I had not embraced the idea of a poolside party. It had been unseasonably cold, the chlorine stung my eyes, and there were always band-aids and other junk on the bottom. Watching the sunlight dance on the spotless white floor with my new goggles, I changed my mind.
“This is a great day for a birthday,” I thought, surfacing.
I turned slowly. The lifeguard was standing with her hands on her hips.
“Uh, oh,” one of my friends said.
I dog paddled over, not in any hurry.
“What does this sign say?” she said pointing back and leaning down to get closer to my face.
“No diving,” My reflection stared at me from her sunglasses.
“Why did you just do it?”
“It’s fun…” I thought of telling her I missed the sign, but it was huge, and it was also on the side of the pool.
“Get out and sit on the bench.”
A chorus of “Aww,” and “ No!” went up from my friends behind me.
“No! Give me a second chance! I won’t do it again! I promise!” I whined.
“Nope,” she pointed at the bench, “Fifteen minutes.”
“You’re ruining my birthday!”
Her eyes left me for an instant, observing the picnic table sporting balloons and streamers. “Right now! Or I will have to have you kicked out!”
I gave her one last nasty look and launched out of the pool.
The bench was scorching hot. I shifted back and forth, hissing angrily. “It’s not fair.”
“Here, you can sit on this,” I glanced to the table behind me. A kid a few years older than me offered a neon-pink towel.
“Thanks…” I murmured.
He smiled. “Fifteen minutes will go quick.”
“It’s a bummer, especially on my birthday.”
“Too bad. How old are you turning?”
Glad he was on my side, I cracked a smile. “Nine.”
“Cool. Did you get everything you wanted?”
“Pretty much, except the right to dive.”
“Well,” he shrugged, “they don’t make rules for no reason.”
“But I only did it once, and I didn’t even reach the bottom!” I said, thinking of the picture of the girl banging her head. “ I should have gotten a second chance, don’t you think?”
He just sloshed his sports drink around. I looked at the clock and sighed.
“You know those four wheel dirt bikes?”
“Yes! They’re cool. What about them?” I asked, satisfied to change the subject.
“I…knew someone who had one. He thought he was an expert at driving it. One day he was bored and…” he stopped.
“I kinda think I shouldn’t tell that story…It’s not nice for a birthday.”
I said, “It’s okay,” but I braced myself.
He was quiet for a while before continuing. “You aren’t supposed to take them up a really steep hill. He knew it, but tried it to show off.” He winced. “The bike flipped over on top of him.”
I blinked, wanting more details. “Were you there?”
“Did he make it?”
“Sort-of.” he said softly.
“Sort-of?” I squeaked.
He shrugged, crunching his eyebrows hard. “He’s …okay, but…”
He looked me straight on, “Anyway, the reason I told you that was because you shouldn’t stretch the rules. You never know if there will be a second chance, whether it’s diving when you’re not supposed to, or anything.” I was a little surprised that he was 'correcting' me.
“You’re not my dad,” I thought.
“Fifteen minutes is up!” My hackles went up. I still resented the lifeguard’s voice.
“Umm… nice meeting you…” I said, handing back the towel.
I did a tremendous cannon-ball into the deep end. Soon I was having so much fun that I forgot all about my ‘time out’.
“POLO!” I answered. A flash of pink caught my eye. A soaked bundle of toddler was animatedly interacting with the boy I’d met. They were soon joined by a dripping couple.
“Polo…” I said. “Why did all of his family go swimming while he sat out?” His dad offered him his arm, while his mom fumbled with something under the table.
“MARCO!” My friend bumped into me. “Gotcha!”
“Oh…” I groaned. The boy’s mother handed him a pair of crutches. As they left, I saw that one of his legs was simply ‘abbreviated’ above the knee. “Look,” I whispered to my friend.
“Hmm…” my friend replied. “You’re Marco! Hey, where are you going?”
“I have to apologize to the lifeguard.”
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