Almost flying

Jake Maia Arlow

Book - 2021

"Would-be amusement park aficionado Dalia only has two items on her summer bucket list: (1) finally ride a roller coaster and (2) figure out how to make a new best friend. But when her dad suddenly announces that he's engaged, Dalia's schemes come to a screeching halt. With Dalia's future stepsister Alexa heading back to college soon, the grown-ups want the girls to spend the last weeks of summer bonding--meaning Alexa has to cancel the amusement park road trip she's been planning for months. Luckily Dalia comes up with a new plan: If she joins Alexa on her trip and brings Rani, the new girl from her swim team, along maybe she can have the perfect summer after all. But what starts out as a week of funnel cakes and L...azy River rides goes off the rails when Dalia discovers that Alexa's girlfriend is joining the trip. And keeping Alexa's secret makes Dalia realize one of her own: She might have more-than-friend feelings for Rani" --

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Review by Booklist Review

In theory, 13-year-old Dalia loves roller coasters. She's watched hours of POV movies online, but she has yet to actually ride a coaster herself. Emotionally speaking, however, it's another story. Dalia is thrown for a few loops when her divorced dad reveals that not only is he dating again, but he has gotten engaged. And to make it worse, the woman he is engaged to has a daughter, Alexa. When Dalia finds out that Alexa (both girls are white) has planned an amusement park tour with her friend Dhruv (Indian American), Dalia asks if she and her friend Rani (Persian American) can tag along. Along the way, secrets are revealed, emotions run high, and although things never go truly off the rails, the kids end up closer to each other than they ever expected. In this debut novel, Arlow delves into the highs and lows of early adolescent relationships---platonic and romantic--through a delightfully queer-positive and engrossing road-trip story.

From Booklist, Copyright (c) American Library Association. Used with permission.
Review by Kirkus Book Review

A 13-year-old Long Island girl thinks she has her summer plans figured out--until her life turns upside down. With the end of summer looming, Dalia has one goal: to finally ride an actual roller coaster instead of living vicariously through point-of-view videos. Then she learns about Vanessa, her father's secret girlfriend. And that they are engaged and his fiancee has a college-aged daughter named Alexa. Anxious about this news that comes only a year after her mother left them, Dalia turns to her new swim-team friend, Rani, whom she's eager to get to know better. As the adults want the soon-to-be stepsisters to bond, Dalia, with Rani for company, is allowed to go off with Alexa and her college friend Dhruv on their weeklong amusement park road trip. Along the way, Dalia keeps some of her own secrets--including growing and confusing feelings for Rani that have her brain spinning. This first-person present narration quickens and slows just like the roller coasters Dalia obsesses over. Many readers will identify with the feelings of uncertainty around changing family dynamics and budding first crushes. While this book contains many elements that are widely relatable, the storyline around exploring sexuality is especially resonant. Dalia and her father are Polish American Jews; Vanessa is Colombian American, Rani is Persian American and Muslim, Dhruv is Indian American, and other characters default to White. A heartwarming, queer-affirming story. (Fiction. 8-13) Copyright (c) Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.

Copyright (c) Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.

