(Chapter One is available here)
Adelaide flailed her arms as she was dragged below the surface. She choked on water as it filled her lungs. She noticed the sun sparkle across the surface of the lake above her. She kicked her legs hard and connected with something.
Adelaide twisted and turned, then pushed herself off of whatever held her. She shot to the surface and spluttered as her head emerged from the water.
“Tetsu! Not cool!” she called as she swam back to the shore. She pulled herself onto one of the large rocks along the lake’s edge and clambered out of the water. Once she was safely on the bank, she turned and glared back toward the lake, where Tetsu was now treading water.
“I can’t believe you kicked me!” Tetsu chuckled while he rubbed his shoulder. His short black hair, which usually resembled a hedgehog’s bristles, was matted to his head.
Adelaide plunked down on her Care Bear towel, then laid back and closed her eyes. The sun, which was often absent in Olympic Vista, made the inside of her eyelids gold. She savoured the warmth on her face and allowed herself to become hypnotized by the rolling motes of black and gold.
The lake was busy now. They’d arrived early enough to get a prime spot on the secret bank. The area could fit about a dozen people and was popular with teenagers in the evening. During the day, preteens basked on the rocks, clambered down the embankment, or jumped off the small rocky outcropping. It was a well-kept secret, in part because adults never walked this far to swim. The other reason was that the bank could only be accessed by a short, narrow trail that cut through a copse of trees and descended steeply. It was the perfect spot, until your best friend pretended to be a lake monster and dragged you under.
“You okay?” Kurt asked as he climbed out of the water and sat beside Adelaide.
She recalled the time she’d seen some boys from school throw a cat into the lake. It had looked miserable and tiny, not unlike Kurt at times. Kurt was short for his age, and scrawny. Most of his well-worn clothing was a size too small, which created a comical effect Adelaide never commented on.
She shielded her eyes from the sun with one hand and looked at Kurt. His reddish-brown hair hung in his eyes. He lifted a hand to push it away, but it fell back into place. Water trickled down his face. He was dripping wet. While usually his clothes were too small, his swim trunks were the opposite: obvious castoffs from someone larger than he was. The too-big waist was pulled tight with a drawstring and double-knotted. This caused him to look scrawnier still.
“I’m okay, Kurt. You didn’t have to get out on my account.”
Tetsu scrambled up the rocks and out of the water.
“Want to pack it up? I’m hungry.” He scooped up his towel.
That’s the way it was with Tetsu. He didn’t apologize, he just moved on. Adelaide and Kurt watched as Tetsu dried himself off. “It’s on me,” he said after a moment.
Kurt pulled on his blue t-shirt and the three of them shoved their belongings into their backpacks. They slipped their flip-flops onto their feet, climbed the short ascent to the trail, and hopped on their bikes.
Douglas fir and Garry oaks shaded the bark-mulch path and provided a reprieve from the hot sun and the cacophony of noise from the lake. The three of them pedaled along the trail toward the main beach and the concession stand. The smell of fried food wafted in their direction as they drew closer.
Kids of all ages splashed and swam in the lake. Parents with big hats and striped umbrellas basked on colourful beach towels and blankets. Half a dozen people waited in line at the small stone building with its big window and display of condiments.
Tetsu dropped his bike on a patch of grass, adjusted his backpack strap and joined the line. Adelaide and Kurt set their bikes into the bike rack some twenty feet away. Kurt went back, picked up Tetsu’s fallen bike and started to walk it toward the bike rack. Adelaide flanked the bike and took the other handlebar. Kurt let go as she rolled it into the rack next to their bikes.
“If he’s not careful it’ll get stolen,” Kurt fretted.
“I know, Kurt,” Adelaide agreed.
Adelaide’s eyes fell on the angry man she’d seen at Rutledge’s earlier. The boy was next to him, as were the girl and a pretty blond woman Adelaide assumed was their mother. They all sat on a large, pristine blanket. The boy glanced over and caught Adelaide’s gaze.
“Where did Tetsu get the money for the concession?” Kurt asked incredulously.
“Beats me,” Adelaide said, looking back at Kurt. “His parents? Maybe birthday money?”
The pair joined Tetsu in line and Adelaide stole a glance back at the beach. The boy on the blanket grinned at her. She averted her gaze and looked at the ground. It was the last day of summer break and she wanted to savour it. Tomorrow was the first day of their last year of elementary school. She knew everything was about to change.
“Burgers and sodas all around?” Tetsu asked as he reached the window. Adelaide and Kurt nodded.
Before long, the three of them sat on the grassy hill, which was dotted with patches of sand and led down to the beach. The sun beat down and the dry grass tickled Adelaide’s legs. The bottom of Kurt’s shirt was wet from his swim trunks. Adelaide had forgone putting on her shorts and t-shirt and wore just her faded blue swimsuit with her trademark black leather wrist cuff, which was studded with black and white squares. Tetsu wore just his swim trunks. Their backpacks, which were stuffed with their clothes and towels, lay scattered about them on the hill. Tetsu had shoved his change back into one of the pockets of his bag before he’d tossed it to the ground.
“This is the stuff,” Tetsu said, his mouth full of food. Adelaide watched as a big glob of ketchup fell out of his burger and landed on his bare chest. “It’s a perfect day. Conan. Swimming. No school. Burgers. Soda. It doesn’t get better than this. Am I right, Kurt?”
