“Did you water the tomatoes?”
In the air-conditioned car, Freddie felt suddenly hot. His dad had told him to water them before they went to the pool.
“You didn’t, did you?”
There was nothing for Freddie to say.
“You’re almost eight. You have to learn to handle responsibility.”
Freddie drooped. The fun went out of the day.
“We can go back. I don’t have to swim today.”
Dad stared ahead and kept driving. “I wish just once you’d surprise me and take your chores seriously. I always have to nag you.”
Freddie felt a little sick. “Really, Dad. Let’s go back. I’m sorry I forgot.”
Dad took a deep breath. “It’s okay. It’s no big deal. You can do it after you swim.”
It was a hot, bright day. All afternoon the pool was crowded, loud, and exciting. Now Freddie was tired and it was time to go home. Dad was getting some sodas for the ride back. Freddie waited in a plastic chair next to a young couple.
“What’s he doing?” said the man.
“Going off the high board,” said the woman. “Can he do that?”
This got Freddie’s attention. He hoped to qualify for the high board someday. So far he wasn’t even cleared for the deep end.
“I don’t know, but it looks like he’s doing it,” the man said, squinting at the small, thin boy walking on the high board. “Maybe he tested with the lifeguard yesterday when he went with the Bensons.”
Freddie got up and walked to the edge of the pool. He watched the boy walk out on the board and stop, looking down at the water.
“What’s he doing?” the man behind Freddie said again. The deep end lifeguard’s whistle peeped once. She was looking up at the boy on the high board.
Then there were shouts from the water near the lifeguard’s feet. Two older teenagers were dunking each other. The lifeguard turned toward them and called, “You two! Out of the pool!” The boys kept fighting and she kept yelling. Freddie looked up at the high board in time to see the boy take one big step, bounce, and fall straight down off the side of the board. His right leg caught the concrete edge just before he hit the water.
There was a groan from all around. “Oh my God!” cried the woman. A chair scraped and the man shouted, “Tad!”
The lifeguard was still shouting at the other boys. Freddie bounced on his toes. “Help him! Help!”
Shouting “Hold these!” the man ran by, shoving a pair of glasses into Freddie’s chest and launching himself in a long, low dive. He still had his shoes on.
Freddie held the big grown-up glasses as tightly as he could without bending them. He bounced at the pool’s edge and followed the man’s brisk strokes across the deep end to where the boy was a wavering pink and blue object deep in the water.
The lifeguard had followed the crowd’s gaze. She dived in just as the man gasped a lungful of air, humped like a dolphin and plunged. He came up with the boy in water that was turning faintly pink and he climbed up the ladder one-handed, clutching the coughing boy to his side. He ran smoothly toward the parking lot gate, his clinging clothes streaming a trail of water. Freddie sprinted for the gate, too.
“Come on, Dad!”
Freddie didn’t stop. He raced after the man who was carrying his boy. The woman must have thought fast when her husband dived in, because she already had the car unlocked and the back door open on the driver’s side. The man laid his son gently on the back seat as the woman jumped in the front and slid across to the passenger side.
“No. You drive,” said the man as he circled the car. “Slide over. I left my glasses somewhere.”
Freddie was still thirty feet away as the tires chirped and the car swung toward the lot’s exit.
“Dad!” Freddie ran back to his father, who was carrying two large cups of pop. Still clutching the man’s glasses in one hand, with the other he grabbed his dad’s wrist as pop and ice splashed on the asphalt. “Come on!” he shouted, dragging his dad toward their car. “A kid got hurt! We have to go to the hospital!”
“Freddie, they’re taking care of him,” his dad said, just keeping pace and trying not to spill the drinks. “You can’t do anything.”
“I know,” Freddie said hoarsely. He shook his fist, holding the glasses, in his father’s face. “I have to take him these.”
“Where did you get those?”
“He gave them to me before he jumped in.”
It took his dad a second to understand. “Oh.” He looked back at the pool entrance. “Maybe there’s a lost and—”
“Dad!” Freddie shouted and shook the fist with the glasses again. “I have a responsibility!”
His dad’s eyes flickered angrily, then calmed. “Of course. Let’s go.” They trotted to the car and headed for the hospital.
His dad sipped his drink as he drove, glancing sometimes at Freddie, whose drink sat sweating in the cup holder. “Don’t squeeze those glasses too tight. You’ve got them pretty safe now.”
Freddie relaxed his grip a little and breathed deeply, glaring at the streets and signs ahead. “There’s the H,” he said. “Hospital.”
“Good eye,” said his dad. “Thanks.” He turned at the arrow.
Freddie scoured the approaching facade for the emergency entrance, his hand poised to open the door. “I’ll run these in,” he said. “Then we’ll go home and I’ll water those damn tomatoes.”