Newton watched as Meredith jumped from the high board, turned
a flip, and sliced the water like a kingfisher. Caryn had been
watching Meredith Eastwood all year. Meredith was the fastest
girl on the swim team, the best diver at the pool. She had it
alltalent, curly red hair, long shapely legs, a terrific
Sterling Townes, quarterback on the Ivydell High School football
team, was also watching Meredith. His shift as lifeguard was soon
over, and he and Meredith left together. Caryn sighed. Sterling
was so handsome, but he didnt even know she existed.
She could swim almost as fast as Meredith, but she would not,
could not, dive from the high board. Not for anything. As for
looks, it was best not to think about that. She couldnt
make herself any taller, and her complexion was hopeless. Its
just a phase, her dad said. Itll clear up soon.
Dads are so dense.
Hey, Newton! Brock Withers was on the swim team, too,
but he was a nerd. He had won the science award last year, and
he was baby-sitter for his neighbors kids.
My names Caryn. She bit the words, emphasizing
I know. Caryn with a C. But Newtons my
hero, and youre the only live Newton I know.
Save it for chemistry class, Caryn said.
Brock grinned. Sorry I bugged you. You going to the dance?
It was Alexa Landers sixteenth birthday, and her parents
had planned a dance at the country club. Alexa had invited everybody
she knew, including the whole swim team.
Caryn shook her head. I dont know. I havent
thought much about it. That was a lie. She had thought about
it. Shed thought about going with somebody handsome and
Want to go with me? Brock asked.
She didnt want to go with Brockhe bored her, talking
about weird science stuffbut he was the only chance she
had. Sure, she said.
Ill call you tonight.
lay on the bed, depressed. Since Brock didnt have his license
yet, his mom was going to drive them in her ancient blue Ford.
Thats the best she can do, Caryns mom
said. Her job doesnt pay well, and she has no help
from her ex. Had you rather I drive you in my van? Or Dad in his
pickup truck? How did she wind up with such parents? Totally
out of it.
Meredith was going to the dance in Sterlings red Corvette.
Ive got a new white dress, Meredith said. You
ought to see it. Short, skinny, and strapless.
How could anyone be as lucky as Meredith? A date with Sterling,
a ride in a red Corvette, a new dress. While Caryn had to wear
the dress shed worn to the Valentine dancea pink-and-white
little girls dress. It was totally unfair.
She took the dress out of the closet and looked at it. Gathered
sleeves, gathered skirt. It was hopeless. Mom, she
yelled, Ill look like a baby in this old dress.
Maybe we can fix it up a little, her mom said. Ill
talk to Hallie. Shes good at that sort of thing.
Hallie Priestley was Jelenas mother. Jelenas clothes
always looked great, but Caryn doubted if even Mrs. Priestley
could fix her dress.
morning. The day of the big dance! Caryn was excited, even if
she did have to wear her old dress and go with Brock Withers.
This dance was special. She had gone to nursery school with Jelena
and Alexa. Jelena had been sixteen for a few weeks, Alexa was
sixteen today, and in a few months, Caryn would be sixteen.
Caryn rode to school with Jelena, as she had done since Jelena
got her license. Jelena was her usual nutty self, trying to be
funny. You heard Alexas parents canceled the dance?
Because she made a C in history.
Yeah, right, Caryn said. And your cat had a
kitten with three heads. Alexa was a brat, but she was also
one of the best students at Ivydell. She always made As.
Just kidding, Jelena said, laughing.
Caryn didnt laugh. She was tired of Jelenas jokes.
She was also tired of getting to school at the last minute. The
parking lot was packed.
Jelena circled around, looking. She saw a place, at last, but
before she could get to it, Sterling swerved around her old Chrysler
and parked in it. He and Meredith were laughing as they got out
and walked toward the building.
By the time Jelena found another parking place, everybody else
had gone to class. Caryn had to run to French class, at the far
end of the building. Mrs. Beadle frowned at her when she rushed
into her seat just as the bell rang.
She felt the day would never end. She had a quiz over a story
she had only scanned while she was thinking about her dress, and
she hadnt spent enough time on her algebra problems. Shed
made stupid mistakes, forgetting to watch for negative signs and
things like that.
She saw Sterling and Meredith everywhere she turned, a constant
reminder that Meredith Eastwood had a date with Sterling Townes,
while Caryn Newton had to settle for Brock Withers. Sterling and
Meredith had started the day with laughter, but at lunch Caryn
saw them standing by the lockers. Sterlings face had changednot
laughing, but menacing, like the face of the character in the
story shed failed to read. Later, she saw Meredith alone,
eyes red and swollen.
Meredith in tears? Caryn had never thought of Meredith as a human
being, a real live girl with problems. Shed always pictured
her as perfect, something like one of those porcelain dolls Hallie
Caryn was glad to get home. She went to get her dress, but it
was not in the closet. Worse than having to wear a little girls
dress was having no dress at all. She called her mother at work.
What did you do with my dress? she asked.
Hallies still working on it, her mom said. Shes
taking the sleeves out. I think youll like it better.
Caryn did her chores and polished her shoes. As soon as her mother
got home, she put on the dress. Yes, it definitely looked better.
