Today's Reading

"My hair just gets in my eyes when I swim," Florence said after removing the last pin from her mouth.

"Very good," said Anna, but the word good came out sounding more like 'gut'. Anna's English was close to perfect but her accent was heavy, and sometimes her words came out slowly, as if her sentences were a string of taffy. Often, Gussie didn't have the patience to wait on them. Gussie's mother had told her to be kind—that she should try to imagine what it must be like for Anna to be in a new place, so far from her parents, but Gussie wasn't inclined to be sympathetic.

Gussie heard a high-pitched whistle followed by a "heigh-ho!" and turned to watch Stuart Williams leap from the Boardwalk onto the hot sand.

"Have you abandoned your post?" her aunt shouted at him as he raced toward them and grabbed Florence up in a hug. Anna and Gussie stood to greet him, too. Gussie thought Stuart was very handsome. He didn't look anything like the men in her family, or any of the men at the synagogue, for that matter. He had clear, blue eyes and short, blond hair, and in the summer months, his skin tanned to a golden brown. He wore the same blue suit that all the Atlantic City Beach Patrol lifeguards wore—a wool one-piece with a white belt and the letters ACBP stitched across his chest.

"Dan said you were here, so I had to come see the siren of the sea for myself." He rubbed the top of Gussie's head with his fist and extended a hand toward Anna. "I'm Stuart."

"Stuart, this is Anna from Germany," said Florence. "She's staying with my parents for the summer. Until she goes to college."

"Good to meet you, Anna from Germany," he said with a smile. "Where are you going to school?"

"New Jersey State Teachers College."

"Ah, in picturesque Trenton."

"He's a wisecrack. Don't pay him any attention," said Florence to Anna, conspiratorially. "Trenton's fine."

Stuart's eyes were shiny and bright. "When'd you get back?" he said, returning his attention to Florence.

Florence put a finger to her lips, as if she were doing a complicated arithmetic problem. "Three or four days ago?"

"And this is the first I'm seeing you? I'm outraged."

"I went looking for you at the States Avenue stand but they said you'd been booted down the beach."

He wagged his head in the direction of The Covington. "Long story. And one that's probably best told from the stern of a boat."

"Stuart coaches the Ambassador Swim Club in the off-season," Florence said to Anna. "Spent four years ordering me around."

"A lot of good it did," said Stuart.

"He's a monster," Florence said to Anna, which Gussie knew was not actually true. It bothered her when grown-ups said the opposite of what they meant.

"So, you're really going to do it?" he asked Florence when everyone's smiles had faded from their faces.

"I am."

"How's the training been going?"

"Fine, good. I'm in the pool all the time, so it's been good to get back in the ocean."

Gussie wondered if Anna even knew about Florence's plan. She was about to say something when Anna asked, "Is there a competition?"

"Just with myself," Florence said with a laugh.

"She's going to swim the English Channel," said Stuart.

Florence corrected him, "Attempt to swim the English Channel."

"Don't pretend to be modest," he said. "We can all see right through you."

Florence reached over, touched Anna's arm, and whispered, in a voice loud enough for everyone to hear, "Don't listen to him," and to Gussie's great surprise, Anna laughed. The noise was so foreign, Gussie didn't know quite what to make of it. Anna had arrived in Atlantic City in March—Joseph had driven up to Jersey City to collect her from the ferry terminal—and, in all that time, Gussie had never seen her eyes so much as twinkle.
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