Nicolette was sitting by the pool, watching her friends mess around in the water. She didn’t dare venture any further than just dipping her toes in. As a child, she never learned how to swim and as cautious as she was, she made it clear she wasn’t taking any chances. “C’mon!” One of her friends chided. “It’s not that deep.” She shook her head, taking a small sip from her drink to hide her embarassement. Her friend just shrugged and just turned back to the rest of her friends and continued chatting.
Nicolette started to wonder why she was even here. When she heard about this pool party, she already knew that she had to sit out and just watch the rest of her friends have fun. The party was almost over anyway and it wasn't like she could take it back. The sun was right above the horizon, mere minutes away from going down. One by one, her friends slowly got out of the pool, wrapped towels around themselves, and went into the house.
Nicolette sighed and stood up and went to get her own towel. The sun was nearly over the horizon now, casting the pool water in an eerie, golden glow. The slivers of sunlight, the color of apricot and peaches, sliced through the beige tiles and the baby steps leading into the shallow end. What a waste of time. Dumping the rest of her drink down the outdoor sink, she took her towel and dried her legs as much as possible.
Nicolette walked around the end of the pool, grimacing when her feet hit small puddles of icy water. The rough texture of the concrete scraped her skin as she inched near the fence, contouring the lifted tile around the water. Nicolette saw her friends sitting around the dining table, chatting and sharing more drinks, completely forgetting her.
She was so caught up on watching her friends that she didn’t see the small puddle at the edge of the pool. Sliding a few inches forward, she yelped as she tried to stabilize herself by lurching the other way, quickly losing balance. Her breath hitched and before she could register what was exactly happening, she fell into the water.
She squeezed her eyes shut as the chlorine threatened to sting her eyes. A deep, uncomfortable feeling quickly settled into her chest. A breath just like that, taken away. Cold water wrapped her body like icy fingers, tearing her apart. Red, hot panic shot through her head as she finally recovered from the shock and frantically kicked up, desperate to get to the surface. Her lungs started to burn as she clawed at the water, but it wasn’t so forgiving. She wasn't prepared for the cold, for the pool to choke her. It dragged her down, the towel tangled in between her legs, hindering any good kicks she could to get back to the surface. Her lungs demanded for air, her brain screaming at her to try to swim.
Nicolette tried to yell. Her friends were only a couple of paces away! But the pool was like an unmovable wall, shielding her from anything else but undiluted fear. As soon as she opened her mouth, water gushed in, strangling her, suffocating her. Nothing was helping. Her lungs seemed like they were going to explode. Her movements were getting slower, sluggish. But her mind was running a thousand miles a minute, thinking No. This isn’t how I’m going to die.
She could feel herself giving up. Her joints started feeling stiff, her fingers numb and rigid. Her legs were frozen, unmoving. The need for air didn’t seem that dire anymore. The surface didn’t seem like her last lifeline as she sunk down, her heart stuttering, barely keeping up.
The last heartbeat. The top valve opened as blood came rushing in, desperate to distribute oxygen that Nicolette didn’t have. A thump, as the valve closed again. Mere seconds passed, but Nicolette, to her heart, it was hours. Days. Weeks. She forget everything and nothing as she looked at the dusk sky, and the blanket of water in between.
Suddenly, the water and fear disappeared for a moment as something else replaced it. You would think that in her last moments, she would think of her boyfriend, or maybe her parents. Perhaps of her dog, or her home, of her first kiss, of her last hug. But something so out of the blue, something she thought she had forgotten.
It was a few years back, when she was younger, more innocent, happier too, as if she didn't know all the terrible things in the world. It was one of the school retreats, where they brought the entire class to a remote place to go camping. She was laying in the damp grass next to a boy-a boy she barely ever talked to-as they watched the stars.
The small glittering dots spread over the sky winked down at them. “Nicolette, right?” the boy asked, not even turning towards her. He was just as mesmerized and entranced by the night sky as she was.
“Yeah,” she replied simply. He nodded to himself. “Do you know any constellations?” he asked randomly. She shrugged in response. “The classics. Big Dipper, Small Dipper and some of the greek mythology ones, like Orion or Cassiopeia.”
Her memory dissipated slightly as the pool came back into view. Nicolette’s heart halted once again, before another valve opened. More blood gushed in, but it did no good. Milliseconds passed, before her vision flooded the stars again. With that boy.
He made a non-committal sound. “I don’t think I’ve ever heard of Orion before.” She raised her eyebrows. “Really? It’s that one. The two two weirdly trapezoid boxes.” She pointed to some stars right above their heads. “Then these three stars that are aligned here? That’s Orion’s belt.” The boy nodded again. “What’s the greek myth behind him? Do you know?”
“He was friends with Artemis, the goddess of hunting. One day, he met this giant scorpion, and fought him. He died." She shrugged. The word felt strange on her tongue. "Artemis put him in the sky, alongside the scorpion.” Nicolette pointed at another constellation. “It’s that one.”
“He died?” The boy repeated. She looked at him, meeting his gaze for the first time. “Yes.” The boy turned back to the sky. “Isn’t that scary?” he simply asked. Nicolette frowned. “What is?”
“Death.” He replied, seemingly totally at ease talking about it.
The memory shattered for a moment, like breaking glass, throwing Nicolette back into the pool. Her heart weakened. Her limbs seemed frozen. She closed her eyes, and counted the seconds before it was over.
The memory came back like a flood suddenly, in Nicolette’s last moments. Her younger self, asking this mystery boy about death. “What about it? What makes it so scary?” He lifted one thin shoulder, shrugging.
Nicolette’s heart stopped.