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Learning To Swim

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CHAPTER THREE

“When’s your soccer game?” Adi asked over Facetime. He was slurping iced tea as he spoke to Jay.

Behind him, Jay could see the half-open blinds and the walls on either side of it. The wall on Adi’s side of the room had a huge purple stain on it. It was repercussion for Adi’s annoying behavior that his roommate had punished by flicking paint at him. He had missed it.

Jay looked at his soccer calendar on his phone before replying. “Um … on the twenty-ninth?”

“Do you want me to come?” his brother asked as he slurped from his cup again.

Jay hesitated. He didn’t want to bother his brother.

He knew Adi was busy. As a senior in college, he was now juggling an internship, studying for midterms, and working a part-time job. The last thing Jay wanted to do was add onto his list.

But his parents wouldn’t be able to come to this particular game, and this was the biggest game of the season—apart from regionals. There would be scouts from different schools looking at the best players. It was also against their biggest competitor, Parkside High.

“You don’t have to.”

“But you want me to?” Adi pressed on, raising his eyebrows.

Jay nodded.

“Then why are you telling me not to come?” Adi deadpanned, arching an eyebrow. “Are you stupid?”

Jay laughed slightly, shaking his head. “Fine, but don’t blame me if you fail college.”

“I won’t fail college for skipping a day, you idiot. Besides, I can just study at home. It’s not a big deal, trust me.”

Jay hesitated before nodding. “Yeah, it’ll be great if you could come?”

He slurped on his drink, nodding while doing so. “Don’t tell Mamma and Baba that I’ll be coming. I want to surprise them.”

Jay nodded again.

“Cool, I’ll see you on the twenty-ninth then?” He briefly looked out at the pouring rain.

He suddenly startled at the sound of Adi’s laughing. It was a deep, hearty laugh, not his usual weird cackle that everyone made fun of.

Jay frowned. “You’re so weird. What are you laughing at?”

Adi shook his head, slurping on his drink as he stared at Jay. He took his sweet time to respond. “You do realize you won’t see me, don’t you?”

“Huh? What do you mean?”

“You idiot, I’ll be dead, remember?” As he spoke, a small gash appeared on his cheek, and blood started trickling out.

A shiver ran down Jay’s spine as more bruises and blood appeared on his brother’s face. “No, you won’t.”

And then Adi’s eyes rolled back, and he fell forward toward the screen.

Everything went black.

Jay’s eyes snapped open. He squeezed them shut again, breathing heavily, trying to remove Adi’s bloodied image from his head. He abruptly sat up and fumbled while he tried to find the light.

Fuck. Fuck.

He had read about people having nightmares once someone close to them died, but he had never had one till now. And it had almost been three weeks. He had assumed he was lucky.

He got out of his bed, his breathing still heavy.

What was worse was that their conversation had gone exactly how it had been in the nightmare. It had even been raining. Adi had even laughed. But not at that. He had laughed, because his roommate just walked in, and had said something stupid.

Fuck.

He needed coffee. But he had school tomorrow. Jay knew if he drank coffee now, there was no way he would sleep for the next few hours. He also had a soccer game after-school.

As soon as he thought of soccer, Jay’s mind went back to the nightmare. He closed his eyes, trying to think of something else. Anything else. But everything he thought of reminded him of Adi.

Jamie’s smile came to his mind. Something was calming about Jamie. Even thinking about her helped Jay relax. So he tried to focus on her face and the smirk she had had on. He focused on how her light-brown hair glinted in the light, making it seem more golden. How her eyes seemed to shift colors. How when she was frowning or annoyed, it became darker, and while she was smiling or smirking, it became lighter, almost golden. How he wanted to talk to her forever.

The more he thought about her, the more he wanted to meet her.

He ended up walking to the coffee shop. He was upset, but not surprised to see someone else working there. But he still ended up getting his usual cup of coffee.

The old man working there now tried making polite conversation with him, except this time he had no desire to exchange anything more than pleasantries.

All he wanted was to not think about his brother.

