When Luna went to the pool, Jess Lee was already there. Her feet skimmed lightly over the icy blue surface of the pool. The lights reflected pale on her face, like a watery net. Jess Lee, she was made for water. Luna wasn’t.
“Oh,” Luna blurted out. It sprang out of her mouth before she could stop it. Jess’s shoulders stiffened, but she didn’t turn to look at her. After all this time, they could still recognize the hitch and fall of each other’s voices.
“Luna.” Her voice was flat. “What are you doing here?”
Luna swallowed. “I come here. Sometimes.”
“Sometimes,” Jess repeated, sounding almost amused. She dipped her foot in the water, swirling it around slightly. “I’ve never seen you, and I come a lot.”
What Luna did not tell Jess was that she came here practically every night, slipping past the gates and into the familiar scene. Every detail has been sanded into her memory—the street lights humming like something alive, the water laid still before her, the pool lights glowing like a moon. In all of these memories, nobody else was there. Yet here was Jess now, ruining that image for her. In hindsight, it was fitting. Jess was her rival. The worst rival. Even now, that’s all Luna thought of her as.
“Well, I quit,” Luna said now, her voice slightly sharp. She really wanted to turn around and leave, but something about Jess made her stay. “You knew that.”
“Guess I forgot.”
“How could you forget?”
Jess shrugged. “Easy,” she said, and her voice turned mean at the edges. “Not holding onto the past.”
Luna flinched, looking down at her feet. Low blow. That was probably what Jess was aiming for. She always knew how to probe Luna’s weak spots, how to find the open wounds and dig in deep. Pain flickered in her ribcage, but she didn’t know if it was from her faded injury or Jess’s taunts. Probably both. That pain lived permanently in Luna’s chest, nestled like a baby animal. Being at the pool sometimes sparked it, but Luna couldn’t stop coming back. She’d suffer through the pain.
“I quit too,” Jess said abruptly, the words flowing out like water. A quick and slippery confession. Luna froze.
Luna couldn’t wrap her mind around that. “But you—you were—you—”
Jess twisted around to look at her, and this alone made Luna falter. Over the past three years, Jess Lee had not changed at all. Her dark hair was still cut bluntly to her shoulders. Her eyes were still heavy-lidded. The curve of her jawline was still sharp. Even now, hard-old competitiveness flared in her eyes. She looked real enough to be a memory. That almost seemed to give her the upper hand.
Which was why Luna conceded without a fight. “You were the best swimmer.”
Surprise flickered across Jess’s face. She stamped it out with a bored look, quickly turning away. “Wrong.”
“You were,” Luna insisted. “Coach Bradley always said you were the fastest.”
Jess snorted. “Bulls–t,” she said, kicking the water. It sprayed across the way, droplets flying through the air. Luna flinched. Jess didn’t. “The most driven one was you.”
“That’s not what I’m saying. Being driven and being the best are not—”
Jess rolled her eyes. “You wanted to be the best,” she said, and her tone wasn’t exactly mean, but Luna could sense the tension underneath. The words she’d held in her, all this time, with nowhere to go. “And it killed you that you weren’t. So, you pushed hard. You pushed me hard. Do you remember that?”
“No,” Luna said, even though the memory was rising in her head, unbidden. Of course, she remembered that.
Part of what she’d always hated about Jess was how effortless she was in the pool, her body cutting a sharp swath through the water. Luna would push herself ragged, exhaust all the air in her lungs, make her muscles scream with tension, and Jess would still have a better time than her. Worse, she didn’t even want to practice. She was already the best; what more did she need? A long time ago, Luna had thought it was arrogance. Now she looked at the slope of Jess’s shoulders, noticing the exhaustion curled under her bones, slowly dragging her down.
Maybe it wasn’t arrogance after all.
“Why did you quit?” Luna asked quietly. Jess scoffed.
“Dunno. Didn’t want to run the risk of being stuck in the past forever.” She paused. “Since you’re here, tell me how it feels.”
It was summer, so it was supposed to be hot, but something warm slid uncomfortably down Luna’s spine. “What?”
Jess didn’t look at her, but her tone twisted into something teasing, almost mocking. “You’re still upset that you’re not the best,” she singsonged, and Luna flinched. “That you never became the best. That you lost your chance to do so. Now you’re here.”
The streetlights hummed in the night air. Luna took a step back.
“Shut up, Jess.”
“You’re not gonna find it,” Jess said sharply. “Not here. Maybe if you dive deep enough, you will. But it’s not right here.”
Luna casted a glance at the pool. Its surface was innocuously still. Her reflection was as clear as a mirror.
“Jump in,” Jess goaded, like a siren. Luna shivered.
“I can’t swim like I used to.”
“I’m not asking you to swim. I’m asking you to jump in.”
And then what, Luna wanted to ask. Sink? Her whole life in the water, she’d just cut through it effortlessly, never allowing herself to fall to the bottom. She didn’t know how to do anything else.
“This isn’t a test,” Jess said. “What, are you a coward?”
Jess always knew how to push Luna’s buttons. Conversely, she always knew how to get what she wanted from her. Luna looked down at the depths, an innocent shade of blue, and then jumped in, clothes and all.
It was cold. That was the first thought that sank in her mind. Immediately Luna kicked towards the surface, but a weight dragged her down. Memories, she thought. The past. It was nothing like how it had been all those years ago, carving a path through the water, pushing herself harder and harder. This was—heavier. She squeezed her eyes shut and pushed herself upwards.
When she surfaced, the night air tumbled down her throat. She gasped, glancing around the pool. See, she wanted to yell at Jess, take that. I’m not what you say I am.
But Jess wasn’t there. She wasn’t anywhere. Not a trace of her remained. Luna frowned, pulling herself out of the pool. Her clothes stuck stubbornly to her skin, but she barely registered it.
Jess was gone. But maybe she’d never been there at all.