Before we moved here, I swam in rivers. Now, it’s the little pool at the Grand Motel for a dollar a day, no lifeguard but the concrete steer atop the Palmetto Steakhouse across the street. Tracy brings Nicole, and we lean our bikes on the cyclone fence before stripping off our fathers’ tee shirts. We always ride together because Tracy says the Panty Man will knock you from your bike, and steal your panties right off if you ever ride alone. Where’s the grownup who’ll stop him? I wonder, not sure if I believe her. I do know she once kissed the boy whose name fills my diary, and all summer long we croon That Boy’s name to every love song on Casey Kasem’s Top 40 until her momma hollers up the stairs that she’ll blister our butts if we don’t shut up and be quiet. Tell me again, I beg Tracy, Tell me about the kiss, but all she’ll say is he has a really Frenchy tongue, and we giggle as we count up all the girls he’s kissed—Amy, Donna, Lori, Raquel—so I can believe my turn’s coming up. That Boy never comes to the pool, though every time Tracy calls to ask him, he says yeah maybe, and so she gets Nicole and me and we three go and wait, sipping Sprites and rubbing Hawaiian Tropic on each other’s backs. Now that we’re thirteen, we never swim. We sit at the edge and dip our feet, talking and talking about That Boy, but still hoping the other boys will notice our new swimsuits. Those boys dive and flip, push each other into the deep end, splashing and screaming. Ryan waits for one of us to look, then shouts Gimme head! Arms up, fingers pointing down to where his wet swim trunks cling. All the boys have started doing this, the summer filled with shouts of Gimme head! It makes no sense to me, sounds like something the Red Queen might demand, but the way the boys laugh makes my stomach curl up into itself. Tracy raises one eyebrow and declares Ryan gross, but Nicole just laughs, her tan shoulders cocked just so, then reaches out with one finger to flip up my chin before my gaping mouth can form the question. Why do you gotta be such a homegirl? she asks me, meaning the one who writes in her diary at home while everyone else gets kissed. I look down and kick at imaginary minnows, watch the ripples circle out, bounce off the boys to smack the algae-stained tile.
Tria Wood is a writer and educator who helps children and teachers become confident creative writers through the Writers in the Schools program in Houston, Texas. Her work has appeared in Painted Bride Quarterly, Sugar House Review, and Literary Mama, as well as in public art installations.