'The Blue in the Water' by Angela Readman
If I was to explain it in a way you’d understand, I'd say making friends is like a pony, holding sugar cubes in one hand and a whip in the other. I broke your spirit just enough to climb on your back.
Everyone knew you: Skylar Tinkler. The Happiest Girl in class. If you were my friend, I knew I’d be happy too. That smile would rub off like perfume on a magazine, I just had to open you up. If I could get past The Barbie Convention, your wall of clever girls nibbling fruit. You always smelt of cherry cough drops. I smelt of sniggers. The joke sweets weighted my pocket, I smiled the memory of ink. God, you didn’t even curse efuckingnough. Your hand shot to your glossy mouth if something flipped out. It made me want you more. Being your friend would be as satisfying as teaching a budgie to swear. I looked for chinks in your pretty armour, a way in. Then, it landed on my lap, or, rather, yours.
The school made us swim. Huddled in the locker room, we undressed behind the self assembled Victorian screens of our towels.
‘There’s something in my hair,’ you said.
You raced to the bathroom with combs and pins to make your hair perfect before it got soaked. The Barbie Convention streamed out in salad coloured costumes. And there it was. Skylar Tinkler’s lemon bathing suit sunning itself on the wooden bench, Gusset up. Mine. The white nylon strip in the crotch had a gap in one end. I looked both ways, tucked my finger inside.
Poolside, I stared down at blue water, noticed the ripples made by a dip of my toe. You clustered with the Barbies, ruffles on your behinds. Quack, quack you got in like pastel coloured ducks complaining about veruca socks. Finally, you kicked off. I lagged, your elegant frog of breast stroke opened and closed ahead. Dark blue billowed behind you like an angry squid, the ink sweet I slipped in your costume dissolving in the pool.
'Eughhh! Skylar's peed in the water!' OMG!’
The Barbies stared, hands on their lips. Faster swimmers than you did their length, turned and gaped, at you, unaware of blue clouds following, inky shame that would write LOSER all over you. Indelible. Blue. You were all our nightmares, a rumour come true. If you pee in the water, blue always follow you.
On the bus, you eyed the back seat, Barbies spread out their laughs with their bags.
‘You can sit here, if you like,’ I said.
I coughed; you offered a drop.
‘Here,’ you said, ‘they help dry throats, I suck them whenever I’m nervous.’We've been BFF ever since. You might say that's not really friendship, how it happened. If you ever figured it out, I'd say I diluted your happiness just a little, so it could be shared. I wanted to show you the blue in the water, I'd say.