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selected excerpts from
WHERE THE SKY USED TO BE

Chapter 1 -- "Close Call"

Lydia sees herself from above through the eyes of the gull wheeling overhead, hears its shrieks blending with those of her mother. A burly man looms over her and mashes her chest. She is gasping and vomiting water. Familiar and unfamiliar hands lift her head, roll her to the side. Her eyes are her own again, her face so near the sand that she becomes aware of individual granules and each pinprick glint of sunlight reflected from their minute surfaces.

Like stars...

"Lydia, sweetheart..." These are her mother's arms. Lydia continues to count stars in the sand.

"Lydia, what happened? Can you talk? It looked like you passed out, you just stopped swimming--you're such a good swimmer."

Lydia retches again and slimes the cosmos. She dare not look up.

She feels her father's warm hand on her back.

"That's it. Get it all out. You'll be good as new in a minute.

"She'll be good as new in a minute," he repeats to his wife, as if the words had the power to make themselves come true.

"It looked to me like she blacked out. What if she had a seizure? I want to go back to the States immediately! We've got to get her in for some tests."

At this Lydia pushes herself away from the gritty galaxy, sits up and offers a weak smile. Her voice still works, though it hurts to speak.

"Really, Mom, I just got a big gulp of water and couldn't get my breath back. Don't freak, okay?"

Mrs. Overmyer smiles through her tears. The lifeguard, who has been hovering nearby, stoops down to wrap a rough blanket around Lydia's shoulders.

"Good girl. I knew you wouldn't give up."

"Did you save my life?"

"You're gonna be okay. Strong body, strong spirit, that's what you've got."

The parents back off to let him conduct his exam. He adds softly, peering at Lydia's pupils and checking her pulse, "You've just got to be strong, that's all. Remember that. Everyone's got an angel watching over them. But you gotta do your part. Be strong. Don't you let that angel down."

He knows, Lydia thinks, embarrassed.

When her rescuer has finished looking down her throat, Lydia whispers, "Thank you," with tears welling up. "I'll remember. I promise."

She is grateful to be alive. What she had wanted to do was cruel and selfish. Her parents' stricken faces tell her that, even though they couldn't possibly suspect--

"You won't say anything, will you?" she whispers to the lifeguard, now filling in a form on a clipboard.

He asks, "How old are you, miss?" his attention on the form.

"Fifteen. Sixteen in April."

He scribbles. "Anyone can gulp a wave, especially if you've been swimming hard. Happens. That's why I'm here."

Without another look he stands and summons Lydia's folks. They confer over his clipboard, while little Herbie is at last released from the strong grip of Uncle Steve. He flies to Lydia and tackles her, Uncle Steve and Aunt Jill right behind him.

Bart and Emily Overmyer rejoin the group. The adults pack up the beach things while Herbie and Lydia huddle together, crying quietly. Some other bathers who witnessed Lydia's dramatic rescue from the waves venture over to touch her shoulder and say they prayed. They scurry away with sympathetic looks when they see her mother approaching.

"Sweetheart, they said you don't have to go in the ambulance, but we do have to take you to the hospital for a proper exam."

Lydia hates herself, but she knows now that this is beside the point. The people she loves, love her. They would suffer so much if they knew--if they even suspected. For their sake, she is going to put all of this behind her.

"It happens." Things happen. Get over it and move on. And if she doesn't say anything, it can be like it never happened. How many times do I have to be saved before I see the light? All she has to do is go back to being the old Lydia, and no one will be the wiser.

Later, sitting in the Cancun emergency clinic between her mother and her aunt, Lydia whispers, "I hope you're not going to make a big deal out of this when we get home, Mom. It's really kind of embarrassing, could we not tell the whole world? I just lost my rhythm out there. It was like a totally freak thing."

Emily shoots a questioning look across Lydia to her sister Jill, who purses her lips.

"I expect you'll tell Claire, anyway."

"Uh, yeah, sure. Why wouldn't I tell Claire?"

"Then you won't mind my talking to Claire's parents, so they can be extra careful the next time they make a trip to Miami. I mean, if even a good swimmer like you--"

"Aw, now see, Mom, that's exactly what I'm talking about!"

