As the cold night settled in, the girls hurried with anticipation to their next destination. Speed-walking to the largest pool in all of the park, Katie and Umi both found themselves glancing over at Frankie to see just what expression lay on her face before this trial.
This face wasn’t the old Frankie’s. Rather, one of sheer grit and determination.
Frankie was a fighter- in the sense that she had all the frustration she needed to push her against the walls hindering her life. She may have lacked the dream her sister had, or even that girl’s basic appreciation of life- but she was used to going through hell, and had garnered the strength to go all out on something even when it didn’t make the slightest bit of sense.
The doorway felt too small for the massive orb of a building. After making their way through what felt like miles of cordoned-off line space, they stood at the entrance to the grand white construct- hardly wide enough to fit all three of them if they were to stand side-by-side.
“I’m sure he’s already there. Are you ready, Frankie?” Umi asked so that Frankie would have the opportunity to answer.
“Yeah.” She darkly uttered, and the girls entered.
It was nothing like the pale interior of the Seagull. Bright and luxuriant, the golden-glass ceiling was sprayed with colorful lights that also reflected off the pearl walls. The water was sapphire, and the pool’s length was notably greater than that of an Olympic-size one, to account for the amount of guests that would normally be here.
But instead, there was only one tiny shadow on the limitless indoor horizon.
“There’s your guy.” Umi spoke under her breath.
“So nice of you to show up.” His voice carried hollowly through the gigantic stadium, quite meagerly in volume as he slowly approached into view, rippling body already dripping with water from his own practice. “Any longer and I would’ve dropped our little wager.”
Umi nudged Frankie in a way that quite clearly said, “you better trash-talk him back, kid.”
“I’m gonna kick your ass, old man.”
Umi shook her head in a way that said “that’s not quite what I meant.”
“Well, if you’re so confident, let’s get started already.”
Frankie strutted up to where they would start- it was a huge pool, of course, but for intensity’s sake, both swimmers unspokenly chose to race right side-by-side each other.
Face-to-face- or, more accurately with the man’s height, face to chest- they squared off. Brice with a well-practiced shit-eating grin, Frankie with a defiant glare and eyes that had quite literally seen death firsthand.
“Okay, you two.” Umi mediated. “I’ll be your ref. On the starters, both of you.”
Climbing atop their posts, the swimmers both prepared to go their absolute hardest- even the Olympic athlete about to crush a depressed girl who only knew how to swim in theory.
“First one to touch the farthest side wins. Stay in your lane, nothing underhanded. Katie will know if you cheat.”
Katie sat to the side of the pool, glaring at the two with fearsome eyes and a pouty face.
“Alright. On one.”
Brice sat still in his position.
Frankie arched her back.
Frankie scurried to match his posture, eyes then hastily focusing on the end of the pool countless meters away.
Brice’s muscles tightened.
In an instant, the toes of the swimmer shot him off the post with such ferocity that when he finally plunged into the water after passing many feet of extended airtime, it made a splash so wide that all three other people present in the room were soaked, including Frankie, who hadn’t leapt yet.
“What are you waiting for? Go, go!”
Panicking, Frankie belly-flopped into the water, her opponent already well out of sight.
“Hurry, Frankie!” Katie cried out like her life depended on it.
Though she knew it was probably ineffective, Frankie flapped her arms without reason, pushing as much water behind her as she could as fast as humanly possible.
Kicking her feet like she was fighting off a wild animal, she grit her teeth and ducked her head under the water’s surface just so she could scream out as loud as she could as she pursued the man. She knew she was performing poorly, but it felt like all she could do to exert as much energy as possible.
Frankie had never wanted something so bad.
She’d never felt this way before. Why did she care so much? After all, in all this commotion, she could probably get away with trying to drown herself again. Hell knows how easy it was the first time. But for some reason, that didn’t exactly appeal to her at this moment. Even though this competition shouldn’t have mattered, and was a ton of stress to even think about, she was giving it her all- and the whole event had been granted a meaning her past self wouldn’t have been able to understand.
“You can do it, Frankie!”
It wasn’t like when she gathered the courage to hit a murderer in the face with an iron pole the other day. Sure, she’d wanted to protect Katie, but… when she made that choice, it was with the assumption she’d die for it.
It wasn’t a hollow, suicidal lack of fear anymore. This time, she was fighting out of true courage.
Aligning her body, she tried to remember what Umi taught her. Brice faded from her mind, as soon she was the only human left in this pool, other guests paid to leave or not.
Pumping her conviction into a more effective form, she propelled through the water as fast as she could. It didn’t feel like much, but it was fast enough. Roaring through the waves, she could soon see Brice again.
Like a shark, he was made to be in the water. Cutting through it like a hot knife, he made short work of the course. It would’ve been impossible for even the second-best swimmer in the world to catch up with him.
But Frankie decided to stop thinking about that.
She made her swim pattern as consistent as possible, crawling through the water at an escalating pace, timing her every movement to eek out every minuscule boost in speed like she was bunnyhopping in a video game.
She swam her best for what felt like forever, using as much of her strength as she could every moment of the journey- until all of a sudden, she was right next to him.
It felt a dream, but she didn’t let herself linger on it. As the man struggled to keep up, she was soon past him. As the crowd of two roared, Frankie abruptly felt another thing she’d never, ever felt before- she felt good about herself.
As she refused to stop her forward motion, Frankie only got faster and faster. She didn’t exactly like swimming- hell, anyone could tell the girl hated it. But in this moment, she was succeeding. And she couldn’t even imagine stopping.
More and more speed, more and more power built up in her strokes- until at last, she could see the finish line, the other end of the pool, coming straight for her- Brice far off in her wake, nowhere to be seen.
As the destination was only inches away from her, it felt like an inevitable wall careening towards her face. She reached out her hand to grab her prize, and then-
His feet sounded like a motorboat. She could hear his body creaking as he pushed his arms back in a heavy motion and exploded with speed, the man blitzing past her in a mad dash. In the single moment she saw his eyes, they were positively determined to beat her.
Brice’s hand smacked against the wall only a second before hers.