Her name was Julie. Slightly shorter but slightly older, hair in a pig-tail and a missing front-tooth. She didn’t need water wings. Ian was enthralled.
Ian wouldn’t play with me when Julie was in the pool. It was half-hearted and he was distracted, looking over my shoulder to follow Julie’s trail of splashes to the deep end. Eventually he told me he didn’t want to play, apologetically, as if it were out of his hands, because it was.
We stayed later that night, because of Julie. Long past his bedtime. She swam, he followed, both of them teetering between the kiddie pool and the big pool, which seemed appropriate.
He was reluctant to come when I called, and took heavy steps toward the towel. He paused, dripping, and I reminded him to say goodbye. He knelt by the pool and I didn’t worry about falling; in some way, he already had. He crossed his arms over his knees and I saw his head bob, the way it does when Ian explains. She replied and he stood, smiling but frowning—smlowning— footslogging his way back.
I dried and he talked. Will we see her tomorrow? Maybe. I had fun. I saw that. Maybe she could meet us here? She probably has her own plans. Will we see her tomorrow? Maybe. He pulled away.
‘I’ll be right back. I want to tell her something.’
‘What?’ Even though I knew and hated to ask, because this was his.
He looked down and grew quiet and shy. ‘It’s a surprise.’
Only to him. ‘Okay, kiddo. But don’t make any promises to see her, because we don’t know what her family is doing.’
‘Oh.’ I’m sorry. ‘Okay.’
And he trotted back to the pool, where Julie was climbing the ladder. They talked again, Ian’s arms a third person in the conversation. She gave him a hug. And tousled his hair.
And my son returned, floating, toes dancing across the cold pools of water left on the concrete. Dazed and embarrassed, smiling but not sure why because this was bigger than him. His eyes turned to me, unfocused.
‘Wh…why’d she do that?’
I grinned, knowing the courage it took to ask and the power behind it. ‘Because she likes you.’