dear woman 2,
it was the way your bathing suit was too big on your bum. it was the way the pink spandex of it sagged that made me think, more than anything else that day: uh oh.
“are you here with your daddy?” best friend and i asked you, almost at the same time. we didn’t need to talk about it. it was in how you ran into the sauna with us. it was in how he followed you and rolled his eyes and said you were “6 going on 16” and you corrected him. it was in how you corrected him, mostly. “no i’m not,” you said. i’m 5.”
“right,” he said and chuckled, following you again after you ran back out of the sauna. “kids.” he rolled his eyes and looked at best friend. she had a body like a movie star. like natalie portman or sandra bullock in the net. i was wearing a one piece i got from walmart. it was from the plus-sized section and had a wraparound skirt. i didn’t know it at 14, but it was a kind of super power.
best friend and i went back into the hot tub part of the pool, which felt cold after the sauna. the whirlpool part. “that was—” was all i managed to get out before you swam up to us. waded, really. the water was low. just your height. your hair was brown and stringy and your fingers were pruned and your nails were painted sparkly blue. “wanna play with me?” you asked and threw a ball at us.
“sure” we said together, dodging the blow.
we threw the ball back and forth.
“are you having fun?” best friend asked after a few seconds.
“yeah!” you screamed, giggling, jumping up and down in the water. your bathing suit should have fit you properly. instead it flooded around your collarbones when you dunked and exposed your chest when you catapulted. "up up and away!" you shouted. your skin was pale and you had blue veins running in all directions. you splashed best friend, and i followed the water and saw him from the corner of my eye. he was in the sauna again, this time watching us from the little window.
i pinched best friend’s thigh, and she didn’t have to follow my gaze.
“i know” she said to me, and then to you: “are you here with your daddy?”
“nooooo,” you said, as if you wanted us to keep guessing. you were drooling, which was barely noticeable if not for a particular shine on your chin. spit mixed with chlorine.
best friend looked at me.
“your uncle?” i ventured.
“noooooo,” you said again, dunking underwater. i looked back over my shoulder. he wasn’t in the window anymore.
you burst back out.
“hey!” best friend said to you – too loudly – when you resurfaced.
what if he was behind us? i thought. what if he heard? “shhh” i said to best friend.
“hey,” she said again, quieter. “then who’s that guy you’re with?”
you laughed and laughed and spat water in my face. “i don’t know!” you giggled.
he opened the sauna door.
“you don’t know?” i said.
“what do you mean you don’t know?” best friend asked.
“i just met him!” you said. and then: “ahhh! monster!!!!”
you screamed, looking over best friend’s head at the man. you laughed again, pointing. “he said his name was peter cottontail!” you dunked back under the water just as he reached us.
“come on, hon!” he called after you. “come on! time to go!” he looked at us again. at best friend. “thanks for watching her.”
we didn’t say a word, both of us frozen in the hot tub.
“kids, right?” he said again.
he walked over to the other side of the pool. we looked all around for you.
“where’d she go?” best friend said, not to me. “where’d she go?”
we didn’t see you burst back up. he disappeared too, into the crowd. we didn’t see you follow him. we didn’t see you follow us. we didn’t see you again.
“call if you want,” the adults said later. “call if you want, girls, but did she look distressed? can you describe the man? you have to be careful what you get yourself into. you have to be really sure. you know how kids are. you know how they like to play. what if it was just her dad and you ruin his life?”
i hope he was, and i hope we didn’t. ruin your life. i hope you got out from underwater, and i hope you grew into your bathing suit. then i hope you grew up up and out of it. i'm sorry.