“Try it!” my sister called out from inside the pool.
“Are you sure?” I asked, tilting slightly on the edge of the highest step.
There was no response.
I decided to try repeating myself. “Are you sure?”
Still no response.
I took a deep breath and yelled out as loudly as I dared - though it was really not that much different from my normal speaking voice. I didn’t want the neighbors thinking anything weird, especially after we had been stuck at home for so long.
A whoosh came from below me. With a crack, my sister’s head broke the shimmering film of water, spraying droplets everywhere. Long, black strands floated beside her, surrounding her with a halo.
“Sorry!” she said breathlessly. “What were you saying?”
I pointed at the water rolling below me with a twisted expression. “Are you sure it’s...fine?”
She laughed. “Stop being so scared. Why wouldn’t it be?”
I took a deep breath. Truth be told, I didn’t know why I was so scared. It’s not like Ididn’t know how to swim.
Tentatively, I dipped my toe into the water. Immediately, I drew back, hissing like my friend’s cat in the presence of a fellow feline.
“It’s cold!” I said, stating the obvious.
My sister rolled her eyes. Even though I was supposed to be the older sibling, she was acting like the more mature one.
“It’ll warm up soon. It’s summertime.”
“What?” I leaned closer, unsure of what my sister had said, and with a sudden tug, I crashed head-first into the water.
At first, it felt like my body was breaking through a brick wall at speeds beyond my imagination. But as the seconds trickled on, I gradually slowed down, and my momentum was dampened by billions of invisible molecules surrounding me in their cold embrace.
With a sputtering gasp, I emerged from the water. It was still. So. Cold.
“Are you O.K.?” my sister asked, lazily swimming over.
“Do I look like it?”
She shrugged. “You can always try jumping in again.”
“Well, I don’t need your help,” I said, shooting her a warning look. She only stared back at me innocently.
I heaved myself back over the ledge, one leg at a time, and stood up with a spine-popping stretch. My bathing suit, which looked more like a gymnastics costume, clung to my gangly frame. I was keenly aware of how loose it was, especially around my stomach and legs. It wasn’t like that before. Before I was stuck at home and given too much control.
I walked over to the stairs and sat myself down on the highest one. I tested my big toe again, and when that didn’t work, my foot, and when that didn’t work, the entire lower half of my leg. Slowly, bit by bit, I lowered myself into the cold water until I was fully immersed. But if anything, my shivering got worse.
I was over-reacting. That had to be it. If I could do hour-long cardio sessions and jump rope until I felt weak, then I couldn’t be bested by something as stupid as the cold.
My sister paddled back and forth on her back. Her face dropped when she saw me huddled in a corner. “What’s wrong? Why aren’t you swimming?”
“I, uh, don’t feel like it,” I lied. “You go ahead.” I hugged my knees to my chest, imagining a forbidden cup of sweet, thick hot chocolate filling me up. I used this trick frequently, but even it wasn’t helping.
My sister gave me a hard stare. “You do know the whole point of a swimming pool is to swim, right?”
“I must have somehow forgotten,” I said dryly.
My sister sighed and started moving away, but I caught her by her arm. Hers was fleshy and normal-looking, squishy and comfortable. Meanwhile, mine was all angles and edges. It felt like it could snap at any moment.
“Ow!” my sister said. “Your fingers are so bony.”
I let go of my sister.
“Oh sorry, I was going to ask if you wanted to play a game. Maybe the exertion would cancel out the coldness or something.”
”Really? Then can we race?”
I lifted my shoulders. Why not?”
“O.K., wait for me.”
She clambered out of the pool and returned with two pairs of goggles. She tossed one to me and hopped back in.
“Here, wear these. It’ll be more professional.”
I laughed to myself. My sister looked ridiculous in her goggles, and I imagined I did too.
“Ready to race?” she asked.
“O.K. Ready, set, go!”
With her words ringing in the air, we shot off through the pool. Midway in the race, I slowed down a bit so my sister could win.
“I did it!” she yelled victoriously after reaching the end of the pool.
“Y-you did!” I was still shivering, but the exertion had made it slightly more tolerable. “Up for another rematch?”
We swam another lap. And another lap. And another. Eventually, I swam enough to tire my sister out - and she was the most hyperactive person I knew.
But I was still cold. And I couldn’t take it anymore.
“I’m going inside,” I told my sister.
“For good. I’m done.”
A shadow fell over her face. “But we’ve been planning this for days! You’ve been so busy with your schoolwork and I can’t play with anyone else...”
Her voice trailed off as she realized I was being serious.
“I’m sorry,” I said lamely, knowing there was nothing I could do to make her feel better.
She tightened her mouth into a grim line and turned around, swimming away from me into another corner of the pool.
I stepped out of the water, soaking wet, weighed down with some invisible burden. I reached for the thick towel hanging on the chair, and when I wrapped it over my too-thin body, I finally felt warm. But inside my heart, I had never felt colder.