Around five, he left. By then, another middle-aged woman replaced the old man. She nodded toward him as he left and said, “Have a nice day!”

Jay gave her a slight smile before walking home. By the time he had reached home, the clock was almost pointing at five-thirty.

In a few more minutes, his dad would be awake in the kitchen, making his usual morning chai. And in the absence of his mother, he would try to wake Jay up.

Jay got into his bed without undressing and just scrolled through his phone until he heard his dad knock on his door and call his name. When his dad asked him if he had slept well, Jay told him that he had never slept better.

***

There were about seven minutes left in the game, and they were losing at three-to-seven. And all because of Jay. He had missed two open shots much to the annoyance of his teammates who had been giving him disappointed looks for the small amount of time that he had played.

He had started off the game. And then seeing his performance, his coach had benched him not even ten minutes into the game.

Now, almost at the end of the game, he had finally convinced Coach Lyons to let him play again.

“Jay!”

He jerked up, his eyes falling at the ball that was heading toward him. He ran forward to reach it before the defender from the opponent team who had been tracking him.

But the lack of sleep and caffeine made him way slower than he usually was. He saw his coach shake his head from the corner of his eyes when the other team got the ball before Jay even reached it.

The guy headed the opposite way, dribbling the ball between his legs. He passed it onto his teammate after a few seconds.

Jay just stood on his spot, his hands resting on his knees as he caught his breath.

“Sengupta, why the hell aren’t you running toward the ball?”

He jumped up at his coach’s voice and slowly jogged toward the midline. Parker had managed to tackle the ball from the other team and was running toward them.

Seeing the opportunity to appease his teammates, he streaked down the side of the field, waiting for someone to pass it. Parker passed the ball along to Marco Alverez, who trapped the ball with his chest and turned before giving it to Jay.

Jay’s defender tried tackling him, but this time he passed the defender before looking to pass it over to Marco. The two of them were the forwards of their team.

But his defender had already recovered and was ready to capture the ball if he passed it. Jay swore under his breath before dribbling and shooting.

The ball sped straight into the goalie’s arms. Marco sighed before jogging to midfield. Jay followed at a much slower pace. A part of him was exhausted, and the other part didn’t want to face Marco. He could imagine the metaphorical fire coming out of his ears.

The goalie kicked the ball toward the midfielders. The other team’s midfielder caught on the ball, but Colby, their midfielder, managed to get the ball from him before passing it toward Jay.

Much like every other time in the game, Jay took a second too long to realize what had happened. A defender snatched the ball and dribbled it toward their goal. Jay groaned and ran a hand through his sweaty hair.

“What the fuck are you doing?” Marco asked between breaths.

Jay shook his head too tired to say anything.

“How much time is there left?” he asked instead.

“One minute.”

Jay swore at that, knowing that there was no way they could catch up to the other team.

Marco shot him a dirty look. “Yes, fuck is the correct reaction,” he replied.

Ouch.

And then he saw Colby coming toward them, the ball between his feet. Except for this time, Colby passed it to Marco instead. Jay didn’t even bother running beside Marco this time.

And then the whistle blew.

He heard a faint cheer from the other team and some whopping.

Jay sighed before trudging toward the midline to shake hands with the opposing team.

Marco jogged toward him, clapping him on his back. “It’s all right, not a big deal. Everyone has bad games.”

Jay knew this was Marco’s way of apologizing for snapping at him a few seconds ago. He nodded, giving him a small smile.

“Yeah, you’re right,” he muttered, running his hand through his sweaty hair.

After they shook hands, Jay went to grab his bag. Marco followed him.

“So did you not sleep or something?” He sat on the ground as Jay sat down on the bench.

He didn’t respond and instead downed the water.

“I’m taking that as a yes,” Marco said, shaking his head and giving Jay a look. “Well, as I said, it’s fine. But Lyons looks hella mad.”

“And so does everyone else.”

Marco shook his head at that. “They’re not mad at you. They’re just not used to seeing their team captain play that badly. You’re usually the reason we win,” Marco assured him, before looking to the side and grimacing.

