Gabriel couldn’t swim, and neither could you. The two of you would sit, feet dangling into the deep end of the pool, and talk about your lives before. You’d ask questions about him. What was his favorite color? What was his favorite activity? He’d never answer, ignoring your questions by asking his own.
You could tell your counselors despised Gabriel. At mealtime, if he muttered a single word, he would be sent to quiet time where he was supposed to think about his actions. But everyone knew that the only thing he thought about was what prank to pull on the campers next.
While everyone else was doing team-building games, Gabriel would be sent to Mrs. Nogueras’ office. She was the camp’s therapist, and most people only went there if they had just gotten into a fight. But Gabriel never fought. No one had the guts to fight Gabriel. It made you wonder: what could Gabriel have done to go to Mrs. Nogueras every day?
Maybe he’d committed one of the bigger crimes, like you. You’d beaten up a boy in your school after he insulted your friend. But if Gabriel had done something on the same level of danger as you, why didn’t you go to Mrs. Nogueras?
Maybe Gabriel just needed someone to talk to, like your cousin Angie. Angie went to a therapist once a week to control her anxiety. But Gabriel definitely didn’t seem like the kind of guy to have anxiety. Maybe he’d committed such a terrible crime that Mrs. Nogueras was needed to control him. But who knew?
You tried asking him once, at one of your swimtime talks.
“Gabriel, why were you sent here?” He became silent. Usually, he would find a way to effortlessly dodge the question. This time, he just stared into the water and acted as if you weren’t there.
“Gabriel!” You tapped his shoulder. He looked up.
“Did you say something?” He asked you, scratching a swollen mosquito bite on his thigh.
You hesitated. Gabriel was your only friend there, and knowing him, asking what had happened would be a dead end in your friendship. You shook your head. “Just talking to myself.”
Gabriel smiled and got up, water dripping slowly down his legs. “Where are you going?” you asked. He didn’t answer.
Silently, Gabriel walked around the pool to its shallow entrance, where the water was only a foot deep. Glancing back at you, he stepped into the pool. “I came here to get a second chance.”
He walked through the water until it was up to his chest. Then, he started flailing his arms around, droplets of water flying everywhere. What is he doing? You asked yourself.
Then you realized. He had been trying to swim. You remembered something he had said once, on the first day of camp, when you asked why he wasn’t in the water. “I can’t swim. It freaks me out. When I was five I almost drowned. Ever since then, I relive that memory when I get into deep water.” That had been the only question of yours that he’d ever answered.
You started to breathe heavier. Gabriel could drown! Brushing your fears aside, you jumped into the pool with a splash. The cold, chlorine-filled water surrounded you. You thrust your arm forward, reaching out for Gabriel, but he was too far ahead.
“Gabriel!” You called, the water rising up and covering your neck. He was far ahead of you by then. “You can’t swim! What about when you were five?”
You gasped for air, but a bit of water got into your mouth. You coughed and tried to doggy-paddle toward your only friend. He was at the end of the pool now, his head fully submerged.
You tried to call out to the counselors, but only a quiet cough emerged from your throat. Using your last bit of energy, you propelled yourself toward the pool wall. You looked up at the lifeguard, who clearly had been too busy talking to your counselor. The lifeguard quickly noticed your fear, and blew her whistle. Your counselor helped you out of the pool while the lifeguard dove in for Gabriel.
You grabbed a nearby towel and dried off your hair. Why did I even go after him? You wondered. You nearly risked your own life trying to save a criminal boy whom you’d known for two weeks. Gabriel couldn’t swim, and neither could you.
This piece has been published in Teen Ink’s monthly print magazine.