14: Happy Birthday (Part II)

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Andrew splashed his feet in the pool. He sat on the edge of the shallow side, watching the other kids swimming and playing a game. His best friend Thomas had his eyes closed and yelled "Marco!" as the other kids shouted back "Polo!" and swam away giggling.

"Andrew," his mother called out. "Come say hello."

Andrew turned around and saw his mother standing with a woman and a little girl he did not recognize. His mother waved him over, so he got up from the pool and walked to her side. The girl lazily looked around at the decorations, seemingly disapproving of the cartoon show they portrayed.

"This is Mrs. Legan and her daughter, Amelia," his mother said. "They just moved here a few days ago. We work together. Can you say hello?"

"Hi," said Andrew and waved. He smiled at Amelia, but she did not look in his direction.

"Hi, Andrew," said Mrs. Legan. "Happy birthday! How old are you today?"

"Nine," Andrew proudly said.

"And how old is your daughter again?" asked Andrew's mom.

"She'll be ten in a few months, in May," said Mrs. Legan.

"Oh, so she was born in 1986 then? Andrew was born in '87. She'll probably be a grade higher than Andrew at school," said his mom. She put her hand on Andrew's shoulder and said to him, "Why don't you introduce Amelia to your friends so she can play, too?"

"Okay," he said.

To Mrs. Legan, his mother said, "You brought a bathing suit for her, right?"

"Yeah, she's wearing it under her dress," said Mrs. Legan. "Come here, honey."

She pulled Amelia's dress up over her head, revealing the one-piece purple bathing suit underneath. Amelia looked up at her mother and silently pleaded against playing with the others. Her mom raised her eyebrows and tilted her head down at her.

"Go play with Andrew and his friends, dear," she said. "I'll be right here talking with Andrew's mom."

Amelia faced Andrew for the first time. He repeated his smile again and waved her over.

"Come on," he said. "Let's go."

"Be careful," said Mrs. Legan. "I'll be watching from here if you need anything."

Andrew led the way to the pool, but Amelia stopped him halfway. She pointed in the direction of a well-dressed man juggling for a little girl and her dog.

"What's going on over there?" she said.

"Oh, that's the magician," said Andrew. "He was doing some magic tricks earlier, but his show finished already."

"But he's still performing."

"Nah, that's nothing. You should have seen what he was doing earlier. He's just juggling for her so she's not bored because her mom doesn't want her near the pool."

The little girl laughed and clapped when the juggler tossed a ball under his leg. She pet her dog, a Shih Tzu and poodle mixed canine with a round, hairy face like a burly old man with a mustache. The dog barked and wagged his tail enthusiastically.

"The rest of us are over here," said Andrew, pointing with his thumb towards the pool.

"Are they playing Marco Polo?" she asked.

"Yeah," he said. "But I don't know how to swim yet, so I can't play with them."

"I can swim."

"Do you have a pool at your house, too?"

"No, I learned at the pool at the park near where I used to live."

They walked to the shallow edge of the pool.

"Right now, Thomas is it," said Andrew. "If he touches you, then you're it and you have to keep your eyes closed until you touch someone else."

"I know," she said, "but I don't feel like playing Marco Polo right now."

"What do you feel like doing?"

"This!"

Amelia jumped off the edge. She grabbed her legs with her arms and cannonballed into the water.

"It's not that cold," she said after she resurfaced and shook her wet hair.

Andrew sat down with his legs submerged like before. He stared at her, impressed by her impulsiveness.

"What?" she said.

"Hey, Andrew," one of his friends called out to him. "Who's your girlfriend?"

A few of his friends began to laugh. Thomas opened his eyes to see who they were referring to, but another kid yelled "Cheater!" and so he closed his eyes again. The game continued, and everyone returned to ignoring Andrew and Amelia.

Andrew felt his cheeks flush red. He looked down at his feet and moved them back and forth underwater.

"Hey, I've got a good idea," Amelia said. "Count how long I can hold my breath."

Andrew swirled his feet around. "Sure."

Amelia splashed water at his face. "Pay attention! I don't want you to lose count."

Andrew perked up. He nodded and said, "Okay. Ready?" He made a big show of holding up his hand and dropping it as he said, "Go!"

Amelia inhaled, pinched her nose, and sunk into the water.

Andrew stared at the blurry distortion of her rippling across the surface as he counted aloud, "One-one thousand. Two-one thousand. Three-one thousand..."

Bubbles slowly floated up from her mouth, popping when they reached the top. She sunk down further until finally coming back up with a gasp after thirty seconds.

"Wow," Andrew said. "That seemed like forever."

"I probably could go longer if I wanted to," she said. "Your turn now. I'll count this time."

Andrew looked towards his mom.

"It's okay," Amelia said. "Look, my head's above the water when I stand up. You don't have to swim."

Andrew decided to trust her and slipped into the water. His body trembled, and he lifted himself with his toes.

"It is cold, liar," he said.

"Don't be a baby. It's fine once you put your whole body under."

He eased more of his body downwards and immediately went back on his toes. He inhaled through his chattering teeth.

"Just do it already," she said. "Ready?"

Andrew lowered himself and nodded. "Okay. Ready."

"Set." Amelia raised her hand and dropped it with a big splash. "Go!"

He took a deep breath and dunked his body into the water. The sounds of her counting out loud mixed and muddled with the splashes of the other kids swimming and yelling. Everything had a low-pitched echo attached to it. Time itself seemed to slow down, as if taking a brief respite from having to always move forward.

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