"Who knows. He's all-fire sure about most things. Sometimes he has these weird fits when his eyes go all blank and he kind of twitches. They think having those fits messed up his brain somehow."
The bell rang, ending any further discussion about the odd boy. But I knew there had to be more to the story than that.
"See you at PE, Baker. And don't forget your rum-tums." Preston smirked as he got up from the table.
Coach Baynard stood at the deep end of the indoor pool, light reflecting off the water, which was in turn splashing ripples of light on the tile wall. The air was thick and moist, with the sharp scent of chlorine. He gave his whistle a firm blast that echoed around the room. Boys in black swim trunks lined up, displaying an assortment of bare legs: long, short, mostly skinny, a few chunky, hairy, white, knobby kneed, gangly, awkward.
Coach blew his whistle again, "All right, you yay-hoos, let's see what you can do with this." He hefted a ten-pound weight off the floor and threw it into the deep end. "Dive in, then push or carry the weight as far as you can without coming up for air. Once you surface, that's your distance. Robbie Dean. You're up."
Dean stood at the pool's edge, raising his spindly arms with hands clasped above one shoulder, then the other, as if he were the reigning underwater-weight-moving champion of the world. "Let me show you how it's done, fellas." After a few catcalls from the crowd he grinned and dove into the water.
The rest of us watched from the deck as he frog-kicked his way to the bottom, first pushing, then pulling on the weight. Robbie Dean got it halfway up the sloped floor before he came to the surface, sputtering and grinning. "Beat that, boys," Robbie Dean called.
The boys on deck pointed and hollered as the weight slipped back to its starting position at the bottom of the deep end. "You really showed us. Yeah, give us another lesson, why don'tcha?"
Sam Feeney was next. He got the brick up the incline before he had to come up for air. Preston Townsend did the best, pushing the brick halfway across the pool.
The coach called out another name. "Baker. You're up." I looked around, surprised, thinking there must be another Baker, then realized he was looking at me. "Come on, son. You know how to swim, don't you?"
Of course I could swim. My mom took me to the pond near our house from the time I was little. I could swim faster and hold my breath longer than any boy close to my age. "I can swim," I answered, taking my place at the pool's edge. My big toe pressed into the eight-foot marker, etched in red. The lights playing on the tile wall left me feeling unsteady. But with everyone's eyes on me, I dove in. I swam easily to the bottom, down by the drains. There was the ten-pound brick, waiting for me to be the first one to push it all the way across the pool. But something else caught my attention. Something shiny, glimmering. A ring? I knew it had to be my imagination. My navigator ring was nowhere near this pool. Still, something shimmered near the drain. I'd been so excited when my dad gave me the ring, just before he left for the war. That was back when I thought it could make me a navigator like him, guiding a ship by the light of the stars. And that with that ring, I could always find my way. But after the scout survival camp last July, which I barely survived, I knew these things weren't true. Like I'd told my mom, it was just a stupid ring. But now it weighed heavily on me, pulling me under.
I reached for it in the bottom of the Morton Hill pool, the deep water pressing in around me. My ears hurt and my lungs were bursting. Then I couldn't see it anymore. Nothing glimmered. But it had been there. I pulled on the metal drain cap. It wouldn't budge. I felt sleepy, like my eyes couldn't stay open anymore. But I had seen it. It had been there.
Excerpted from Navigating Early by Clare Vanderpool. Copyright © 2013 by Clare Vanderpool. Excerpted by permission of Delacorte Press Books for Young Readers. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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No Man's Land
by Simon Tolkien
Inspired by the experiences of his grandfather, J. R. R. Tolkien, during World War I.
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