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Night Swimming

Night Swimming

Chapter One

Here's the big secret of my life: I, Wynn Michaela O'Malley, despise summer.

Not that I despise summer itself—I'd have to be a bitch and a half to hate summer. I love that everyone is in a good mood, that school's out, and that there are flowers in pots on the sidewalks all over town. I even love the dorky, lederhosen-wearing polka band that plays Sunday evenings in the town gazebo. It's that I hate what happens to me in the summer.

Through no fault of my own, I appear ugly and anti-social.

Note, I said appear. I'm not actually ugly or anti-social. I don't need to go talk to a therapist or school counselor about my low self-esteem or anything. I wish that were the problem, but no, I'm quite happy with who I am. I have solid reasons for thinking summer blows.

First, and the reason that trumps all the others, is that I'm pale. Not any ordinary pale, either. Yeah, I have the platinum blond hair and blue eyes people conjure up in their heads when they hear the word pale. However, when I say I'm pale, I mean I'm pale as in, way, way white. Kindergarten paste, Rembrandt smile, and darned close to glow-in-the-dark white.

The other girls I know—every one of them—look much better than I do in a swimsuit, because even if they are on the lighter end of the skin tone spectrum, and even if we have the exact same body type, by mid-June they all have that summer golden glow guys love. The kind of glow that gives the illusion that they're thinner than they really are and that their skin is butter-soft. That they're natural athletes with muscle tone and not a care in the world.

Naturally, I feel like a butt-ugly, unathletic, and uninteresting person in comparison. Like I'm ill and just got released from a long stint in a windowless hospital. Now, I don't feel that way at all when I'm hanging out with friends indoors. For instance, when we're sitting in the school library for an extracurricular meeting or when we drive to Alexandria to catch a movie at the Midway Mall. It's an out-at-the-lake, in-the-bright-sunshine thing.

Second, my friends don't seem to grasp why I might not want to spend every freakin' second outdoors during the summer. They argue that I must have some other reason for not wanting to be outside with them, like I'm keeping a deep dark secret. Joking back with, "I'm sorry, but I simply lack the required amount of melanin" doesn't resonate with them. They're certain it's that I don't like them anymore or something.

Third, the only decent summer jobs around where we live in central Minnesota are outdoors (landscaping, lifeguarding, that kind of thing) and since I can't convince the owner of the local paper to hire me, I'm stuck every summer making minimum wage at the Dairy Darling, with the evil owner Raymond telling me not to make the scoops so big. (Yeah, who goes into the ice cream business if they're a total scrooge? Ice cream is all about happy. Especially if it's mint chocolate chip. I give extra-big scoops of that, particularly to little kids. Well, I give little kids extra big scoops of all the flavors.) Needless to say, having to spend forty hours a week with Mean Raymond shooting me the evil eye puts me in a less-than-stellar mood.

Therefore, because people's perception of my attractiveness and my friendliness drops as the thermometer rises, I've developed an aversion to summer. But this year, instead of spending my summer doling out too-small scoops or trying to enjoy the fresh air and sunshine from the protective circle of an oversized striped umbrella (or, as I often do between the hours of ten a.m. and three p.m., from indoors) I have a plan. A plan to avoid the downsides of summer, while simultaneously giving my friends the impression that I am my normal, friendly, not-unattractive self.

I am taking a cue from Ainsley Duane.

Ainsley Duane is the new It Girl of independent film because she has this ephemeral, ghostlike coloring that works well for offbeat movies. She's also been spotted enjoying intimate dinners with a minor member of the British royal family, which means she's hit the radar of the celebrity gossip hounds.

Despite her up-and-coming status, the tabloids haven't run a single photo of Ainsley lying out on the beach in a bikini. It's certainly not because she's ugly. It's because she knows that basking in the summer sun in all her colorless glory will make her look really, really bad in photographs and possibly harm her career, much in the way the summer sun harms my social life. So she doesn't set herself up for that.

Because she's an Aussie, she has the option of traveling between beautiful houses in the States and in Australia. Both are sunny places, but they have summer at opposite times of the year. She can go to Australia in the winter, where she's not going to fry every time she goes outside, then come back to the States when it's summer in Oz...and do winter again!

It's brilliant, really.

I don't have a fantastic house in Australia. The house my family has in Minnesota isn't even all that great. It's a split-level built in the mid-'60s and has a roof in desperate need of replacement. But I think Ainsley has the right idea.

You have to run away from summer.

© Niki Burnham