The smell of chlorine combined with sunscreen hit Gabriella and Zee as they walked into the crowded outdoor pool and traced a wet path of overlapping footprints to a not very inhabited set of white reclining chairs under a blue and white striped umbrella.
"Ugh, people," Zee said distastefully. "Why are we here again?"
Gabriella shook her head dumped her bag onto one of the plastic chairs. "You're so weird," she said.
"Thanks. Where's Jacob?" Zee asked, looking around.
She turned around to a dripping wet Jacob dropping his towel and phone on the chair next to hers. "Why're you wet?" she asked.
He laughed. "Hi to you, too. It's the pool, you're supposed to get wet."
"Darn, I was going to dare you to not get wet."
"Sorry for ruining your evil plan so last-minute."
"I'm sure I can come up with another."
Gabriella looked back and forth between them. "What are you two even talking about?"
"Stuff," Jacob said, and Zee nodded.
"Stuff," she agreed.
"Whatever," Gabriella said, pulling her sundress over head to reveal a metallic, leaf-green swimsuit that showed off her tan skin. "I'm going on the lazy river, if you guys want to join me."
They agreed and went to aquire inflatable tubes.
"Want to share a double for better TODAE playing?" Jacob asked Zee.
"Sure," she said, and they entered the water, letting it propel them into the stream of water rushing around the organic shape of the "river" (technically it wasn't a river because it was neither natural, nor did it end in a larger body of water). Gabriella kept up with them at the beginning, but eventually she intentionally fell behind. Something about being a "third wheel", the implications of which Zee and Jacob effectively ignored.
"So, truth or dare?" Zee asked Jacob.
"Dare," he replied easily.
"I dare you to go under that waterfall without getting me wet," Zee said, nodding to one of the large cascades of water spilling from a fake rock formation. As soon as she said it, Jacob got a devilish grin on his face and she knew exactly what was about to happen.
Jacob pushed off the wall with his feet, propelling their tube over to the side of the river under threat of the waterfalls. He then proceeded to steer them directly through the waterfall, dragging both himself and Zee under the deafening torrent of water.
"Sorry," he said without a hint of apology in his voice. Zee glared at him, removing a chunk of wet hair from her face and adjusting her grey and white striped tankini top.
"You failed to complete the dare properly," she said, crossing her arms. "I think that's grounds for a punishment, is it not?" Punishments were a recent development in their game. They'd decided they made the game more adventureous and the stakes higher.
Suddenly Jacob seemed much more apologetic. "No, please, forgive me."
"Ummm...no," Zee said. "Your punishment is that you have to go on the Tornado. Alone."
"Aww come on, Zee," Jacob said. "Anything but the Tornado."
"Nope," Zee said, looking over at the trecherous water slide. "I've decided. After we get back around to the beginning you're going."
He slouched for a moment in protest. "Fine." Then, he straightened up and smiled. "Your turn, truth or dare."
"Dare," Zee said, deciding she would give him an opportunity to get revenge.
"I dare you to fall out of your tube on purpose. In front of a lifeguard," he said.
She gave him a look. "Fine, but if I get in trouble you're getting punished again."
He shrugged. "Better make it look like an accident then."
Zee sunk way down into her tube so most of her upper body was underwater and she was holding onto the tube only with her hands and knees. She waited a few seconds, until they were right in front of a guard, then intentionally had her hands slip, scrabble for the tube, then lose traction, which she acted like was so surprising to her she fell through the center of her part of the tube. She surfaced, head popping back up through the center of her side a second later, hair sticking to her face, just as the lifeguard gave a sharp tweet. She waved, and resituated herself properly in the tube. "Happy?" she asked Jacob.
"Yep," he said. "Good job."
"Thanks," she said, a little sarcasm evident in her voice. They were nearing the end of the course, and when they got there, they exited, deposited their tube in the cage with all the others, and walked over to the edge of the pool where the Tornado ended. Zee stayed there while Jacob grudgingly walked over and began to climb the stairs up to the line.
While she was waiting, Zee studied the slide, which was painted a stormy grey color. It started a few stories high, and was the fastest, darkest, most disorienting water slide Zee had ever been on. You start at the top and are dropped down a steep slope until you're hurtling through pitch darkness at what feels like the speed of light, then you're plunged into a tight, dizzying corkscrew, then around a few huge turns before being shot out into a free fall into deep waters. It was rumored that once it gave a fifty year old man a heart attack and at the end it shot out his dead body.
It was the most controverisal waterslide in a one hundred mile radius, so naturally the line was long. Zee sat down on the edge of the pool and put her calves in the water, watching people being spit out by the three slides ending in that particular part of the pool.
After a while she was staring at her feet and watching the water distort the image of them, occasionally looking up to see how Jacob was progressing in line (and laughing at the glares he gave her when he caught her looking) when she heard a familiar hyena-like giggle and saw a familiar head of greasy brown hair out of the corner of her eye.
She froze, turning her head around slowly to see a pack of girls in bikinis of various hues all standing together and giggling ominously. One of them, Zoya, saw her and widened her eyes, giving an almost undetectable shake of her head, gesturing for Zee to run. Panic and confusion spread from Zee's stomach outward, infecting every cell in her body.
She glanced up at Jacob, who was just entering the slide and gave a desperate little "I can't" shrug in reply to Zoya just as Tara turned around and saw Zee's face, lips turning up into an evil little smile. She elbowed her friends and said something to them, but Zee couldn't make out what it was. They all laughed, except Zoya, who just gave a little smile, though her eyes were still urging Zee to get out.
Zee's stomach fell and she turned back to the pool just in time to see Jacob fall from the end of the slide into the water with a splash. He surfaced and started to swim over to Zee. He tread water in front of her, a grin on his face.
The smile faded when he saw the look on hers, then the group of mocking girls behind her. He got out of the water and stood up beside her. "Come on," he said, holding out his hand. She took it and stood up uncertainly. Enveloping her wet hand in his like it was the most natural thing in the world, he led her past the bullies.
"Ooh," Tara called as they got closer. "Nerd love, how sweet." The others laughed.
"Just ignore them," Jacob said. "They aren't worth your attention."
Zee felt a rock rise up in her throat, but she did as she was told, focusing on clinging tightly to Jacob's hand and not tripping over her own feet.
"Where are you going? Loserville? Or to find a life?"
"How much is he being paid to be here with her?"
"Yeah, go away. Nobody likes you."
The insults and comments bombarded them for what felt like an eternity until they were finally out of earshot. Jacob led Zee as far away from them as they could get, the kiddie pool on the other side of the water park. They sat in the shallow water by the little fountains in the ground, watching the little kids play on the playground and in the shallow water.
Zee was shaking. "Thanks," she said quietly, drawing her knees up to her chest and wrapping her arms around them.
"You're welcome," Jacob said, leaning back on his hands, his bare shoulder nearly brushing hers, which she would have enjoyed a lot more if she were in a better mood.
"I hate them," she said. "I thought I wouldn't have to deal with them again until next year."
"They're pathetic," Jacob said. "All the drama is just so stupid and not worth it." He paused, looking over at Zee like he was contemplating whether or not to say something.
"What?" she asked, noticing. "Say it."
"I don't know why you put up with them."
Zee frowned. "I don't put up with them," she said. "I hate them."
"You do, though," Jacob said. "You don't ever stand up for yourself, you just run away. If you stood to them and held your head up high they'd leave you alone."
"Maybe," she said doubtfully, resting her chin on her knees. "Maybe not."