Utter silence. Not a sound from the bleachers, just the soft rumble of the spa far below. Total concentration. Her training allowed for nothing less. Tam expected nothing less.
She visualised the dive; working through each movement, feeling each muscle tense as her mind worked through the sequence. With a final calming breath, she opened her eyes and with a surge of adrenalin, leapt off the board.
Flying high, the controlled release of energy, left-curl-twist, legs up, head down—
With legs like jelly and a stomach to match, Meg clung to the diving board with her toes and dared herself to look over the edge. When her eyes refused to open, she realised it wasn’t going to be that easy.
Deep breaths, Meg. Unclench your fingers, relax your toes and open your bloody eyes.
One eye cracked, revealing a strip of blue sky dotted with clouds before her nerves ran out and she retreated to the relative safety behind her eyelids.
“Move it lady, this isn’t a viewing platform—”
The words penetrated the buzzing in her ears. She flinched when someone behind her stamped on the board, sending it into a terrifying wobble.
The jelly in her stomach loosened and for a second she thought her breakfast might make an appearance.
You’re being childish, Meg. You’ve done this a million times, so just DO IT.
The board settled and her anxiety reluctantly followed.
She opened her eyes and squinted in the glare coming off the water below. Her vision zeroed in on the horizon. A hawk rode the thermals. The heat of the board dry-fried her soles.
Toes released, her fingers straightened and she felt the rush accompanying the movement to position herself on the end of the board. A wave of calm built, ready to break over her at the exact moment before she dived.
She looked down and froze.
Meg’s cheeks burned. She felt like a complete idiot. Crouched on the puny three-meter board, clutching the sides like a child with its blankey, she looked like one too.
The board-thumper guy, realising she wasn’t moving, called for help.
Moments felt like terrifying eons until someone walked down the board and crouched behind her. The board bowed with the extra weight and a hand came to rest on her shoulder.
“Miss? Are you okay?” She shook her head keeping her eyes clamped shut.
“Righto, I’m going to get you off. Can you stand?” She shook her head again, tightening her grip.
“Well it’s gonna to be kinda tricky getting you off without standing. I could lower you in to the water…” Meg’s stomach churned and she shook her head. “You can swim, yeah?”
“Yes” She whispered “But I really don’t want to.”
His hand tightened on her shoulder and she caught herself wondering what he looked like. His hand was strong, reassuring. His touch felt familiar and her mind ignited with painful memories, only partially buried.
You have to see him. Even if it’s just to get off this fucking board and go home. He’s not Tam.
Moving with an aching slowness, her left hand let go, fingers inching across the board as she turned millimetre by millimetre to face him. She sensed him and raised a hand in the void between them, willing her knees to stay glued to the board just a little longer.
He took her hand and held tight. “Nice one. Now you don’t have to open your eyes, but I’d recommend it. Easier, you know.”
“I will. In a second.” Her breathing came in rapid shallow breaths. The board wobbled beneath them. “Okay—let’s do this.”
“You planning on opening your eyes now, or after?” She thought she heard a smile in his voice.
The tension in the board changed and she forced the liquefied muscles in her legs to push her up. She gripped the stranger’s hands in her own and using the strength in his arms for support, she stood up, holding on tight, waiting for her nerves to quieten before she moved. Giving silent thanks for his patience Meg opened her eyes, squinting through the afternoon sun to see startling green eyes and a lopsided grin.
“Hi,” he said. “Ready to get off this board? My feet are on fire.”
She managed a meek sorry and let him walk her to the lifesaver’s hut, his arm beneath her elbow for support. Inside he deposited her in a sagging canvas deck chair and wrapped a towel around her shoulders.
What the hell was I thinking? I was nowhere near ready. Stupid, stupid!
“So are you going to tell me your name?” His voice jolted her from her internal flogging, his green eyes searching her face, the smile returning.
“Ahh… Meghan.” She tried a smile but it felt contrived. “My name is Meghan.”
Well done for remembering your name.
“Meghan? I’m Will.”
She looked away, his eyes too like Tam’s, trying to adjust her position in the wonky chair.
“Oh fuck that hurts!” A spasm ripped through her calf and she clutched her leg, kneading the muscle trying to contain the pain before it radiated up into her thigh.
Will crouched in front of her and pulled her leg into his lap. His fingers rubbed and stretched the cramped muscles, his face intent on what he was doing.
Oh god, is he really doing that? Did I say fuck?
The doctors had told her there was no physiological basis for the ongoing onslaught of cramps. She knew what that meant– they thought she imagined them, or brought them on herself.
“How’s that?” He didn’t look at her, just followed the curve of her calf as he massaged.
She wanted to ask him if he could feel the muscle, rock hard beneath his fingers, but thought better of it. “I think it’s going. Thanks…”
“No problems.” He shot her a wink before putting her leg down and getting to his feet. “It’s not every day I get to do that.”
He disappeared through the door and out into the glare before she registered how the wink made her feel.
Meg felt steady enough to leave when Will returned.
He frowned when he saw her standing, towel folded. “Are you going?”
“I really should, I mean I probably shouldn’t have come in the first place… so yes, I’m going.” She dropped the towel into a basket by the door before she registered the icy poles in his hands, condensation rising off them in delicate wisps
“But—I got Frosty Fruits.”
“I can see that—thank you.” Her legs wouldn’t move; her feet cemented to the floor.
Leave, Meg, you don’t need this. Don’t be a sucker for a loopy grin and green eyes.
“Stay a little longer. You had a scare out there. It’s probably not a good thing to go out in the heat again.” He held out a Frosty Fruit. “Here—at least eat this before it melts. I don’t have a problem eating two at a time, but I don’t really need the brain freeze and you need the sugar.”