Emily and Jill exchange a smile. Lydia seems like herself--a typical teen for whom losing face is the worst imaginable experience, with loss of life a distant second.

"I know, I know--you would just die if anyone knew you almost drowned," Emily teases.

The women find relief in laughing, and this is how Bart, Uncle Steve and Herbie find them when they come in from the parking lot.

*

Back in New Mexico, Claire sits on the floor of her bedroom idly flipping through her sketchbook, her door closed, her Alanis Morissette competing with her parents' Rolling Stones. It's the most boring winter break ever. She misses Gram and Miami Beach, and feels keenly the injustice of having to hang around Rio Bueno, alone, while Lydia frolics in the waves on her family vacation. Every previous year it was Claire who went off to the beach while Lydia was stuck in town. So why would Mr. Overmyer whisk the family away right when Claire and Lydia were finally going to spend the holidays together? Does he think that Claire's a bad influence on the angelic Lydia?

Claire lingers over a drawing of her best friend, a good one, she thinks. She's captured Lydia's lanky elegance, and the intelligence behind her pretty face. Of course, Lydia was never bored without Claire. She has tons of friends. Claire's been wondering lately if Lydia is beginning to prefer their company to hers--those popular girls--and then there are the boyfriends.

Claire feels she's behind the other girls in this regard. It's not for her lack of interest in guys, but more their lack of interest in her. So she perceives it, disregarding the clear evidence in her sketchbook that she is not much impressed by the local specimens. At any rate, she would rather try out the effect of her budding womanhood on a beachful of strangers than have to negotiate the sucky social life of Roosevelt High. She can only imagine the pandemonium lithe Lydia is causing on the beaches of Cancun right now.

Claire sighs, leans over and clicks off the CD. Her parents win. They have to have their rock-n-roll while they work, and they are sworn to work right through Christmas. They need to turn the business around, or the family will have to forego a summer vacation also.

I should call someone, Claire thinks. I wish I could call Lydia!

She can't think of any other friends to call. She has some numbers, wouldn't be rejected on all fronts, but there's no one else she feels okay being around away from school and Lydia's charmed sphere. Maybe there is something wrong with her. Maybe she is a bad influence--too artsy, anti-social, with reckless hippy parents...

Her phone rings, an unfamiliar sound with Lydia away. It startles Claire and makes her feel like someone's been eavesdropping on her thoughts.

"Hello?"

"Hello, Claire? It's Tony. I got your number from the phone tree, hope you don't mind."

"Uh, no." Claire almost chokes trying to mask her surprise. The new kid! She turns to her sketches from Drama Club and finds her vampire caricature of him. Black hair, black clothes, black fingernails, pointy ears and teeth.

"You remember?"

"Oh yeah, sure." I am definitely a loser. This is who calls me?

"Hey, you know that kid Josh? I thought I might call him. His sets were way cool, but I didn't see his number..."

Claire smiles and relaxes. Josh is the best artist in the school, and a pretty good friend. She wonders why she didn't think to call him.

"It's under Antresian. I'm sure he's on the list."

"Oh sure, here it is. Duh. Well, thanks."

"No prob."

"But, uh, you know--while we're both like, hanging out--I mean, uhm, wanna do something? I could get my mom to drop me somewhere and meet you. She's going shopping." He lowers his voice. "I've got some really good weed."

Claire's spirits sink again. Everyone thinks I'm a head.

"Don't bring that shit, okay?" she says sharply. But because she's bored too, and figures that since she's already got a rep, there's nothing to lose, she adds, "My folks would let me walk to Prince Street and get something at the cafe."

Tony hesitates a second before saying, "Cool, tell me where."

The meeting is quickly set. Claire puts down the phone, furrowing her brow at the Tony-as-vampire sketch. Then she shrugs her shoulders and writes underneath, "My first date. Christmas, 1999."

Good one, Claire. She can't wait to tell Lydia.

###

from Where The Sky Used To Be
© 2011, Zelda Leah Gatuskin

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