Home > One True Loves(4)

One True Loves(4)
Taylor Jenkins Reid

Marie ditched me the minute we smelled the chlorine in the air. So I sat on the bleachers and did my best to entertain myself.

The indoor pool was full of barely clothed, physically fit boys my age. I wasn’t sure where to look.

When Graham got up on the diving block and the whistle blew, I watched as he dove into the water with the ease of a bird flying through the air. From the minute he entered the water, it was clear he was going to win the race.

I saw Marie, over in the far corner, bouncing up and down, willing him to win, believing in him with all of her might. When Graham claimed his throne, I got up and walked around, past the other side of the bleachers and through the gym, in search of a vending machine.

When I came back—fifty cents poorer, a bag of Doritos richer—I saw Olive sitting toward the front of the crowd with her family.

One day last summer, just before school started, Olive and I were hanging out in her basement when she told me that she thought she might be gay.

She said she wasn’t sure. She just didn’t feel like she was totally straight. She liked boys. But she was starting to think she might like girls.

I was pretty sure I was the only one who knew. And I was also pretty sure that her parents had begun to suspect. But that wasn’t my business. My only job was to be a friend to her.

So I did the things friends do, like sit there and watch music videos for hours, waiting for Natalie Imbruglia’s “Torn” video to come on so that Olive could stare at her. This was not an entirely selfless act since it was my favorite song and I dreamt of chopping off my hair to look just like Natalie Imbruglia’s.

Also not entirely selfless was my willingness to rewatch Titanic every few weeks as Olive tried to figure out if she liked watching the sex scene between Jack and Rose because she was attracted to Leonardo DiCaprio or Kate Winslet.

“Hey!” she said as I entered her sight line that day at the pool.

“Hey,” I said back. Olive was wearing a white camisole under an unbuttoned light blue oxford button-down. Her long jet-black hair hung straight and past her shoulders. With a name like Olive Berman, you might not realize she was half-Jewish, half-Korean, but she was proud of where her mother’s family had come from in South Korea and equally proud of how awesome her bat mitzvah was.

“What are you doing here?” she asked me.

“Marie dragged me and then ditched me.”

“Ah,” Olive said, nodding. “Just like the Booksellers’ Daughter. Is she here to see Graham?” Olive made a face when she said Graham’s name and I appreciated that she also found Graham to be laughable.

“Yeah,” I said. “But . . . wait, why are you here?”

Olive’s brother swam until he graduated last year. Olive had tried but failed to make the girls’ swim team.

“My cousin Eli swims for Sudbury.”

Olive’s mom turned away from the swim meet and looked at me. “Hi, Emma. Come, have a seat.” When I sat down next to Olive, Mrs. Berman turned her focus back to the pool.

Eli came in third and Mrs. Berman reflexively pumped her hands into frustrated fists and then shook her head. She turned and looked at Olive and me.

“I’m going to go give Eli a conciliatory hug and then, Olive, we can head home,” she said.

I wanted to ask if I could join them on their way home. Olive lived only five minutes from me. My house was more or less between theirs and the highway exit. But I had trouble asking things of people. I felt more comfortable skirting around it.

“I should probably find Marie,” I said. “See if we can head out.”

“We can take you,” Olive said. “Right, Mom?”

“Of course,” Mrs. Berman said as she stood up and squeezed through the crowded bleachers. “Do you want to come say good-bye to Eli? Or should I meet you two at the car?”

“The car,” Olive said. “Tell Eli I said hi, though.”

Olive put her hand right into my Doritos bag and helped herself.

“Okay,” she said once her mom was out of earshot. “Did you see the girl on the other side of the pool, talking to that guy in the red Speedo?”

“Huh?”

“The girl with the ponytail. Talking to somebody on Eli’s team. I honestly think she might be the hottest girl in the world. Like ever. Like, that has ever existed in all of eternity.”

I looked toward the pool, scanning for a girl with a ponytail. I came up empty. “Where is she?” I said.

“Okay, she’s standing by the diving board now,” Olive said as she pointed. “Right there. Next to Jesse Lerner.”

“Who?” I said as I followed Olive’s finger right to the diving board. And I did, in fact, see a pretty girl with a ponytail. But I did not care.

Because I also saw the tall, lean, muscular boy next to her.

His eyes were deep set, his face angular, his lips full. His short, light brown hair, half-matted, half-akimbo, the result of pulling the swimming cap up off his head. I could tell from his swimsuit that he went to our school.

“Do you see her?” Olive said.

“Yeah,” I said. “Yeah, she’s pretty. But the guy she’s talking to . . . What did you say his name was?”

“Who?” Olive asked. “Jesse Lerner?”

“Yeah. Who is Jesse Lerner?”

“How do you not know who Jesse Lerner is?”

I turned and looked at Olive. “I don’t know. I just don’t. Who is he?”

“He lives down the street from the Hughes.”

I turned back to Jesse, watching him pick up a pair of goggles off the ground. “Is he in our grade?”

“Yeah.”

Olive kept speaking but I had already started to tune her out. Instead, I was watching Jesse as he headed back to the locker room with the rest of his team. Graham was right next to him, putting a hand on his shoulder for a brief moment before jumping ahead of him in the slow line that had formed. I couldn’t take my eyes off of the way Jesse moved, the confidence with which he put one foot in front of the other. He was younger than any of the other swimmers—a freshman on the varsity team—and yet seemed right at home, standing in front of everyone in a tiny swimsuit.

“Emma,” Olive said. “You’re staring.”

Just then, Jesse turned his head ever so slightly and his gaze landed squarely on me, for a brief, breathless second. Instinctively, I looked away.

“What did you say?” I asked Olive, trying to pretend I was engaged with her side of the conversation.

“I said you were staring at him.”

“No, I wasn’t,” I said.

It was then that Mrs. Berman came back around to our side of the bleachers. “I thought you were meeting me at the car,” she said.

“Sorry!” Olive said, jumping up onto her feet. “We’re coming now.”

“Sorry, Mrs. Berman,” I said, and I followed them both behind the bleachers and out the door.

I paused, just before the exit, to see Jesse one last time. I saw a flash of his smile. It was wide and bright, toothy and sincere. His whole face lit up.

I wondered how good it would feel to have that smile directed at me, to be the cause of a smile like that—and suddenly, my new crush on Jesse Lerner grew into a massive, inflated balloon that was so strong it could have lifted the two of us up into the air if we’d grabbed on.

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