I am facing the open ocean. The plan was simple but I didn't know it yet. Conquering my fear of swimming in the deep, where the water holds mysteries in the most amazing shade of dark, sparkling teal. Out where the dolphins play and where the shipwrecks begin. We would never come close to the edge of the continental shelf below but that did not stop my sixteen-year-old imagination from conjuring up a leviathan of epic proportions coming up from the depths to swallow me whole.
The water numbs my thighs and licks at my hair. The wind is fierce today. Whitecaps. An undertow which twice already forced me to pinwheel my arms and grab for Lochlan, standing just to my left. It's an unconscious, habitual action not lost on Cole, who stands to my right. They don't have any problem holding ground as the waves pull back from the shore.
I am tempted to pack it in. The water is freezing and black. The wind is too strong. My bathing suit is too spare. I am old enough to push every boundary that I can these days with my wardrobe choices. String bikinis are my usual attire. I have three. White, baby blue and green. I wear nothing else, unless we are in town and then the green hoodie and cut off shorts will make an appearance over them. I might wear shoes if I absolutely must. My hair is down to my thighs now, habitually twisted into a low bun because I have decided it makes me look older than the braids ever did. I am probably wrong.
On three? Cole shouts across the breeze and I nod and dive in before he begins to count. After a moment I feel his hand on my ankle briefly as he follows me. I swim underneath the surface until my lungs crush in. Then I surface, gasping. His head pops up almost at the same time. He looks proud of me. You're doing great, doll. Come on! He flips back under the water and I follow above. I am not looking down, I have decided I will swim until I hit Ireland. At least I think I will. I see Lochlan swimming fifteen feet away, his easy crawl making me jealous suddenly.
Thirty feet from shore and he is closer but still ahead of us. Ten feet ahead and to the left. He has dropped his pace to stay nearby. He knows I am dumb enough to accept Cole's challenges whether I can manage them or not. He knows that Cole is a more renegade version of Caleb. We're a recipe for disaster but we've been together every day for a year now and so far so good.
Cole swims beside me. Breaststroke. He begins to tell me that huge fish are circling below us in the abyss. He thinks it's hilarious. Fear weighs my limbs down and I begin to swim in dog-paddle fashion, like I did when I was little and the boys told me if I wanted to swim out to the raft at the lake I would have to do it myself but then I would freak out once the water was fifteen feet deep and Lochlan would come back and pull my arms around his neck and bring me the rest of the way. There is no helping hand at fifteen. I'm not a baby anymore but the way I'm swimming and panicking is beginning to use up all of my energy and I falter and stop, treading water.
I look down and the large rocks below us are monsters, ascending from trenches below and I freak. Cole's face goes from jubilant to regretful just as Lochlan's hand closes around my arm. He pulls my arms around his neck, swearing at Cole and turns back to shore. I bend my elbows until I am pressed against his back. I feel his muscles repeating as he swims quickly back to shore and once we touch bottom he paces through the water and punches Cole. Cole goes down and then recovers and shoves Lochlan right back. They are evenly matched in size.
Jesus, Loch. She wasn't in any danger.
Panicked people drown.
How could she drown when we're both right there? He is incredulous and maybe Lochlan jumped the gun. My loyalties waver. Flitter flutter. I don't say anything. I stand there shivering in my green bikini and wrap my arms around myself. I'm staring at both of them. Back and forth.
Did you feel afraid, Bridget?
Then you're LIVING! Cole shouts the word. He is proud that he scared me. I nod obediently but I don't know what he means and I'm anxious to prove loyalty. Lochlan gives us the worst look and storms the rest of the way back to the beach. He doesn't wait for us, he just picks his belongings up as he passes the blanket and goes straight to his truck, peeling out into traffic without looking back. Cole laughs and then turns serious.
I keep thinking at some point he's going to stop thinking he owns you but it doesn't seem to be happening.
I dismiss his words, since Lochlan dropped me into Cole's life and let go anyway. It was a fluke that he brought me back to shore. If he hadn't been there, Cole would have. I am angry suddenly, defensive. He's fine. Maybe he had a bad day, okay?
It's ten in the morning.
Bad night then.
He stares at me. Or rather, through me and I look out to sea. It's freezing. Let's go in. I turn and leave him there and wade in laborious strides through the shallow breaking waves until I can wrap my towel around myself. The sun has disappeared behind the clouds and the beach is sombre and empty. I wait by our belongings as he takes his time coming in. When he reaches me he has already made up his mind.
I guess next time we just won't invite him. He can't save you if he isn't here, right, dollface?
Three years ago Caleb said the same thing. I'm in over my head.
I'll never go out into the deep water again.