“Bree, I got one for you now.” He sat up against the willow, shifting so he faced me.
“Go for it.”
“What if you could breathe underwater?” He gestured to the rounded lake.
“No.” I turned away from the water. “You know I’m afraid.”
“But that way you couldn’t drown!” He stood, stepping toward the shore. “You wouldn’t have to be scared anymore, right?”
I shook my head, reaching out for him. “Jay, it’s not just that, it’s the unknown, the depth, the darkness of it.” I tried to smile. “Plus, we’ve both seen Jaws, and it doesn’t exactly end well.”
He chuckled. “There are no sharks in lakes like this.” He waved the thought away. “Okay, okay. What if I was drowning and-?”
“No, Jay.” I stood, reaching out as I took a step toward the edge of the lake.
“Not even then?” His eyes widened.
I scoffed. “Oh yeah, some help I’d be, not knowing how to swim. You’d be better off hoping a dolphin would help you out.”
“Well, then I’ll teach you.” He took my head, trying to pull me closer to the water.
“Jay, stop. Please-” I planted my feet, leaning my weight back.
He paused, turning to me. “Listen, we’ll go around to the shallow end and start there. You’ll be able to see the bottom.”
“Please don’t make me.” My voice cracked as I stared at the body of water waving and chopping in the breeze.
“What if we start with just wading, huh? Walking around, getting you used to it. Then it won’t seem so bad.” Jay linked arms with me. “I’ll be right there with you, promise.”
I sighed and turned back to our willow, scooping up our shoes. “No tricks.” I tossed his sneakers to the ground at his feet when he grinned.
“You got it, no pranks.” He raised his right hand, placing it over his heart.
I took his hand as we wandered around the lake. Jay took to my side, creating a wall between me and the water. He jogged to the shore, pulling me behind him. After he threw his shoes aside, he ran straight for the water, wading until he was waist deep. I set my shoes next to his and edged closer as he reached out.
I took one step into the water lapping at my feet. “Does this count?”
He closed the distance between us. “No, not even close.” He blocked my escape and took my shoulders in his hands, ushering me deeper into the lake.
I dug my feet into the sand as he pushed. “Wait, wait, wait! You said we were just wading.” The water inched up to my waist, and I froze, gazing at minnows as they darted away.
“Yeah, and we are. We’ll go deeper until we feel like we can’t walk and start from there.” He wrapped his arm around my shoulders. “Don’t worry, I got you.”
A shaking breath escaped my lips as the cool liquid enveloped more of my body. “Okay, let’s stop here. I need to get used to the feeling.”
Jay came around my front, gripping my hand. “Take all the time you need. I’m right here, okay?”
I nodded as I moved my arm through the waves, watching the bottom. I shifted my weight from one leg to the other. Jay released my hand, and I cried out as he sank under the surface. He reappeared in seconds, sweeping his hair back.
“That wasn’t funny!” I crossed my arms over my chest as he neared.
“Sorry, but I wanted to get used to the temperature. That’s the fastest way, you know. Do you wanna try?”
“Going under? Uh uh, no way.” I backed away as the wind picked up, cooling my soaked clothes until I started shivering.
“I told you I’d be right here. I’ll hold your hand so you have something to pull you back up if you want. It’ll only be a second.”
I took his offered hand and met him at his side. “Just a second.” I breathed in as he nodded, squeezing my hand.
I took the plunge, holding my breath as the water hit me, weighing me down. I opened my eyes and searched in the blurry shadows for a fleeting moment as I pushed myself back up. I raked my dripping locks away from my face, meeting Jay’s gaze.
“How was it? Not too bad?”
“It wasn’t the end of the world.”
“Good, you ready to try the next step?”
“I don’t know…”
He walked deeper until the water wrapped his shoulders. “I have an idea. How about I swim and you hold on?”
“How far?” I took one step at a time, stretching out for him.
“We’ll see how you feel, how’s that? All you gotta do is hold on tight.” He turned his back to me.
I stumbled toward him, grabbing his shoulders. He inched out, letting the water take my weight, and I clutched him, wrapping my arms under his.
“We’ll go nice and slow, okay? Nothing crazy.”
I rested my head on his back as he started to swim, smiling. “No shark attacks?”
He laughed. “Course not. Not this time.” He cut me off before I could protest. “Kidding, kidding.”
“Not funny. Are you sure you’re okay carrying me?”
“Yeah, don’t worry, I’ll swim back if I get tired. Wanna try going under again?”
I tightened my hold on him, trembling. “Please don’t, not when I won’t be able to see you.”
“How about I go under while you hold on so you can a feel for what swimming will be like?”
“Just for a second?”
“I’ll be right back up. Ready?”
I shifted my arms as he swam, holding onto his shoulders. He swam under, and the water threatened to take me with him. I gasped and stretched my head as the water decided whether or not to lift my weight. I lightened after a few seconds, and Jay kept as moving toward the center. He dropped lower, and I sank with him, going under before I could breathe in. I flailed and kicked as he slipped from my hands. I forced my eyes open and grabbed at nothing as the shadows surrounded me. A gurgling scream tore from my throat as a silhouette wrapped arms around my waist. We breached the surface, and I coughed and sputtered.
“It’s okay, I gotcha. I gotcha.”
I wrapped my arms around his back, pounding my fists into his shoulders. “You said there’d be no tricks. You promised!”
He tilted my chin in one hand as he treaded and with the other, keeping us afloat. “I wanted to see how you’d react to having to hold yourself up. It’s okay.” He shifted to float on his back and started kicking. “I wasn’t gonna let anything happen to you. Just hang on a little longer, and we’ll be back on hard ground. Kick your legs, and we’ll get there faster, okay?”
I laid my hand on his chest and kicked with him, propelling us to the safety of the shoreline. The water pulled at our backs as we left it, but released us as we waded in. I scrambled up in the sand as soon as I scraped the bottom with my feet. Jay caught me before I could run and sat us down in the wet sand.
“You did great, Bree, really. I’m sorry about my little stunt. I should’ve told you.”
“Yeah, you should’ve, but we made it back alive I suppose.”
“Does that mean you don’t hate me?” He flashed a pearly grin.
I shoved him down in the sand, caking his hair in the clumping grit. “Now we’re even. Good luck getting that out.” I smiled as he tried to rake the mess from his hair, catching his lips with mine. “I guess I don’t hate you.”