Chapter 1 - Nixie
“COME ON LINDZ!” I scream at my friend, from where I sit forward at the edge of my seat, up in the stalls at Lindz's first swim meet of the year. It is her senior year and she is praying that she gets a swimming scholarship. It also happens to be the year before I come here, and I really hope that I get on the swim team. Swimming currently is my safe space, currently, it feels like I am drowning, and swimming is my life preserver. My Mom has been battling cancer for the last year and nothing seems to be working, it is like all they can do is make her more comfortable, they can’t seem to make her better. My grandad has moved in with us about 10 months ago now, as with Mom not able to work we can barely afford our rent. I keep hearing them talking late at night. I know Mom is giving up hope. I can hear them preparing the ‘just in cases’ which I have realized a few days ago have swapped to ‘when it happens.’
“COME ON LINDZ!” I scream again, as she seems to start slowing down. I doubt she can hear me. but I can scream at her for as long as everyone else can. Quickly her race is over, Lindzey climbs out the pool. She came second in that race, but then it was her first race of the day and her first race of the year. second is brilliant for that! She still has loads of chances to get the scholarship she needs, although she’s working constantly lately to earn money for her college fund as well. I look around the crowd as the next race starts, seeing proud parents cheering on their kids. Would my mom ever make it to see me in a high school meet? My eyes catch on a man sat in the stands down 5 levels from me. He has a stopwatch and a clipboard. Is he a coach? I’ve never seen him before. His Brunette hair is cut short and neat but that’s all I can tell about him from behind him. There is just something about him though, something that seems to call to me as if he is my home. What a stupid thought. My home is with my mom and grandad. He seems to turn in his seat and look around. I quickly look away from him not wanting to be caught watching him. I will report it to the coach that someone was sat with a stopwatch in the crowd later though. unless he's a college scout? The next race starts, and I try to watch it, but I feel like someone’s staring straight at me. I risk a look at the man, and He has moved. He’s no longer sat there. I take a deep breath feeling so much comfort from the wet air. A feeling I can’t explain to my mom. a feeling I can't explain to anyone. I look over at Lindz as she jumps back into the water. Butterfly stroke.
“COME ON LINDZ” I shout again, watching her. This is Lindz's least favorite stroke, not that I blame her. its my least favorite too. but I know for a fact if she beats her normal time, she will be happy. I watch the huge clock as it counts down her seconds.
“COME ON LINDZ!” I shout again and again making it almost a chant. My throat is going to hate me tonight. Lindz comes third in the race. I sigh. She won’t be very happy with herself. Hell, she spends more time in the pool lately than anyone I know, except me. I watch her climb out of the pool, she looks at her minutes and nods to her coach. I can't hear what hes saying but Lindz is nodding away and saying something back. She’s not as fast as her best time. She looks up in the crowd and looks straight at me. I wave and smile at her and she weakly smiles again and gives me a small wave. obviously just making sure I’m still here. I watch her wrap a towel around herself and go back to the bench. The next race is the boys. I watch them interested. I also notice the man stood at the front now with his clipboard. he must be a scout. OMG Lindz will be so mad at herself if she knows there is a scout here. I watch him start his stopwatch and watch the race intently. No, he can’t be a scout he’s watching a freshman boy race, not a senior. When one of the boys finishes, He stops his watch. I watch him watch the boy get out of the pool, what is his deal? Yeah, I admit that boy is more than impressive but still is He the boy’s dad? private coach? When the rest of the race is finished, He walks back into the stalls and sits down. I watch him write interested. A few more boys race. He does watch and does write things down. But he seems less interested. He looks around again and this time he catches me watching him. His eyes seem to look at me as if they can see right through to my soul. I find myself shivering as if he can see right through me. Even though something about him speaks of home and safety. I am being so stupid. I should sleep more. He looks surprised as he looks in my eyes. I know my eyes are unique. I have bright Caribbean aqua blue eyes. Everyone comments on my eyes. it's the first thing about me that anyone notices. It kind of makes me feel self-conscious. Not because people insult them, but because everyone notices them and remarks on how pretty they are. But as I look in his eyes, I notice that they are almost as catching as my own, just a sea-green instead. But they seem to sparkle in the same way mine do. The whistle blows again, and I force myself to look away from him, breaking our current staring match as it’s Lindz race. I watch Lindz, this is her favorite stroke. It’s also her best.