CHAPTER ONE My heart starts thumping before the video even loads. And then it pounds even harder as Mega Drop Unhinged ("If You Don't Puke, We're Not Doing Our Job!") comes into view. I can't believe I haven't watched a POV video for this roller coaster before. The opening shot is a sweeping look at the whole ride. It's taller than every other coaster in the park by a mile, its steel track stretching up into the sky. Human beings shouldn't be able to hurtle through its giant loops and twists and (mega) drops and come out unharmed. But somehow, we can. And somehow, it's the most amazing thing in the world. Well, okay, fine. I don't actually know how amazing it is in real life. The truth is, I've never been on a roller coaster. But I've watched pretty much every roller coaster point of view video in existence, and that has to count for something. So, there's that opening shot of the ride, and then the perspective switches so that it's like I'm sitting in the front row of the roller coaster. That's what the camera position's like in all POV videos. There's excited chatter behind me, which dies down as a voice crackles over the loudspeaker. "Keep your arms and legs inside the coaster at all times." The ride groans, releasing a burst of air. "Now, sit back, relax, and try not to think about that Mega Drop!" The roller coaster rumbles and creaks, and we start climbing. I keep my head as close to the screen as possible, so it's almost like I'm actually on the ride. In the video, it's a cloudless day and the way we're tilted back makes it feel like we're just going to keep riding up into the sky forever. But then we get to the top. There are a few seconds where I can't see the track in front of me and I can't see anything below me and it's just blue going on and on and on and there's no horizon and maybe no one else in the whole universe. I want to stay here, in this moment before the drop, a little while longer. So I pause the video. It really does feel like I'm in another world when I'm watching roller coaster POVs. It's a world where the sky is always blue and cloudless. Where you're safely flung through the air on a set track with a group of happily screaming riders sitting right behind you. Most of all, it's like another world because of the whole never-been-on-a-roller-coaster thing. I know that's super weird, that I watch these videos when I've never been on one. I first found POVs when I was trying to convince my dad to take me to an amusement park, but that was like a year ago and we still haven't gone. I thought I could use the videos when I presented the idea to him, but I never even made it that far. I felt guilty about wanting to ask him to take me somewhere so expensive, and somewhere where he couldn't just hop on his computer and send a spreadsheet over to his boss if he needed to, because he always needs to. I don't want to sound like I'm not happy watching POVs, though. Like, they're the best. But that doesn't matter. Because this'll finally be the summer where I ride an actual roller coaster. I know my dad's saved up a bit of money since last year, and I just need to convince him that it's worth it, even if it is expensive. And now it's crunch time: There are only three weeks left of the whole summer. Three weeks to make this happen. I just need a good plan. The problem is, I'm completely terrible at coming up with ideas. Abby was the one who always came up with our schemes, so this is new for me. And if Abby hadn't ditched me, I bet I'd already have been to, like, every amusement park in the country. And there it is again. That feeling I get when I think about Abby. It's how I imagine I'd feel if I was riding a roller coaster with a drop that went on forever: close to puking, too weighed down by gravity to move. Miserable. I take a deep breath and press the space bar on my dad's laptop to start the video back up, which immediately makes me feel a thousand times better. The person holding the camera angles it down so you can see the drop, and my heart is pounding because it feels like I'm about to drop. In the distance, there's this parking lot with all these tiny cars and trees. But the coaster is so high up that it's barely visible. It's like the only things that exist are the roller coaster and the sky. Suddenly the train can't hold still any longer and we're zooming down the track and I can almost feel my stomach flip and then the camera is upside down and the person filming is screaming and the sound of the wind is so loud and I know I should lower the volume but I don't because you can't lower the volume in real life. And I hear something that sounds like knocking at a door, but I figure it must just be the car rattling on the turquoise tracks so I keep twisting my body along with the video--left and right and left and right and-- "DALIA!" Oh. I pull out my earbuds and slam the computer shut. "Can I come in?" my dad asks. "Uh, one sec!" I grab the nearest book and open it to a random page so that when he comes in, it'll look like I was reading. I don't even really know why I hide the videos from him. It's the only thing in my whole life that my