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Seconds after the powerboat idiots raced by us at close range, the trough fronting the onrushing water first tilted Skimmerbug toward it and caused me to shift balance in the opposite direction. Just as fast, the crest generated a fickle twist the other way, raised the same side high, and catapulted me out into the lake. For good measure, my head smacked the sail boom on the way out. The unexpected plunge sent lakewater up my nose and took me deep, nose water being one of the annoying things about swimming.

Resurfacing seconds later into a coughing fit, I find half a football field between Austen on Skimmerbug and me in the water, while the offending boat turns and moves to cut us off from one another. What a fool idiot I am for peeling off my tee shirt and not putting the lifevest back on.

People claim backfloating and treading water are easy water skills to master; they haven’t witnessed my ineptness in water. With a choice to tread or sink, my feet work at water as they would bicycle pedals, in the process sucking up my wind and energy at an alarming rate. If I don’t get back to Skimmerbug soon…

The powerboaters busy themselves mocking us and yelling racial and homophobic shit. Fucking bigots. One dives into the water and swims off toward Skimmerbug. “Leave her alone, you fuckhead! Leave her alone,” anger fuels my yell; only my voice chops off as sucked up lakewater hacks it into a second coughing fit. Staying here won’t work, but I have to swim near their boat to get back to Skimmerbug. Fuck the danger; I have to get to Austen and help.

Several spinning beer bottles thrown by the bottlenecks splash near my head like erupting water mines, making me hesitate before I’ve moved fifteen feet. “Stay where you are or the next one will be at your head!” one asshole on the boat yells at me. Well, fuck him! Resuming swimming, bottles come close again, making me dodge the brown missiles, sometimes left, sometimes right, and sometimes underwater. My hands claw at water ahead of me, legs work like mad scissors, all of the effort moving me forward at the pace of a sleeping turtle.

Before my pace can manage to bring me to a line even with their boat transom, the third boater climbs back in and the boat powers up. Yes! At last, they’ll get the hell away from us. Austen, I pray to God he didn’t do anything to Austen.

Stopping and watching the boat begin to move away, something yellow rises out of the water behind them, creating a surface-breaking streaking line headed right toward Skimmerbug, part of which now comes into view. Oh no. No. “No! You bastards, no!” The towrope snugs up and swings Skimmerbug violently around until it trails after the powerboat, rapidly accelerating towards high speed.

“Austen!” my lungs power out her name into effective muteness, overwhelmed by the three revving engines of Three Irons, the name scrolled in gold on the transom. “Austen, jump! Jump!” my ineffective scream continues, fading into a feeble “jump” as the boat hits a speed too fast for her to try.

They disappear from view, but the sickening roar of the engines continues, although receding. What the hell are they planning to do? What the hell do I do? Help, I have to get help!

Which direction should I go? Doing a waterborne three sixty, the prospects are grim, with land in every direction at least a mile away, and some of what I see as land are islands. No fucking way I can swim a mile, I can’t swim two laps in a pool. Okay, directions, I need to fix a starting point. The sun still hasn’t reached its peak for the day, and it’s off to my right and a bit behind, making that direction more or less east. Land in front of me looks a tad closer; northeast.

Swim, Kayla, swim. A hand cups and curls, digging for water at its furthest reach, pulling me forward. The other swings forward while my legs begin to kick, my movement immediately feeling discombobulated and disjointed. With every stroke, I ingest a little water. My swimming rhythm sucks; I’ll never swim over a mile. I’m going to drown out here.

Calm down, calm down, panic won’t solve a fucking thing. Think this through, try to have arms and legs work together. First with my arms, I try for an easy motion rather than the flailing I’ve been doing, taking my time stretching out with one arm, hand cupped and fingers tight, easy, easy. As one arm pulls back toward me, propelling me forward, the other stretches ahead…go easy! Now try to adjust legwork, use the same methodical pace of my arms, make all work together.

This works better, although I’m no Jenny Thompson. My breathing creates another issue working against me. Austen always told me inhale when I turn my head out of the water, and exhale when in water, but not so easy to do. I’m pissing myself off; fucking do it!

Concentrating on this new challenge, the first couple of times produce a mouthful of water, but I’m getting it now. My arms ache and my legs want to cramp. Break, I need to break, but I can’t float on my back! Stomach, float on my stomach, as I do in the Y pool. Austen tells me I’m lazy for doing this and not learning to back float, but lazy sounds good right now. If only I could recall what she tried in vain to teach me. Oh well, onto my stomach.

Turning my head so I can take an occasional breath, hopelessness attempts an intrusion, churning my stomach. A half-full glass – the glass is half-full; how far have I swum? Raising my head long enough to catch sight of land, taking in the position of the sun, and then looking back behind me, I’d guess a thousand feet, by far the furthest I’ve ever gone in water in one try.

