Jesse and Diana

By Claudia Remington

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    Jesse opened her eyes and lay quietly for a moment in the unfamiliar room. She closed them again and pictured the pleasant desert town where she used to live. I’ll miss the swimming pool most of all, she thought. This town at the foot of the mountains feels very different, but it must have a good pool somewhere.

    And today she would find it. Her mother had promised her they would. Jesse threw back the covers. Placing her hands under her knees, she swung her limp legs off the bed and sat up.

    She pulled her wheelchair close to the bed and shifted herself into it and maneuvered into the bathroom.

    At breakfast in the large, sunny kitchen, she asked her mother about going swimming.

    “You haven’t started on your math lessons,” her mother reminded her.

    “I hate math, and you did say that we could go today.”

    “We will. Anyway, doing the math at home is better than going to summer school, don’t you think?”

    Jesse sighed. “Yes. I just wish I’d worked harder last year and didn’t have to do it now. Well, I’ll try to get something done.” She wheeled out onto the wide, pleasant front porch and set her books on a table.

    A girl about Jesse’s age emerged from a white house directly across the street. She hopped lightly down the front steps and gave Jesse a casual wave. Jesse waved back and watched the girl disappear around the corner on her bicycle.

    At that moment Jesse’s mother came out onto the porch. “How about inviting that girl to go swimming with us this afternoon?” she asked.

    The girl’s name was Diana. She and Jesse found very little to talk about as they rode to the pool.

    Once in the water, Jesse became like anyone else. If anyone stared, it was with admiration. In the water her useless legs were no problem as her strong arms took her smoothly to one end of the pool and back. After several laps, Jesse stopped at the deep end and looked around for Diana. She finally spotted her splashing around in the shallow end. “Come on down here!” Jesse called.

    Diana struck out, splashing and thrashing. As she reached the center of the pool, the splashing increased, and Jesse could see that Diana was no longer making any real progress. Her wild strokes became more frantic. Jesse swam quickly to her, caught one hand in hers, and pulled her to the edge. Diana sputtered and coughed and rubbed her face with her hands.

    “Why didn’t you tell me that you couldn’t swim very well?”

    “Was I supposed to shout across the pool, ‘I’m a terrible swimmer’?” She coughed again.

    “Let’s get out a minute,” Jesse suggested. Diana climbed out and sat quietly beside Jesse on the edge of the pool.

    “I don’t really like the water much,” Diana said, breaking a long silence.

    “Well, I try to keep in condition,” Jesse said.

    “Condition for what?”

    “I want to be on the swim team at school, and I do wheelchair racing and stuff.

    “You’re really an athlete, huh?”

    “I have a lot of respect for my body, such as it is,” Jesse said quietly. “What do you like to do for exercise? I’ve seen you ride your bike.”

    Diana answered, “I ride my bike to get places because it’s easier than walking. I’d rather read. I guess I’m the scholarly type.”

    They rode home in silence. Diana climbed out quickly and called out her thanks.

    “I don’t think I’ll be seeing much of her,” Jesse said to her mother. “We don’t seem to have much in common.”

    “Having something in common helps, but it’s not absolutely necessary for friendship,” her mother commented.

    The next morning Jesse again sat on the front porch with her math book. She opened the book and stared for a few minutes at the page. What could be more boring than math?

    She saw Diana come out her front door. Diana waved to Jesse, hesitated for a moment, then crossed the street. Jesse smiled and motioned for Diana to sit down.

    “What are you doing?” Diana asked, looking at the books.

    “I did so poorly in math last year that I have to take the course at home and send the work sheets in.”

    “Why did you do so badly?”

    “I guess I was more interested in swimming and racing. The teacher gave us a lot of homework, and I didn’t do most of it. I think math is pretty hard—and boring.”

    “I’ll help you. I like math.”

    Jesse smiled up at her. “Will you?” she said. “That would be great.”

    “Well, Jesse, we have to exercise our minds, too, you know,” Diana said, with a twinkle in her eye.

    Jesse looked at Diana for a moment and then laughed. “Suppose you help me learn math, and I’ll help you with your swimming.”

    “Sounds like a good summer,” Diana answered with a smile.

    Illustrated by Scott Snow