Tap. Tap. Tap.
Ben’s foot kept jiggling up and down. It was making him look stupid - like a slightly deranged beagle, Caleb once said - but he couldn’t stop it. He was feeling too jittery as this was the final day in the course of lifeguarding he took as extra credit and they were supposed to prove they knew how to do a water rescue in order to get their license. He did just fine before, during practice, but his biggest problem was nerves and, this time, it really mattered. If he screwed this up, he wouldn’t get the license or the credit.
Plus, for whatever reason the coach made up this stupid new test thing, where each of them had to guard the pool for half an hour on their own (the people who already passed doubling as assisting guards if the situation called for it) and someone else was assigned to fake a drowning or a potentially dangerous rule breaking and you didn’t know who or when it was going to be, so you had to be extra vigilant. All this was in addition to the regular skill tests. Joy.
Constant vigilance, Ben, said a Caleb-sounding voice in Ben’s mind, and Ben relaxed a bit, smiling unwillingly. Caleb would make so much fun of him, calling him Moody if he heard that.
He was torn out of his musings by a loud splash and he could swear his heart missed a beat. Did he just miss the moment? He frantically scanned the pool, looking for anyone in distress, his thoughts blank with panic, except for a sudden barrage of oh-my-god-please-let-it-be-nothing-I-can‘t-screw-this-up-don’t-panic-Ben-you-can-do-this- in the back of his mind.
There. At the opposite end of the pool, by the jumping board, was a person, flapping their arms uselessly. Probably simulating an injury on impact, Ben’s eyes analyzed the situation, while he was already running to them.
As he got closer, the procedure flashed in his memory. In any falls from height greater than that of a person’s body, head, neck or spinal injury is suspected. In that case, minimalize the movement of those parts. Enter water by slide-in method. If the victim’s facing up, approach from behind their head. Check for consciousness-
It was Caleb.
"Sir, can you hear me?" he shouted over the usual background noise. This line used to be extremely funny at the beginning of their course. They felt like actors on Baywatch or something. Now that each of them practised its use at least a thousand times, it felt like a reflex.
"I wish I didn’t," Caleb said. "My poor ears."
Ben felt the corners of his mouth lift. Damn it, did Caleb have to turn everything into a joke? He couldn’t laugh now, he had to rescue his model swimmer in distress.
"Please stay calm," he continued, putting his arms under his back and holding Caleb’s head up over the surface, while threading water. "Just breathe."
The first part over, Ben dared to glance around to see from which direction his assisting guard would arrive with the backboard. Fortunately, Selah was already almost there. Just a few more seconds and they could continue getting Caleb out of the water. There weren’t many ways to screw this up now; he was going to pass this course.
Then, he made the mistake of looking back down at Caleb, his wet hair plastered on his forehead, the beard looking like a sad drenched puppy, and grinning.
"So, do you come here often?" Caleb quipped, completely deadpan.
Ben lost it.
"I almost dropped you, Caleb; why would you do this to me!" Ben paced up and down in front of his locker furiously while toweling his hair dry.
"Come on, it was funny," insisted Caleb, sitting on the bench and stretching his legs.
"It was a jerk move, you dumbass!"
"But it was a little bit funny, admit it. Hey, you laughed," Caleb pointed a finger at him.
"I could have failed the test!" protested Ben, flinging the towel into his pack.
"But you didn’t, and that’s what matters. Besides," Caleb smirked, "you didn’t answer the question."
Caleb raised one eyebrow. "Do you come here often?"
Ben gaped at him. "You know what? Next time, I’m dunking you under. And making sure you stay there!"