She was fixing her hair when her mother called her to the telephone.
Its Jelena, she said.
Youll never believe it, Jelena whispered, her
voice so low Caryn could scarcely hear her. Meredith shot
Gooseflesh rose on Caryns arms. This had to be another one
of Jelenas stupid jokes. Yeah, right, she said.
Im not kidding, Jelena said. Merediths
Caryn sank into a chair. A cold stone settled in her stomach.
There must be some mistake. Not Meredith. This was the day of
the dance, and she had a date with Sterling Townes.
Caryn? Jelena said. Are you okay?
Caryn felt as she had the time an older girl pushed her off the
high board. She was suffocating, and she couldnt find the
Caryn? Jelena said.
Caryn breathed out. Are you sure? she asked, her voice
Mrs. Frye called Mom. She heard Mrs. Eastwood screaming
and went over. Mrs. Eastwood had just found Meredith.
Tears ran down Caryns face. Not Meredith. So beautiful and
talented. Always happy and laughing. No, not always. She had not
been laughing this afternoon.
telephoned back and forth about Meredith and the dance. Should
they cancel it? But Alexas parents had already made arrangementscountry
club, band, decorations, refreshments. It was too late to cancel.
And nobody could change the fact that it was Alexas birthday,
that she had looked forward to this party for months.
Caryn didnt want to go to the dance, not with Meredith dead,
but she didnt want Alexa for an enemy. She knew how hateful
Alexa could be, what cutting remarks she would make. Shed
said awful things to Jelena after Jelena missed her Christmas
party. It had not mattered to Alexa that Jelenas father
had invited Jelena to dinner. His mother was in town and wanted
to see her granddaughter.
Brock came to the door with a corsage of pink roses. Mrs. Newton
helped Caryn pin it on, and she and Brock were off. But the excitement
had gone out of the occasion. They rode in the back seat of Mrs.
Withers car, barely talking at all.
When they got to the club, everybody was standing around, talking
about Meredith. Find your partner, Mr. Landers said.
Everybody dance now. And Mrs. Landers kept trying
to shoo them onto the dance floor.
Brock tried to get Caryn to dance, but her legs were tired. She
didnt think she could walk across the floor, much less dance.
The music seemed too loud, the lights too bright.
Jelena came by. Guess what everybodys saying? Meredith
was pregnant. When she told Sterling, he said not to bother him
about it. Said hed decided to go to a concert with some
of his friends from Rawlings instead of the dance.
The room was spinning, the red and white streamers whirling around,
the kids a blur of colors.
Brock took Caryns arm. Are you all right?
She was going to be sick if she didnt get out of there.
Jelena and her selfish party. They should have waited, given people
a chance to mourn. Lets go home, she said.
Ill call Mom, Brock said. We can wait
outside. Where its cooler.
Caryn was glad to get out into the fresh air. Brock led her to
chairs, and they sat down to wait for Mrs. Withers. You
believe what theyre saying? Caryn asked.
Brock shook his head. I dont know. She was crazy about
Sterling. Some of us tried to tell her shed get hurt, but
she wouldnt listen.
They were arguing at school. I thought shed been crying.
It all fits. Meredith couldnt have faced the gossip,
the trouble, her parents.
But she was so strong, so beautiful. She had everything.
Thats only the Meredith you saw. The real Meredith
was not like that. Ive known her all my life. She was shy
and scared. She just learned how to cover it up.
hated swim practice after that, but Mom and Dad made her go, said
the team was depending on her. She swam her laps as fast as she
could and left.
But one day as she headed to the shower, Sterling stood in her
way. He squeezed her arm. Little Caryns getting muscles.
Newton! It was Brock. Thank heaven!
She whirled away from Sterling. There was the high board at the
end of the pool, empty, waiting for Meredith.
Sterling looked at Brock, but snorted and went out to take his
station as lifeguard.
I dont have to baby-sit today, Brock said. Stay
and swim awhile.
Caryn looked at the high board. Were you scared the first
time you jumped?
Everybodys scared the first time.
Ill bet Meredith wasnt.
Yeah, she was. She wouldnt jump till Sterling called
her a scaredy-cat. She pinched her lips together, ran up the steps,
shut her eyes, and jumped. She stayed under so long I thought
she had drowned. I was ready to dive in after her when she came
up gasping. Everybody cheered, and she went back and did it again.
She kept at it until she was the best diver in the bunch.
Caryn took a deep breath. Shed do it for Meredith. She walked
the length of the pool, her knees knocking, climbed the ladder,
and stepped to the end of the board. Her head was swimming, and
the pool seemed far too small.
She closed her eyes, clenched her teeth, and jumped. She didnt
slice the water like a kingfisher, and the splash burned her stomach.
She went down, down, down. She was suffocating, floundering, and
fighting, but her body knew what to do. She bobbed to the surface,
gasping, and started back to the high board to do it again.
Howard has an MA in English from Vanderbilt University. She
writes both poetry and fiction. Her work has been published in
Xavier Review, Cold Mountain Review, Comstock Review, Wind, Poem,
Appalachian Heritage, The Licking River Review, The Distillery,
and other journals. She has two books of poetryAnemones
(1998) and Gleaners (2005).