When I ambled across the concrete in my thongs, the pool was largely empty. There were a few representatives from the university standing on the opposite side, others starting to decorate the grandstand with streamers, but there were few. A couple of older people were swimming laps in the furthest lane, likely for leisure and fitness. I sensed that their serene morning swims could soon be cut short. Signs had been erected to let them know when the pool was booked. It felt a little cruel, as I raised one hand to my forehead, to kick them out. The breeze blew through my pink hair with the softness of a prayer. At the time for my race, I stripped down to my swimming costume and headed over to marshalling. I surveyed the rest of the competitors – Ashleigh, a generic-looking pretty blonde girl, and Melody, amongst others, eyes hidden underneath goggles.
“On your marks.”
We stepped up.
I hunched my back, trying not to side-eye the other racers. The sun burned red against my skin, as the starting gun fired. Diving into the water, I slipped into the freestyle stroke. Limbs flailing, I reached the opposite end of the pool. My tumble-turn wasn’t Olympic-perfect, but an ungraceful somersault which somehow ended with me facing in the right direction. I completed the final lap and slammed my hands into the blue tiles. Looking around, the other swimmers were all accounted for, and I was handed a wooden stub for last place.
I felt a little embarrassed. We waded underneath the lane ropes, one by one. Water dripped from my body as I pulled myself up the ladder and onto the concrete. Miriam, Bella’s cousin, won the following heat. On the way back from the pool, I encountered Hayley, still dry.
“How was your race?”
“Yeah, alright,” I answered, running my fingers through my bedraggled hair. “I came last.”
“At least you tried.”
I greeted Miriam with a wave as she passed by. The bright sunlight was toned down a little by a cloud floating past the sun.
“Can I ask, what did you do for Mitchell’s birthday on Friday?”
“Actually, I went to Tasmania.”
“One of my friends from the support group, he needed to take an emergency trip and I went with him for moral support.”
We turned our attention back to the pool.
I spun around.
“Aunty June, hi.”
Even though I was still a little damp, Aunty June gave me a big hug.
“It’s really good to see you.”
“Connor’s going to be swimming later on today, but I saw your race, you did well.”
“Thank you,” I replied, pinkness raging in my cheeks. “It was nothing special.”
“You gave it a go, that’s the main thing.”
“Listen, would you like some hot chips?”
“That would be lovely,” I accepted.
Aunty June even gave me the five-dollar note, like we were still kids on school holidays. As I walked over to the canteen, my eyes welled with tears. I couldn’t cry, not at the swimming meet. Once I bought the hot chips, I headed back over, to share them with Aunty June and Hayley while we watched Connor race, coming first in his heat – which was a pretty good effort, worthy of the last couple of chips with chicken salt. I threw the paper cup into the compost bin. Finding a patch of shade, I paused for a moment to watch the current race. A men’s backstroke tousle was about to get underway. The swimmers dropped into the pool. Once the starting gun was fired, a tall young man made a blistering beginning to the race. I didn’t know his name, but I recalled him from the year before. That had been a terribly cold, rainy day. Mitchell had come to watch. Naturally, the champion won, but with another swimmer in hot pursuit. As he finished the race in second place, he slammed his head into the blue tiled wall with more force than ought to have been healthy. A collective gasp went around the pool area. The swimmer flipped onto his back as a few of us rushed over. He moved underneath the lane rope, towards the ladder. While he seemed a little dazed, he was definitely still conscious as he touched his fingertips to the back of his head. Blood dripped back into the pool.
“Alright, we need to call an ambulance.”
Hayley fished out Aunty June’s mobile. She dialled triple zero, which was something I’d never done before.
“Yes, an ambulance, please,” Hayley requested, then gave the address.
She explained the situation as the first-aid kit turned up. An ambulance arrived shortly after, the paramedics helping him out of the pool and onto a stretcher. One of them carefully wiped down his hair and shoulders with a towel Aunty June provided.
“I think we should take you to the hospital, mate. This cut is pretty deep.”
I could tell he wasn’t particularly keen on the idea. However, still a little groggy, he agreed, and was helped to his feet, to a gentle round of applause. The ambulance departed and competition continued. I felt a little sick to my stomach. Thankfully, Geoff got there shortly after. He greeted me with a peck on the lips.
“How’s the day been?”
“Yeah, alright, some poor kid slammed his head and had to get taken to hospital.”
I swayed into Geoff’s embrace.
“I’m very ready to leave now.”
I bid my farewells, then headed home. Geoff came with me, doing the vacuuming while I showered. I got myself ready to go out again in the evening. The summer sunlight was fading when Geoff and I sat opposite Sofia and Ashton. We were overshadowed by tall gumtrees in the park on the other side of the hill. As I took a bite into my spicy chicken burger, from the takeaway shop down the road, Geoff wrapped his arm around my shoulders. He pressed a loving kiss to my cheek and I smiled, placing my burger down. Ashton’s eyes were fixed on Lucky, smiling as she ran around the table.
“She’s a beautiful dog,” Ashton commented, before biting his burger, then picking off a chunk of meat from the patty while he chewed.
Ashton tossed it down onto the concrete slab beneath the picnic table. Lucky snapped it up with her tiny sharp teeth. Sofia’s nails were perfectly manicured. Perhaps that should have been little surprise, given her newly-engaged status. I’ve already spied Sofia’s ring, but there must be so many people wanting to cop an eyeful of her left hand.
“Oh, I have something for you.”
Sofia passed over a small box.
“Thank you,” I replied, surprised. “I mean, it’s your birthday.”
She was grinning like she held a secret. I opened the box.
“I’m sorry if the icing’s a little bit melted.”
I gasped at the message written on the cookie inside – Will you be my bridesmaid?
“Oh my goodness, yes, of course I will.”
I burst to my feet. Sofia and I rushed around the end of the table to wrap each other into a big hug.
“I’m absolutely honoured.”
As I sat back down, my cheeks burned with excitement.
“You’re allowed to eat the cookie now.”
“We can all share it for dessert.”
I carefully split up the cookie into four pieces. Handing them out, we each devoured a quarter. Ashton ended up with some melted chocolate chip on the corner of his mouth. His fiancée gently pushed it back between his lips with her thumb.
“We need to work out what we’re going to wear,” Sofia mentioned. “We’re getting married at our family’s church, my family’s church.”
“So, you’ve set the date?”
Geoff seemed to be much more interested than I anticipated.
“Yeah, we have,” Ashton confirmed. “Life is pretty good.”
He kissed Sofia on the cheek. She smiled, but I thought I saw her flinch. My breath hitched, even though I was trying not to show my fears, about what Sofia had told me. I started to feel a little bit of a cramp in my stomach, but really it was an illusion. I thought about all the stories I knew which were already over. Sometimes that wasn’t such a bad thing, and hopefully this was just the start of Sofia and Ashton’s happy ending. That evening, Geoff and I returned to my place. I felt a little tired and welcomed him inside. With Mum and Dad already asleep, we moved through into my bed.
Abbey Sim is the founder of Huldah Media. She is a creative writing, law and theology student who lives on the lands of the Dharug people in Sydney, Australia. Abbey desires to explore themes of hope, love and longing through her storytelling. She is the author of 'Shadow' and 'From the Wild'.