“Quit splashing!”  Emily Taylor shrieked at her best friends, laughing and sputtering.  Her dark curls were already soaked and plastered to her head.  She had to squint against the reflection of sparkling sun on the pool.

“Then quit making fun of me!”  One of Emily’s two best friends, Jenna Lutz, giggled and sent another spray at Emily.  Unlike Emily’s hair, Jenna’s bright red curls grew and frizzed when they got wet.  Just now she reminded Emily of a Chia pet.  Jenna’s pale face and freckled shoulders gleamed with the tanning oil she’d slathered on.

“What’s the big deal?  She only said that you’re obsessing again,” LJ Suarez, the third member of the friends-forever trio, called out.  LJ’s skin tone was naturally the beautiful golden color Jenna hoped to become.  Her thick, black hair was pulled back into a ponytail.  “And she’s right!”  LJ added with a laugh.

“What’s wrong with wanting to look good when we start junior high?”  Jenna demanded.

“You already have more clothes than a department store,” LJ pointed out sternly.  “Plus, September’s still more than a month away.”  Trying hard not to smile, LJ—who Emily knew was soft-hearted even though she pretended otherwise—sent a fresh cascade of water at her friends.

Jenna shook her frizzy head, plunged underwater, and swam off through the jungle of legs below the pool’s surface.

It was already July, but the happiness of homework-free, lazy days spent at the Franklin Lakes Swim Club was still fresh and precious to Emily.  For practically everyone she’d ever gone to school with, this was the place to be in the hazy, hot days of summer.  Emily and her friends had been members since their kiddie pool days, but now they didn’t need a parent with them.  They rode their bikes to the club almost every day.

From the bike rack, carrying their beach totes (Jenna) and backpacks (Emily and LJ), they’d take the path through the rose gardens.  The grassy walkway ended at a sign pointing to the POOL (left), SPORTS COMPOUND (right), SNACK SHACK, BEACH, AND BOATING (straight ahead).

Emily and her friends almost opted for the pool area.  Leaving the walkway, they would head past the sandbox and kiddie pool, where an army of nannies tried to keep their little ones from thwacking each other with plastic pails and shovels.

The big pool, in which the girls now splashed and goofed around, was surrounded by chaise lounges, stacks of thick tanning mats, and fluffy beach towels.  A lifeguard tower was perched near the edge of the deep end…and that was where Tyler Cunningham, Emily’s secret crush, sat.