“COME ON LINDZ,” I shout, trying to encourage her. She’s in the lead. I risk a look at the man and he’s watching the race again. His stopwatch in his hand. Yes, Lindz comes first! She gets out of the pool with a huge smile on her face. I sit back in my chair, my phone buzzing with a text. I pull it out and see its grandpa.
Pops – Nixie can you grab some dinner at Lindz tonight. I will be home late, brush your teeth and bed normal time alright.
Nixie – Alright Pops, Lindz said something about hitting a diner with the rest of the swim team today, so I will eat no props. Is Mom not coming home tonight?
Pops – sorry sweetie not tonight. Let me know if you need anything.
Nixie – will do.
I sigh putting my phone away. There is nothing I can do or say that will let them know how I feel. My world is collapsing around me and I am drowning. I can’t seem to find the surface. I take a deep breath, but it doesn’t help. Fresh air and a drink, that’s what I need. I force myself to my feet and walk down the stairs. When I get to the bottom row, I’m aware of the scout or whatever he is, is watching me. I don’t stop though, I know where the vender is in here and I will make it back before Lindz next race. Well, I should. She looks at me worriedly from her bench. I motion drink and she nods. She takes babysitting me seriously. Even though I told Pops and Mom that I’ve turned 13 and I don’t need a sitter. But I enjoy spending time with Lindz and she’s great. After all what 17-year-old really wants to babysit her 13-year-old neighbor, all the time.
As I walk along the hallway taking in all the swim trophies, I can’t help but smile. The school has won regularly for years. Even my mom’s name is on one of the plaques. One day I hope to see my own name here. I follow the corridor until I find the vendor. I decide on a bottle of water and a pack of salted chips. I open the chips and eat two before I walk back to the pool. I can already hear the noise of the shouting.
When I walk in Lindz is in the pool. I think it’s her last race. I go back in, but this time just sit on the front row. There isn’t long left. I eat my chips and drink my water shouting my ‘come-ons’ whilst I do. When the race is over Lindz comes 2nd. Today hasn’t really been that bad. Once the last race is over, I watch them all shake hands and separate.
“Are you not a member of the swim team here?” A man asks, it takes me a moment to realize it’s me he’s asking and it’s the man who was watching the boy. He still is holding his clipboard and his timer.
“Hopefully next year,” I say nervously. My Pops is always warning me not to talk to strangers. but this man doesn't feel like a stranger.
“Did you not make the team this year?” He questions me sounding slightly disbelieving.
“I’m still in middle school,” I say nervously.
“Ah, I see.” He says but He looks at me so curiously.
“What is your name?” He asks me. I don’t know what to say to him, my Pops voice sounds in my head. ‘Nixie do not talk to strangers.’ But at the same time, this man doesn’t feel like a stranger to me. I look at him trying to work out where I could know him from.
“Would you please give your parents this and inform them to contact me.” He says after a few minutes of my silence. Obviously realizing I’m torn about telling him. He hands me a brochure and a pamphlet. Agwé Coral Coast private boarding school. He’s from a private school? Why is he giving this to me? My grades are definitely not good enough.
“The school is one of the best.” He starts, he really has the wrong girl.
“I’m sorry sir thank you, but I am not interested in boarding school, my grades are really not suitable,” I tell him, did I just tell the guy that I have bad grades? It’s true, but really, he is a stranger. He smiles at me and I find myself looking back into his sea-green eyes.
“Read the pamphlet and get your parents to contact me,” he tells me almost sounding firm.
“Excuse me.” He says seeing the boy leave the changing room. I watch him walk over to the boy and hand him what looks like the same pamphlet and brochure as he just handed me. That was so weird. I open it up and look at the first page. Agwé Coral Coast private boarding school, for ages 14-18 with private college on campus for ages from 17-24. Well first off, I literally only turned 13 a few weeks ago and won’t be 14 for a whole year. Second, my family could never afford boarding school. Third, my grades are never going to be good enough for any school like this.
“What’s that?” Lindz asks me from in front of me, I hadn’t even realized she had come out, as I was staring at the front page of the brochure. her hooded hazel eyes look at me like they can tell everything about how I am feeling with one look. That was the thing Lindz had known me most of my life, she often can work out how I feel about something better than I can myself.
“A guy gave it to me its information on a boarding school,” I tell her truthfully.
“Yeah, no.” Lindz teases me smiling nudging me in the side as if I'm joking with her. I shove it in my bag.
“Come on what do you say to a huge burger and fries.” She asks me.
“Sounds great Pops told me to eat. He’s going to be late home tonight.” I say with a weak smile.
“Alright what do you say we ask about a sleepover then?” She asks.