dad doesn't know about. We're close like that. Which makes sense, because all we have is each other. We spend a ton of time together, so sometimes it's tough to hide the POVs from him. We even have a shared weekly schedule. Like on Sundays, we'll ride our bikes down to the bay and spend the mornings there, and if it's low tide we'll look for horseshoe crabs. They're usually dead, which is kind of sad, but my dad does this thing where he'll pick them up by their tail and pretend they're talking to me. He'll make them say things like "Helloooo Dalia, would you like to play?" in a creepy voice that makes me laugh so hard. They're super weird looking, the horseshoe crabs, with a hard brown shell on top and ten wriggly legs underneath. My dad likes to tell me about how they've been the same for millions of years, since before dinosaurs even existed. It's pretty amazing that they figured out their thing and now they don't need to change, ever. They're always, always gonna look the same--like weird giant shells with eyes and a spikey tail. I like that about them. So anyway, I'm sitting on my bed pretending to read, and I try to make it look like I'm concentrating really hard. "Come in," I tell my dad. I nod at the book a little bit, like my dad does when he reads the newspaper. I'm going for Ooh, look how interesting and sophisticated I am, but it must just look like I'm a bobblehead, because when my dad comes in he asks, "What's wrong?" "Nothing." "You're reading? In the summer?" He clutches his chest like he's about to faint. "Who are you and what have you done with my daughter?" I laugh a little and roll my eyes. "Well, I don't want to stop you from reading about . . ." He examines the front of my book. " 1001 Tax Breaks and Deductions ?" And there goes my cover. I guess I should've checked to see which book I grabbed before I let my dad come in. But that's just the sort of stuff that happens when your bedroom is also your dad's office. When we first moved into this apartment over a year ago, he told me we could decorate the room however I wanted. He even got me a sparkly blue pillow that kind of looks like the ocean on a sunny day, to try to convince me that it would be okay that we were moving out of the only home I've ever known. As if to say "Who needs two parents living in the same house when you have a sparkly blue pillow?!" I told him that I was too old for a sparkly pillow, but it's secretly my favorite thing in the room. My bed is an island in a sea of boring dad business. We never got around to decorating the rest of it. So, he's looking at me, waiting for an answer as to why I'm reading his tax book. I tell him, "It's never too early to start thinking about taxes." That's something he's told me before, so I hope it'll work now that I'm basically just repeating it back to him. "And I'm a teen now, so I'm gonna need to know these things." "You're thirteen, Dalia. Why don't I worry about the taxes?" He walks over to my bed and sticks out his hand. I give him the book. "Were you just looking for a book, or . . ." I trail off. I want to get back to watching my POV videos. "Oh, right, right. I knew there was a reason I came in here." He sits on the edge of my bed, looking nervous, which is weird. "Want to get bagels?" Why is he nervous about getting bagels? Is there some sort of bagel shortage? Before I say yes, I have to ask the most important question when it comes to getting bagels with my dad: "Where?" There are like a gazillon bagel stores in our town, but there's only one good one. I'm kind of a bagel connoisseur, so I keep track of these things. "I was thinking . . ." He rubs his hand on his chin, like this is a huge decision. But we both know what he's going to say. "Bagel Boys?" Ding ding ding! That's the right answer. I mean, it makes sense. My dad's passed everything he knows about bagels down to me. And he knows a lot about bagels. Partly because we're Polish Jews, so our people basically invented them, and partly because we live on Long Island, which is like the bagel capital of the world. So obviously I tell him I'm in, because how can you not be in when there's Bagel Boys involved? Plus, maybe this is the opening I've been waiting for to finally ask him to take me to an amusement park. There's no harm in asking. I just have to do it. We ride our bikes to the shop, and my dad locks them up on the bike rack outside while I order our usual (an untoasted fresh-out-of-the-oven sesame bagel with cream cheese for me and a toasted everything bagel with butter for dad). "You got it," Tony says. Tony works every Sunday morning, so he pretty much knows our order by heart. He even gets us coffee without me having to ask. "Now, don't go bouncing off the walls on account of me," he says with a wink. It's a little inside joke that Tony and I have, because he only ever gives me decaf. Bagel Boys is always crowded on Sundays, but the table my dad and I like to sit at is empty. It's tucked into a back corner, squeezed between a window and a mural. The mural's of a giant sesame bagel that has eyes and a face eating a faceless poppy-seed bagel and giving a thumbs-up. My