It wasn’t until Maggie lost her necklace that Kate really realized it; in a way, she supposed she’d always known. She’d seen it, she’d just never thought about it. She’d never considered how bad it was until that day….
The way she’d forced Kate to stay back with M.T. when everyone else was scavenging for the lost piece of jewelry, to sit there next to Maggie holding her hand while everyone else dove in the cool waters…watching, waiting; they hadn’t both needed to be there, one would have sufficed…
But Penny had felt guilty. She’d felt impotent with helplessness. To have Kate go out there, to have Kate do what Penny could not—no, that could not happen. That did not happen. It was hard enough, succumbing so fully to her fears, she couldn’t be bested by Kate’s heroics, too.
It should have been so obvious. Even before the necklace, Kate had noticed things, like how Penny loved to look out and view it, but she kept herself at a good distance from its edge. How there’d always been this expression on her face whenever she got too close—of whispered reverence and total, abject revulsion and distrust.
Except, on the other hand, Penny lived on water. She should, in theory, by an avid swimmer. Or, at the very least, she should be able to swim.
But Penny did not swim. She could not swim. She was terrified of swimming.
“And I’d always been fine with that,” Penny had confided to Kate. They’d been sitting out on the patio of Margarita Joe’s, and Penny had probably more than enough tequila for the evening…. “But then, when Mags lost her necklace and I-I…I couldn’t help. I wanted to Kate, I really wanted to rush into that water, but I couldn’t.” Penny shook her head soulfully. “I despised myself for that fear. I hated the fact that it was going to keep me from helping one of the people I love most in the world.”
Kate silently wondered if that wasn’t the reason for the new necklace, the one Penny had bought for M.T. She wondered if Penny’s obsessive, manic urge to replace the lost one, replicate it, hadn’t stemmed from her longing to just do something, anything, to help in whatever way she could—and maybe avail herself of the failure she felt over not being able to swim out to find the old one. It was as though Penny thought that it was because she couldn’t swim that it hadn’t been found, as though some part of its missing were her fault.
“It’s not your fault, you know,” Kate had tried to reassure her. “That it hasn’t been found. We’ve been diving for days now and no one’s seen heads or tails of it.” Kate licked the salt off the rim of her glass. “What I’m saying is, whether you could swim or not, it’d still be lost.”
Penny shrugged, her lips pursed. “I know. I know, but it doesn’t make me feel any less pathetic.”
“I know what will make you feel better,” Kate said before ordering them another round of margaritas.
“Yes, because alcohol is usually such a pick-me-up.” Penny chuckled.
“No, not that,” Kate returned, batting her hands at the words. Smiling hazily in Penny’s direction, she offered the psychic a big, toothy grin. Now she came to think of it, Kate may have had one too many drinks, as well. “No. This.”
Kate cleared her throat. “I’ll teach you how to swim.”
Penny’s eyes shone bright in the neon-lighting shining over the outside seating. “Really?” she breathed.
“I’m a great swimmer,” Kate assured her. “In fact, it’s kind of a requirement, where I’m from.”
“Right?” Kate snickered. “Because I come from the land of 10,000 lakes…” Another guffaw.
Penny stopped, a quizzical look on her face. “Oh! Wait—” she sounded out, in dawning realization. She pointed a knowing finger in Kate’s direction. “I get it. The land of ten thousand lakes.”
And then they fell into peals of laughter yet again.
The rest of the night was kind of a blur, but when Kate woke up the next morning three things remained perfectly clear:
1. Penny telling Kate that M.T. was one of the people she loved most in the world.
- Kate promising Penny she’d teach her how to swim.
- The girls deciding that the first lesson would commence that afternoon, at three pm.
“What are you doing here?” Penny asked uneasily, opening the front door to her house at Kate’s insistent knock. Her eyes darted out nervously toward the water’s edge.
“Swimming lessons,” Kate told her.
Penny’s mouth pulled down…
“You do remember agreeing to this, don’t you?” Kate teased.
“Oh—well, yeah, I guess….”
“Then let’s get to it.”
“I thought we were just talking though,” Penny stuttered, her cheeks getting uncomfortably red. “You know how people do…”
Kate tilted her head to the side. “Just talking? But we made a schedule, Penny.”
“Yeah,” Penny ran her teeth over her lower lip. “But, you know, there was a lot of alcohol involved.”
Kate waved away the words dismissively. “So what?”