“I will ask him after we ask your mom,” I say with a smile. I doubt either of our parents will say no. they never do. I think Mom and Pops are thankful I have a friend. even if she's older than me. Lindz doesn't even charge to babysit me. she says why should she be paid to hang out with her friend.
“Alright come on then, let’s go catch up with everyone.” She says I smile and follow her out. When we walk past the boy and the man Lindz stops. why she had to I don't know. I realize the boy is wearing the same team jacket Lindz is. I never noticed he was her school.
“Sorry to interrupt.” Lindz starts worried looking at the boy and man who have both gone silent at our approach.
“It’s fine.” He says looking up from his own boarding school brochure.
“Did Nathan and the boys tell you all we have a team meal booked?” Lindz asks him.
“They mentioned it, said it was for sophomore up.” The boy says. Lindz rolls her eyes.
“It’s for all the team, freshmen and all. Families are welcome but coach only pays for the team.” Lindz tells him.
“At Alice’s diner at four today,” Lindz says.
“Sounds great.” The boy says looking at the time on the clock on the wall behind us.
“Good see you there, can you please tell any of the other boys in the team in case I’ve missed them. I think I managed to get them all.” Lindz says.
“Did the coach not inform them?” the man asks interested.
“Nope, if he can get out of paying for someone he will,” Lindz says smiling.
“Well, we best get off to the diner meant to be meeting people,” Lindz says. The man opens his wallet.
“Here you go, Morgan, pay for yourself.” He says.
“With the school, food and pocket money are provided for you.” The man says.
“You as well.” He says holding money out to me.
“Um, no thank you. My Mom told me never to take things from strangers.” I say worriedly.
“Alright please give your Mother and Father the information for the school please.” He says, his sea-green eyes seem to look at me as if I am a puzzle, he needs the answers to. It should scare me, but it doesn’t, I feel like I am meant to know this man.
“Okay,” I say, not sure why I say okay.
“See you later,” Lindz says grabbing my arm. We leave then quickly.
“That was so weird,” Lindz says worriedly when we get outside.
“Very, why would he give me details for a boarding school. He doesn’t know anything about me?” I ask her extremely confused.
“Who knows,” Lindz says worriedly, looking at me as if she might know more than I do though.
“Are you going to give it to your Mom?” She asks me I can tell she’s thinking about it more than I am.
“And add more stress on her and Pops no way. it’s not fair on her, the last thing she needs is for me to ask to go to an expensive school.” I say.
“That’s fair enough. Come on just forget about it. It’s not like he can force you to go.” Lindz says.
“It’s not like you want to go, do you?” She asks me. I don’t actually know, but I shake my head because I want to stay with my Mommy.
“I want to be with my Mommy,” I say tears come to my eyes, knowing how little time I could possibly have left with her. Lindz looks at me and pulls me into a hug.
“Your Mom is going to fight.” She tells me, but tears are in her own eyes.
“She’s trying, but I heard them talking the other night,” I say admitting to what I overheard. okay, ears dropped on.
“Moms giving up hope,” I say tears running down my face.
“I’m so sorry Nixie,” Lindz says holding me tight as I cry, she rubs my back and tells me her family will always be there for me. That my mom will fight her cancer. But what she doesn’t do is promise me my mom will be okay as I think deep down, we both know it’s not going to be true. When I have slightly calmed down, she leads me to her car, and I climb in. She puts on the radio and we both listen to the song on. I look out the window at everything flashing past us.
“You’ll be at college next year,” I say weakly watching everything rush past us.
“I hope so.” She says with a smile, she’s so excited for college. Will I be completely alone next year? Will Pops move us? Mom has rented our apartment for 9 years, I can’t imagine living anywhere else. I can’t imagine not having Lindz downstairs, she’s been there as far back as I can remember. Pops isn’t exactly young either he will be 73 in 3 months’ time. He should be enjoying his retirement not still working to pay our rent and bills.
“What did you think of today’s meet?” Lindz asks me, obviously trying to fill the silence. I weakly smile taking her in, her mousey brown hair still in a French braid that is dripping down her back, making her team jacket and t-shirt wet. I can see all the split ends and the damage caused by always being in chlorine. Her hazel eyes watch the road and don’t even flick in my direction as I take her in as I tell her how well I thought the team did. How yes, she didn’t beat her record on the butterfly but nor did she get her worst result. I took in her cupid bow lips as she weakly smiles and tells me about how she hates that stroke, and I fully agree with her.
