We head down, where the bottom would be if there was one. The deeper we go, the darker the blue becomes. The water feels darker too, as if the weight of it has settled. It’s only when I feel her tug at my hand that I let myself be pulled back up to the surface, where we break out of the water and fill our lungs. “Jesus,” she says. “You can hold your breath.”
“I practice,” I say, suddenly wishing I hadn’t said it at all, because it’s one of those things—like I am make-believe—that sounds better in my own head.
She just smiles and splashes me, and I splash her back. We do this for a while, and I chase her around the surface, ducking under, grabbing her legs. She slips through my grasp and breaks into a breaststroke, clean and strong. I remind myself that she’s a California girl and probably grew up swimming in the ocean. I suddenly feel jealous of all the years she had before meeting me, and then I swim after her. We tread water, looking at each other, and suddenly there’s not enough water in the world to clean away my dirty thoughts.
She says, “I’m glad we came.”
We float on our backs, holding hands again, faces to the sun. Because my eyes are closed, I whisper, “Marco.”
“Polo,” she answers, and her voice sounds lazy and far away.
After a while, I say, “Do you want to go look for the bottom again?”
“No. I like it here, just like this.” Then she asks, “When did the divorce happen?”
“Around this time last year.”
“Did you know it was coming?”
“I did and I didn’t.”
“Do you like your stepmother?”
“She’s fine. She has a seven-year-old son who may or may not be my dad’s, because I’m pretty sure he was cheating with her for the past few years. He left us once, when I was ten or eleven, said he couldn’t deal with us anymore. I think he was with her then. He came back, but when he left for good, he made it clear it was our fault. Our fault he came back, our fault he had to leave. He just couldn’t have a family.”
“And then he married a woman with a kid. What’s he like?”
The son I will never be. “He’s just a kid.” I don’t want to talk about Josh Raymond. “I’m going in search of the bottom. Are you okay here? Do you mind?”
“I’m good. You go. I’ll be here.” She floats away.
I take a breath and dive, grateful for the dark of the water and the warmth against my skin. I swim to get away from Josh Raymond, and my cheating father, and Violet’s involved parents who are also her friends, and my sad, deserted mother, and my bones. I close my eyes and pretend it’s Violet who surrounds me instead, and then I open my eyes and push myself down, one arm out like Superman.
I feel the strain of my lungs wanting air, but I keep going. It feels a lot like the strain of trying to stay awake when I can feel the darkness sliding under my skin, trying to borrow my body without asking so that my hands become its hands, my legs its legs.
I dive deeper, lungs tight and burning. I feel a distant twinge of panic, but I make my mind go quiet before I send my body deeper. I want to see how far I can go. She’s waiting for me. The thought fills me, but I can still feel the darkness working its way up, through my fingers, trying to grab hold.
Less than 2 percent of people in the U.S. kill themselves by drowning, maybe because the human body was built to float. The number one country in the world for drowning, accidental or otherwise, is Russia, which has twice as many deaths as the next highest, Japan. The Cayman Islands, surrounded by the Caribbean Sea, has the fewest drownings of all.
I like it deeper, where the water feels heaviest. Water is better than running because it blocks everything out. Water is my special power, my way to cheat the Asleep and stop it from coming on.
I want to go even deeper than this, because the deeper the better. I want to keep going. But something makes me stop. The thought of Violet. The burning sensation in my lungs. I stare longingly at the black of where the bottom should be but isn’t, and then I stare up again at the light, very faint but still there, waiting with Violet, over my head.
It takes strength to push myself up, because I need air by now, badly. The panic comes back, stronger this time, and then I aim myself for the surface. Come on, I think. Please come on. My body wants up, but it’s tired. I’m sorry. I’m sorry, Violet. I won’t leave you again. I don’t know what I was thinking. I’m coming.
When I finally hit the air, she is sitting on the bank crying. “A*****e,” she says.
I feel my smile go and I swim toward her, head up, afraid to put it under again, even for a second, afraid she’ll freak out.
“A*****e,” she says, louder this time, standing, still in her underwear. She wraps her arms around herself, trying to get warm, trying to cover up, trying to pull away from me. “What the hell? Do you know how scared I was? I searched everywhere. I went as deep as I could before I ran out of air and had to come back up, like, three times.”
I want her to say my name because then I’ll know it’s okay and I haven’t gone too far and I haven’t just lost her forever. But she doesn’t, and I can feel a cold, dark feeling growing in the pit of my stomach—every bit as cold and dark as the water. I find the outer edge of the Blue Hole where there’s suddenly a bottom, and I rise up out of it until I’m next to her, dripping on the bank.
She pushes me hard and then again, so I go jolting backward, but I don’t lose my footing. I stand there as she slaps at me, and then she starts to cry, and she is shaking.
I want to kiss her but I’ve never seen her like this, and I’m not sure what she’ll do if I try to touch her. I tell myself, For once it’s not about you, Finch. So I stand an arm’s length away and say, “Let it out, all that stuff you’re carrying around. You’re pissed off at me, at your parents, at life, at Eleanor. Come on. Let me have it. Don’t disappear in there.” I mean inside herself, where I’ll never get to her.
“Screw you, Finch.”
“Better. Keep going. Don’t stop now. Don’t be a waiting person. You lived. You survived a really horrible accident. But you’re just … there. You’re just existing like everyone else. Get up. Do this. Do that. Lather. Rinse. Repeat. Over and over so that you don’t have to think about it.”
She shoves me again and again. “Stop acting like you know how I feel.” She’s pounding at me with her fists, but I just stand, feet planted, and take it.