Home > Summer of Sloane

Summer of Sloane
Author: Erin L. Schneider


The condom must’ve broke.

Her words, not mine.

They belong to McKinley—or Mick, as I’ve called her for as long as I can remember.

We stand together near the swings at our favorite park. Fifteen years, we’ve known each other. Fifteen years we’ve been best friends. Our moms met during a playdate at this very park when Mick and I were two, and the rest, as they say, is history.

“Wait, what? How?…When?…Who?” It all stumbles out of my mouth, tripping over my tongue in one incoherent string. But somehow my best friend understands exactly what I’m trying to ask.

“Believe me, I know.” She clenches her eyes shut and rubs at a spot on her forehead that creases under her fingertips. “Everything, all of it, it’s such a mess. But I need you to understand—I need you to know—that I never, ever meant to hurt you.”

I start to open my mouth to console her, to tell her everything’s going to be okay, that I’m not going to leave her side just because she’s pregnant. But something makes me hesitate, just for a second, as her words begin to register in my head.

“What do you mean, you never meant to hurt me?” I stare at her, but now she won’t look me in the eye. In fact, she looks everywhere but at me, and it triggers something inside, some mental warning that’s shouting for me to run, duck, cover…anything.

That’s when my surroundings turn fuzzy and the playground and all its toys move in and out of focus. I hear little kids playing, enjoying one of the first sunny days of summer vacation here in Seattle. Everyone so happy to be outside after months and months of nonstop rain. They run around the playground laughing and squealing as they swing on the swings and slide down the slides. But I only stand there. Numb. Frozen in place as I try to understand what Mick is saying.

And that’s when she unloads the truth. The real zinger, the stab to the heart, the pièce de résistance.

“It’s Tyler’s.”

Tyler, as in my boyfriend.

Oh my God, I can’t breathe.

It’s such a simple act, mindless even. We learn to do it the very second we come into this world. But right now it’s anything but simple.

I press my hands tight to my chest like that will help. It won’t. The weight of what Mick has just told me settles heavy on my chest and slowly presses down on my lungs.

“You’re kidding, right? This is all some big joke?” I stare at Mick as my vision blurs, creating a second version of her in front of me. “When the hell did this happen?”

She stares up at the sky like some divine intervention is going to save her. “Last month, at one of Jansen’s parties. You left early because you weren’t feeling well. I think you had the flu or something.” She fights back tears of her own but loses, and quickly scrubs at her cheeks to wipe away any trace of them. “I’m so, so sorry—please…please don’t hate me. Oh God.”

“Are you serious? I was there for almost the entire party—and afterward, I was literally sick for like an hour!” I close my eyes and try to take in deep, even breaths. But instead, all I get are short, ragged stutters of air. And it’s not enough.

Asthma is bad enough on its own, but I’m the lucky victim of these stupid attacks brought on by my own anxiety. There’s a mental trick to combating them, something that took several visits to my doctor to figure out and involves visualizing a swimming pool. My home away from home. I have to build the image in my head from scratch, piece by piece, drop of water by drop of water. Right down to the red-and-white plastic lane lines that float effortlessly on the surface, their only job to divide the pool into equally measured sections.

But I’m having a hard enough time focusing on anything, let alone fabricating some pool in my head.

Because Tyler and I slept together for the very first time less than three weeks ago. A few weeks after Jansen’s party. Which means Mick and Tyler slept together before that.

Before me.

Panic sets in as the familiar freeze from lack of oxygen takes over my limbs, one creeping inch at a time, and I close my eyes to try to rein it back in. To try to get some sort of handle on a situation that is clearly out of my control.

When my knees hit grass, I know it’s too late. And I can’t stand how humiliating and out of my control all of this is.

I try to focus on the image in my head. It’s blurry at first, but before me is an empty pool, with its cool white cement and painted lane lines that race along the bottom, from one end to the other. As the image begins to take shape, drains form along the floor and caged-in metal lights ring the outer rim.

I force the pool to fill itself with water, and for a moment, it falters and the pool is empty again. I clench my eyes tighter and focus and watch the water level rise and rise, until it’s right below the lip of the edge, right where it’s supposed to be. Calm turquoise water laps against the side of the pool, the red-and-white lane markers bobbing along the surface.

I build the cement pathway around its edges next, then the bleachers one at a time—filling each bench with a crowd that’s silently cheering around me. With every deep, even breath, the scent of chlorine stings my nose, as I focus on the path of water in front of me that’s all mine. Light glistens off the surface, rolling with each ripple like beckoning fingers, taunting me to dive in and go.

Fluid. Tranquil. Soothing.

“Where’s your inhaler? Mack, your inhaler?”

The image of my pool breaks into a thousand tiny shards and is replaced by Mick standing over me, concern pinching the small space between her eyes. I see her mouth moving, but I can’t hear a word she’s saying. I stare at her lips and blink. She’s swiped my bag off my shoulder, but I have no idea why. Something hard and plastic is pressed into my hand and forced to my mouth.

My autopilot kicks in, and I suck in two long drags and try to inhale a deep breath through my nose. Around me, the park begins to fall into place, one blade of grass at a time, one giggling toddler after another.

After a few more deep breaths, everything snaps back into a hard, sharp focus, and around us, people have stopped and are staring. I can feel the heat flood my cheeks as a few of them ask Mick if we need help. But she only brushes them off. She’s been around me long enough to know exactly what to do.

“That’s it, Mack….You’ve got this.”

Mack. I’m the other half of Mick and Mack. Nicknames her older brother, Bryson, gave us years ago, a play on her first name, McKinley, and my last name, McIntyre. Nicknames given when everyone realized how inseparable we were. When we ourselves realized that while we may look nothing alike, Mick has always been the left to my right. And I the right to her left.

In fifteen years, there hasn’t been a single day we haven’t been there for each other. When I was in the fourth grade, she brought over her favorite stuffed bear and hugged me tight when I found out my parents were getting a divorce and my mom was moving back home to Hawaii. She stood by my side when I was twelve, as I mumbled to my dad that I needed to go to the store for some, er, female products—and then two weeks later, I stood by her when she had the same conversation with her mom. We were together the first time we ever snuck out to toilet-paper Tyler’s house in the ninth grade. And of course as soon as I got my driver’s license, I drove us everywhere, from the mall to all things ballet….Not that I minded; it wasn’t her fault her mother would never let her get her license, let alone a car.

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