The smell of chlorine was heavy and acrid in the air. It clung to the moist humidity of the indoor swimming pool but Noah didn’t pay it any attention. He was used to it, used to the way the sounds of people and the coach’s whistle bounced around the high ceilings. Not because he was a swimmer, he wasn’t even sure he could dog paddle, but because he may as well have been the swim team’s mascot. He was there for every after school practice, sitting alone at the back of the bleachers working on homework.
He knew the whistle as well as any member of the team and he didn’t actually have to listen to Coach Price’s booming voice to know that practice was over. It was the same every day, their small little school had a good swim team because of Coach Price and their dedication to practice even off season. It didn’t matter how many practices he sat through, he always stopped what he was doing to watch the team slip out of the water and walk around in their tight little Speedos.
Noah’s head snapped from the pool to the foot of the stands and the slender girl in her own tight swimsuit.
“Out in five, will shower quick, promise!”
He nodded and pushed too long black hair back from his eyes. Georgia had been his friend since the first grade and was currently about the only friend he had. He watched as she hurried toward the girl’s locker room, laughing with a cluster of other girls. He may have failed miserably at the entire popularity thing but she was doing just fine.
The books easily snapped shut on his half heartedly finished homework and he shoved everything into his battered backpack. It was the same one he’d had for years and the strap was working on tearing through. It wasn’t that his mother didn’t give him money every summer to buy new supplies, he just rather pocket the cash than buy a stupid backpack for his last year in school. He stole one more look at the men’s team before he dropped his eyes and hurried to the first row of metal seats.
“You’re a good young man, Noah.”
“Huh?” It was an intelligent answer but he glanced up to where Coach Price hovered near by.
“Driving Georgia everyday, not many friends would do that.”
He shrugged. “She lives near me…isn’t a bother. Let’s me get my homework done.”
“Well, still good of you. Did you hear from your college yet?”
“No, sir.” He had. He’d been declined by his first, second and was now waiting for a rejection from them too. Georgia had gotten an athletics scholarship and was already going on about going off to school. “I was thinking about taking a year off.”
“Don’t, you won’t want to go back.” The middle aged man smiled good naturedly. “You’re too bright not to go to college.”
“Thank you, sir.” It was a nice sentiment but his best bet was a local community college if that. His grades weren’t horrible but they weren’t stellar either. That was strike one against him but stacked against a slew of other kids with mid level grades who had community activities, a history of volunteering, a list of clubs and school activities compared to his nothing, the odds weren’t good for him. Noah wasn’t a joiner.
Georgia saved him from further painful conversation by rushing from the locker room in cotton yoga pants and a sweatshirt. Her dark hair was loose now from the swim cap and it fell in corkscrew curls around her face. Not for the first time Noah was struck by her beauty. Her family was an odd mix of Russian, Irish, African and Mexican and it gave her mocha skin, curly dark hair and vivid green eyes. She was stunning and if he had the slightest interest in women he’d have been all over her.
“I’m ready.” She smiled with a gym bag and a back pack over her shoulder. “See you next Monday, Coach.”
“You know it, Georgia.” He smiled as he moved on to help shoo other teenagers from the pool. It was Friday night and the kids weren’t the only ones eager to get home. The parking lot was mostly empty but for the students and teachers that had lingered for various reasons, practices, detention, meetings and the like but even they were slowly fading away.
Noah’s Chevy Cavalier was at the back of the lot and now sat alone. It wasn’t new, not by any means, but it as paid for and his. Even if the gray paint was dulled from age and wear, it was a good car and he was glad to have it. His dad didn’t believe in letting a new driver have a new car but he’d bought the older car the day Noah had gotten his license.
“Good practice?” He asked as Georgia tossed her bag in the back.
“Yeah, not bad. You’d know if you paid attention to any of the girls.”
“Hot guys in Speedos, why would I look at you?” He grinned.
“Hey Noah, I…”
“What?” She’d never had a problem telling him things, ever, and having her stuttering about something now unnerved him.
“Riley Arickaree?” She slipped her seat belt on.
“Yes, he was looking very nice today.”
“Yeah, well, you know he doesn’t really date?”