When we get to the diner, Lindz parks up and looks at me.
“You eat your whole meal no complaints I do not want you pushing it around. I know you're worried, but we will go swimming tonight and then have a meal of pop tarts and anything else I can find okay?” She says. I nod laughing. I am a swimmer I eat a lot same as Lindz. But lately, my appetite has started to disappear. lately, food has lost its taste.
“Alright,” I say. We walk into the diner. A few members of the team are already there. Lindz goes up and hugs and laughs with her friends. I slip into a booth at a table near the group, but not with them. I listen to them all joke about. I pull out the brochure from my rucksack. It doesn’t hurt to just look at the pictures does it? I open the brochure and look at a picture of one of the biggest swimming pools I have ever seen. It is amazing and it was only one of the pools apparently on campus. I read the details of the pool. 50 meters (164.0 ft) in length, and 8 feet deep! I could only dream of ever getting to swim in a pool that big. I look at the next picture it’s of a leisure pool, I can see flumes and slides and a lazy river. It all looks so amazing. my Mom and Pops would never be able to afford to send me there. I look at the next pool and it’s a diving pool, I take in all the pictures of pools. It’s amazing. A hot tub, an ice pool. I decide there’s no point in dreaming about the pools. I flip to the next page and take in the outside of the school. It’s on the beachfront! I take in the beach and it fills me with want. I haven’t been to the beach since Mom got sick. I look at the crystal-clear water wondering how photoshopped these pictures are. I read where the school is and have to pull out my cell to google the address. Because I don’t know where it is. With google maps up I google the town and see what they have. It’s not the biggest town I have ever heard of, but it seems nice. It’s a six and half hour away drive almost closer to seven. It’s too far away from Mom and Pops. I go back to looking at the school brochure. I take in the classrooms; each classroom holds up to 18 students. 18? Why are the classes so small? But I take in the science lab that boasts it holds all new equipment. I take in the view out of one of the classroom windows of the beach. It looks amazing. How would anyone get any work done with that view?
“It looks amazing doesn’t it?” A boy’s voice startles me. I look up and see the boy from earlier. He has dark brown hair that is curly and longer than most the boys around here wear it.
“It does,” I say worriedly.
“I’m Morgan and you?” He asks me interested.
“Nixie,” I say with a weak smile, I take in his almond-shaped eyes that are the darkest blue I have ever seen, I feel like I could drown in his eyes. but they have the same sort of sparkle as my own. It takes me by surprise and makes me feel a feeling of safety. What the hell is going on with me?
“Do you mind if I sit with you, none of the boys from the freshmen team turned up.” He says looking around, his own blue swimming jacket is wet from his hair. Is he growing it out so he can put it up because I have a feeling his hair will just become curls on top of his head like they are trying to do now as they dry? It does suit him though and I admit with his tall muscle frame you can see that he spends a lot of time training in the pool.
“Sure, but you should join the swim team,” I say not sure what else to say. But the thought that maybe I could get some information on why I was given this comes to me.
“Have you ever heard of the school?” I ask interested.
“My Dads mentioned it in the past, but they didn’t plan for me to go just yet. It will surprise them I got in so quickly.” Morgan admits. I look at it wondering why the hell I was given it.
“Have you not heard of it?” He asks me.
“No,” I admit,
“I don’t even have a clue why he gave me the information, he’s never seen me swim and doesn’t know my grades at all,” I say.
“It’s weird,” I admit.
“Yeah I fully get that,” Morgan says he looks at me like he’s torn on what to say for the best.
“How old are you?” He asks me.
“13,” I say looking at the brochure.
“They take from 14,” I say reading it.
“Are you 14 soon?” He asks me interested but rather than shy away from him like I normally do with people I don’t know, I find myself wanting to talk to him. Wanting to get answers. I look into his dark blue eyes and I feel like I might be able to find the surface again.
“No,” I say
“When do you turn 14?” He asks me interested.
“August, a whole school year off here,” I say.
“Wait you’ve just turned 13?” He asks me interested. I nod.
“Alright everyone orders in. I pay for the team but don’t take advantage.” Coach calls. Everyone gives the waitress their order including me.
“I got told to give you this,” Morgan says pulling out 5 $20 bills from his back pocket. What the hell!
“Why the hell would he want to give me that?” I ask Morgan in disbelief.
“He said pocket money and stuffs provided for all students and potential students until they join,” Morgan says worriedly looking at it like he can’t believe it himself.
“I don’t want to take money from a stranger. Is it a bribe?” I ask confused.