dad likes to comment on it every time we sit here. "Does the bagel know he's eating himself?" "Daaad." I say it like it's two different words, but I can't help smiling. He's so predictable. Once we're settled, I immediately press the outside of the bagel to my face. "Bagel facial?" he asks. "Of course." I know it's weird, but when a bagel is fresh out of the oven it feels like a warm hug on my face. My dad discovered it one morning and decided to call it a bagel facial, because when you put it on your cheek it makes your skin feel all steamy and fresh. And now I like to give myself a bagel facial whenever we come to Bagel Boys early enough for fresh bagels. I split my bagel into four quarters and take a big bite of the quarter that has the least cream cheese on it. I always save the most cream-cheesy part for last. "Hey, so, I've been meaning to talk to you about something." My dad lifts the lid off his coffee, blows on it, and takes a sip. Of course my dad chooses the moment right after I take a huge bite of my bagel to tell me that he's been "meaning to talk." I swallow and then ask, "What is it?" My heart starts pounding. My dad's never "meaning to talk," because "meaning to talk" is code for something's wrong. The last time my dad was "meaning to talk" he told me that he and my mom were getting divorced. He was crying when he told me, which was scary and horrible. It was only the second time I'd ever seen him cry. (The first was back when I was in third grade when my mom left for three weeks without telling us where she was going.) When my dad told me that he and my mom were getting divorced and she was moving to New Jersey, it didn't surprise me. Not really. My mom may have only moved out about a year ago, but she was mostly gone before then, leaving me and my dad alone for days at a time. And even when she was home she would just sleep on the pull-out couch in the basement and watch old DVDs all day. But it was still awful. And now I definitely can't ask him to take me to an amusement park. Because whatever he's about to say is probably gonna be scary and horrible and there will be no room in my brain for roller coasters or fun ever again. I know it's bad, but my brain always gets super focused on the worst possible thing that could happen. And since I know my parents can't be getting divorced again , I think that it has to be something worse. Like, not even "I lost my job" worse. More like "There's a mob boss looking for me and I gambled away my life savings" worse. See, I told you. My brain makes everything seem ten times worse than it actually is. It's probably not even that bad. My dad puts his coffee down. "I have a girlfriend." CHAPTER TWO Or maybe it really is That Bad. I'm sure I misheard him, so I ask, "What?" "I have, you know, a girlfriend." "A what?" I can't be hearing this right. Dads don't have girlfriends. I really want to ask him what the heck he's saying, but I can't seem to form words. Maybe it's all the cream cheese stuck to the roof of my mouth. "A girlfriend, Dalia," he says. "A girlfriend. A woman I'm dating. In a romantic way." "Oh." I swallow. It's definitely not the cream cheese. This is bad. This is really, really bad. "How do you feel about this?" "Fine," I mumble, because what else am I supposed to say? "Are you sure?" No. "Yeah." He lets out a big breath and rubs his palms together, then takes a bite of his bagel. Of course he can still eat, he didn't just find out that his dad has a girlfriend. Meanwhile, I can't even look at my bagel. And at this point I'm really regretting agreeing to go to Bagel Boys. Why couldn't he have told me at a bad bagel store? You don't tell your daughter about your new girlfriend at the good bagel store. I'm sorry, but you just don't. This is way worse than finding out about the divorce, because at least I saw that one coming. My mom leaving felt logical. There were signs. This, on the other hand, my dad having a girlfriend, feels completely wrong. I mean, I never even saw my mom and dad kiss. The only thing I ever really saw them do was fight. I must be quiet for a pretty long time, because he asks me what I'm thinking. I want to tell him that I'm thinking that he shouldn't be allowed to have a girlfriend. That he's a dad, and more importantly he's my dad, and dads don't have girlfriends. I want to tell him that I'm thinking that he and mom only got divorced a year ago. One year's not even close to enough time, even if things weren't great for a while before then. I want to tell him that maybe he should put this off for a year or five or ten. That's what I want to tell him. But I don't. Because if I tell him all that it'll just make him upset. And even though I'mupset he just told me he has a girlfriend, I still don't want to stress him out. And I can't stress him out, because he's the only family I have. But apparently I'm not the only one he has. Because he has a girlfriend . He takes a few more sips of coffee, then opens his mouth like he's about to say something. And then he stops. And then he takes another sip of coffee. And then he opens his mouth again. And then he stops again. He probably