The water shimmered in the bright sunlight. The undulating expanse before us was warm and clean, and definitely not Lake Michigan. It was just the two of us, Max and me, standing in a small, flat-bottomed Whaler rigged with a special dive exit and ladder on the side of the boat.
Tied to a pole above the awning, a small red flag with a diagonal white stripe snapped in the wind. Max and I stood together in our black dive gear at the side of the boat, our arms touching. A wisp of hair escaped my loose braid and twisted across my face, playing in the wind. With a slight nod of my head, we took a giant stride off the boat and splashed into the ocean.
My body slipped below the surface in a stream of white bubbles. Then we were descending through the unbelievably aqua water, looking up at the bottom of the boat as it rocked slowly in the water. Freedom.
Color flickered everywhere. Corals of red, yellow, and blue stuck up out of the rock. Huge hollow tubes, tiny wavy arms. I was seeing things Ifd only seen in pictures at my dadfs dive shop. This was nothing like my dives in the lakes around home.
A school of round, pancake-thin fish streaked by.a stream of purple in the blue. I reached out my hand to touch them, and they darted away from me.
I turned to point them out to Max but couldn't find him. I spread my fins wide. stopping my forward motion.and hovered for a moment, looking to both sides, above, and below. There was no sign of my best friend. I checked again, looking for his black, silky hair floating above him, his neon yellow tank, or his blue swim fin peeking out from behind the reef wall. Nothing. The sun slashed the surface of the water, turning my breath into tiny shimmering bubbles rushing to the surface for escape.
I was going to kill him when I found him. He was not supposed to take off without letting his dive buddy know what was going on. I waited, watching.
The colors swirled. A jagged edge of rock; a silver barracuda, its teeth bared; a mammoth red snapper prowling. I swallowed, pushing my long hair out of the way of my mask. Looking down at my dive computer, I started the prescribed countdown before I would surface to find my buddy.
It had already occurred to me that it wasn't like Max to pull a prank like this. When I looked at my computer, I realized my hands were shaking. I forced myself to slow my breathing. Breathe. Just breathe.
Something grabbed my shoulder and I jumped. "Max!"
But it wasn't Max. My dad stood over me, shaking me gently. "Audrey, wake up. If you want to come to the shop with me, I'll take you and Max out diving after I finish setting up today's training dives."
I merely nodded and rubbed my eyes, trying to get rid of the shaky feeling in my stomach. I hate nightmares. My dad smiled and ruffled my hair.
"You've got thirty minutes. Better get moving."
I blinked, shoved back the covers, and sat on the edge of my bed. I knew it had just been a dream, but I couldn't completely convince myself that everything was okay. The images in my head were real enough to be those of some premonition-spouting wacko, but it was only a late-night-snack-induced nightmare.
I watched my dad as he continued talking about the plans for the day - where we'd dive, what we'd do. He always knew when I needed him to stay with me. I watched him pick up my clothes from the day before and toss them expertly into the hamper in my closet. He continued until my heartbeat returned to normal and I could almost forget the lingering image of a limp, stricken Max. With a lopsided smile, he walked to the hallway and around the corner.
People have told me that I look like my dad, but I've never thought so. He is what everyone calls handsome, and I'd say I'm just on the wrong side of cute. I have his long legs, dark wavy hair, and sparkly blue eyes. But on me, the legs are gangly and always in the way, my hair is constantly out of control, my nose is slightly too large . . . well, you get the idea.
My older brother, Ben, always told me that he'd had to grow into dad's features, and that I would, too. Which is great, but I don't ever remember a time when Ben didn't have girls draping all over him.
One thing the three of us - Dad, Ben, and me - definitely have in common is a love of the water. I suppose I'm a bit spoiled for a broke thirteen-year-old water-lover. Not only do I reside in Michigan - legendary for its beautiful white, sandy beaches and water in endless supply - but my folks own a dive shop, which means we make our living in, on, and around the water.
To this day I can't figure out what ever made my mom want the dive shop. She's always seemed the opposite of dad. Precise, neat to the point of obsession, and absolutely in love with the "safe thing." My dad has told us that Mom once loved diving. But I don't remember that. Ben says he can't remember our mom so much as swimming when we were little, let alone struggling into dive gear and risking the depths.
I remember that before he went down to Kalamazoo for school, Ben would try to get my mom to go with us to the beach. But mom would always decline, and instead would take my fluffy little sister, Suzie, to tea or to the art museum. Ben and I used to joke that she didn't dive because of how unclean it was to dive in gear that couldn't be washed.
The smell of pancakes cooking on the griddle finally lured me out of bed, and I shuffled as quickly as I could to the bathroom. I didn't do too badly for a sleep-numbed, summer-vacationing thirteen-year-old. I successfully avoided my little sister (my mom's annoying double in miniature), ate a yummy pancake breakfast without syrup landing in my lap, and managed to scramble through the back door as my dad opened it to leave. Dad had apparently called Max's mom while I was in the shower, because when we arrived at the shop, Max was there with a bag, looking as if he was ready to dive at that very moment.
Even though I knew the images in my head were from a dream, it was good to see my friend alive and well. I jumped out of the car and waved. He waved back, crinkling his stubby nose at me, his black hair looking almost blue in the bright sunlight. He was laughing at me . . . likely a response to my soaking wet hair and more than usually wrinkled T-shirt and jean shorts.
"Just fill the tanks and I'll be back soon," Dad was saying to me as he walked away to greet a group of adults clustered around the dive shop's truck and boat.
"Bummer." A great way to summarize the task of filling the aluminum cylinders that provided air to divers.