We were nine years old. My bright pink life jacket constrained my chest like a straightjacket. My ribs ached. My trunks were just a little too big, so I kept pulling them up above my belly button in an awkward little jig.
Jon pointed at me from across the dock and laughed. “Matt looks silly.”
Dad swatted him gently and told him to stop. He kept laughing. I turned to Mum. “Do I have to wear this?”
In the tree-filtered sunlight, her brown eyes twinkled and her honey skin glowed. “I’m sorry, but you do.”
“Why does Jon get the better one?” I pulled the scratchy pink material away from my chafed neck. “It’s not fair.”
She sighed. “Jon’s bigger, baby. The blue one fits him, and this one fits you.”
The baby on shore mewled hungrily. Mum glanced at Dad, but he was setting up his chair and didn’t even hear his youngest child. She frowned, then patted my bare shoulder. “I’m sorry, Matty. Have fun, okay?”
And then she was gone.
Jon already dangled his feet over the edge when I sat down next to him, Indian-style. The blue of his life jacket set his black hair on fire, and the eyes our mum gave us shone with excitement. He was happy to be alive.
Good for him.
I eyed him with jealously. His trunks fit just fine. Why couldn’t Mum find ones that fit me?
Mine would probably have Hello Kitty on them if she did.
I looked over my shoulder to see if Mum was watching us. She was in the car with Shiloh, trying to soothe the beast. Dad’s back was turned. I took a deep breath, then unbuckled my jacket. My lungs swelled with the fresh air it needed. Thank goodness.
“Doesn’t the water look amazing?” he asked, kicking his legs back and forth. The whole dock shook. Behind us, Dad tripped and said one the words Mum scolded Jon for last week. Now I knew where he heard it. “Swimming’s my favourite.”
I gave the murky water my bravest chin and my sternest eyeball, but I could still imagine the oozy sea monsters lunging from the muddy green depths. Tentacles would wrap around my ankles the moment I got in, pulling me to the bottom and mum would cry and say this never would’ve happened if she’d let me wear the blue life jacket.
“Hellooooooo…” Jon waved his hand in front of my face. “Earth to Matty…”  He punched my shoulder. “Gosh, you’re so spacey.”
“Jon, quit bugging your brother,” Dad mumbled. He was birdwatching or sunbathing or something else more important than talking to his wife and sons. Like usual.
Jon got up. I stared in horror at his dripping legs, way too close to me. Leaves and fuzzy water scum stuck to them. I scooted as far away as possible—a little closer to the water.
“Daaaad…” I heard Jon say.
“Not now, Jon.” A page turned. A bird called from the other end of the lake. Mum sung to the baby onshore.
And then I felt a wet hand plant itself on my bare back and was shoved into the dangerous green waters without any further warning.
As my arms flailed, I gulped in a huge mouth of lake water, and I gagged on the taste of mud and dead things. My eyes burned, but no matter how hard I tried to squeeze them shut, water sneaked in. I was going to die. I really was going to die.
I didn’t even care about the blue life jacket any more. I just wanted to see the sky again, instead of the shivery distorted light above me.
My lungs and head ached. Dark spots slipped across my vision. I could barely move my arms any more. I was so tired.
I gave up. There wasn’t any point in holding on any longer. Jon was thought we were playing a game, like he always did, and my parents were too busy to care.
My body went limp.
My eyes slowly shut.
A hand grasped mine.
God? Is that you? I wanted to open my eyes, but the water was getting brighter and brighter and I couldn’t pry them open.
And then the murky water released its clutch on me.
“Matt! Oh my gosh, Matt! Ali, get over here!”
That couldn’t be God. That was my dad. That didn’t make sense.
My eyes stayed shut.
I couldn’t breathe. My lungs sloshed with water.
I was still going to die.
“Matt! Stay with me, son. Hold on!” He’d never sounded so panicked before. “Jon. Are you okay?”
I heard my brother gulp and cough. “I’m fine. Take care of him.”
Hands pressed on my chest, and someone poured their warmed breath into my cold and clammy mouth. My eyes wouldn’t open still.
And then everything in my lungs realized that this was a boy who was going to live, and it got the heck out of there.
My eyes sprung open, and I spewed and heaved violently, and the first thing I saw was my brother leaning over me, eyes wild with fear and guilt. Dad sat next to him, panting and almost sobbing. The summer breeze floated gently over me. I coughed. I’d never appreciated the way air in my lungs felt, but I would from now on.
Jon grabbed me by the shoulder and shook me. “Why weren’t you wearing your jacket? You’re so stupid—I almost killed you…I didn’t mean to. We were just going to have fun…why?” His voice echoed over the now still water. He was almost screaming.
My words scraped against my raw throat. “…pink…”
He whole face wrinkled with confusion. I pointed to the jacket. “…pink.”
A smile spread across his face, and I felt like the sun just came out. Despite the fact that my lungs were waterlogged and I could barely move, my brother grinned at me and then collapsed next to me, wrapped his arms around my wet and shaking shoulders. “I’m so happy you’re alive,” he whispered in my ear.
And to be very honest, so was I.


“Does Matt like swimming?” Sam held her growling stomach as they rolled down a dark road she
Linds stuck her head between the two front seats. Her funk had vanished as soon as Sam told her she could have as big of a frostie as she wanted. “He liked looking at the water, I think.”
Colt chuckled. “Nah…he hates the stuff. Avoids water like the plague. I don’t think I’ve ever seen him swim in the time that we’ve been friends. Something about an accident when they were kids.”
“An accident?”
He blanched. “Slip of the tongue. Forget about it.”
But Sam couldn’t forget about it. Not after seeing the look in his eyes before they left. That was a look of finality. She’d seen it before, and it never meant good things.
Something wasn’t right.
“Turn around,” she said quietly. “We need to go back.”
She didn’t have an  answer. She didn’t want to be right.
But she knew she was.
thought was the right way.


It was just like before.
His throat burned, and his lungs screamed for new air. The world around him was  dark and shapeless and had no end. The taste in his mouth was salty and full of unshed tears. He squeezed his eyes shut, and let his body go limp. He was free-falling, like when you drift off in a dream but catch yourself right before you fall asleep.
It was just like before.
There was no hand grasping his, pulling him away from the monsters.
And he didn’t want to make it out alive.

*ladies and gentlemen, why do I do this to myself? the feels.*





  2. FEELS


    "The taste in his mouth was salty and full of unshed tears." That's a beautiful line. The whole ending is beautiful. AND FEELSY. When will this book be published for me to read, anyway? ;)




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