You know what I like about you? she said.
He told her no, he didnt.
Youre so calm and quiet, she said. It makes me feel safe.
And that pleased him, because he had cultivated for a long time a calm and quiet outward appearance, all the way back to art class in junior high school when he sat next to Kelly Ashton, quiet then because he was too shy to talk and not much worth looking at, an exceedingly skinny kid with a mouthful of metal braces and a fairly bad case of acne, and Kelly Ashton had told him much the same thing one day that Liza Hatter had just told him now, that she liked how he was confident enough not to have to make noise all the time like the other guys, and right then he had decided that, if Kelly Ashton liked it, this calm and quiet thing was worth looking into, especially since he had the quiet part down already and could master the calm part over time.
So he was feeling a little more kindly toward Liza Hatter as he ambled toward the dock, unselfconscious of his body because he knew women liked it, and dove easily into the water, counting away the freezing seconds as he went underneath, saying to himself a thousand one a thousand two a thousand three as a way to get through the part where the cold went to the bone and then could start to work its way out again. When his head popped above the surface he heard a splash behind him, and then just seconds later a high squeal and Liza Hatter saying, Oh my God oh my God, its freezing, and he smiled, knowing he had been right, that she would retreat as fast as she could to the dock and probably run to the house for a towel. So he went under again, pulling with long strokes against the water, and he started thinking in Spanish, which he did occasionallyagua fria, agua negraand when he came up he let out his breath and shook the hair from his eyes and started swimming in long strokes out into the lake, thinking lago oscuro, una noche de estrellas.
He could not recall hearing anything as he swam, nothing other than his own sounds and the music still audible over the water, Ray Charles singing faintly A Fool for You, and he allowed himself to enjoy the thin sliver of moon high in the sky and the way it was reflected in the tiny waves always just ahead of him, and he thought he could go on swimming like this for hours, though he was already numb under the water.
Then he heard her say, Tristan. And he heard her actually laugh a little, a nervous laugh, a shy laugh, as if she realized shed been caught doing something stupid. He turned to her in the water, saw she had followed him all the way out, was maybe fifty feet or so behind him, the dock and the house a long way back, the cliffs of the cove actually closer on either side, he noticed quickly, because he knew what was wrong even before she said so, was already calculating the difficulty of paddling to the rocky bank with her arms around his neck. Tristan, she said again, with a desperate edge to her voice this time. Tristan, Im out too far. I cant feel my legs.
And quietly, calmly, he began swimming back to her. He came closer, closer, close enough to see her now clearly, and when he was within several feet of her, he stopped. He could see her try to come toward him, but she managed only a kind of rough, jerking motion, and she went in up to her forehead and then lifted her face again, choking and coughing. She managed to say the word once more - Tristan? - the last thing she ever said to him. He was perhaps two arm-lengths away, treading water, watching her intently. Because something had happened to her face. The moonlight shone on her directly, and he could see the water in her dark hair and on her cheeks, and her mouth opened and closed in little gasps. Her green eyes were huge, almost glowing. In the black irises, he could see the white crescent of the moon. Very pretty, he thought. He could even love her, maybe, if she looked that way all the time. But then she went under the water, softly, and did not come up again.
Excerpted from The Dart League King by Keith Lee Morris. Copyright © 2008 by Keith Lee Morris. Excerpted by permission of Tin House Books. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Blood at the Root
"A gripping, timely, and important examination of American racism."
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