Penny fidgeted, her fingers playing frantically with the doorknob she still had in her grasp. “I’m not too sure about this…”
“Did you mean what you said yesterday?” Kate asked stubbornly. Her head ached and her body felt like garbage, but she’d drug herself out of bed, and underneath her icepack, to help Penny. She would not be turned away now. “Regardless of the alcohol, did you mean it when you said you hated not being able to jump in that water and help Maggie—that you despised yourself for giving into your fear? That you felt like a coward and worse than that, you felt ashamed—everything Maggie has done for you and you couldn’t get over one small phobia…”
“Okay!” Penny shouted. “Yes. I meant it. Okay. Stop.”
Kate nodded grimly. “Then put on your bathing suit and let’s go out there.”
The blonde shook her head determinedly. “Penny, I’m not going to let anything happen to you. I promise.”
Penny sucked in her lip.
“I know you’re scared,” Kate continued. “But I will be with you the entire time. I will hold your hand the entire time. I won’t let you go.”
Penny blew out a deep, hard breath. Then, with a quick jerk of her head, she turned on her heel, and made for her bedroom.
Kate smiled in quiet triumph. She wanted to do this for the psychic. It was important. Kate and Penny still hadn’t really talked about the incident… and it was still there, between them, that fizzle of angry words and hurt feelings. Jake and Jackson. And Kate and Penny.
Kate sighed. They hadn’t really talked about it—this topic they consciously ignored, but it weighed down on their friendship all the same; there, between them, laying unsaid in the midst of conversation, was that fight. That fight they were determined not to bring up. To forget. To pretend never happened.
Only it did happen and no one had forgotten anything.
It’s not that Kate wanted a rematch. She didn’t want to argue at all. She just wanted her friend back. She’d missed Penny. And so she was going to teach her how to swim.
She was going to do for her what Penny had frequently done for Kate. Help her heal, help her find her strength. It was time Kate gave back. It was time she followed Maggie’s heed: this time, it was Penny who would come first. Penny, whose feelings and upsets would take first priority. It was past time that Kate showed Penny she could be a good friend, too.
“Ready?” Kate called when Penny reemerged some minutes later, a brightly colored towel tied tightly around her waist, her face a few shades too pale.
Penny nodded sharply. Speech seemed to be beyond the psychic as the women let themselves out of the house and walked the short distance down to the water’s edge.
Clutching the towel tighter around her person, Penny stared down at the wet sandy shore, staring as if mesmerized at the water lapping gently there. Her knuckles were white, her breathing not quite controlled.
“Penny?” Kate asked. “Here, let me take your towel.” Carefully, she took hold of the microfiber material, pulling it free from Penny’s hold.
Throwing the thing down on the grass, she grabbed for Penny’s hand. It was ice cold in her grip. “Ready?” Kate asked, with a sideways smile. She squeezed reassuringly before taking one step and then another forward.
Penny came along reluctantly, her eyes wide, unnerved.
“Remember, I’ll be with you the whole time,” Kate counseled. Penny looked strange. “Just hold on tight and take one more step forward and…there!” Kate squealed. “You’re officially in the water now.”
And Penny was. At least, the bottoms of her feet were in the water. But it was a start. And slowly, Kate walked Penny onward. Further. Further, until the girls were in the water up past their knees. Penny still hadn’t spoken, her jaw seeming permanently clenched as she allowed herself to be persuaded deeper and deeper.
Everything had been going just fine until that sixth step… when the sand dropped away unexpectedly by a foot or so. One minute the girls were standing mid-thigh and the next thing Kate knew, they were waist-deep in the cool, calm lake.
That’s when Penny panicked. And it wasn’t just a howl of surprise at the abrupt submergence, either. It was a flat-out freak-out.
“No, no, no, no, no…!” Shaking her head frantically, Penny’s voice came out hoarse and high-pitched. Throwing off Kate’s hold, she scrambled backward, her arms splashing frantically against the surface of the water, her feet almost tripping in her haste to get away. Tears filled her eyes as great heaving huffs off air exploded out of her lungs.
“No, no, no, no, no!” she kept saying, her voice rising louder and louder, more frantic and frenzied. Then, at last, her feet found grass. But Penny was in such a state, she didn’t seem to realize she was safe, free… She just kept screaming, her legs propelling, pushing in retreat.
“Penny—wait,” Kate called, running after her. Her long legs were on Penny in a second. Reaching out Kate’s fingers just brushed the back of her swimsuit.
“No!” Whipping around, Penny railed on her. “I told you—I said I didn’t want to do this! Why didn’t you just listen to me!”
“No, you said you weren’t sure—”
“Shut up Kate! Just shut up.”
Kate’s head snapped back at the words.
“You pushed me to do this. But I’m not—I don’t want to do this, okay?”
