Check out Coral Moore’s short story in Dreamspinner Press’ Mended Anthology: Deep Water.
Mario Guzman is trying out for the swim team, his ticket to paying his way through college. When he meets Jordan Lewis, an outspoken writer for the school’s paper, he considers coming out even though he’s been very private about his sexuality all his life.
Violence intended for Jordan takes Mario out of consideration for the team and threatens his best hope for an education. He lashes out when Jordan tries to help him in his time of need. Eventually Mario regrets driving Jordan away, and his need to apologize takes him to the scene of the attack, where he confronts his pain and terror. This time Jordan is there to help him face the biggest obstacle in his path.
MARIO STARED down into the clear water. Dark pieces of leaf and grass danced along the painted blue bottom of the pool. The chlorine tang rising from the surface stung his nose. He glanced at the depth marker across from him. Three feet—the water would barely pass his waist. There was nothing to be afraid of, yet bands of tension held his neck and shoulders stiff.
He hadn’t been in water above his knees in years, not since he’d almost drowned in their backyard kiddie pool the last time his dad had been home. In his dreams, sometimes he felt the impossibly strong hand holding him under the surface. He’d been certain he was going to die. Water had poured into his mouth and down his windpipe as he flailed and struggled to get free. He’d choked and swallowed more water, and in the end, the darkness claimed him. He wasn’t sure how he’d made it out of the water and into bed where he woke the next day, but his dad had left during the night and never returned.
From a few feet away, his pal Bobby splashed him, laughing. “What’s wrong? Don’t you know how to swim?”
Mario wasn’t sure he could answer without sounding like a complete chickenshit. He’d agreed to come because it was so damn hot at Bobby’s place, and he thought once he got here it would be easy. Swallowing, he shook his head.
“You probably should have mentioned that. Whatever, you don’t need to swim. Just stay here in the shallow end.” Bobby pushed off the bottom and floated on his back, paddling his feet lazily.
Not far off, three small kids were playing a game where one of them chased the others around with his eyes closed. The water was up to their chins and they didn’t seem to care at all. Mario couldn’t imagine how unnerving it would be to have water splashing all around his face, trying to find its way into his nose and mouth. His heart thumped as he remembered what drowning was like: unable to catch his breath, water filling his lungs. He caught himself just before he took an unconscious step away from the edge.
Bobby turned in a graceful circle and came back toward him. “Are you coming in or what?”
He curled his fingers into his palms, skin gone cool and clammy with nerves. Bobby would never let him live it down if he didn’t go in for at least a minute. Mario moved slowly, bringing himself to sit on the edge of the pool with his feet dangling over. The concrete ledge dug into the back of his thighs, rough and unforgiving.
The water engulfed his feet and calves, cool and remorseless. Mario’s throat tightened. He wouldn’t let this beat him. Before he could further consider the thousands of gallons of water below him, he pushed himself off the ledge. Feeling the water splash around his torso, he drew in a sharp breath.
“Take it easy, man. The water’s only a couple feet deep.” Bobby grinned. “This is way better than sweating our balls off at my place.” He took off swimming across the pool without a backward glance, hands and feet raising gouts of water with every stroke.
Awkwardly, Mario lowered his hands to the water, fingers glancing over the small waves moving over the surface in Bobby’s wake. His pulse drummed in his throat. He tried to shut out the insistent buzzing of fear without much success. Turning around, he reached for the concrete ledge intending to boost himself out of the pool.
A girl in a pink two-piece bathing suit stood in front of him, her toes curled over the edge. Her ribs showed clearly, and the bones of her wrists and ankles stood out on her ungainly limbs. She was probably close to his age, but her slight build made her seem younger. She favored him with a gap-toothed smile. “I used to be afraid too, but I’m not anymore.”
He wanted to deny that he was afraid, but he didn’t like to lie if he could help it. “I almost drowned once.”
“At least you have a good reason.” She pushed up to the balls of her feet and leapt, her long body performing a graceful arc to break the surface of the water next to him with almost no splash. She gathered her dark hair and twisted into a bun at the top of her head. “Come on.” She bounced through the water toward the middle of the pool.
When he didn’t move she came back, grabbing his left hand in strong, cool fingers. He resisted her effort to pull him away from the edge.
She turned back to him, one corner of her mouth lifted up in a smirk. “You want to be a full-grown man who’s afraid of the neighborhood pool?”
The glint in her eye got under his skin. Clenching his jaw, he stepped forward. “No. I’m tired of being afraid.”
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Coral Moore has always been the kind of girl who makes up stories. Fortunately, she never quite grew out of that. She writes because she loves to invent characters, and the desire to find out what happens to her creations drives her tales.
Prompted by a general interest in how life works, she studied biology. She enjoys conversations about genetics and microbiology as much as those about vampires and werewolves. Coral writes mainly speculative fiction and has a Master of Fine Arts in Writing from Albertus Magnus College. She is a 2013 alum of the Viable Paradise writer’s workshop.