Neil McDonald | Lakshmy Mathur
Julee was sitting on her perch, half-listening to the men talk about the Def Leppard concert one of them had recently been to see, half-concentrating on the sun’s warmth on her arms, when Perry broke the spell with one of his usual odious sentences.
“Julee,” he said, looking up at her and squinting in the sunlight. “Julee.” She looked at him. “I was the best overall in swimming camp again this year.”
“Were you,” Julee said.
“Yes. I was in the camp with Mr. Silver.”
“Oh, you mean Aaron?” said Julee, bored.
“Yes,” said Perry. “I think so. Want to see my backstroke?”
“Um, sure,” said Julee. She tilted her head, aiming her face at the sun.
The boy did his backstroke. He swam as hard as the best overall swimmer in Mr. Aaron Silver’s swimming camp might be expected to swim, and splashed a couple of nearby little kids in the shallow end. The kids’ mothers stopped their poolside conversation and looked over the top of their sunglasses to make sure their intervention was not required. One of them eyed Julee. Perry made the turn and started back unawares.
“Perry,” Julee shouted, and he stopped, momentarily confused at which way to face.
“Not so hard,” she said.
“Oh. Sorry,” Perry said, and he began wading back toward Julee, his arms wheeling slowly in an imitation front crawl, as if he were practicing, his hands barely meeting the water with each exaggerated stroke. When he got back to the side of the pool, he placed his arms on the lip, the tips of his middle fingers almost touching. He was looking up at Julee and she squirmed slightly. She could feel his eyes on her. The men were talking about craft beer now.
“Do you know this one kid Alexander Armstrong?” Perry asked Julee. “Julee.”
“No,” she said, watching the children.
“Oh, he’s this inappropriate boy who was at Mr. Silver — Aaron’s, I guess — swimming camp this year.”
“Oh yes, he made all of us uncomfortable. He was from outside the neighbourhood.”
“OK,” said Julee.
“Did you go to the Novaks’ party this year?”
Julee took her eyes off of the children and looked down at Perry.
One of the men who had been talking about beer and Def Leppard slowly bobbed into the periphery, hugging a foam noodle. The other man had left the pool and was towelling off somewhere behind her.
“This guy bothering you, Jules?” the bobbing man said, and winked at Perry.
“Ha ha. No, I’m fine.”
“Ha ha,” said Perry.
“Looking forward to going back to school, Julee?” the man asked. It was Brad, maybe, from 1601 or 1605. She couldn’t remember which.
“Well, sort of,” Julee replied.
“What grade you going into, 12?” Brad asked.
“Yep,” said Julee. “One more year.”
“I’m going to be in Grade Eight,” Perry said.
“Grade Eight, huh?” said the man.
The sun was blazing. Julee felt the heat again, on her arms, her shoulders, her legs, felt the sun inspecting every one of her five thousand freckles.
“Are you going to university, Julee?” asked Perry.
“I don’t know,” she said. “Maybe.”
The man laughed. “Don’t let Jack and Linda hear you saying that,” he said.
Julee laughed politely and glanced down at the man. His shoulders were hairy. She saw he was looking up at her, squinting, like he was trying to see if she was looking at him from behind her sunglasses. Perry pushed off for another criss-cross of the pool on his back, not so hard this time.
The man looked down, then quickly up again, moving closer.
“You still giving private lessons?” he asked, in a lower voice.
Despite the heat, Julee shivered.
She looked at the man, closer. His look was arrogant somehow, knowing.
He said: “The Novaks are friends, so.”
Julee was frozen.
“So let me know if you do.” His voice had returned to normal volume.
She affected a bemused air. “Oh,” she said, “OK?”
The man turned and said to Perry, “Hey Terry, what time is it?”
“It’s Perry,” said Perry, in a whiny voice.
“Oh, right. Perry,” said the man. This was a joke he had played before. “So what time is it?”
“There’s a clock right there,” said Perry, pointing at the clock on the wall outside the changing rooms.
“Yeah, well, I don’t have my glasses, smart guy,” said the man. He pronounced smart ‘shmart.’
Perry squinted. “Three after two.”
“Is it already three after two?” the man said, looking past Perry at the poolside mothers. “Well, then, I’m late. I will see you kids. I will see you on the flip-side.” He walked to the side of the pool with his arms above the water and then got out.
Perry looked up and Julee shifted in her perch, uncomfortable, not sure how much he could see.
She turned to look off into the distance, and tried to assume an air of languor. She felt the heat stronger now, felt herself burning.
“You said you went to the Novaks’, right?” said Perry.
“What time did you go?”
“I don’t know. We went between seven and eight, I guess,” said Julee, irritably, her eyes following the abandoned noodle as it floated slowly toward the children.
“Oh yes,” said Perry. “That’s the best hour to go.”