She took it, brushing his fingers as she did. A tingle ran up her arm and she looked away, trying to find something to stare at that didn’t make her feel like that. “Thanks.”
“No problems.” The faded director’s chair, long since retired from years of service in the sun, creaked when he sat down. “Aren’t you going to pull up a pew?”
He’s not Tam; he’s just a guy. Just eat the icy-pole, say thanks for saving my stupid ass from the kiddie board and get out of there.
She sunk into the deck chair, the canvas hot against her skin. The cool Easterly breeze didn’t reach into the hut and she fanned herself with her free hand.
She had only meant to look at the pool, to take it all in, maybe find a connection to Tam, but the day was a scorcher and she had worn her bikini under a thin cotton dress— the water teased her like a high-school crush.
And then the board, that silent reminder, had called to her with a familiarity that every cell inside her couldn’t resist. A moment of clarity—today she’d put everything to rest. Starting with the board.
She had stripped the dress from her sweaty body and dropped the hat she wore everywhere, her feet propelling her toward the ladder before she could second think her decision.
The cackle of a nearby kookaburra startled her and she looked to the man she shared the oven-like hut with. He sat observing her with alarming frankness and she felt a blush add extra heat to her cheeks. Her fingers snaked up to her forehead, smoothing down the too short locks of her fringe, touching the shame hidden underneath.
Then Will smiled at her. “Hey, Meghan?”
“You’ve got icy-pole running down your arm.”
Meg handed the damp cloth back to Will. “Thanks. Again.” He smiled at her. “I’m one of those clumsy types.”
“Like I said, it’s not every day I get to play hero.”
“But you’re a life saver…”
And don’t listen to me, I’m messed up.
“Do you like it here? I mean, in this tiny little town?”
Jeez, Meg, you’re on a roll now.
“Well it’s home, if that’s what you mean. And yes, I like it.”
Before she crawl off in embarrassment, Will told her his story; moving back from the city, his luck cracking the pro surfing circuit ending after the biggest ride of the circuit changed it all. Her eyes traversed the line of his jaw, the hollow at his throat, and the faded scar slashed along his abdomen. “I thought I could make it big, but those waves had designs on me from the start.” She watched him squirm. Then a light flicked on in her darkest space inside and she realised she wasn’t the only one battling a personal war. Her pulse quickened.
Does he know what it feels like?
“So that’s my story, but why are you here, Meghan? You’re not a local, I’d know you if you were.”
She thought for a moment, not sure whether she wanted to tell him her story when the logical and emotional factions of her brain were still battling each other.
“I’m visiting friends,” she offered. Turning in the chair so her face would be in shadow. “Steve and Mei Chang.” She waited, heart thumping.
His chair squeaked. “The Changs? How do you know them?”
“I’ve known them for a while. From before they moved back here.” The thumping turned to an ache.
“Did you know their son? Tam?”
She felt her stomach drop through the floor.
He said his name. Without effort. Without heartbreak.
She lowered her eyes from his gaze. Her fingers gripped the sides of the deck chair.
“Yes. I killed him.”
Meg waited—breathing suspended, every sense heightened as she waited for Will to hate her. Like she should be hated.
His voice was muted. “But… I don’t understand—”
“I should go.” She eased up from the chair.
“No – wait, Meg.”
“Please don’t call me that. He called me that.”
“I’m sorry. Please – tell me what happened. Why do you think it’s your fault?”
“Because I was stupid! He died trying to save my stupid self from drowning!”
“But it was an accident— I read the papers Meghan, you can’t think it’s your fault? Surely the Changs don’t!” He was on his feet, hand out towards her, genuine concern etched across his face.
The look in his eyes dislodged something within her and she sat down heavily in the chair.
“He was my coach. Well, he was more than that, but when it happened that’s who he was.” Will edged closer and knelt beside her chair. “I was in training for a World Series and I was exhausted. I just wanted some down time, to have a break. Maybe even some fun.”
Will knelt beside her, his hand moving to hers in her lap.
“Tam was always so serious, so professional, so I decided to try a new sequence that we’d been planning – Tam said it wasn’t ready… but I ignored him.” She shuddered, the memory filling her with such self loathing, she felt ill. Will wrapped her hands in his, his eyes on her face.
“I fucked it up, Will. I managed to knock myself out on the platform and when I woke up, I was beside the pool throwing up.”
“There were people everywhere. Someone was screaming. Finally someone told me he was dead. The coroner said it was an existing heart condition, but it was me. He dived in to save me and it was too much for him. I killed him.” She was empty of tears, of raw grief.
“And now you’re here to what… atone? For something you’re not responsible for?” Will asked.
Will had been silent a long time. Meg had stopped wondering what he was thinking. Her mind was blank as if her purging had gifted some sense of normality to her. For the first time in two years she thought she felt hope.
She looked down to his hands, curled over her own, still in her lap. She realised that he was waiting for something, something from her.
He looked at her then, his eyes shining in the dim light of the hut. “I didn’t do anything.”
“But you did.” Meg smiled at him.
He opened his mouth to respond, but she shook her head. “I should go now. I need to apologise to the Changs.”
“Meghan, you’re not to blame.”
“I know, well I think so anyway,” she interrupted. “I came here to face up to losing Tam. I needed to break free from his hold over me. Don’t get me wrong, I loved him. But I died with him that day—I needed to find a way back to life.”
“Please let me finish. You held my hands, lifted me up from my damned knees. You helped me find myself again.”
He slid his hands from hers, and Meg felt the loss of them in the pit of her stomach.
“Do you think we could get a drink sometime?”
“I don’t drink.”
“But I could go a coffee?”
For submission Sunday 19th February 2012
Challenge: To write a contemporary romance
Required Word Count: 2500 words
Actual Word Count: 2402 words