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  • Writer's pictureRochelle Estrada

The Price of Manhood



Owen entered the local county swimming pool at Lopatcong, New Jersey with no idea what would happen to him.


The beaming sunlight welcomed him and his friend Dylan by making their bodies feel like they were being suffocated inside an oven. The pavement would burn through the soles of their pool shoes. Every step felt like they were firewalking on hot coals.


The smell of sunscreen wafted inside his nostrils along with overdosed chlorine and rubber. It made it hard for him to appreciate the scent of savory burgers and pretzels from the food stands across the pool. It was noon, and people were already mobbing the stand like the ocean waves.


Owen remained composed and walked alongside Dylan as they approached their lounge chairs and threw their towels on the armrest.


They always chose seats that allowed them to see the lifeguard chairs placed next to each other on one side of the pool.


Usually, a set of lifeguard chairs wouldn’t be a reason to attend a local county pool for six days a week, but for Owen, it represented life or death.


“There she is Owen,” Dylan’s voice tickled his ear. “There’s your honey bun.”


Owen felt Dylan push his shoulder and heard his laugh, which sounded like a drunk squirrel.


Owen stared at a girl who sat on one of the lifeguard chairs. Her golden legs were crossed, and the shape of her thighs were visible from her red bathing suit. Her body was shaped like an hourglass. She had her lips pursed as her chin rested on her hand.


Her lips were the color of ripe cherries, and her eyes were covered by black sunglasses with sparkled sequins. Her blond hair was in a high ponytail that he wished he could caress. The longer Owen’s green eyes lingered over the girl, the more obvious his reason for being there became.


He planned to kiss her today.


“She’s not my honey bun,” Owen grumbled as he saw Dylan’s smile extend past his ears. “She doesn’t even know I exist.”


“Well, she will today,” Dylan bounced over his lounge chair and stood behind Owen, placing his hands on Owen’s limp shoulders. “Remember the plan.”


Owen looked down at the dry sidewalk. Last night, he was dared to kiss his crush if he went bankrupt in the Monopoly game they played on the patio deck of Dylan’s house. Dylan suggested for Owen to try to get her to do mouth-to-mouth resuscitation by drowning so the kiss would appear consensual.


Owen couldn’t understand whether it was blind desperation to claim manhood at the age of 14 or the desire to not appear as a chicken, but he felt that he had no choice after landing on the Boardwalk spot of the Monopoly map and surrendering all of his assets.


He has to be a man.


“Dylan,” Owen spoke, his thin voice quivering as his eyes caught the black rims of her sunglass face where he stood. “You know I can’t swim, right?”


“Of course,” Dylan scoffed. “It means you won’t have to pretend to drown. Women like honesty anyway.”


“Who told you that?”


“No one.” Of course. “Now come on, let’s get you to the diving board.”


With a tug on the shoulder and the scraping of pool shoes, Owen and Dylan approached the side of the pool that was reserved for pool divers.


Owen felt his manhood vanish as he watched the pool become deeper with every step. They both stopped at one of the available diving boards.


“It’s time Owen, I’ll watch from afar,” Dylan announced. He ruffled Owen’s black curls. “It’s time to be a man!” He chuckled and began running away.


Owen cursed his ability to speak altogether after last night.


He watched Dylan stop on the other side of the pool and wave frantically. He rolled his eyes and slowly shuffled his feet on each step of the ladder to get on the diving board.


He stopped when he was able to see the water below him. His breaths shuddered while his heartbeat began to expand past his chest. His mouth grew dry, and he knew the sweat perspiring past his face wasn’t from the sun. He quickly glanced back at the latter.


The idea of going down the ladder didn’t sound so bad. He could run back to the lounge chair and call his mother to take him home to escape the potential rejection. Yet the view of Owen’s enthusiasm and the girl running her fingers through her hair told him what he had to do.


He jumped.


Owen felt the water freeze his bones. He watched how the sunlight created patterns on the ground below him and he heard nothing but the water burbling as he started to sink. He immediately began flapping his arms and legs, but they became boulders. His eyes started to burn, and he felt his lungs become encapsulated by the water that entered his mouth as he tried to scream.


He knew he was going to die.


Owen raised his hand and felt a sensation of heat. He wished his body could be on a lounge chair. He could close his eyes and feel the sun kissing his skin. He could study the girl sitting on the highchair and make sure that he didn’t miss any of her movements when she would climb down and walk past him. He could be a dreamer that knew none of his wishes would be fulfilled, but he would at least be alive.


He felt hands grab him and thrust him upwards. The heat of the pavement scratched his back and he felt lips touch his own while hands pumped his chest. It caused him to cough sharply as water spat out. The air began to enter his nose and he allowed himself to take deep breaths as his heart began beating at a regular pace.


“Are you okay?”


Owen opened his eyes in hopes to see the slim curves and golden skin glistening in front of his view. Instead, he saw the head lifeguard, who was an older woman.


Owen’s eyes widened and he jolted back when she placed a hand on his shoulder. He didn’t know that the girl had just gotten out of her chair to finish her shift while he jumped. Instead, he knew that he had to explain himself and face consequences. It was then that he realized where his efforts led him to.


No kiss from a pretty girl, and no manhood.


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