Adelaide nudged a distracted Kurt.
“What? Oh, yeah. Thanks, Tetsu.”
“Just go ask her out,” Tetsu said as he followed Kurt’s gaze.
Adelaide didn’t have to look. She knew Kurt was watching Farrah, who was busy giggling with her friends near the concession. There was a good chance Farrah would be Queen of the School this year. She was pretty and charming with big, blond hair like Farrah Fawcett. Adelaide liked her well enough, but she hated the sound of giggling. And all of them giggled.
“I can’t. She’d laugh.” Kurt sighed. “I should get more napkins.” He scrambled to his feet and walked back to the concession. He was most of the way back, napkins in hand, when he froze in his tracks.
“Hey, shithead!” Jordan Kirkus called.
Adelaide frowned. Jordan led four boys in Kurt’s direction. Kurt looked for an escape route.
“Yeah, you.” Jordan pointed at Kurt. Jordan was tall with shaggy brown hair. He was a year older than they were. As of tomorrow, he was a high school student. Adelaide had suspected for a while that Jordan bullied Kurt, but Kurt had refused to admit it.
Adelaide stood up. “Leave him alone,” she said as she raised herself to her full height and strode over to stand next to Kurt. At five foot three, Adelaide wasn’t quite as tall as Jordan, but she was at least an inch taller than his friends.
Jordan looked surprised, but recovered quickly. “Or what?” he sneered at Adelaide.
“Daddy, maybe we could––”
“No. We’re not going in the water,” Drew snapped.
Miranda looked at her husband. “Drew, they could just—”
“No,” Drew cut her off. “Everyone can stay on the blanket.” He adjusted his sunglasses and surveyed the lake-goers.
Darius looked around. Kids his age were covered in sand. They ran barefoot into the water and splashed and screamed and pushed each other. He wasn’t sure what the point of their visit to the beach was if they weren’t allowed to get wet.
“What’s wrong with the lake, Dad?” Darius asked.
Drew swivelled his head and appraised Darius. There was a pregnant pause. “Nothing. I don’t want sand in the car.”
Darius opened his mouth to object, but noticed a familiar face by the concession. The girl from the corner store. The two boys she had been with were there too. One of them was talking animatedly to her while they waited in line.
Life in Boston had been far from perfect. Darius had never felt like he fit in. He wondered what it would be like to spend time with this girl and her friends. They looked like a motley crew of outcasts, the exact opposite of most of the kids from his school in Boston. He took a breath and moved to stand up.
“Sit on the blanket, Darius,” Drew commanded.
Darius glanced back at the concession, but remained seated.
Adelaide kept Jordan’s gaze. “Or, I’ll make you.” She wasn’t actually sure how she’d make Jordan leave anyone alone. She thought of kicking him in the shin. She hoped if she did, Tetsu would back her up long enough for Kurt to run away.
There was a long moment of silence as Jordan appraised Adelaide. She’d moved herself in front of Kurt. She held her breath and fought the urge to pick at the cuticles on her fingers with her thumb.
Tetsu was on his feet now. He moved to stand at her side. She felt him tense, like a cat ready to pounce. There was a smear of red across his chest. Adelaide suspected he’d tried to clean up the ketchup with his hand.
“You’re lucky your girlfriend is here,” Jordan said as he turned to walk away.
“You wish you had a girlfriend, Jordan,” Adelaide challenged. “Instead, you have to run away from a girl younger than you are.” Her voice was even and devoid of emotion. Butterflies flapped in her stomach. She fought the urge to wipe her palms on her swimsuit. Her mom had told her once that bullies didn’t like to get called out or shown up in front of their friends. She hoped this time her mom was right about something.
Jordan’s friends chuckled. Adelaide breathed a sigh of relief. Her mother, it seemed, did know a little about high school boys.
“Shut up!” Jordan called as he stormed toward the lake. The other boys followed, but Adelaide could hear their taunts and jeers.
“Thanks, Adelaide.” Kurt let out the breath he’d been holding.
“No problem, Kurt,” Adelaide said. She gathered up their garbage and tossed it in a nearby bin.
“You didn’t have to imply you’re my girlfriend, though.”
Adelaide shrugged. “Let’s get out of here.” She wondered if Andy Katillion, the boy up the street, would still be mowing the lawn. She noticed more ketchup on Tetsu’s hand, but said, “Oh, Tetsu, you have ketchup in your ear.”
“What?” Tetsu said as he reached up, smearing ketchup from his fingers onto his ear. He raised an eyebrow at Adelaide. “Really?”
“I can’t believe you fell for that,” Kurt said with a laugh. “Nice one, Adelaide!”
“That’s for pulling me under at the lake,” she said in her monotone voice. There was a hint of a smile on her lips as she pulled her blue and white shorts over her swimsuit. The three of them gathered their bags and bikes and pedaled toward the parking lot. Adelaide could feel eyes on her. She wondered if it was Jordan, or the new kid with the angry father, or Farrah and her gaggle of gigglers. Either way, she was done at the lake.
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(Olympic Vista Chronicles were previously published as Legends of The Link novellas.)
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