“No problem,” I say coolly. And it isn’t. I know what I can do in the water, and I know I can take down Jack or anybody else any day of the week without breaking a sweat. I’ve always been a great swimmer, but last summer I went to day camp at the YMCA and I learned all kinds of dives. The swim coach taught me everything, even the flashy stuff. “I might be as flat as a board, but at least I can dive off of one. Ape.”
Everyone hoots and hollers, and Jack’s face burns red with indignation. He pushes his dark hair out of his eyes. “Let’s see it then.”
“What’s the wager? You better make it worth my while.”
“Whatever you want, Wilcox. Name it,” Jack says, his confidence returning.
“J, she’s pretty good,” Mark breaks in. He looks uneasy, and I throw him a dirty look. Where was he ten minutes ago? He should have been sticking up for me back there. He should have been defending my honor. Instead he was busy guffawing with his pals.
“You’d better listen to your buddy, J,” I taunt. “You’re mouth is writin’ checks your butt can’t cash.” I heard Daddy say that on the phone once, on a long-distance business call.
“Just tell me what you want,” he snaps.
What do I want? What do I want? I’m frantic, and I say the first thing I think of. “If I win, you carry my books to every class, every day the first week of school.” I think I saw that on a Brady Bunch rerun on Nick at Nite.
“Carry your books to class?” Jack snorts. “What is this, the 1950s? We have book bags for that, Einstein. Hey, if you wanted to go steady, you should have just said so, Annemarie.”
Everyone laughs. My cheeks are on fire. Stupid Nick at Nite! But I manage to say, “Dream on, rat boy. If you’re too chicken, you should just say so.”
He rolls his eyes. “Fine. And if I win, you carry mine.”
“Spit shake.” I spit into my hand and hold it out. Jack produces an extra-phlegmy wad of spit, and we shake. I hear Mairi and Hadley squeal, “Ewww.”
“The rest of these guys will judge who’s the best,” Jack says, all business now. “And that’ll be me. Don’t cry too hard when you lose, Wilcox.”
I roll my eyes. We hoist ourselves out of the water and walk over to the diving board. “Ladies first,” Jack says magnanimously. “Oh, wait, I forgot, you’re no lady.” He snickers.
“Quit stalling and dive,” I snap.
Jack struts up the ladder, and he waits until all eyes are on him. “Watch and learn.” He somersaults off the board and lands in the water with a big splash. The guys clap. Mairi and Hadley cheer loudly, and Elaine yells, “Booo!”
He swims over to the side, and waits for me to go next. Smirking, he calls out, “Good luck, Wilcox.”
“You don’t need luck when you’ve got skills,” I say.
I may sound fierce and brave and sure of myself, but my heart is pounding triple time. I’ve got to nail this dive; I can’t let Jack Connelly humiliate me twice. A full gainer would blow his puny somersault out of the water. A full gainer is basically a forward dive where the diver executes a complete backward somersault before hitting the water feetfirst. It’s impressive, and it’s no easy feat. The hard part is making sure you don’t hit the board. It took me most of the summer to get it right, and even then, it’s not perfect. Still, me on a bad day is better than Jack Connelly on the best day of his life.
Climbing the ladder slowly, I go through all the pointers Coach Stewart gave me. At the top of the board, I look down and see everyone watching me. I put my hands behind my back to make sure that the hole is still sewn up, and it is, no problems there. Elaine and Sherilyn shout words of encouragement. (“Yeah, Annemarie! Show ’em!”) The boys are all standing in the shallow end, and Jack is smirking, but I can see that he is nervous. This makes me feel strong, and I close my eyes and let myself fly.
Magic. That dive was magic. I know I will always remember this moment as golden, my shining moment where I didn’t flub anything up, didn’t make a fool of myself. It was the stuff of dreams. Under the water I can hear the cheering, and I take my sweet time coming back up. When I do, the applause is deafening. I am a star!
“Annemarie, that was awesome!” from Hugh. A high five from Kyle, who shakes his head and says, “Unbelievable.” Even Tommy says, “Where’d you learn to do that?” The girls, even Mairi, ooh and ahh. Beaming, I turn to Mark. But he just says, “Nice job.” Last of all, I face Jack, who looks sullen.
“Okay, you win,” he says.
I could be gracious about this triumph. I could be generous and let him off easy. But then I wouldn’t be me. I crow, “Jacky, was there ever any doubt? You’re dealin’ with a pro, and you should’ve known better than to mess with a pro. Go back to the kiddy pool, Jacky. And don’t you go tryin’ to welch on our little bet like the welcher you are. You lost that bet fair and square. You’d better—”
“I said you win! Geez. You win, okay, Annemarie?”
“And don’t forget to meet me at my locker before homeroom.”
“We don’t need books for homeroom.” His ears are pink. I almost feel sorry for him. Almost.
“Who knows? I might want to study before first period. It’ll be the first day of junior high and all. But that’s not for you to worry about. You just do as you’re told, Jacky.”
Then Kyle asks me to teach him how to dive, and I would pay big bucks to see that sour look on Mairi’s face again. I feel like Mohammed Ali, float like a butterfly, sting like a bee. Winning the mathathon in third grade didn’t even come close to how good this feels. I’m glowing from the inside out, like lightning bug guts.
After the party, Mark and I walk home together alone. Elaine’s dad picked her up from Sherilyn’s house (we planned it out that way), and it’s just the two of us. My limbs are sore, and I’m thinking about how good a peanut butter sandwich will taste when Mark says, “Why’d you have to show off like that, Annemarie?”
“WHAT?” I squawk. “What are you talking about?”
“You know you’re a good diver. You didn’t have to show up Jack. You embarrassed him in front of everybody.” Mark’s mouth is set in a stubborn line.
“I embarrassed him? Is that what you think happened today? Because gee, I was remembering how he humiliated me. And how you didn’t even stick up for me. Thanks heaps for that, by the way.”