Blood. Not a good sign.
Underwater. Also not a good sign.
Kaila Linna realized two other not good signs. She couldn’t lift her arms without a sharp pain nearly making her inhale water and her legs were tangled in something heavy, dragging her deeper.
This is how I die. In a swimming pool, half naked.
The thought almost amused her, but the growing pain in her lungs reminded her drowning was one of her greatest fears. The realization intensified the pain.
She tried reaching for what held her legs together, but agony shot through her left shoulder and more blood rose towards the surface. In desperation she tried kicking, but the movement only tangled her more.
Her eyes burned with the chlorine, one becoming blurry as her contacts lens fell out. Her body slowed and soon she couldn’t find the strength to even lift her head.
Hitting the bottom of the pool, she stared at the distorted blue sky. Shadows appeared at the edge of her vision and her lungs burned for oxygen. She couldn’t hold it any longer. She exhaled the last of her air in a stream of bubbles.
Inhaling, the pain shocked her only for a few seconds before she lost consciousness.
∗ ∗ ∗
“Everyone will be doing the workout today. Go to your lanes and get started. If you have any questions, feel free to ask me or Rachel,” Coach Pam Green yelled across the pool area.
The fourteen shivering students reluctantly sprang to action, simultaneously regretting signing up for an outdoor swimming class in winter. California winters though not as cold as other states, still weren’t comfortable.
Kaila pulled her towel tighter around her, wishing she were back in her bed instead of standing half naked in the chilly air. The only true motivation to getting in the water: heated pool. But it didn’t make the transition any easier.
Wincing as she crossed the cold concrete, Kaila hurried to her assigned lane. She hated the moody California mornings, cloudy and cold before the sun burned the overcast away to reveal seventy-five or eighty degree temperature.
It’s winter, either be cold or be warm, not both, she thought. She couldn’t really be mad at the weather. She chose to take the winter swimming class in January. She thought it would be relaxing. She always found swimming relaxing, but after the first day of climbing out of the warm water into the cold air, she regretted it.
But she wouldn’t quit. A credit was a credit.
Reaching her assigned lane, she placed her warm towel on top of the starting platform marking her lane. She pulled her dark brown hair back into a tight ponytail, shivering as her skin not covered by bathing suit lay bare to the cold.
With her hair secured, she leaned down and placed her goggles in the warm water. Goose bumps ran up her arms from the difference in temperature as she watched her goggles drift up and down, side-to-side depending on the water current.
Seeing the chaotically beautiful way the plastic moved in the water, she couldn’t help feeling she were staring at a strange representation of her life. She’d been floating through this year, almost like a dream, taking the small disturbances in her life as easily as her goggles of the current.
Does everyone feel this way about their senior year of college? she wondered, though a twinge of doubt answered for her.
Everyone around her, it seemed, had their next steps planned out. Graduate school for some, moving to new cities for those who could, and jobs already lined up for the rest. She was stuck in life purgatory. A shadow loomed over her future because she couldn’t see what it held for her yet.
A splash snapped her from her daze. To save himself the slow adjustment to the pool water, the boy in the lane to the left had jumped in. Pulling her goggles from the water, she stood and stepped back.
Perfect time to have doubts about life after college, she scolded herself, staring at the water. Those already in made the surface ripple, distorting the bottom. The once welcoming pool now seemed like a stranger to her.
“Could you help me put this on?”
Jumping, she turned to the girl assigned to the lane to the right of her with a confused expression. The girl held a swim cap in her hands, her eyes hopeful as they now cautiously watched Kaila.
“Could you help me put this on?” The tone of the question changed to cautious, the girl unsure how Kaila hadn’t heard her the first time.
“Sorry, yeah.” Placing her goggles on top of her towel, Kaila walked up to the girl.
Leaning over, the girl placed the front of the swim cap on her forehead. Kaila grabbed the back and pulled it over the girl’s blonde hair. Why bother with a cap? You’re still going to shower after anyways. Why waste the effort? Kaila thought.
Finished, the girl stood straight and smiled awkwardly at her. “Thanks.” She grabbed her nose and jumped in.
Water splashed on Kaila’s legs, reminding her of the cold air versus the warm water. Grabbing her goggles, she sat down on the edge of the pool, letting her legs hand. Kicking her legs in front of her, she enjoyed the feeling of the water against her skin.
“Enough thinking. Just swim,” she whispered to herself. Closing her eyes, she pushed off the edge into the warm water.
∗ ∗ ∗
“Which one is it?”
The two men sitting in the spectator seats above the pool watched the class below with partial interest. One man lounged with his feet up on the row in front of him, one arm propped on the back of the seat next to him. The other sat in the row behind, his arms crossed over his chest.
“I knew you weren’t listening earlier.”
Dunstan Frei leaned his head back so he could see Crewe. “When I’m not allowed to talk, I don’t listen.”
Refusing to look him in the eyes, Crewe watched the group below. “Maybe if you knew how to behave, you’d be allowed to talk.”
Returning his attention to the pool, Dunstan winced. “Ouch, you’re a bit snippy in the morning.”
“Whose fault is that?” Crewe grumbled, glaring at the back of Dunstan’s head. “You’re the one who’s done nothing but complain since we left.” Leaning forward, he lowered his voice as though anyone could hear them. “And I’m talking about since we left the hotel and home.”
Dunstan snorted, trying unsuccessfully to stifle his laughter.
“The way you said that, you make it sound like we’re a married couple.”
Anger flushed Crewe’s face. “You’re truly unbearable sometimes.”
“Thank you. Now, honey, please, which one is it?” Dunstan barely dodged Crewe’s hand.
“No violence now. Not in front of the children.”
The next swing hit him on the side of the head. Dunstan laughed as Crewe stood and stormed down to the bottom of the seating area. He fumed as he leaned don the guardrail, his eyes searching the lanes below for their target.
“Crewe, I’m sorry.” Dunstan groaned and stood. He leisurely walked down the steps towards his partner. “Seriously, which one is it?”
Turning his head to watch Dunstan, Crewe took a deep, calming breath. “He should be in lane nine.”
Both counted the lanes, realizing the last few were reserved for those involved in aquatic sports. It explained why the boy in lane nine swam much faster than the other students.
“Are we starting a swim league or something?” Dunstan asked, his eyes lazily following the target.
“I’m guessing he doesn’t impress you. Should we even bother going down and talking to him?”
“Not unless you want a chance to catch something I didn’t.”
Pulling out his phone, Crewe shook his head already scrolling through his contact list. “I appreciate the attempt at flattery. But if you don’t see anything, I doubt I’ll find something worth reporting.”
“Oh, your compliments…they’re what I live for.” Dunstan pulled out a pack of cigarettes from his pocket.
Crewe grabbed the pack before he even had a chance to open it. “Not in front of the students.”
“Why? I’m sure half of them smoke anyways. This is a college, not a high school.”
“This is also a no smoking seating area,” Crewe said, pointing to a pillar with the familiar red and white sign. “Last thing we need it to be kicked out…again.”
“Last thing I need if for you to have something else to blame me for.” Dunstan’s eyes stopped on the third lane. His eyes narrowed and a smile formed on his lips.
“I’m making the call.” Before Crewe could hit send, Dunstan grabbed his arm. He winced at the strong grip, but when he saw his partner’s face he understood.
Turning to view the pool again, Crewe’s eyes returned to lane nine. “You spot something?”
Without answering, Dunstan grabbed his pack of cigarettes and put it in his pocket. Sitting, he leaned forward and watched with an intensity he hadn’t felt in a long time.
She’s the one we came for, Dunstan thought to himself.