Devi was anxious about this party. She’d settled into dating Paxton easily. But that was after swim season was done and this was a swim team event. Paxton told her she didn’t need to bring the See’s Candy but who ever turned down candy? Besides she needed to make a good impression and it was likely these kids hadn’t forgotten a couple months ago when she was the reason their star swimmer broke his arm and couldn’t swim. The swim team didn’t fare as well as they could have last season because well...her boyfriend had to sit it out.
Devi’s knees shook in the Jeep as Paxton drove to Aidan Duncan’s house, the current captain of the swim team, a senior, who Devi got the very distinct impression, didn’t care for her. It’s possible it wasn’t just because she’d been inadvertently responsible for Paxton’s broken arm. When Devi was a freshman, she may have been doing some grading for Mrs. Hernandez during a free period and she may have noticed that the junior comp paper that Aidan submitted was lifted right out of the first page of google. Word for word. Now, Devi felt confident that had Mrs. Hernandez been grading the paper herself, she would have immediately noticed what Devi did, that the paper was plagiarized. And maybe if Devi hadn’t been telling Fab about it directly in front of the classroom as Aidan walked by, Devi probably wouldn’t have been blamed for it. She, of course, hadn’t told Paxton this little bit of history between her and his teammate because well, what if he got mad at her retroactively about this thing that happened last year? Before they even spoke to each other. Before Paxton knew she existed.
“You look nervous,” Paxton offered, reaching over to squeeze her knee. “It’s chill. The guys are chill. There’s gonna be some girls there too, like Cara is Aidan’s girlfriend. She’s on the newspaper staff? That sounds like a group of people you’re familiar with.”
Devi scoffed. “If that’s your way of suggesting she’s a nerd too-”
“She’s really nice and when she saw us at the dance, she told me we were very cute and you seemed too good for me, so see, this is the person I’ll leave you with if I can’t be right next to you, okay?” Paxton pulled into the driveway of a cheesy tudor style home. But the kind of cheesy that meant they were rich and just had poor taste in architecture.
“I don’t need to be babysat,” Devi said, unbuckling her seatbelt and taking a deep breath. “I’m not gonna commune with a coyote or something if left unattended.”
Paxton laughed. “Please don’t. I don’t want to go to the emergency room tonight.” He leaned over and pushed some hair behind her ear and smiled at her with the kind of energy that made her heart stop. “Definitely don’t want to get yelled at by your mom tonight.”
Devi closed her eyes and scrunched up her face. “Yeah, let’s not do that.”
The party was much more subdued than she expected. There were only 20 or so people. Mostly the boys’ swim team and only about half of them brought a date. What she gathered from conversation was that this was an elite invitation. The swim team did not invite just anyone to these little kickbacks. Turns out only girlfriends (or boyfriends) were allowed. No first dates, no second dates, you had to be seriously attached to get into this party.
“I just don’t think there’s any point in getting to know random people who won’t be around long,” Devi overheard one of the guy’s saying.
Guess these guys didn’t think getting to know lots of people and having lots of friends was a thing. Weird. Devi happily gathered friends. Sometimes she made some truly ridiculous decisions causing awkward situations and in that context, she’d found it was best to be friendly with a lot of people to make sure you had a lot of ways out or in, depending on the hijinks.
Devi was sitting on the edge of the pool, legs dangling in the water while Paxton was in the pool, leaning back on her legs. Paxton was telling a story about the time he accidentally swam to San Diego to a group of people in the pool when there was a loud crash in the house. The noise made Devi jump but Paxton turned fully to her, reaching for her back like he could shield her from whatever it was. He looked around her to see what the noise was, which was good because Devi didn’t want him to see the way she was blushing at his protective stance.
“The dogs got out!” someone shouted from the house.
Paxton moved over to pull himself out of the pool next to Devi and reached for her hand to help her stand up, but before she could take it, Aidan shouted from the other side of the pool, “Paxton, Joey, help me get the dogs!”
Devi shrugged and smiled at Paxton, seeing a tiny terrier and a large dog, maybe a Great Dane? It was a huge dog, running across the back porch. Some of the girls in the house were trying to get the little dog in with treats but neither dog looked interested in going back inside. Paxton sighed heavily but started jogging towards the dogs. The big dog darted faster than Devi thought a dog could run to the side of the house. That was where Paxton headed and the last thing Devi saw before someone pulled her into the pool.
At this point, Devi should have been prepared to fall into pools, it was becoming a regular occurrence. But something was stopping her from coming up. She opened her eyes but the chlorine burned, besides seeing didn’t matter now because she could feel several arms holding her down, under the water. Her heart was thumping and she tried to blow air out of her nose slowly, desperately trying not to panic, but she was failing. She could hear muffled shouting, just out of the water, a girl screaming, and just as when she thought she was gonna pass out from lack of air, someone lifted her by her armpits up and out of the water.
Devi came up coughing and gasping as Paxton and someone else pulled her to the side. Paxton was on his knees, in front of her, absolutely panicked. “Are you okay? Devi?”