“Yeah?” Riley Arickaree had been the one boy they’d both had a crush on since they’d been old enough to understand. He had only grown more handsome as he’d gotten older but he was totally focused on excelling on the swim team and going to college. Georgia had actually joined the swim team in an effort to get closer to him. Riley had been friendly, but as distant with her as everyone else. That didn’t stop them from nursing their own quiet crushes.
“He kind of sort of asked me to prom.”
“I didn’t answer him, I told him I need to think about it over the weekend.”
“That’s not funny.”
“I wasn’t joking. I’ll tell him no.”
He shrugged and tried to pretend he didn’t care.
“He said he only asked me because his mom is saying he should go and he wanted to ask someone that understood about practices and not drinking and partying and stuff and figured I’d be a good choice. It wasn’t romantic and personal. I’ll tell him no and we’ll go together like we’d planned.”
“Don’t. Look, I get it. He’s straight, I’m cool with that. I’m not thirteen anymore thinking that maybe he’s just in denial. I get it, it’s fine, I don’t mind. If I can’t have him it may as well be you. You two would be pretty together.”
“You are, you always grip the steering wheel too hard when you’re pissed.”
“I’m…disappointed but I’ll get over it.”
“Who will you go with?”
“I wasn’t that excited about going.”
She frowned. “I’ll tell him no.”
“Georgia, seriously, tell him yes. He’s hot, we’ve only been drooling over him for years. We always agreed, if he was straight you could have him and if he wasn’t I would. It’s fine.”
“You mean that?”
“Yeah.” He glanced over and saw her eyes light up. “Yeah, I do. It’ll break my heart but you’ll have to grope him for me.”
“You’re the best friend ever, Noah.”
“Whatever, just shut up about it. I don’t want to think about you, my Riley and prom dresses hitting the floor.”
“That means you won’t go shopping with me?”
He sighed. “Of course I will.” Noah brushed his hair behind an ear.
Georgia turned the radio on. “I was really worried you’d be upset. I mean, I think he’s uber hot, but you’ve been like madly in love with him since you were fourteen. I felt a little like I was cheating with him.”
“Wait,” he called out as radio stations scanned by. “Go back, my mom’s all spazzed about that new flu bug out west.”
It took a little scanning back but she quickly found the station. A woman’s voice droned across the airwaves. “Again, we have installed a mandatory quarantine of Gila, Pinal and Graham counties but there is no current threat beyond those counties. This is simply a precaution. There’s no need for panic or worry, just caution. There is no threat to larger metropolitan areas like Phoenix. I have nothing to report on infection rates or even if anyone has died from this virus. This is nothing to become concerned with but it is easily transmitted so we’re taking what appears to be extreme actions just to err on the side of caution. A few days of inconvenience is better than making half the state come down with the sniffles.”
Noah reached out and turned it off. “Mom is just freaking out. I told her it’ll be like SARS or the bird flu where everyone is all panicky and it turns out to be nothing.”
“This will set her off. She’ll make you spray the house down with Lysol for sure this time.”
“That isn’t funny, that was your fault for bringing the chicken pox over.”
“I was six and how was I to know?”
“Still, she’s freaking, you know?”
Georgia shrugged. “She’s always been germophobic and shit, it is odd that they’d quarantine three counties.”
“Well it can’t be that serious if no one is reported dead from it. I mean they’ve been babbling about it for like a week and no one’s dead? How bad can it be? I think you should wear white, it would be so pretty on you.”
“White? For prom? Are you insane? I’m a klutz, I’ll ruin it.”
“If you’re lucky you won’t have to wear it for long.”
Noah had showered and shaved but that was about it for his ambition for his Saturday. He’d brushed out his hair and frowned at the black that was fading away and letting his lighter natural color start to peek out. The black was supposed to be permanent but it always seemed to fade away. Not that it mattered, no one had cared and he was considering dying sections pink next time he could wrangle Georgia into helping. That would at least get his father to frown, boys weren’t supposed to wear pink.
His phone rang but it was on the side of the sofa so it had nearly gone to voicemail before he stretched over and snagged it. When the phone said it was his mom calling. He almost just ignored the call. He flipped the phone open and sagged back into the sofa.
“Noah, are you home?”
“Yeah.” He scratched his leg and wondered if he should put on real clothes instead of his lay about the house style.
