The smell of chlorine hit me with the whoosh of warm air as I stepped through the door. I scanned the lobby for Kara and then glanced at the clock. I was early. The sound of water splashing reached my ears as I stopped in front of the snack machine. I could still feel the rush of water over my body, the quick intake of air with the turn of my head, the hard feeling of the edge of the pool as my hand slapped it—
“Do you mind if I get some chips while you’re deciding?” a voice interrupted my reverie. I stepped away from the machine, smiling apologetically at the fellow juggling two loonies. My feet carried me towards the pool. I hesitated, then stepped through the doorway onto the deck. The pool was a mass of churning water from the swim team’s practice. I spotted Kara’s bright green swim cap when she hit the end of the lane and did her usual flip. She came up doing front crawl, her best stroke, and I watched the clock. She was fast.
In another two lanes, she was done and had hauled herself out of the pool to stretch and talk to the coach. I stepped back into the lobby and memorized the posters on the bulletin board while I waited for her to shower and get dressed. She came out of the change room with her toque pulled down over her wet hair and flashed me a smile.
“Hey. Thanks for picking me up,” she said as we headed out the door.
“You should come back. We miss you.” Her words were casual.
“I’m too busy.” My reply was automatic.
“That’s an excuse and you know it.” Her blunt words hit me, and for a minute our eyes met. “Come with me tomorrow,” she added, smiling. I looked away, trying to think of a better excuse. I needed to study. I had to babysit my nephew. I was out of shape.
“All right,” I found myself saying, as my stomach twisted.
“Great. You can pick me up like before, okay?”
We didn’t say much as we drove to the pool the next day. At the pool, Kara got talking with one of the other girls on the swim team – someone new that I didn’t recognize – and I ducked into a stall. My one-piece suit didn’t fit quite right, but I wasn’t going to wear my bikini. I hung my clothes in a locker and walked over to the showers. The mirrors on the wall flashed my reflection, and I stood there, staring.
White scars traced their way over my upper arms, disappearing under my navy blue suit and then reappearing on my legs. I ran my thumb over the puckering lines on my thigh. I’d gained weight since the accident. An image of my body two years ago – tanned, fit, unscarred – rose in my mind. My fist clenched. I couldn’t go out there, not like this.
“You look much better,” Kara’s voice came softly, and my eyes flickered over to her in the mirror, standing behind me. “Honestly, Trish, you’d barely notice your scars. They’re healing nicely.”
“The doctor says this is as much as they’ll heal.”
“And the doctors also once said you wouldn’t walk after the accident. Nobody out there will notice them, Trish. You’ll be in the water swimming. Besides, you have no reason to be ashamed of those scars. Everybody on the swim team knows what you went through and they’ll be happy to have you back. Those scars show how you’ve grown and healed. They’re marks of beauty.” Her brown eyes flashed fire at me, and I stared back at her. Kara had been through it all with me – swim practices, school, boyfriends, summer jobs, the accident.
I turned towards the pool entrance, and as I walked, I kept in my mind not the image of myself in the change room mirror, but the image of myself in my friend’s eyes.
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