It was hot. Den lay back on the banana chair, the sun beating down on her exposed skin. When she opened her eyes, the air shimmered around her. She could hear her friend laughing in the pool, splashing water over Den’s bikini covered body. She breathed and felt pale as she lay there. The heat wasn’t going to let up anytime soon, and yet she didn’t feel the kind of suffocating feeling she normally felt when she was in the heat.
“Den!” Emily squealed from the water. “Get in here you sexy beast!”
Den groaned but ignored her. Emily liked the water. Den didn’t. She could stand the heat, but she couldn’t stand the water. Water was the one thing she was so damn afraid of and Emily still couldn’t understand that. Okay, that was probably an exaggeration. Emily understood, and believed Den, when she says, she has tried to stop Emily from trying as hard as she does to help Den get over her fear. But Den’s fear came from her childhood. It came from the time when the little kid who had it in for Den squashed Den in the water in a game of water polo.
Den at ten was a decent player. Den at ten was not afraid of the water. Den at ten was well, shy. Den at sixteen though had not played water polo since. Den at sixteen was very aware of her unreasonable fear of water. Den at sixteen was not shy.
“Den!” Squealed Emily again louder this time. Den would have sworn the whole was alert to her voice.
“Yeah Den, get in the water!” Roared the guys with Emily.
“Like hell,” she said in reply sitting up shoving her sunnies up her nose. “You know I’m scared shitless Em, so don’t make me.”
Emily rolled her eyes. Her ash brown hair was dyed black with water. Like Den she sported a bikini, but unlike Den, Em wore bikini bottoms over short board shorts. And oh right, Em was curvy. Den was not.
After lying in the sun for at least half-an-hour, Den knew she was browner than brown. She didn’t care. She looked at the two guys in the pool. Yeah, one was Jakson, Emily’s latest obsession and the other was Robbie. Apparently Den’s obsession.
Emily sighed and looked at Den. It was her pool, her house, her banana chair after all. Den was just her security. Em’s parents didn’t know Jakson and Robbie were coming over. They only knew that Den was.
“Ugh, whatever Emily. You have juice in the fridge right?” Emily didn’t even have to say yes because Den knew there was. There always was. Den and Emily were not just friends because they covered each other’s asses, but because they knew each other inside out.
And Emily knew why Den was so afraid of the water.
Den got up off the chair and stretched showing off her flat stomach. There was no point not wasting this perfect opportunity. But, then again, as Den pretended not to be interested in Robbie or Jakson or Emily floating there in the water, she turned to head inside the house.
Emily had the kind of sweet house that shouted, ‘I’m rich!’ Which Emily was even though Den was not; it was probably another reason why their friendship was so perfect. Emily had learnt a long time ago just how smart Den was. They became friends in year seven when Emily was getting total shit from her parents about her lack of attention to her schoolwork. And well, Den was getting absolute praise.
Den of course felt sorry for little old Emily suffering under the pressure of too-much-work-syndrome and offered to help out. Emily though languid and fluid, such a hippie, and definitely not planning to change anytime soon agreed. She soon learnt though that Den was not an easy tutor.
Over the years they worked out a suitable schedule of tutoring and partying. Emily handled the parties and Den made sure they passed with outstanding grades. Well Den was outstanding, Emily was decent, decent being the state of her results were high enough to approve of Den being her friend, and yet lower than Den and not quite genius-level. So think C to B to A (a grade Emily received on occasion).
Emily proved to be a quick learner, but only when she applied herself, which made Den’s job quite easy, except when Emily was distracted. Such as when Jakson came up to their study table, and then slowly the others filtered in and well, the study table was no longer a study table, but a social table. That’s when Den would organise an after class tute and they would study at Emily’s house. The best part for Den, who needed the good grades, was that helping Emily meant she was also helping herself.
Unfortunately though this was the first year Emily had one class different to Den, which meant Emily had to study on her own. The fortunate part of the unfortunate-fortunate equation was that Emily was excellent at her design subject.
“Oh Den, you’re such a downer…” Den heard Emily call after her as she laughed.
“That’s why we’re friends babe!” Den called back.
Inside her skin felt overheated in the cool air-conditioning. She was willing to swear that her skin was retracting into itself. She swore internally and told herself that she shouldn’t have stayed in the sun for so long.
Her feet padded against the cool tiled hallway. Den always envied Emily for having as much money as she did. But always afterwards, she was kind of grateful that she was poor. It meant she could appreciate things more. She sighed touching the fridge panel. It opened with perfectly oiled ease. She sighed again and pulled out the juice.
