red as he saw Penny, Vincent, and Jas in their swimsuits. He waved, then turned back.
“Ms. Robin is right,” Penny continued. “And before the tourists, the Native Ferngillians used this hot spring as a sacred healing site. This is where the area’s nations’ rulers would have their peace talks if war had broken out.”
“What if soldiers broke in and killed them?” Vincent asked.
“They wouldn’t have,” Penny explained, “because the ancient gods would have punished them.”
“Were the ancient gods even real?” Jas asked. “What about Yoba?”
“It doesn’t matter.” Penny gave Jas a warm smile. “Maybe they were real. Maybe they weren’t. Maybe the natives were interpreting Yoba as many different gods. What matters is that they had faith. That faith had rules, and even in times of war, it kept nations from being destroyed. It kept people from being tortured. It kept water supplies from being poisoned. And it kept people who weren’t soldiers safe.”
“Maybe we need some ancient gods.” Sebastian rolled his eyes. “Some for us, some for the Gotoro Empire…”
“But they’re the bad guys!” Vincent yelled.
“True. They’ve done terrible things to our soldiers and to our people. And we’ve done terrible things to them.” Sebastian turned to Vincent. “War is complicated and it’s terrible.”
Jas interjected. “Is that why you’re in the hot spring, Mr. Sebastian? Because you’re stressed out because war is terrible?”
Sebastian gave her a soft smile. “Well, war is terrible, and I am stressed about it, but I’m actually here because I hurt my back.”
“Oh no! You should go to the doctor!” Jas ran up to him and knelt down by him. “If you get hurt, you have to go to the doctor and you can’t ignore it. Aunt Marnie said!”
“Your aunt Marnie is smart. And I have an appointment tomorrow morning. But my back hurts now, and I already took medicine, so this is all I can do to make it feel better.”
“Jas and Vincent!” Penny called. “Can either of you tell me what a mineral is?”
The kids looked at each other with raised eyebrows.
“Probably not,” she said, “Which is why you’re in school. If you already knew all this stuff, you wouldn’t need me!”
“Yeah we would!” Vincent grabbed her hand.
“Awww! You’re so sweet. What I mean is you wouldn’t need me to teach you, because you’d know everything.” She patted Vincent on the head. “Anyway, kids, a mineral is a naturally-occuring substance, not made by anything alive. It’s solid, and its internal chemical structure is a repeating pattern. So. Salt is a mineral. Gemstones are minerals. There are minerals in your food, like iron and calcium. Can you think of any other minerals?”
“Copper! And gold and iron!” Jas yelled as she raised her hand.
“I knew it because they’re crystals, which would mean their molecules do a pattern, right?”
“That’s right, very good! Two Star Points for each of you. Now let’s get in the water. It’ll be hot, so we’ll get in very slowly, and we’ll only stay in for a couple minutes. If it’s too hot for you, please get out and just dangle your feet in.”
Penny eased herself down the stairs. She found a seat on the opposite side of Robin and Sebastian, not wanting to disturb them.
Jas was next. As soon as her foot hit the water, she let out a nervous laugh. “Miss Penny, it’s super hot!”
Penny, visibly relaxed, nodded. “It really is. If it’s too hot for you, you can sit on the side and put your feet in. Or, you can sit on the top step.”
Jas stood on the first step, considering her options.
“Miss Penny?” Vincent peered into the water. “Why can’t I see any minerals in the water?”
“Because they’re teeny tiny particles. We’d have to look under a microscope to see them.”
By then, Jas had made her way to the second step.
Vincent turned to her. “Hey Jas, is it still hot?”
“Yeah, but I’m getting used to it.” She sat down on the second stair, slowly lowering herself down so the water came up to her chest.
Vincent quickly dipped his hand in. “Oh, yeah, you’re right, it’s not that hot!”
“Yes it is!” Penny’s head snapped over to Vincent.
Vincent backed up.
He took a couple steps forward. Penny watched in horror as he launched himself forward into the pool. He landed with a splash, then immediately popped up, red-faced and screaming. “HOT! HOT! HOT!”
Penny reached under his arms, lifted him out, and put him on the side of the pool. His screaming had given way to crying.
“Jas, you said it wasn’t too hot!”
“No I didn’t!” She was indignant. “I said I got used to it!”
Penny patted Jas’s knee. “You’re not in trouble.”
“Am I in trouble?” Vincent sobbed.
Penny shook her head. She grabbed a towel from the side of the pool and wrapped Vincent up. “You punished yourself, Vincent. You did something I told you not to do, and now you know why I told you not to do it. Jumping into hot water hurts!” She rubbed his back reassuringly.
On the other side of the stairs, Sebastian facepalmed and whispered. “I can’t believe he did that.”
“I can,” Robin said quietly. “The ‘what were you thinking’ part of kids’ brains doesn’t form until they’re young adults. They get the ‘this is gonna be cool’ part, but not the ‘what if it’s not?’ Impulse control is hard.”
“Oh, I remember that,” Sebastian said. “Remember when I climbed up on the roof?”
“Yeah. Didn’t even have to ground you because you broke your leg jumping down.”
Sebastian laughed and shook his head. “Worst summer ever.” He glanced over to Vincent, who was slowly calming down. “I just can’t believe Vincent threw himself into the water like that.”
“He’s a good swimmer. He probably thought it would be like a swimming pool, just a little warmer.”
“Yeah, but water is scary!” Sebastian cringed. “He must have never gotten it up his nose, or tried to swim and just sank.”
“His mom took him to swimming lessons when he was a baby. Sam, too. Living so close to the beach, she’s very much a ‘swimming is a survival skill’ person.”
“Well, it is. And that just makes water even scarier since I can’t swim. I just sink like a rock.”
“Yeah, that’s because you’re a skinny mini,” Robin said with a laugh. She pinched Sebastian’s arm.
Sebastian rolled his eyes. “Thanks, Mom. No wonder I can’t get a date.”
Robin gave a crooked smile, about to let loose with a wisecrack. Seeing the look on Sebastian’s face, though, she thought better of it. “Honey, someone who truly loves you will love you skinny. And I’m sure they’re out there, because you’re a lovable guy. You’re smart, you’re funny, you’re helpful, you have a beautiful smile, and you make a great pumpkin soup.”
“Thanks, Mom.” This time, he smiled. “I think I’m gonna sit on the side for a few minutes, I’m getting hot.”
Vincent had stopped crying, timidly putting his feet in the water.
“Hey Vincent?” Jas reached behind Penny’s back and patted her friend’s hand. “Are you feeling better?”
“Yeah. That was really hot! I thought it was gonna be like a bath! But it’s way hotter. I guess I didn’t put my hand in there for long enough.” Vincent eased his legs into the water.
“Probably not,” Penny said. “And when you pulled your hand out, the air around you made your hand feel cooler. So now you know why we don’t jump into the hot spring pool.”
“Yeah,” he sighed. “That was a bad choice. Are you gonna tell my mom?”
“Yes I am,” she said. “But I’ll tell her we took care of the punishment here, and now you know a little more about safety around hot water.”