Enough with floating here, I need to be swimming. Re-establish the same rhythm of movement and breathing, and to my surprise, it all comes together again. Somewhere out there off to my right, perhaps several miles, Austen has to cope with those attackers. She’s a great swimmer, in fact she lettered in the sport at Three Sisters College. We met while I watched a meet, quite by accident. She had just won in the hundred-metre free-style, and not by a close margin, either. Out of the pool, she walked past the small section of bleachers just as I stepped down onto the tile floor, my eyes watching the latest race instead of where I walked. The resulting collision sent her back into the pool, shut down the race, and splattered Coca-Cola, as well as mustard from a hot dog, all over me.

The memory makes me smile, and causes me to swallow water again, triggering another cough. Shit! Concentrate or drown; stop reminiscing! Left arm, right arm, left, right. Easy, easy. My legs and arm tire, faster than before the first stop, not ten minutes ago. I’ll have to break again, but need to…five minutes more, five more.

The attackers are out there. Austen got away, I know it – she could swim the length of this fucking lake, they won’t stop her! Except… her diabetes, fuck! If Austen swims now, she will need a snack or she will have a reaction. I’m going to kill those fuckers when I get my hands on them, the assholes! There were snacks in the boat, but I don’t know if they survived the tossing, and if Austen took to the water, I doubt she took the duffel bag with her.

Cramp! My left leg just folded from muscle lockdown. Arrrrghh! Will forces it to unlock, but it hurts like hell. Float, stomach float – take a five-minute break, although I have no idea how much time elapses, absent a watch. Distance check…perhaps another five hundred feet travelled since the last stop, and still a mile to go. It feels like the fucking land keeps jumping backward.

We didn’t date right away, Austen and me; we didn’t even talk. In fact, one of her teammates called me a loser for the collision, and yeah, it was stupid of me. The dyke community at Three Sisters only represents a tenth of the student population; most of us knew one another, but I’d never chatted with her before, and didn’t after the collision, either. I’m an academic track type, not a jock, although I’ve long since learned Austen was both – she has brains and athleticism, unlike me, nerdy community organiser for a non-profit. She had to be smart to be at TSC.

Engines, I hear high-powered engines. To hell with cramps, I’m out of here. Must get to shore, must get to shore, I have to get away, get out of the lake, and get help. If only she were with me, Austen has such a way with calming my restless spirit.

Not until almost seven years after we received our undergraduate degrees did we date. Austen started work for our employer as Vice President of standards and compliance. She asked me out without success about a week after she started. I’d heard rumours Austen lived with a woman ten years her senior. Sorry, I don’t break up relationships – I’d not want some asshole doing that to me, nosiree. She did kindle a bit of intrigue, and if Austen ever found herself single again…

It turned out their relationship was in fact over. You would think people would be open minded, but when we started dating people still looked at us funny, not just for being gay, but just as much if not more for Austen’s dark colouring. She has a great complexion, we both do, but people chose to target her for snide comments, usually made behind her back and occasionally to me. One commenter in the restroom made the mistake of putting her hand on my shoulder to emphasise the righteousness of her crudeness, and it led to her held tight against a cement block wall while I outlined what bothered me about, bigotry, the remark, and the hand touch. She left for another organisation not long after. Months later, I finally told Austen what happened, and she went nuts on me for withholding the truth. She was right, my bad.

A half-year passed after the first rebuff. By then I knew Austen was single. Teased into action one day by black slacks accentuating her great ass, I made my move. “Still interested?” was my suave proposition, and it brought a smirk to her face. Why wouldn’t I be interested? Women always talk about tall, dark, and handsome, well, substitute beautiful for the latter and done deal. She was PMSing and took some time before answering, “I’ve got cramps from hell, so I should tell you to fuck off after you turned me away. I’ll think on it some, more than you did when I asked. See me again before I leave at 4 today.”

Cramps, ugh. My fucking leg wants to cramp again. Five more minutes before the next break, please…five more minutes of swimming, five more.

For an athlete of some size – Austen stands six feet barefoot – a half-foot taller than I am – she still makes a compact package. What an answer, see me again at 4, and I’ll let you know my decision. She put me in my place with one line; let me know she wasn’t going to roll over for me. Now… now somewhere out there, Austen won’t roll over for… kidnappers, but time works against her. If only a matter of her against them, my money would be on Austen. Kept from snacks and insulin, oh God, I don’t want to think about it.

The sound of high-powered engines grows closer. It sure sounds like the same fucking boat. Swim, Kayla, stop thinking and fucking swim!