wants me to chime in, but I don't say anything. After a minute, he says, "We've been dating for about six months now, and I think you two would get along really well." Pause. Rewind. Six months? He's been dating someone for six months and he didn't even tell me until now ? And, okay, I always wondered what my dad does when I'm at school or swim practice or wherever. I thought he was just doing his work, but I guess he's been sneaking around, going on dates. Maybe he's even brought her to Bagel Boys. The thought makes me push my bagel away. My dad folds the last quarter of his bagel in half, then eats it in one bite. Usually when he does this, he makes a really silly face, like he's a monster and the bagel is an unsuspecting victim. It always makes me laugh. But this time it just looks like he's in pain. And I'm sure I don't look any better. He chews for a long time. "I'd really love for you to meet her." My heart falls into my stomach. I feel like the riders of Mega Drop Unhingedafter they get back into the station: like I just got spun upside down at sixty miles per hour. First my dad tells me he has a girlfriend. Then he tells me they've been dating for six months. And now he wants me to meet her. My brain hurts. I just sit here, not eating my bagel, not saying anything. My dad's watching me, and I know he's waiting for a response. I can't say no. First of all, it would make my dad mad, and second of all, I'm going to have to meet her eventually. That's the worst part--I don't actually have any control over what happens. It's like when Great Adventure closed Rolling Thunder, which was this amazing dueling wooden roller coaster. It had two tracks and the trains would race over huge, bumpy hills. The ride opened in 1979, and according to all the YouTube comments and stuff it was basically everyone's favorite. Then they decided to shut it down in 2013 to make room for a line for another ride. I mean, come on. You don't shut down a classic to make room for a line . And obviously everyone was super mad about the ride closing, but it still closed. That's sort of like what's happening now. I'm mad that my dad wants me to meet his girlfriend, but I'm going to have to meet her anyway. He's not looking for my input--the coaster's closing. I'm going to meet her because they've been dating for six months, because my parents got divorced, because sometimes life is a dueling roller coaster and you're on the losing train. "Can I tell you about her?" he asks. He sounds hesitant but also really excited. And his eyes are all mushy. It's gross. This can't be happening. This. Can't. Be. Happening. "Sure," I say, looking down at my bagel. The word comes out of my mouth before I can ask my brain politely to please say no . But unfortunately, my brain and I aren't always on the best of terms. He looks so relieved that I almost feel okay for a second. I try to tell myself that whatever he says, it doesn't matter. He could be talking about a made-up person, really. Someone from a story who I'll never have to meet. "She's a high school chemistry teacher," he says, "and she loves everything bagels, just like me. We bonded over that, actually." He chuckles, like this is the most romantic thing in the entire world. Somehow, it's the worst thing he could say. I don't want to know that she loves everything bagels. I don't want to know anything about her. I nod, and he must think that means I want to hear more about his girlfriend, which it definitely does not. It's just all I can force myself to do right now. So then he says, "All right, what else can I tell you about her?" He rubs his chin. "Well, she was born in Colombia, and she grew up in Minnesota. But she's been living in New York since college." My ears perk up a little at the Minnesota thing, because that's where my new swim-team friend Rani's from, and she's really cool. Before this moment, I was pretty sure everyone from Minnesota was fun and nice and maybe a good swimmer, but now that I know that my dad's girlfriend is from there, I think Rani's probably cool despite being from Minnesota. "So, would you be up for meeting her?" Before I can say anything, my dad clears his throat. "Um, actually, I should probably mention that when you meet her you might also meet--no, uh, maybe that's not the best idea." I look up at him, but I don't ask what that was all about, because I know if it has anything to do with this situation, I'm not gonna like the answer. "So, would you want to meet her?" I would not. "Um, I guess." "Great," my dad says. "That's great. I'll let Vanessa know." Vanessa. Of course she has a cool name like Vanessa. Why can't she have a silly old-fashioned name like Fannie? Fannie would be the perfect name for Dad's new girlfriend. But no, her name's Vanessa. And now that I know her name, there's no going back. CHAPTER THREE "Happy Monday," Coach Leah says. "Let's get started with ten laps of freestyle." Cue the groans. It's the second to last week of swim practice, but Leah's still being ridiculously hard on us. "Well, now it's twelve laps." Groans times two. I pretend like I'm mad about having to do twelve laps for