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Sink or Swim

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The hot sun beat down on Maxie, heating his skin and pushing past the waves of sweat that had started to appear all over his body. He bit his lip, wondering if any of his "buddies" would notice if he vanished. If his roommate insisted that he come to the pool (and before the college semester was even over, despite it seeming more like an August day than an early May), he surely wouldn't mind if Maxie simply sat under a shady umbrella.

Would he?

There were a million places that Maxie would have rather been at that moment. His dorm room was one place, considering it had nice air conditioning and all of his books. Finals were coming up, and though he was sure that he would pass his Earth science final, a little extra studying had never hurt anyone.

I could have at least brought some papers with me, Maxie thought. Not a textbook, of course. Just the idea of his textbooks, brand new and the cost of his previous summer's entire savings, being so close to the swimming pool sent a shiver up his spine. Still, some notes wouldn't have been too bad. It was always good to go over notes.

"Hey, Maxie!" Wallace called. He waved over to him from where he was floating, close to the pool's edge. His back was against the wall and his messy hair was wet. "Are you going to hurry up and get in already?"

Maxie bit his lip. A few of Steven's friends were staring expectantly at him.

With a sigh, the red head stepped towards the pool. All around him, children were laughing and adults were either getting in or out of the pool. Though the place was packed, Steven and his friends seemed just fine in their own little corner of the pool.

It felt strange getting near so much water. Even as a child, he had preferred a shower to a bath, and rarely went swimming. He could bike and play sports when he was in the mood for it, but swimming had never been his forte. There was just something about having that water all around him, surrounding him on all sides, that made him anxious.

First, he dipped his big toe in. He froze the moment his toe hit the water, tightening his grip on the pool's metal handles. Then, once he couldn't handle the stares of the others for too long, he stepped on the first rung of the pool's ladder and slowly began to step in. It was even worse when it wasn't just his toe in the water.

A bath was one thing. The water was clean and Maxie would be the only one in it. Pool water was made of chlorine, not to mention countless other chemicals. The water was shared among hundreds, from the tiniest of children to the oldest of adults, not to mention peeled Band-Aids, pool toys, and fallen jewelry. The water may have been clear and sparkled just the slightest, but Maxie wasn't fooled.

Maxie floated over to the side, keeping his hands against the pool wall. Floating next to him was a red headed girl, one of Steven's friends. He thought her name was Flannery, but he couldn't always be sure. Steven was a social butterfly and everyone seemed to know him.

Once he was in the water, eyes left him. Maxie relaxed. The people in front of him were slightly blurry without his glasses, but after focusing for a few seconds to the colored blobs and listening to their voices Maxie was able to make out the others around him. Had he had goggles, then Maxie would have worn them.

After a few minutes of listening to them talk, the words going in one ear and out the other, Maxie's mind started to wonder. Did they have to come to the pool for this? If Steven wanted to socialize, he could have gone to their college campus's library, a local coffee shop, or to a bookstore. Why did they have to come to the pool of all places?

And why, Maxie wondered for the millionth time, did he have to invite me?

He pondered on it for a while longer. It wasn't as if he had anything else to do, and it was the best way to keep himself from remembering just what a dirty place he was in. When that got boring, he studied as best as he could without books or papers. His mind recited chemical formulas and rock types. Math problems were done without the help of a calculator or a sheet of graph paper. Essays for novels were entirely written mentally, running on whatever Maxie remembered from the books.

He thought so much that he didn't even notice when his body started to slip further into the water or when he lost his hold on the pool wall. He didn't cry out or even remember to try and swim up.

The water was all around him when he noticed. His mouth opened, and water rushed in, the dirty, dirty pool water. Maxie reached for his neck, trying to force it out even when water was all around him and kept rushing in.

It was even harder to see underwater. His eyes burned, and he could just barely keep them open. The world was even blurrier, a mess of blue mixed with other colors that all mixed in with one another, like some abstract painting.

The water was heavy too. The other colors faded away to specks, and the blue deepened around him. Not that he could care, not when he needed to get the water out of his throat. Even as his body shifted and the cold stone floor of the pool loomed closer and closer to him, all he could think of was getting the disgusting pool water out of his throat.