She knew this house as well as she knew Emily. Outside she knew Emily was still flirting her ass off with Robbie and Jakson. It was the kind of person Emily was. Emily would make Jakson jealous by flirting like the fire in hell with Robbie, and poor Robbie, unless he figured it out early would be entranced.
These guys, well, they’re kind of special to Emily and Den. Three weeks ago Emily for once was having a hard time dealing with her parents’ very loud and very public divorce. Den was there by her side, but she felt useless, since, well, Den was hopeless at such thing as comforting.
As for why this has anything to do with Jakson, or even Robbie, it’s because when Emily finally cracked under the pressure of her parents hate for each other, she had told Den to get dressed. They were going to a party.
It wasn’t their usual kind of upper-class party, but a more normal person party. It was rowdy, beer aplenty, and practically an orgy. The only person either of them knew was Robbie. And they only knew Robbie because he made it a fact that even though he was slumming his way through highschool, he was practically Den’s only rival. Not that Den minded. She liked the fact that she had a rival.
Like Den, Robbie was Asian. Unlike Den though, he was only half. So he was kind of perfect in every way. Half the time, Den was jealous of his well, clear skin, and nicely done, slacker hair, and the perfect, shining white teeth.
Jakson was kind of the same, only non-Asian, tanned Caucasian with shorter, kind of curly dark brown hair and the sexiest, bluest eyes Den had ever seen.
In the event of the party, Emily was drunk before she took more than ten steps into the door and Den was desperately telling Emily this was a super bad idea. Den often frequented such parties, they were her crowd after all, and normally she didn’t tow Emily along because she knew Emily would be waylaid by some jerk or other from school. Unfortunately though, several of her sport buddies swamped her and Den lost sight of her drunk friend.
Annoyed she had pushed her way through the crowd of convulsing bodies. She even parted a pair of suckling pigs, probably too drunk to kiss properly. It wasn’t a big house so Den shouldn’t have had such a hard time finding Emily, but that night it was as though she had completely disappeared. Den began freaking out, but not before she ran into Robbie, looking as good as ever in jeans and a white shirt. He was a bit taller than her, tall enough that if she ever decided to don those killer-worthy heels she had in her wardrobe at home, he would still be taller than her.
He’d looked so concerned, she was touched. But she wouldn’t have him thinking she was a dope for losing Emily, and he didn’t. It was perhaps the one moment Den had actually she was actually in love him. Always he had been her crush, but always she was afraid to push the boundaries of their friendship, especially when it was so fragile.
All friendships were. Den only had a few friends she called her own. The rest she kind of borrowed from Emily, or were mere acquaintances she rarely bothered to catch up with. So she cherished the few she had.
But Robbie hadn’t called her a dope. Instead he offered to help, only concern in his eyes not ‘you lost a friend, and she was drunk? Are you crazy?!’ kind of look, to which she was thankful.
He looked with her. And she didn’t mind that she spent the night looking for Emily. Most of the times when she graced these parties with her presence it was because she wanted to see Robbie. She rarely drank and she rarely randomly made out with the first person she met. So looking with Robbie for Emily was perhaps the best night of her life.
They eventually found Emily though. She was vomiting in the bathroom with Jakson at her side looking just as concerned as Robbie. It was kind of sweet.
Emily though, woke up with a massive hang over. Den had stayed over to make sure her parents didn’t know about her binge, and that they didn’t accidentally walk in on her looking like she did.
Den remembered the way her face when all pink when she walked into the school on Monday and Jakson asked her if she was okay. Den had never actually ever seen Emily look so embarrassed. In fact Emily rarely felt embarrassed.
And she asked her.
Emily admitted to her in the confines of an empty bathroom that she wished that she hadn’t gotten so drunk. She was embarrassed because for most of their schooling years she’d ignored Jakson, and on that Saturday, she was pretty sure she had spilled the details of her parents’ divorce and her own misery to him. She’d only done so because, as she deemed to justify her actions, because after she lost Den, she got waylaid but one of the stoners and she couldn’t get away.
It was then Den realised her best friend had a crush on Jakson. The problem with Jakson was this. He wasn’t a golden boy. He wasn’t what her parents would agree on. And yet he walked the same circles as Robbie and the nerds as well as the slackers. He was also a worker than the ‘can’t shut up’ guy he presents.
Emily kept to the golden boys. She always had. But she’d dumped her last boyfriend months ago. Den didn’t date because of well, you know. But Den was always supportive of Emily.
Since that fateful night, Emily had tried to get her game back. Only problem was that Jakson didn’t take the bait. Jakson did not like to be messed with. And up until today, he hadn’t wanted to be messed with the golden crew, one of which Den was hesitantly stepping in and out of. If Den and Emily were to ever have a fight, then Den would be officially kicked out.