“Okay,” Kate relented, stunned by the accusation in Penny’s voice, hurt beyond consideration. Blinking back her own tears, Kate apologized. “I’m sorry—I didn’t mean…”
“Just leave it,” Penny barked, throwing her arms out wide to encompass the lake before them. “Just leave it alone. I’m not—” Whipping furtively against the tears streaming down her face, Penny just shook her head. Picking up her towel, she started back up for her house.
The broken, half-suppressed sob that accompanied Penny’s scurry, however, was what cut Kate the deepest.
Kate cracked open the front door. “Penny?” she called, rapping her knuckle softly against its sturdy frame.
She received no answer. Straightening her shoulders, even when every part of her body insisted that she turn around, shut the door behind her and leave Penny alone, Kate walked inside the psychic’s dimly lit living room.
“Penny?” She called again. Listening, stretching her ears for sound, Kate prayed for an answer, any answer…
And then, suddenly, Penny was standing there in front of Kate, having emerged from the kitchen; a caftan was draped comfortingly across her body, a ceramic mug in her hands. For a moment, Kate and Penny stared at one another. Then, holding up the steaming cup, Penny asked gruffly. “Want a cup?”
Kate smiled tremendously, letting out the breath she hadn’t realized she’d been holding. “I would love one.”
Silence descended as the girls made their way into the peach-hued room, Penny busy taking down a mug from the cupboard, Kate struggling with what to say…
“I’m sorry,” Penny breathed then, breaking the silence. Her back was to Kate as she reached for the carafe, pouring out a cup of coffee.
“You’re sorry?” Kate blinked. “No, I’m sorry!”
“I freaked out,” Penny said, turning then, her eyes wet. “I—I told you to shut up! I can’t believe I said that…” Penny handed over the steaming cup. Kate took it gratefully.
“You probably had every right too,” Kate conceded. “I was pushing you. And I should have listened when you expressed doubts.”
“No, you were trying to help. I know that. I just…I lashed out.”
Penny nodded, bringing her coffee up to her mouth. Kate mirrored her. For a second neither of them spoke, each busy drinking the beverage in their hands, neither knowing exactly where to go from here…
“I used to swim,” Penny said. “When I was a little girl; I’d go out with Maggie. I was never very good, but I could float.”
“What happened?” Kate asked softly, because clearly something had.
“My mother was a drunk.” The words slapped hard against the air, as unexpected as they were harsh. “Did you know that?” Penny asked, her voice oddly conversational. “It didn’t really start to show until after Maggie’s dad died, until after she’d left…”
Kate swallowed difficultly.
“And one day, after she’d had too many, she decided she wanted to lie out in the sun on the dock,” Penny murmured. “I guess she passed out because when I found her, she was face down in the water, unconscious.”
Kate’s hand went up to cover her mouth involuntarily. Oh God.
Penny laughed without mirth. “I remember it so well. I was up in my bedroom, watching TV and suddenly this strange feeling came over me—like when you get water up your nose and it burns! And I heard this voice whispering in my head: The lake! The lake! Get to the lake! And I knew. I just knew what had happened.”
Penny hitched a shoulder.
“I ran outside, my feet slipping, smacking against the dock. I remember that sound so well. And when I saw her—I just screamed.” Penny shook her head. “I screamed and screamed and screamed. And next thing I remember, Jackson and his grandfather came running outside, and then they were in the water, lifting her out. And then Jackson was calling an ambulance while Mr. Fischer was giving my mother mouth-to-mouth…”
“Oh Penny, that must have been so terrifying.”
Penny scratched at something on her nose. “She almost died, Kate. If I hadn’t listened to that voice…If I hadn’t gone out there when I did…”
Kate stroked a hand down Penny’s arm. “I know.”
Penny smiled. “It was the first time I realized I had the gift.” She laughed bitterly. “What a way to find out, huh?”
Kate bit down hard. “I’m so sorry.”
“I never went back in the water again.”
“Of course,” Kate nodded. “I understand.”
“…I tried, but I couldn’t. Every time I—, well, you saw what happens.”
Kate blinked back tears.
“I loved my mother,” Penny said, “but she took so much away from me. She took my childhood away from me. And all she left in its place was scars and fears, lots of them—would she kill herself today? Would I make it home in time to save her? Would she remember my name…?”
“I-I,” but Kate didn’t know what to say.
With an abrupt start, Penny put down her mug. “And you know, I’m sick of it.” She spoke so softly, Kate wasn’t sure if Penny was talking to her or to herself. “I’m sick of being afraid.”
Kate stared at her uncertainly.
Penny lifted a steely gaze to Kate. “I meant what I said yesterday. I want to swim. I do. Can we—can we try again?”