“Good, listen to me, sweetie, you know where I keep the extra checks?”
“Good, I need you to go and get it and sign my name to one of them.”
“Hush, don’t play innocent. I’ve known you’ve been signing my name to papers the school’s sent home for years. Just do it. The water delivery guy is on his way, pay him.”
“What’s going on?” They had a dispenser in the kitchen but the delivery guy wasn’t set to come by again for another couple of weeks.
“Just pay him, Noah, okay? And then take the bottles to the basement where they’ll be out of the way.”
That was code for move them someplace where your father wouldn’t find them and he sighed. “Okay. How many did you order?”
“Fifteen? Jesus, Mom!”
“Just do this Noah!”
“It’ll take us months to go through that much.”
“Maybe, just pay the man.”
He shook his head. “Okay.”
“I’ve one more thing you need to do for me, okay?”
“In the same drawer is the back up ATM card. You know the pin?”
“Of course not.” He lied.
“Yeah, I do.”
“Good, after the water guy is gone, go out and go to the ATM, take out three hundred in cash.”
“Noah!” Her voice grew shrill. “Just do this!”
That made him frown. “Okay.” His mother was often upset but he’d never heard the edge of fear in her voice.
“Then I want you to swing by the warehouse club and get some things.”
“What do you need?”
“I…Noah you’re an adult now or almost. They’re going to shut Arizona down, they’re doing it now.”
“Yeah, I heard, those counties.”
“No, Noah, no, the entire state. We got the heads up here at the hospital about a half hour ago. This bug is spreading fast and they’re going to announce the symptoms so we’re going to get slammed here with people that are panicked. I’m not going to get home until late. I need you to go to the store and get supplies. Just in case.”
“In case of what?”
“Just, in case.”
That wasn’t comforting. “Okay, but like what?”
“Toilet paper and paper towels and….and things that won’t spoil. Canned goods, bags of rice and beans, things like that. Canned fruit, crackers, canned meat.”
“Noah I’m serious here. Can you do this?”
“Does Dad know?”
“Your father doesn’t worry like I do. Can you do this?”
“Sure, how much should I spend?”
“I don’t care, I’m trusting you to shop wisely, Noah. If things get worse it might be weeks before they get better.”
That was a guilt trip. “Yeah.”
“Look for those flashlights you shake and that don’t need batteries and…and…first aid supplies and…”
“I get it, Mom. Prepare for zombie attack.”
“Good boy. Batteries get some batteries too.”
“Yeah, wouldn’t want the remote control not to work.”
“Noah, I’m not joking here!”
The fear in her voice sent a chill down his spine but he reminded himself how excitable his mother could be. “I get it, just, if Dad’s pissed I don’t want to be the one he yells at.”
“You let me deal with your father. I’ll call you on my next break and Noah?”
“Don’t tell anyone okay? Just get what we need and get home.”
“I love you sweetie.”
“Love you too Mom.” He hung up as the line went dead and flopped down on the sofa. He was going to have to get dressed now but there was no point in him going to the store alone. The number was programmed into his phone and he pushed the button without looking.
“Wow, I’m shocked you’re awake before noon.” Georgia teased.
“Barely. Look Mom’s freaking out and stocking up. I have to go to the store. Do you want to come with?”
“Yeah, you know how she is. We’re still eating Spam from her Y2K stock up.”
“Your dad is going to flip.”
He shrugged. “Not my problem, so you want to go?”
“I’ll call after the water guy leaves.”
“Water guy? God don’t tell me she ordered extra?”
“Fifteen five-gallon bottles that I have to haul to the basement. You know if I was a girl she wouldn’t ask me to.”
“If you were a girl? You mean you’re not?”
“Oh, blow me.”
Georgia laughed happily. “Careful or I’ll tell Riley you’re all heartbroken over him.”
“I’ll call before I come over.”
Noah lounged around for almost an hour waiting for the water delivery guy but the man finally arrived. He had already filled out the check with his mother’s fake signature so all he had to do was hold the door open and let the man haul in the heavy bottles and fill out the check. It took him longer to haul the bottles down into the basement than it did for the man to deliver them. By the time he had them tucked away in a seldom used corner, Noah was in no mood to go to the store.