warm-up, but after the whole dad-having-a-girlfriend debacle on Sunday, I'm ready to hop into the water and start swimming. Maybe it'll help clear my brain. Everyone's standing by the side of the pool with their arms wrapped around themselves. I dip my goggles in the water, suction them to my face, and sit so my calves are submerged, the jagged concrete digging into the back of my thighs. But before I can work up the nerve to slide in, there's a splash , and I'm soaked. I scramble backward onto the pool deck and throw my arms over my face. "Hey!" The splasher jumps up from under the water and drags a long finger over the surface. "Is it just me, or is there less pee in here than usual today?" I giggle, and look up at Leah, who rolls her eyes. But she doesn't say anything, because the splasher--Rani--is the best swimmer on the team by a mile. So she can pretty much get away with anything. And now that Rani's in the pool, I have to get in too. It's not that I want to impress her, but, like, I guess I kind of do. Plus, maybe the freezing cold water will knock some of the thoughts about my dad having a girlfriend out of my brain. I hate that it came completely out of nowhere. My dad isn't the having-a-girlfriend type. He can't be. The only people he ever talks to are me and his coworkers, and, like, people from synagogue. But I know all those people, and he'd never date any of them. Whenever we go to services on High Holidays and stuff, we always laugh about how crotchety everyone is, and how sometimes people even leave the service early so they can get to the rec room and grab the best bagels before everyone else. My dad will lean over to me and whisper, "There go the Greenfields," or whoever's shuffling out of the service, and I'll have to stifle my laughter so that Rabbi Miriam doesn't give me a funny look. I just can't imagine that version of my dad--the one who gossips with me at synagogue--having a girlfriend. I can't imagine any version of my dad having a girlfriend. I shimmy myself into the water, and it's so freezing that for a moment it's all I can think about. No thoughts about my dad. No thoughts at all, really. I lift my arms above the surface to keep the cold away from my armpits. I never like to just dive right under, not like Rani. She's way braver than me. "If you're not in the water in the next ten seconds, it's gonna be twenty laps," Leah says to the kids on the pool deck. Most of them jump in when she says that. Leah's kind of mean, but she's a pretty good coach. Well, okay, she's the only coach they could find us, so it's not like we had a choice. She's just a lifeguard at the pool. No real swim coaches wanted to come to our run-down public pool, where the lanes aren't even regulation length and we have to get out every ten minutes because some little kid pooped in the shallow end. Maybe I'm making it sound worse than it is. It really isn't that bad, because I have Rani here with me. We're the two oldest people on the team--we're both thirteen, and everyone else is like eight or nine or something. I met Rani at swim practice at the beginning of the summer, back when I thought I would never have a friend again after what happened with Abby. And I had sort of accepted that. The never-having-a-friend-again thing. I figured, you know, who needs a friend if they're just going to leave you behind? I definitely didn't need someone who decided she was too cool for swim team, just because she hangs out with Cassie and actually needs a bra now. Abby and I met on the first day of first grade. We used to go home from school every day to my house and play Puppies. Puppies is exactly what it sounds like: We were both, well, puppies, and we had to get adopted. She was an Old English sheepdog, and I was a Great Dane/dachshund mix, because it seemed like an unlikely combo. And I always like things that seem a bit unlikely. We would never tell anyone about the game, especially when we got to middle school, but even then, it was always the best part of my day. We were still playing Puppies when Cassie and her friends started going to dance class. But then Abby started talking about maybe wanting to do dance too. And she stopped wanting to play Puppies. She just wanted to talk about Cassie, and how Cassie does dance and Cassie has boy-girl parties and Oh, did you hear who Cassie kissed? Cassie this and Cassie that. Then, one day in April, Abby showed up to school in these really short jean shorts, and I honestly couldn't believe it. Only popular girls like Cassie wear The Shorts. Once Abby started dressing like them, it wasn't long before she was part of their friend group. Abby told me the day before swim team started that she wasn't going to be doing it this summer, probably because she needed more time to hang out with her new boyfriend, and with Cassie. The whole thing makes me feel like I'm still a little kid. Like somehow she grew up, she's a real teenager, and I'm just stuck. I don't have boobs, I still wanna play Puppies, I watch videos where I pretend to go on roller coasters. Maybe she was right to ditch me. Maybe hanging out with me now would be more like being