As expected, Leigh didn’t discuss the matter of getting a pool with Penny right away, nor did she discuss the possibility of her going to a friend’s house to swim. Penny didn’t give up, however. Three nights later, again over dinner, she asked her mother about going to a friend’s house to swim. Her mother gave the same answer: it would worry her to have Penny at a pool where she might be in water over her head.
Penny stared at her food and pouted.
But she wasn’t about to give up.
She asked again two nights later, that again two nights after that. At school she asked her friend Kemena, whom she knew had a pool, if she could get her mom to call Leigh and explain that she’d watch the girls the entire time and never let Penny out of the shallow end. A few more days went by before Leigh received a phone call. Penny kept peeking out from her bedroom to see if she could pick up what her mother was saying. She couldn’t, but mama stayed on the phone for a long time, perhaps thirty minutes, and that was always a good sign.
The phone was still in her mom’s hand when she opened the door to Penny’s bedroom. “Do you know who was just on the phone?”
Penny knew better than to act stupid. “Was that Kemena’s mom?”
Lee crossed her arms as she leaned against the door jam. “It was. Kemena wants you to come over for swim date. Her mother said that she’d stay outside and watch both you girls while you were in the pool, and that she would make certain you didn’t get out of the shallow end.” Her face slid into half frown/half smile. “Did you ask her to have her mother call me?”
“Mama.” Penny was on her feet, her hands curled into fists. “Please. Her mother will watch us. And I promise, I won’t leave the shallow area.”
“I know you won’t.” Lee stood and looked down at her daughter. “I’m going with you. And while you’re in the pool, I’ll be with Kemena’s mother, helping her watch you both.” She dug at the right corner of her mouth with a fingernail. “I guess we should go out tomorrow night get you a swimsuit.”
Two days later, on the Friday after school, Leigh and Penny showed up at Kemena’s house, swimsuits and flip-flops on and plenty of towels to use to dry off later.
As she promised, Penny stayed in the shallow end and played with Kemena while her mother sat with Adella, Kemena’s mother, who was short and extremely gregarious. A couple of times while they were in the water Kemena wanted to move on to the deeper area, but Penny held to her promise.
There was one moment, however…
Kemena decided she wanted to have a contest to see who could hold their breath underwater the longest. Penny wasn’t certain that she could do this: after all, the only water she’d ever been in was in a tub, and she’d never tried submerging yourself there. But a contest was a contest, and Penny didn’t want to disappoint her friend.
She took a deep breath and sank to the bottom of the shallow end.
Sitting on the bottom of the pool Penny felt completely at ease. Rather than look to see how Kemena was doing, she stared straight ahead at the far end where the diving board was. She followed the downward slope of the pool into the deep end and for a moment she felt as if she should be there, that it would be such a natural thing for her to swim around there near the bottom—
There was a commotion in the pool next to her and she felt herself being lifted off the bottom of the pool. When she broke surface she saw her mother there with arms wrapped around her in a worried look on her face. “Are you all right?”
“I’m fine, Mama.” She looked up and saw Kemena and her mother staring at her. Both appeared far more worried that her own mother. “What happened? Did I do something wrong?”