Christina’s eyes flew open. Standing right in front of her was Mike Morris. His broad, muscular frame blocked the sun, which made him look as though he were bathed on all sides by a glowing light. She could feel Lindsay and Ashley, who were lying on either side of her, stop breathing as Mike took a gentle step toward her.
Did he want to memorize the way she looked, lounging back on the chair in her new electric-blue bikini, her dark hair piled carelessly on top of her head?
With a quick whisk of his hand across her forearm, he stepped back again and grinned. “Bee,” he said.
“Be what?” asked Christina, giggling.
“I think it was a yellow jacket, actually,” Mike continued, ignoring Christina’s misunderstanding. “Crawling right on your arm. They love soda, so look before you take a sip. Those suckers really hurt when they sting, especially on your tongue.”
She barely had time to stammer out a thanks before he turned and walked away. All three girls sat up and watched him walk to the other side of the pool, where the snack-bar staff had just fired up the grill. He joined a group of swim-team guys who were scarfing down chips and dip.
“He is definitely superhot,” said Ashley. “I can see why you wanted to join this swim club.”
“Totally,” agreed Lindsay.
“I wonder if he’s part fish,” mused Christina. “Maybe that’s why he never notices me. He would rather be swimming in the dumb pool than anything else.”
“Speaking of hot, it’s hot,” said Ashley, pulling her hair up into a flawless ponytail. “Ugh. I’m all sweaty. But thanks for having us as your guests today! This looks like an awesome Fourth of July picnic!”
“Yeah, if your invite hadn’t come through, I’d be spending the day at my aunt and uncle’s house, listening to my aunt brag about how brilliant my cousins are,” said Lindsay, rolling her eyes.
“I heard Marty at the snack bar say this was the hottest Fourth of July picnic he’s ever organized. And he’s been working here for forever,” said Christina.
“Look, there’s Veronica,” muttered Lindsay. “Shocker. She’s hanging out with the swim team. Again.”
Christina’s eyebrows went up. “I thought you guys were really good friends with Veronica.”
“‘Were’ is right,” sniffed Ashley. “She’s become obsessed with the swim team. It’s ‘swim team this, practice that, Coach Dana blah-blah-blah.’ She never has time for doing important stuff with us.”
Christina suppressed a smile. She hadn’t been friends with Lindsay and Ashley for very long, but her impression was that they didn’t actually do a lot of “important stuff”—at least not that she’d observed. They seemed to spend most of their time shopping, texting, and surfing the Net. At least Veronica, who was also a member of this super-popular group, seemed to care about getting good grades. But Christina wasn’t about to complain. This past school year her friendships with her old best friends, Grace Davis and Mel Levy, were totally strained. Grace and Mel just seemed a little immature. Christina was trying to help them grow up, but they didn’t seem to like that. So Christina was happy to have these new friends and to be accepted as part of their group. “Yeah, Grace is totally all about the swim team,” added Christina. “It’s like it sucks you in.”
“I’m going to dangle my legs in the water,” said Ashley, swinging around and standing up.
“You’re not going in?” asked Christina.
“No, I’m having too good a hair day to get it wet,” said Ashley, tossing her glossy ponytail this way and that.
“I’ll come too,” said Lindsay, standing up and joining Ashley.
Behind her dark glasses, Christina sized up their bathing suits. Lindsay’s two-piece was a really cool coral color, and Ashley’s suit was lavender with pale yellow polka dots. She darted a glance down at her own suit. Were bright colors out of fashion now? Was this so last summer?
“Coming?” asked Ashley.
“Nah, go ahead. I’m just going to lie here and think about how to get Mike Morris to notice me,” said Christina, fanning herself with Lindsay’s copy of Teen Vogue
and looking across the pool at Mike over the top of her sunglasses.
“Okay, save us a seat if you go for food,” said Lindsay, and the two headed off to the water.
A group of girls from the swim team walked up to the snack table. Christina saw her old friend Grace nudge Mike Morris and say something. They both laughed. Christina gaped. How long had Grace and Mike been so chummy? And since when was Grace that comfortable around boys? She’d always been so painfully shy. Grace had barely spoken to her all summer. Was she mad that Christina had joined the club too? Christina sighed. She and Grace had known each other since preschool. It was sad how people could change so much. Christina had tried so hard, both subtly and not so subtly, to help Grace grow up a bit, to add sophistication to her look. She had offered several times to take Grace under her fashion wing and consult with her about clothing and makeup, but Grace had been so sensitive about it. Christina eyed Grace’s wet ponytail, casual T-shirt, and baggy shorts and sighed. Hopeless. Grace might be enjoying her new popularity at RSC, but she still had no fashion sense.
“Hey! You hungry?” Christina heard a cheerful voice behind her.
Christina turned, saw who it was, and smiled. It was Jen Cho, her new-but-not-new friend. They had lived on the same block most of their lives, but they lost touch when Jen went off to Shipton Academy for middle school. But once they discovered they both belonged to RSC, their friendship blossomed again. And being friends with Jen definitely made Christina look good, especially around all those cliquey swim-team girls.
