This story is by LJ Newlin and was part of our 2018 Summer Writing Contest. You can find all the writing contest stories here.
“Ah, come on! You can do it, it’s easy!” Peyton egged on her friend to climb the fence at the Martins’ house.
Peyton thought it would be a grand idea to use the Martins’ pool while they were away. It was the only pool in the neighborhood that had a high dive. Coaxing Gabe to do anything other than read books or play video games was always challenging. Gabe, although Peyton called him Lemon because he was the only person she knew who could eat a whole lemon and enjoy it, was a geek.
“Yeah sure, Tuck, I can climb the fence easy but that’s trespassing!” Gabe called her Tuck from the get-go, just to tease her. Her full name was Peyton Tucker and Gabe was the only one who was allowed to call her Tuck. Secretly, she liked it. He pursed his lips and squinted his eyes making sure she understood his disgust.
“Lemon, is that your sour face? You don’t even make that face when you eat lemons!” Tuck gave him one of those mischievous smiles.
“In broad daylight? You know we’re gonna get caught and be grounded for the rest of the summer.”
“Okay, we’ll come back at night.”
“What, come out after nine? Then I’ll be committing two offenses, sneaking out after curfew and trespassing.”
“Buddy, you know everyone’s going over to the Andersen’s house to play cards or something! Anyway, next year they’re sending you away to that brain school and I probably won’t ever see you again.”
“Tuck, that school is only an hour away and I will be home every weekend, promise.”
“Yeah, with loads of homework to do. We both know once you stick your nose in a book, you don’t come out for days.”
Lemon rolled his eyes and cleared his throat. “That’s just a bit of an exaggeration, don’t you think?”
“Not much.” With downcast eyes, Tuck’s shoulders slumped in defeat. “We need to do something to mark this summer. You’re off to high school, I’m stuck in middle school and nothing is gonna be the same.”
“Nothing’s ever the same, Tuck. We can’t stop growing up. Soon, you’ll actually start liking boys and you won’t want to hang with a geek like me.”
“Never! Never ever, never ever. You will always be my best friend, always!”
“We’ll see. Just cuz you don’t see yourself as a girl now doesn’t mean you won’t.” Gabe tapped her on the top of her head. Peyton peered up, noticing for the first time how much taller he had grown this last year.
“What…geez, when did you get so tall?”
“See, we change.” Gabe bit on his lips, thinking over the proposed pool adventure. “Okay, how about 9:30?”
Gabe smacked his forehead with his hand. “The pool, you numskull!”
“I knew that. I just wanted to see your reaction. Okay, it’s a date. Well, not a date. You know what I mean. See ya tonight!” Tuck turned and ran as fast as she could towards home. “Beat you back!”
“You’ll lose. Eh, maybe not. I feel like a walk.”
The street lamp at the Martin house was out. It looked like some kids threw rocks at it and made their mark since there was broken glass all over the ground. This made the backyard eerily dark. Gabe didn’t care because he brought his mag light and a headlamp, figuring the Martins’ lights wouldn’t be on in the pool area. He walked around, looking for the best place to climb over and wasting time until Peyton showed up. She was late. Just about the time that thought left his mind, Peyton skidded around the corner.
“Whoa, slow down there, Tuck. You just about made a new entry into their backyard!”
“Sorry, I’m late. My little brother refused to go to sleep.”
“You’re babysitting? Oh crap, now that’s three offenses. Come on, I’ll give you a lift and you can tell me what we are jumping into, hopefully not rose bushes or something.”
With a little push and a mishap of her foot in Gabe’s face, Peyton straddled the wall.
“Hey, we’re all good. Nothing but dirt right here.” Peyton managed to say as she let herself down to the ground. “Man, is it dark in here!”
“Here, take my headlamp but don’t let it shine up because then someone will see us.”
Gabe’s rebuke was a little too late for Peyton was already in the pool. Her head popped up, “Oh boy, that’ll wake you up!”
“Tuck, shhhhh! We’re not supposed to be here, remember?”
“Hey Lemon, remember when we used to play there were invisible sea monsters at the bottom of the pool and we would have to dive to the bottom to slay them with magic rocks?
“Only you couldn’t do it because you couldn’t reach the bottom cuz you’d float back up?”
“Yeah, what’s up with that?” Peyton pulled herself out of the pool and sat on the edge. “I can float on my back forever and you can’t at all. Guess boys don’t float! Okay high dive, here I come!” Peyton pulled on her suit bottoms and climbed the ladder. “One, two, three, cannonball!”
“Dang, I think that was your best splash ever! My turn!”
“Let’s see if you can beat that, Lemon.”
Halfway down the plank, Gabe lost sight of the board and misstepped. His foot slid off the side and he tumbled to the water, back first.
“Wow, I’ve heard of belly smackers but your back smacker was the bomb!” She paused for a moment, waiting for his head to bob back up. “Lemon, Gabe, GABRIEL? That’s not funny, come back up!”
Peyton dove into the water but she couldn’t see the bottom, much less reach it. Seeing the mag light by the side of the pool, she grabbed it and shown it in the water. There at the very bottom was Gabe’s still body.
“No, no, no, no, no, somebody help! Help me, he’s drowning! HELP! Oh God, please somebody help!”
In a sheer panic, Peyton climbed up to the high dive and dove straight down. Reaching Gabe, she positioned herself underneath him wrapping her arms around from the back. She dug her heels into the bottom of the pool and proceeded to drag him to the shallow end. Struggling with all her might, she wasn’t making much progress. The thought occurred to her that it was all her fault they were there in the first place and she let all her air out. If Gabe was going to die here, so was she.
A young couple, walking their dog, heard the cries for help. The man scaled the fence, nearly in a single bound, as his wife called 911. He managed to pull them both out, only because Peyton had refused to let go. She came up gasping for air and continued with a coughing spasm. Gabe lay still on the ground, while she watched in horror, as the man performed CPR. Her arms wrapped around her knees, she huddled into a small ball mumbling, “I promise to be good from now on.”
The ambulance came and went with Gabe in tow. Peyton had no idea if he was going to be alright or if he was dead. Her dad came over to retrieve her. He never said a word, just shook his head in disappointment and dragged her by her arm all the way home. When her mom saw her, she snapped, “How could you? You know better than that.”
That’s all it took, Peyton ran to her room and stowed away in the corner of her closet where she cried herself asleep. She had to live with the horror of killing her best friend.
About seven the next morning the doorbell rang and rang. Peyton could hear some adults talking in hushed tones, then her father yelled up the stairs.
“Peyton, Gabe’s parents are here and they want to talk to you.”
Peyton froze in her tracks, dreading their fatal words of blame for everything.
“Princess please, they have good news.”
Peyton ran down the stairs and flung her arms around Gabe’s parents sobbing, “I’m so sorry. I’m so sorry. I’m so sorry.”
Gabe’s mom took her chin in her hand, “He wants to see you. Would you like to come to the hospital with us to see him?”
“Oh yes! Oh yes, more than anything in the whole world!”
As she stepped into his hospital room, she took a long hard look at him. He still looked like her Lemon, outside of a big bandage on his head but she was still hesitant.
“Hey Tuck, I guess we have that summer to remember for the rest of our lives and I’ll have a cool scar to go with it.”
“You aren’t mad?”
Peyton ran over and threw her arms around his neck and planted a kiss on his cheek.
“I guess it’s true, boys don’t float!”