She coughed again, and couldn’t catch her breath, and Paxton pat her back and wrapped his arms around her.
“I got you, take a minute,” he said it so softly and calmly, it was counter to the look of horror on his face.
Someone put a towel around her and as she settled down Paxton pulled back to look at her. “Ya good?” She nodded and before she could ask Paxton what happened, he stood up, walked two steps, and dragged Aidan out of the pool by the arm and then punched the guy’s face as he was half on the edge of the pool, sitting.
“Da fuck?” Aidan shouted, holding his face. “Couldn’t swim this year, guess you don’t want to swim next year either, huh?”
“What’s wrong with you?” Paxton growled. “And who gives a shit about swimming when you’re out here trying to kill people!”
“She’s fine. She wasn’t even under that long,” Aidan stood up now, trying to intimidate Paxton. “We do it to all the girls, they’re all fine, right Cara?”
Devi felt someone beside her, probably the person who put the towel around her, she looked and saw it was Cara. She looked almost as angry as Paxton.
“Yeah, they did that to me, Aidan,” Cara ground out. “Don’t you remember me telling you that as captain, you could control that shit and if they did it to anyone else, I wasn’t ever gonna suck your dick again, do you remember that?”
A chorus of “damn” went through the rest of the party.
“I’m calling Coach,” Paxton said. Devi couldn’t see his face but she could see his fist balled up on his side like he was itching to hit Aidan again. “I’ll break up the whole damn team to stop this kinda shit from happening.”
“Just because your chances of college were fucked by this girl, you gonna fuck the rest of our chances by getting us tossed off the team?” Aidan looked angry and shocked, tilting his head like he couldn’t believe the turn the night had taken. At least the other swim team guys in the pool looked chastised.
“Imma call UC San Diego's swim coach to toss your ass out, you don’t hold people under water like that as some kind of hazing ritual. I’d call the cops if I thought they’d do literally anything to a rich kid like you but they won’t so I’ll save my breath.”
Cara helped Devi stand up, and then Devi grabbed Paxton’s balled up fist. “Hey, let’s just go home.” He relaxed immediately, but the minute Aidan moved, Paxton was back on guard.
“Yeah, you should take the nerd home,” Aidan taunted, before Paxton lunged at him again. He didn’t make contact, Devi held his arm and Cara pushed herself between the two boys. But she wasn’t taking Aidan’s side.
She put her hand on Paxton’s chest while pushing Aidan back. “Can you drop me at home, too?”
Aidan scoffed and Cara turned on him quickly. “You thought I wouldn’t be mad about this? We’re done,” she said with finality.
Devi pulled on Paxton’s wrist again and he went easily, with one last glare at Aidan.
The ride home, Paxton was silent. Devi held his hand on her thigh and made small talk with Cara about the newspaper. Devi was actually familiar with that circle of people and it was easy to fill the ride to Cara’s house. Before Cara got out, she put her hand on Devi’s shoulder.
“I’m sorry. That must have been really scary for you, because of last year, with your legs.”
Paxton’s hand squeezed Devi’s a little tighter.
“I’m okay. But thank you. And thanks for standing up for me. I appreciate it.” Devi smiled warmly and Cara mirrored her before pushing on Paxton’s shoulder.
“See you later, bud, I didn’t want you to break bones on his face, one broken bone a year is enough,” Cara added, before hopping out of the Jeep.
Paxton gave her his best attempt at a smile but it was weak. He waited for Cara to go in her front door before putting the Jeep back in drive and heading to Devi’s.
“You, uh, look pretty mad still. I don’t think I’ve ever seen you that upset. And that’s saying something because you have occasionally been very mad at me pre girlfriend stage.”
He didn’t say anything, just took a deep breath in. “I really gotta stop walking away from you at parties. You end up almost dead when I do that.”
Devi gave him a half smile, trying to lighten the mood. “I have been told I’m more trouble than I’m worth.” It was meant to be a joke but Paxton turned swiftly to face her and shook his head. He slowed the car and pulled over to the side of the road so he could give her his full attention.
Devi was taken aback. “I was just joking.”
“Whoever told you that wasn’t though and I’m telling you it’s bullshit. You’re worth all the trouble.”
She felt her heart melt and her stomach flip, but she couldn’t believe it. “Break up an entire swim team? Ruin somebody else’s college chances worth it?”
“I want to say that I’d do those things no matter who they held under the water but I don’t know if I would have been so mad. So yeah, you’re worth all that, Devi. You’re worth it.”
Devi pressed her lips together to try and keep herself from saying anything else to ruin such a lovely moment. Paxton leaned over and kissed her, softly. Like he was worried he might break her.
She reached around his neck pulling him closer, deepening the kiss and sighing into his mouth. His hand held her cheek before he slid his hand down, his thumb settling on her chin.
“I’m so sorry,” Paxton said against her lips. “Really promise not to leave you unattended at a party again. Actually maybe we just skip parties from now on. They’re not even fun.”
Devi pulled back and laughed. “I’m really okay. But I’m not so interested in another swim team party.”
“Me either,” Paxton said, leaning in and kissing her again.