“I’m starved!” said Christina, grabbing her shorts. She pulled them on and stood up. The heat made her feel a little dizzy, and the air rippled above the hot pool deck.
“You shouldn’t lie out in the sun like that,” said Jen, shaking her head. “Not good for you.”
“Yeah, I know,” Christina said with a shrug. “But it’s too hot to do anything else, even swim!”
Jen laughed. “Well, now both the boys’ and girls’ swim teams are here, so you’d better get some food before they eat it all! Swimming makes us famished!”
“Hey, girls, can you give me a hand here?” called Coach Dana. She was standing next to three long metal tables that were folded up and propped against the snack bar. “Marty thinks we’ll need a few more tables set up. Here, Jen, help me carry this one over.”
While Jen and Coach Dana carried off one of the tables, Christina looked around for another person to help her. And there was Mike, not five feet away.
“Hey, a little help?” she called to him.
He turned and trotted over. The two of them lifted the table. Christina admired Mike’s arm muscles as he hoisted the other end of the table. He carried it so easily, as though it weighed nothing. “Thanks,” said Christina as Mike set it up next to the one Dana and Jen had carried. She searched for something else to say. “So, hot enough for you? My mom told me that the weatherman says he has no idea when this heat wave will break.”
“I don’t mind the heat,” said Mike. “Good excuse to go swimming again!” He gave her a melt-your-heart sideways grin and loped away.
Christina sighed. Why, oh why, did he not seem the least bit interested in her? Did he have a girlfriend? Impossible. She’d have heard through the grapevine if he did. She crossed her arms and let out another sigh.
“Not worth it,” someone whispered in her ear.
She whirled around to see Jen again, grinning this time. “What’s not worth it?”
“Aw, come on. Any dope can see you’re into him. Trust me: he’s an okay guy and all, but the only thing Mike Morris cares about is swimming. And that’s saying something, coming from me.” Jen turned and followed after Coach Dana, who was waiting for help with the next table. There’s got to be some way to get his attention,
Christina thought. Her gaze came to rest on Coach Dana, then traveled across the patio area to where the boys’ coach, Paul, was standing, grilling hot dogs, and cracking jokes with everyone who passed by. “Hmm,” Christina said quietly to herself. “I wonder if he
has a girlfriend.” He was definitely cute, and just the right age for Coach Dana. Christina guessed that he was in college. He looked to be about the same age as Cameron, Grace’s brother. Spiky brown hair; medium height; nice, muscular arms. The guys on the swim team all seemed to like him a lot. He struck Christina as a little intense about coaching, but then, so was Dana. Yes, Coach Dana could certainly do worse.
She turned toward Dana, drumming her fingers thoughtfully on her cheek. Definitely attractive, and maybe Paul’s age or a year or two younger. It would be nice if she paid a little more attention to her hair,
Christina thought, but that was a small detail that could be worked out.
This could be a project. A project for her and Mike!
Christina made her way over to Mike, who was talking to Coach Paul about split times, whatever those were, as Paul piled blackened hot dogs onto a plate. She sidled up to Mike and tapped him gently on the arm. “Pssst,” she said. “I just had an idea. Got a second?”
Looking slightly baffled, Mike followed her over to one of the still-empty tables. “What’s up?” he asked as they sat down.
“I was thinking,” she said slowly, taking a second or two for a dramatic pause, so his curiosity might grow. “I was thinking that Coach Paul and Coach Dana might make a good couple. What do you think?”
“Couple? Like, you think they’re into each other?”
“Well, no, not yet,” said Christina quickly. “That would be our job. To get them together. They both seem so obsessed with coaching and stuff, neither one seems to have noticed that they’d be perfect for each other!”
Mike scratched his head, still looking puzzled. “Why do you think they need to get together?”
Christina sighed. “Does he strike you as rather intense about swimming?”
Mike nodded. “Of course. Is that a bad thing?”
Christina nodded. “It’s because he has no life outside of coaching. And neither does she. You can’t live on swimming alone.”
“No. You can’t. Once they realize they need each other, their lives will be complete. Don’t you see? And anyway, it would be fun, like a summer project. For us. To do. . . .” She trailed off and then resolved to try again. “Do you know if Paul has a girlfriend?”
Mike shrugged. “Not sure. I think
so, but we don’t really talk about that stuff.”
Boys could be so exasperating. How could he not know? Mike and Coach Paul spent hours together every day! “Well, find out, will you? Because if he doesn’t, we can think of a way to get them together.”
“Okay, sure,” said Mike. “Good luck with that. Right now I smell cheeseburgers, and they’re calling my name.” He winked, gave her another half smile, and headed toward the grill area.
Christina watched him go. That was the longest conversation they’d ever had. Even if he didn’t seem to get it, she was not going to give up on this scheme. She knew nothing about swimming, but she had excellent people skills. This matchmaking plan was almost too easy—the coaches were perfect
for each other. And it would give her more reasons to talk to Mike. Once she got things up and running between the two coaches, Mike would see how cool it was to be in a relationship. It might turn his own thoughts to love . . . and she’d be there waiting for him when it finally dawned on him that she, Christina, was perfect for him.