Read ‘Swimming,’ a Short Story Written by Our New Book Columnist!

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Rani Lee

Rani Lee

Let’s give a warm welcome and congratulations to Rani Lee — she’s our new book columnist! As we’re sure you’ve heard, we teamed up with Figment and HarperTeen for the ultimate writing contest in honor of the release of the final book in the Delirium trilogy, Requiem. After tons of entries written on Figment, Delirium author Lauren Oliver chose Rani’s story, Swimming, as the winner.

Not only does Rani get a trip to the HarperTeen offices in New York City, she also gets a one-year column on! Read the short story that scored Rani the gig, then make sure to share your thoughts in the comments below!

The night of her best friend’s funeral, Dylan Swanson ditched her clothes for a midnight swim, a boy with hands softer than his lips, and the promise of a Lime-A-Rita.

She stood at the edge of the pool. Glowing blue water rippled and lapped against the sides. Below the surface, the promise of submersion called to her. She had never felt anything so strongly. The need to sink the way Kat had that morning. To be buried too.

Behind her, a guy with a striped t-shirt and cargo shorts sat straddling a pool chair. He had squinty eyes and messy hair. Dirty in the cleanest possible way. He was Kat’s type. Dylan could barely look at him.

He puffed his cigarette, his eyes creeping over her freckled skin.

“G’on ‘n jump,” he said.

The words were a dare and a test, prompting her to act. To see how far she would go. How far he could push her.

Two strangers tongue-wrestled over by the gate, gasping and groping at each other like toddlers discovering the world through touch.

And she wondered…

Dylan’s mother only had two rules:

Never lie.

Always keep your promises.

Of course, Dylan had suspected that as long as she obeyed the first one, she’d never have to worry about the second one. No matter. They were both easy enough to remember, and she had managed for sixteen years never to break either.

Until Jeremy Quill.

She’d never admitted it, but Jeremy Quill made small-town life bearable.

He saw the truth in everything. How literature was nothing but history, and science nothing but math. That smiles were just vague notions because they could literally mean everything or nothing at all, and people hardly took the time to decide which…

She barely noticed when the guy with the striped tee came up behind her. His fingers crawled across her stomach, lingering around her belly button.

“Thought you came here to swim,” he whispered. His lips bumping against her cheek.

She shuddered, her mind focused on the parts where their skin touched. He brushed her sandy curls back and brought his mouth down to the soft part of her throat. She flinched, every muscle in her body clenching in disgust.

“’S all right,” he said.

But it wasn’t.

Above them, thin clouds dragged across the night sky, letting go of the moon. Tree branches shivered in the hot summer wind. And she remembered…

Kat had never had a boyfriend before. She had “friends.” Make-out partners. Meal tickets. Rides home. The guys she normally went for all stunk like cigarettes, beer, sweat, even cat food once.

Dylan never understood why Kat liked Jeremy. He was smart in that he could hold a conversation about something other than sports, cars, and whatever else boys were made of. He was funny. His laugh made sure of it. Even when his jokes didn’t make sense, everyone had to laugh because he did. It was infectious that way. But he wasn’t that attractive. If curly hair, crooked teeth, and acne were national treasures, he would have been in a vault somewhere, protected from time.

Kat had latched onto him while Dylan stood by and watched.

And he was good for Kat.

He taught her how to drive. After two years of failed tests and botched lessons, she finally walked away with her license because of him. He helped her pass geometry, and he talked her down from every one of her binges. She would have relapsed if it weren’t for him, gone back to her scale and razor.

She would have relapsed…

The guy with the striped tee made a beeline for Dylan’s panties and she turned on him. He looked shocked but his eyes were dead, and her stomach shriveled like a sweater in the clothes dryer.

“We’re swimming,” she told him. Wearing a broken smile, she stuck her arms out by her sides and fell backward into the pool.

Water shot up around her like an explosion or a celebration. It chilled her to the bone.  She drifted. Sank.

The chlorine burned her eyes as she stared up at the surface, and she thought she could feel herself crying, though she couldn’t really tell. The water turned the world quiet. She wished it could have that effect on her mind. Drown the parts of her brain that made her think and feel until she thought and felt nothing.

It could.

If she allowed her sorry heart to carry her deeper.

Faintly, she heard the echoing splash as the guy with the striped tee came in after her. Felt the change in the water. She let out a breath. Bubbles dancing in front of her face. And she saw him…

After she kissed him for the first time, Jeremy wouldn’t say a word. They were in his old Cadillac, which had belonged to his grandmother or maybe his great aunt. She watched the rain fall beyond the dirty windows, digging her nails into the skin below her skirt as he drove her home in silence. She wanted to disappear, to fizzle away like the car exhaust billowing from his rusty muffler.

That’s what she felt like. Exhaust. Dirty and poisonous.

Kat would hate her. He would hate her. Even her mother would hate her, if she ever found out.

Never lie.

Always keep your promises.

Dylan had promised to put her friendship with Kat above anything else. She shouldn’t have let a boy come between them. Not even for love.

He pulled into the parking lot in front of her apartment. She reached for the door handle, but froze when he cut the engine. The sound of the rain enveloped them.

“Sorry. That was stupid. I’m stupid,” she said when the silence became too much.

Then he kissed her

She swam to the surface, gasping for air. She shoved her hair back from her face, and the guy with the striped tee was right there, snaking his arm around her waist.

Her chest hardened, her breath quickened, and one by one, the tears returned. Because her friend had been buried that morning. The boy she loved had pushed her away. Her mother was swimming in booze at one bar or another.

All Dylan had was the guy with the striped tee.

She paddled around to face him. His eyes were so empty. Emptier than she felt. She was an M&M without the chocolate, and she wondered if she had always been that way.

Fighting logic, she pressed her lips to his. He reacted instantly, his body tightening in sickening ways. His breath smelled like the ghosts of meals past, and she felt like she was licking the bottom of a refrigerator.

Abruptly, she pushed him away, allowing the force to drive her backward. He reached out for her ankle, laughing like it was all a joke and her defiance was the punch line. She kicked him off and swam toward the pool ladder.

“Where ya going?” he called after her.

“Doesn’t matter,” she huffed, almost sounding tired as she hoisted herself out of the water.

By the gate, she tugged on her shorts and shoved her feet into her shoes, ignoring the goose bumps along her arms and the bile rising in her throat.

Kat was gone, and it was her fault. Dylan might as well have been in that bathroom with her, shoving the razors into her wrists, taking care to hit the right veins, drowning the tile in blood.

No one would love her for that. Nor would they love her for admitting it.

“You just gonna leave me here?”

She smiled as she swiped her shirt from the back of a chair.

The kissing two didn’t flinch when she brushed by them. The wind kept blowing, singing the same old whispering song.

Alone, she walked. And she remembered eating ice cream cones with Kat outside the Dairy Queen. Taking hundreds of pictures on their webcams. Trading shoes after fourth period. Being young and in love with the same boy.

Get to Know More About the Author, Rani Lee!