Jay followed his gaze to see their coach walking toward them in what he and Marco called the “angry walk.”

“Jay, my office now!” Coach Lyons commanded before marching back to his office.

By the time Jay nodded, Coach Lyons was already near the building. Jay just stared behind him before sighing.

“He loves you, he won’t be that mad.” Marco tried to assure him.

What a great fucking day.

***

Jay stood outside Coach Lyons’s office, hesitant over opening it.

Coach Lyons had an awful temper. Jay still cringed when he remembered how he had screamed at Marco when Marco had ‘accidentally’ poured a bucket of water on him last year. Needless to say, Marco, Coach Lyons, and water was a combination everyone tried to avoid.

He took in a deep breath before opening the door.

“Close the door, and sit down,” Coach Lyons ordered as Jay came in. He nodded, sitting down.

Coach finished whatever he was working on before silently staring at Jay for a moment.

Jay looked down at his foot, his face becoming hot. “I’m sorry I made the team lose. It won’t happen again.”

Coach Lyons scoffed loudly. “That’s not why I’m angry at you.”

Jay looked up at his coach with confusion. “Really?”

Coach Lyons nodded impassively. “Everyone has bad games.”

“Then why do you look like you want to bang my head against your desk repeatedly until I pass out?”

His coach gave an amused half-smile at his question before sighing. “Because you played today, even though you are not fit to play. You forced me to let you play.”

Jay scoffed, slightly shaking his head. “I’m fine.”

Coach Lyons simply raised an eyebrow, tilting his face slightly. “Jay. I’ve seen you play for the last four years. I know how you play when you’re fine and how you play when you’re tired or sick. This is not the first time you’re being stupid.”

Jay kept quiet, knowing that his coach was right.

“Remember in your sophomore year when you had the flu, and you still played. How did that end for you?”

Jay cringed as he thought of the day. “Um, I fainted while playing. And then I spread the flu to half the team.”

His coach nodded, a slight smile on his face. “That’s how you played today. I was half afraid you’d faint while playing again.”

He laughed. “Yeah, well, I don’t have the flu this time. I’m fine.”

“I agree about the flu part.” His coach nodded. “But not the second part. You’re not fine.”

Jay sighed, knowing that he wasn’t getting out of this unless he gave his coach a valid reason. “I just didn’t get enough sleep last night.”

His coach nodded, his eyes softening. “I get it, Jay. You’re going through a hard time. Maybe take a couple of weeks off… ” His voice trailed off as Jay shook his head frantically.

“No, no, I’m fine. I’ll play.”

Coach Lyons didn’t seem satisfied but didn’t argue. “Okay, but you’re not playing Friday’s game. And it’s ultimately up to you, but I would be fine with you skipping practice tomorrow.”

Jay nodded, giving him a cheeky grin. “Cool. I’ll see you tomorrow then.”

Coach Lyons shook his head but had a small smile on his face. “Get out.”

Marco was waiting for him outside his office. “What did Lyons want?” he asked as soon as Jay came out.

“Nothing much. Reminded me of the time when I gave half the team the flu. Told me to rest. Told me that I couldn’t play on Friday. He probably hates my guts.”

Marco laughed, shaking his head. “You’re still his favorite, though.”

“I feel like that’ll change if I screw up any more games,” Jay muttered, biting his lips and letting out a long breath.

“Just don’t overstress yourself, And you’ll be fine.” Marco clapped him on his back before leaving.

After he left practice, Jay headed toward the pools. Dave had swimming practice today, and was probably be in the changing room by now.

Jay yawned, making a mental reminder to ask Dave to buy coffee on their way home.

As he approached the pool, his eyes went over to people sitting around the pool. There were only three. One of them was a man who was probably there to pick his kid up. He was sitting beside a small boy who seemed jumpy. The other one was a girl with light brown hair, who was busy on her phone.

As Jay walked toward the bleacher, she turned around. Jay froze.

It was Jamie.

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