Marsha stood in the doorway, hands on her hips like Mom, exuding that older sister attitude Mark always adored.
“Chuck saw you.”
He pulled a dry T-shirt from his dresser and tugged it over wet, disheveled hair. “Better beat it,” he said, yanking out a pair of shorts. “Unless you like getting mooned.”
She cursed and stomped away. He dropped the soggy bath towel from his waist and pulled on the shorts.
“He saw you do it.” The beast had returned.
“I don’t know what you’re talking about,” Mark snapped.
“At the lake.”
He rubbed his nose, glanced down at the towel. Mom wouldn’t like the carpet wet. “So I skipped school. Excuse me,” he demanded, approaching the door.
She wouldn’t budge. “You know what he saw.”
“I’ve got a wet towel here.”
“How long were you under?”
“You were down for fifteen minutes. Nobody can stay underwater that long—not even free-divers.”
He stepped back. She was starting to freak him out. “I don’t know what you’re talking about.”
“Chuck was fishing across the lake–”
“Didn’t he think I might’ve drowned or something?”
“Just because I’m his girlfriend doesn’t mean he has to care about you.” She entered his bedroom. “So how did you do it?”
“Beat it, Marsha.”
“You know how fast I could swim if I didn’t have to come up for air? I could make it to Nationals! C’mon, Mark. It’ll be our little secret.”
“You’re crazy.” He took another step back, bumping against the dresser.
“You can’t keep something like this to yourself. You don’t even watch the Olympics!”
“Get out.” The towel twisted in his hands.
She reached out with fingernails like talons. He let the towel fly, snapping as it struck her across the waist. She shrieked, doubling over. Mark gasped. He hadn’t really meant to hurt her.
She turned on him and screamed into his face–invoking her boyfriend’s name.
Heavy boots had already started upstairs. If Chuck was here, that meant Mom and Dad weren’t home–
Mark dashed out the door blindly, but a wall of fat and muscle blocked his escape.
“I don’t think so.” Chuck grabbed him by the shirtfront and pinned him against the wall. “You okay?”
“Yeah.” Marsha leaned against the door frame.
Chuck’s grip tightened. “What’d you do, Twerp?”
Sour beer-breath made Mark wince. “I didn’t mean to–”
Chuck laughed once. Then he plowed his fist into Mark’s midsection and dropped him to the floor. “Neither did I.”
“You didn’t have to do that.” Marsha scowled.
“Let’s go.” She stepped over her brother.
Chuck followed like a slobbering lapdog. “Where to?”
“The lake. Bring him.” She smiled over her shoulder. “Mark’s giving us swimming lessons.”
Chuck drove an old, mud-splattered van. He shoved Mark headlong into the back with the fish guts and bait boxes and slammed the doors shut. Mark would’ve fought back, but his head still swam from that sucker punch to the solar plexus.
The van rumbled to life, swaying as it missed the end of the driveway and dropped off the curb. Mark grunted as a pile of fishing rods collapsed on him. Chuck must have failed Driver’s Ed like he’d failed everything else, the dropout.
It wasn’t far to the lake–maybe five minutes on foot. As the van bumped its way down to the water’s edge, Mark noticed his teeth were chattering. But he wasn’t cold.
The van squealed to a halt and both front doors creaked open. Footsteps crunched toward the back.
“Open ‘em,” Marsha snapped.
The back doors swung wide, and Mark kicked at the first thing in sight. Chuck staggered back and howled, cradling his groin. Mark dove outside, ducked under his sister’s fingernails, tried to make a run for it. But even in agony, Chuck was too fast.
“I don’t think so.” His meaty hand clamped Mark’s arm.
“Get him into the water,” Marsha said.
“C’mon, Twerp.” Chuck took one step and groaned. Mark had given him all he had.
“Deal with it,” Marsha snapped.
Moaning, Chuck pulled Mark down the bank and into the cool water. They waded in fully dressed. Mark’s teeth chattered like crazy now.
“You guys are nuts!” he shouted back at his sister.
She shrugged. “Prove it.”
“This far enough?” Chuck called. The dark water lapped against his chest. It was above Mark’s chin, and he strained his head back to breathe.
She nodded, looking at her watch. “Hold him under.”
Mark screamed. Chuck squeezed his shoulders and laughed, shoving him down. Mark kicked and thrashed and got a big knee in the chest. The impact forced out what air he’d been able to hold, and he watched the silver bubbles drift to the surface.
Mark swayed under Chuck’s grip. Fighting wasn’t any use. Mud sank at his feet. Chuck’s belly undulated in front of him. Life slipped beyond his grasp.
Death was only a breath away.
Pressure swelled inside as his mind wandered. Who’d win the World Series? What would his friends think? Should he have kissed Lindsey Walker?
His lungs burned. His head throbbed. He couldn’t resist anymore. He had to breathe.
Fists clenched, he inhaled.
“Twenty minutes, Mark!” Marsha whooped, skipping down to the water’s edge.
Mark blinked, dribbling. Chuck remained beside him in the water, keeping his hands to himself.
“I should be dead,” Mark murmured.
Marsha grinned as she waded toward them. “Show me. What did you do?”
Twenty minutes? How was that even possible?
“C’mon, Mark. Show me.” Her eyes were bright and eager. “Please.”
After what she’d done? There would be no forgetting this. Not ever.
“Well?” she demanded. “What do I do?”
He sniffed and rubbed at his nose, staring at her. What could he say? He didn’t fully understand it himself.
That would have to do.
Flipping over backwards, he swam away as fast as he could below the surface. He would stay under for a while.
At least until suppertime.