-

When he saw the world again, it was a few splashes of blue and a huge blob of brown. His body was heavy, and he could feel someone pushed on top of him. This was like one of his weird dreams, one of those mixes of nightmares and wet dreams that he had when he ate too much ramen.

Something was pressed against his lips. It took him a moment to realize that it was someone else's lips.

In the next moment they were gone. Maxie's vision focused just slightly, and he could make out the features of the person above him. A man, around his age or maybe a year older, with dark skin and wide eyes. His dark hair was wet and stuck to his face.

Maxie started coughing before he could make out any other details. Water was coming from his mouth, that disgusting pool water leaving his mouth and landing on his chest like a waterfall. Pain filled him, and as heavy as his head was, it was screaming at him to get away from that pool and never come back.

Once he stopped coughing, the man met his lips again. Maxie froze, and just barely started breathing again like the man was doing.

Once he released his lips, he stood up. "Can you feel anything else in your chest?"

For a moment, Maxie could only blink. He felt so much lighter without the man on top of him, but that only made him feel more afraid. His body had been warm and like an anchor. Now, Maxie felt as if the slightest wind would blow him away.

After a moment, he nodded.

"You really had us worried there."

Maybe it was just the light, or maybe it was just because Maxie didn't have his glasses on, but Maxie was sure that he saw the lifeguard, his savior, smile.

-

Three days later, after making sure that no water was left in his lungs, studying as much as he could in his air conditioned dorm room, and listening to Steven apologize to him for the millionth time, Maxie went out for a walk.

Though the day had been hot, the setting sun brought out a cool breeze and an orange and purple sky. The college campus was surpisingly peaceful that night, and Maxie relaxed. It felt good to get his muscles moving again and to finally give himself a much needed break. After his last few days, Maxie felt he had earned a little time off.

As he was walking towards the large tree that marked the center of the campus, he heard a cry.

"Hey, you!"

Maxie turned. Though he didn't recognize the voice, there was something in it that made him think that the other person couldn't be calling out to any of the other few students around.

His eyes locked with that of a dark skinned man, dressed in a black T-shirt and blue shorts. It took a moment for Maxie to recognize the lifeguard, as for once he was wearing more than just black swim trunks, but when he did he smiled.

The man ran up to him, a wide smile on his face. The closer he got, the more details that Maxie could make out of him. Around his neck was a golden chained necklace, and at the end a shiny anchor. At the top, engraved in it was a shiny stone that reflected back many colors depending on the light. In one of his hands was a textbook.

"I've been worried about you!"

Maxie felt his cheeks turn red. He hadn't expected to see the lifeguard again, and had hoped to look past the pool incident.

"Thank you," Maxie said, looking down to his shoes. "I've been doing a lot better. There's no water in my lungs."

"That's wonderful."

Maxie waited for the man to leave. Instead, his sandaled feet remained firmly on the ground before him.

"I'm glad that you're doing okay. You really did have me scared a couple days ago." He paused for a moment.

"Maxie."

"Maxie!" Maxie finally looked up, and saw that the lifeguard was smiling. "The name's Archie."

Maxie nodded. Now that he really got a good look at him, along with a name, he was able to recognize Archie. He had seen him a few times around campus and seen him near the school's, not the public (which he would never step foot near again, no matter what Steven said), pool right after the swim team's practice had ended.

Maxie bit his lip. "Thank you so much." His words came out in a rush. "It sounds ridiculous, but when that was happening I wasn't even thinking about the fact that I could have died. All I could think about was the fact that there was water in my throat."

Archie nodded. "You certainly weren't kicking to get out."

"I was never a very good swimmer." Maxie sighed. "Really, thank you."

"Hey," Archie replied. He shrugged. "It's just my job."

"Well," Maxie said. Before he could regret it, he spoke his next words as fast as he could. He had to get them out before his brain kicked in. "I really am thankful. If you want, I could treat you to a coffee sometime later. I know it's not much, but-"

Before he could even finish, Archie had an arm around his shoulder and a wide grin on his face. "My class ended early and I'm free for the rest of the night. I could go for that coffee now." His grin widened. "That's quite a nice offer." His voice rose at the end, and Maxie felt his cheeks grow hot once more.

"I'm glad that you accept."

"Are you busy right now?" Archie squeezed his shoulder, sending a rush of warmth down Maxie's back.

"No." Maxie replied. "I have all the time in the world."