“I don’t know,” Morgan admits. I look at the next page and a picture of the boy’s uniform is there, but it isn’t on a student. It looks very posh. A dark blue blazer, a white shirt tie, and beige pants. Rather him than me. Then I take in the summer uniform of a light blue polo shirt with an anchor on it and the school’s name with some dark blue what looks like cotton shorts. The summer uniform looks okay. I then take in the v neck top that is light blue and has the same school logo on. It doesn’t say when the different tops must be worn or prices of the uniform. I take in the school’s swim jacket, its dark blue with the anchor on the back and says the school name underneath it and says students name here above the anchor. I then see the girl's winter outfit. yeah, this school must think its students are very rich. It’s a knee-length, short-sleeved dark blue dress with black tights and a white cardigan with the school’s logo on it. There is also to option of wearing the boys uniform apparently. There’s then the shorts t-shirt jacket. I take it all in confused. I’ve never seen anyone have to wear a school uniform before.
“Don’t you find it weird there are no pictures of the students?” I ask him worriedly, flipping to the next page which has more pictures but no kids.
“Slightly, like the pool is empty,” Morgan says as if he understands how torn I am, even when I myself don’t understand why I’m actually looking.
“Maybe they took the pictures like it on purpose. Privacy rules and such.” Morgan says thinking about it.
“Are you seriously thinking of going?” I ask him.
“That pool looks amazing Nixie. That view. Hell, the school curriculum is amazing.” He says, flipping to the next page for me. There are the basic subjects that they have to teach, then I see the added which even states only a few of the extra subjects. I read Marine biology, Diving, Scuba Diving, Aquaculture, Lifeguard training, Oceanography, surfing. I look up at Morgan.
“Sounds amazing doesn’t it,” Morgan says.
“Yeah,” I admit. Morgan pulls his own out from his rucksack its wet.
“Great.” He groans.
“Here you can have mine,” I say trying to pass it to him.
“No that’s fine mine will dry. You need to give yours to your parents.” He says like I’d be an idiot not to. Yeah, not happening. I look back down at it and flip to the next page. Pictures of a few different common areas are on the page. I move it so Morgan can see it too. He might be going after all.
“Look at the movies, it looks bigger than the one in town,” Morgan says in disbelief.
“It looks amazing,” I say and it really does. I take in the actual bedroom. It looks bigger than my bedroom I have at home. the view of the ocean outside the window is amazing. It is painted a dark blue that reminds me of the ocean. I could already see my shell collection on the shelf. I could already see my finding Nemo bedding on the bed. Well no actually the beds a double at least, I would have to get new bedding. No, I’m being stupid I am not going.
“Really amazing,” Morgan says looking at it, I flip to the next page.
“It doesn’t give prices,” I say noticing what is missing, he shrugs.
“Maybe they mention that on the tour.” He says.
“Maybe,” I say worriedly. I look at it, why am I still looking. I don’t want to go. Do I? I flip to the next page and see a picture of a dolphin. I’ve never been swimming with dolphins before. Mom promised we would go for my 13th but then she was too ill that week to leave the hospital. Pops had said we could still go, but I didn’t want to leave my Mom. Looking at the picture I have to smile, Ronnie looks happy. Don’t be stupid his names, not Ronnie. Who would call a dolphin Ronnie? How would I know that for a start?
“So amazing, learning about Dolphins,” Morgan says.
“well, when you get there you can find out everything you can about Ronnie,” I say with a smile. Morgan looks at the page confused.
“Where does it say his name?” He asks me.
“He just looks like a Ronnie,” I say shrugging. Morgan chuckles.
“Does anyone really look like a Ronnie?” He asks me laughing, I shrug but I smile.
“Even if I did come, I wouldn’t be able to start until next year. So, if you really like it you can tell me first.” I say looking at the next page.
“You should get your parents to ring.” He says looking at me seriously.
“Why?” I ask him.
“It would be great to know someone there and have a friend from home,” Morgan says. Wait a friend? Have I really managed to make a friend? I look at Morgan and the strange thing is I did want to be his friend. I look at Lindz at the next table torn. I shouldn’t keep talking about this school I have no plans to even tell my Mom about.
“I will think about it, maybe when you’ve done a year you can tell me what it’s like because I’m too young this year,” I say weakly not sure if I even mean what I say or not. I want to spend however long I have left with my Mom. But something about the school seems to call to me like I am meant to be there. Thankfully that’s when my dinner comes over. I look at my huge burger meal, my appetite is suddenly gone again.