Not that she cared. She only cared about Emily.
And because she cared about Emily, she had sucked up her courage and recruited Robbie’s help. Even if said person was now swimming in a pool with Emily, flirting with Emily, all to make Jakson jealous. Maybe Den should have just kissed Jakson so that Robbie knew just what she was willing to do. But no, Emily wouldn’t like that. At least, Den comforted herself with this minor thought, it’s only flirting.
Den had thought that Robbie would sit with her and talk with her today rather than go along with Emily’s plan. But she wasn’t surprised, they weren’t at school and they were by a pool she refused to get in.
“Hey.” Den spun around, nearly knocking the glass she’d just put on the table to the ground.
“Robbie.” She cleared her throat. Her voice had jumped an octave unexpectedly. “What are you doing here?”
He shrugged first, then said, as though he’d changed his mind at the last minute, “Juice?”
Den had the urge to laugh. “Sure.”
She poured him a glass and gave it to him. “It’s fruit.”
She put the bottle back and back against the bench. Robbie just stood where he was, his towel tossed over his shoulders and sipped meekly at his juice.
Den had the silence. Actually when she realised the silence she looked towards the door.
“What happened with—?”
“I don’t know. Maybe they’re talking.”
More silence. In class, they were never this silent, so why was it awkward now?
Feeling suddenly self-conscious, Den wrapped an arm around her stomach. They sipped their juice meekly while Den looked elsewhere. The clink of a glass on the bench broke the silence.
“So did you do your assignments?”
“Why are you so afraid of the water?”
More silence. Den gestured for him to continue. Although why he would ask now, when he could have asked before was beyond her.
He cleared his throat. “So, why are you so afraid of the water?”
No condescension, just curiosity. She sighed and sucked in her breath looking at him.
She told him.
Outside the squeals began again. When she told him why he just nodded his head and seeing the fear in her eyes (which was so chicken, honestly, pathetic), he walked over and gave her a surprise hug.
For Den being trapped under the water had terrified her. She remembered the suffocating feeling of the weight above her straining her lungs to work harder. She remembered the horrid feeling of not being able to breathe, knowing full well if she did, she would breathe only water. And that was a gift only a mermaid or fish possessed.
For weeks though, Robbie and Den had worked together to bring Jakson and Emily together. But never in those weeks since had den ever felt that Robbie could ever like her back like she felt now.
“Yeah?” She said from her place next his heart. She was having a really girly moment now. She couldn’t believe she was hugging Robbie in a heart-to-heart kind of way, and not a ‘we’re friends, quick hug’ kind of way.
She looked up and saw the huge red blush across his cheeks. He didn’t look incredibly perfect at the point. In fact he looked liked the kind of guy she would date.
“What are you doing this weekend?”
Den couldn’t believe what she was hearing.
“W-Well, um, do you want to go out with me?”
He could not look her in the eye. And she could not hide the pleasure/ embarrassment either. “Robbie.” She touched his chin.
“Look at me.”
He did, but she could feel he was trying to avoid looking right at her. She understood his hesitation. What if she said no?
“Are you asking me to go out with you as a girl you want to date or as a friend?”
He looked blatantly shocked for a moment as though he couldn’t comprehend how Den could misunderstand his intentions.
“Den!” His eyes were wide and he looked freaked.
“What?” She asked as though her question was undignified.
“How could you think—? Den!” He did something completely unexpected then. He kissed her. Catching her offguard. At first she was shocked, her mind still putting together logic and action before she let herself be swallowed by the pleasantness of the kiss.
“Oh. My. God. Finally!” Emily’s squeal pushed Robbie and Den apart. Though it didn’t stop the blushes creeping up their cheeks.
Emily and Jakson were standing in the kitchen both dripping wet.
“So, about Saturday?” Robbie said not looking at the interrupters, and only looking at Den.
“Yes. My answer is yes.” And for once Den was blushing like no tomorrow.
“Yay! Now for the pool!” Emily said grabbing Jakson by the arm and heading back out.
“No way!” Den yelled back. “There is no way in hell I’m getting in that pool!”
Outside she took her seat as before, only this time Robbie sat next to her. She smiled and let his hand take hers.
“I felt bad about not sitting here before.”
“It was for Emily,” Den said in return. They watched and laughed together as Emily continuously flirted with Jakson who was at last getting into a reasonably comfortable zone with her.
At the way they wrestled in the water, Den wondered exactly what had gone on when she’d been drinking fruit juice.