a babysitter than a best friend. After Abby told me that she wasn't doing swim team, I didn't want to do it either, but my dad was like, "What else are you going to do this summer?" And I'll admit that he had a point. Because the answer was nothing. Without Abby I thought I would be doing absolutely nothing this summer. Until Rani came along. It was one of the first days of swim practice for the summer, and I had a lane completely to myself after Abby ditched me. Rani showed up halfway through practice and jumped right into the water, no hesitation (of course). "Hi!" she said. "This is Rania," Leah had told me after a minute of me having no idea what to say to this new girl who was around my age and brave enough to jump right into the pool. "She's joining us all the way from Montana." "Minnesota, actually," the girl said. "And you can call me Rani. So, what's your name?" "Oh, right," I said quickly. "Um, it's Dalia." And then I added, "Both of our names end with 'uh,' so it sounds like we're confused. Dali-uhhhhh. Rani-uhhhhh." I knew it was silly the moment I said it, but to my relief she giggled and said, "True. Maybe that's why I go by Rani." And since then I haven't been alone in my lane. I hold my breath and duck under the water, then pop up like Rani did. The little kids are slowly but surely making their way into the pool. Now that I'm used to the temperature, my brain's yelling at me again. And it's saying something I don't expect: Tell Rani about your dad's girlfriend. I have to admit, I do want to tell someone about the situation. Like, I might explode if I don't talk about it. Rani and I don't usually talk about serious stuff, but then again, now that I don't have Abby, there's really no one else I can tell. So, while Leah is distracted I say to Rani, "Something kind of weird happened yesterday." "Weird how?" "Let's get a move on, people, chop chop!" Leah shouts. Rani rolls her eyes at Leah and smiles at me. Even though the water is cold, my face gets hot. "Tell me when we get to the other end of the pool so Leah can't hear." And with that, she's off. Rani's wearing a black two-piece sports bathing suit, like the ones Olympic swimmers wear when they're training. If I wore something like that I'd look like a little kid in a Halloween costume, but on her it seems like the most natural thing in the world. From where I'm standing by the wall, I can watch her swim from above. She's long and fast, and this might sound weird, but her legs look like fish legs. I know that fish don't have legs, but if they did , they'd look like hers. It's like she was made to be in the water. And her shoulders are wide and muscle-y, and she has maybe the world's longest fingers. Not that I'm staring. It's just that you notice things about a person when you share a lane with them. I let Rani get a bit ahead of me, then I kick off the concrete wall and glide underwater. Even though it's freezing, it's the best feeling. Once I actually get myself all the way underwater, I always wonder why I was hesitant to do it in the first place. I love the way the water flows over every part of my body, over my hair, my neck, even the tiny space between my nails and the tips of my fingers I glide for as long as I can hold my breath. Then I angle my head up to the surface, and start swimming freestyle. I'm not as fast as Rani, but my stride is long. I can cross the pool in ten strokes. Seriously. My arms are, like, weirdly long. Honestly, my whole body is weirdly long, so I guess my arms just match. The thing is, swimming is when I do most of my good thinking, so it's super unfair that the only thing I can think about is the whole dad-having-a-girlfriend situation. There are plenty of other things I could be thinking about, like my summer amusement park plan, or POV videos, or literally anything else. Rani's waiting for me at the far end of the pool, and when I get there I put my goggles up on my forehead and tell her, "So, okay . . . my dad has a girlfriend." "A what?" Rani asks. "That's literally what I said!" Leah blows her whistle from the other side of the pool. "PICK UP THE PACE," she yells over to us. "WE'RE THE ONES SETTING THE PACE," Rani yells back, and I laugh. "Let's talk again when we're back at this wall," Rani says, and takes off. I follow her, watching her feet flutter and make a storm of bubbles underwater. I'm glad she wants to talk about it, that she doesn't think it's super weird for my dad to have a girlfriend. Maybe it's only super weird to me, because I know my dad. I know him better than anyone else on the planet. Well, actually, I guess I don't. "So, what are you gonna do?" Rani asks when we've gone two lengths of the pool and we're back at the far wall. Leah blows her whistle and Rani rolls her eyes. But neither of us moves. I take off my goggles, float on my back, and stare into the bright morning sky. "I have no idea." Excerpted from Almost Flying by Jake Maia Arlow All rights reserved by the original copyright owners. Excerpts are provided for display purposes only and may not be reproduced, reprinted or distributed without the written permission of the publisher.