A Separate Peace: Chapters 3-4
– from Finny's point of view –
Surprise, surprise, I do not own A Seperate Peace or any of its affiliates.
Fault Lines: Lines that indicate breaks where pressure is created as two sides rub against each other. This pressure is sometimes released in a violent outburst.
I grabbed the edge of the pool, pushing myself up. Water ran down my body, I shook my shaggy hair out of my eyes. Gene was staring at his stopwatch mutely.
"Well, how did I do?" I asked. Gene looked down at his watch slowly. Suddenly eager to know, I craned my neck to see over his shoulder. 52.3 seconds.
"My God! So I really did it," I burst out. I looked at Gene's grinning face, a mirror image of my own, and was filled with the conviction that this moment was meant to happen. "You know what? I thought I was going to do it. It felt as though I had that stop watch in my head and I could hear myself going just a little bit faster than A. Hopkins Parker."
"The worst thing is there weren't any witnesses. And I'm no official timekeeper," Gene's face fell, "I don't think it will count."
Gene's words struck me, and disappointment pooled in my stomach. Trying not to add my frustration to Gene's, I glibly said, "Well of course it won't count!"
"You can try it again and break it again. Tomorrow. We'll get the coach in here, and all the official timekeepers and I'll call up The Devonian to send a reporter and a photographer—" Gene said, his voice rising.
"I'm not going to do it again," I said quietly to get his attention.
"Of course you are!"
Desperate to bring Gene's smile back, white lies flew from my tongue, familiar as riding a bike. "No, I just wanted to see if I could do it. Now I know. But I don't want to do it in public." A couple swimmers drifted in, questioning looks on their faces. Eager to keep this moment between the two of us I whispered, "By the way. We aren't going to talk about this. It's just between you and me. Don't say anything about it, to…anyone."
"Not say anything about it! When you broke the school record!"
"Sh-h-h-h-h-h!" I glared at him fiercely. Gene glanced up, startled by my outburst. Guilt seared the anger from my veins. I looked up at Gene's grey distant eyes, but he glanced away.
"You're too good to be true," Gene said, after a pause.
My guilt spiked. Gene waited all this time just so I could selfishly break a school record and then I shouted at him, my best friend? Gene was too good to be true, but when I opened my mouth all that came out was, "Thanks a lot."
We walked side by side back to the dorms, silence stretching between us, like thick fog. I rolled our dialogue around in my head. Where had I gone wrong? Three simple words echoed in my head, "Thanks a lot." It was my tone – that was it. Too sarcastic. Obviously.
"Swimming in pools is screwy anyway," My words hung in the air. Gene didn't respond. Hurriedly I added, "The only real swimming is in the ocean." An idea floated up. Gene and I just hadn't been spending enough time together; nothing fresh air, and a relaxing trip to the beach wouldn't fix. "Let's go to the beach." I stated.
Gene sighed heavily. Shoot! I thought, berating myself. What if he didn't want to go? I never thought about what other people wanted.
"All right," he finally said. I grinned broadly at him, relief flooding my chest. I knew he wouldn't regret it - I would make sure.
We grabbed our well-used bikes and slipped away from our school, Devon, along a back road. As we bumped along the rocky path I inhaled the fresh air. My chest leaped and I spun around on my bike, steering with my elbows. "Hey Gene! Look at this!" I called. I jumped off my bike, running alongside it for a couple paces, and then hopped sideways over it. I cavorted down the hill, somersaulting, flipping and jumping on and around the bike. Gene followed on his bike more sedately, chuckling slightly despite himself.
It was late afternoon when we reached the beach. The waves pounced on the shore then fizzled back. Yanking off my shirt I started across the beach. Hot sand immediately scalded my feet and I yelped. I hopped in circles, dancing down the beach. Seagulls whirled above, their raucous calls mingling with Gene's honest, dry laughter. With great relief I reached the wet sand and I wiggled my toes, relishing the coolness of the water. Screaming wildly, I took off into the waves, diving into the surf. Salty water stung my lips. I surfaced, shivering and immediately a white-cap crashed over me, slamming me into the sand.
"AiiiiEEE!" I screamed, bursting free. Gene floated past me, carried on the crest of the wave. The wave curled back on itself, hissing fiercely, leaving a pale, limp Gene in its wake. I made a wild dash for shore, plopping beside Gene on my knees. Ceremoniously I pressed my fingers to his neck. "Alive," I stated vindictively, and without further ado charged back into the ocean.
That night we ate dinner at a hot dog stand, our back to the ocean and its cold, cold wind, a thick blanket of our companionship wrapped around us. Later we walked along the boardwalk. Glancing around, I saw heads turn to follow us. I glanced over at Gene. His wet hair shimmered under the streetlights, casting a soft copper glow across his tanned skin. Noticing my scrutiny he turned and smiled crookedly.
"Everybody's staring at you," I said as explanation. Jokingly I added, "It's because of that movie-star tan you picked up this afternoon…showing off again."
That night we found a good spot among some sand dunes at the empty end of the beach and settled down under the stars, moon, and deep black sky.
I rolled the events of the day around on my tongue, ending with, "I hope you're having a pretty good time here. I know I kind of dragged you away at the point of a gun, but after all you can't come to the shore with just anybody and you can't come by yourself, and at this teen-age period in life the proper person is your best pal." I hesitated and considered leaving it at that, but filled with the sea, the stars, and the sky it seemed the right time to say it, "which is what you are." I listened for Gene's answer until the thick air of the night had stifled even the crickets' chirps and had sucked the day's life from the sand beneath my thin blanket, leaving it hard, immoveable, and cold. But Gene never replied.
That night I dreamt of empty corridors and dark, windy, lonely woods.