Bikini Beach: The Diving Team

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Bikini Beach: The Diving Team
ElrodW

Natty's diving team is having a meet in the season-ending championships, but two of their divers are suddenly unavailable. Where can they find a substitute at the last minute so they don't lose their chance at winning the first-place trophy?

ew2001@comcast.net

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Bikini Beach: The Diving Team



This story is copyright by the author. It is protected by licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.

The bell couldn't come any too soon for the impatient tweens still suffering from the change from care-free summer routines to the regimen of a school day full of classes where the students didn't want to be, nor did they understand the utility of learning about dead authors, pre-algebra, or the geography of sub-Saharan Africa. As the liberated students poured out of their classrooms, poured through the hallways like a torrent of humanity, and flowed out onto the school grounds outside the school building, order emerged from the chaos as small clusters of friends began to congregate.

Natty Michaels grinned to her best friend Megan, falling in beside her as they stepped smartly from their temporary prison toward one of the small groups. Natty was a typical thirteen year-old girl, a bit gangly and awkward as she blossomed slowly from childhood into womanhood, her curves starting to develop in a way that promised she'd attract more than her share of attention from boys. She had a heart-shaped face, with a dainty nose and irresistible soft brown eyes. Her lips were filling, developing a cupid's bow. Beautiful dark brown, medium-length hair, feathered, partially covered the right side of her face, adding an air of mystery. Megan was similarly developing, a little more slowly than Natty, but she seemed to know that she was considered one of the cuter girls in her class, being slender and freckled, with sandy-blonde hair worn loose about her shoulders, a change from the little-girl braided ponytail she'd worn for so many years. Ashley, Sydney, and Kelly, part of a small group of inseparable friends, were already talking to three boys. Ashley, being a bit taller, more developed, and blonde, was from her attitude and mannerisms, the informal leader of the group of girls, without being bossy or mean or domineering.

Natty's eyes twinkled when she caught the eyes of one of the boys, Jeff, her boyfriend. Of the guys in the group, Jeff was the tallest, nice-looking without the teen idol appearance that would be a girl magnet. Megan also practically melted when Eric smiled at her, confirming the suspicion that she was seriously infatuated with the olive-skinned young man who was classically Italian, with a curly mop of dark hair and a seemingly endless grin.

"What's going on tonight?" asked the third boy, Doug. From the way Sydney was gazing at him, hanging on his every word, even a fool could see that she considered herself Doug's girlfriend, and the frequent smiling glances he shot her way indicated that he reciprocated that feeling. "Anyone up for Fun Zone?" He referred to a local hangout for younger teens and tweens – an arcade and party place that was very popular, at least until the kids were in high school and they started going to Shell Game, the hangout for older kids.

"I can't," Natty answered quickly. "We've got team practice tonight."

Jeff gave her a sad puppy-dog-eyed look. "You've been having practice a lot lately."

"I know," Natty replied to him. "I'm sorry, but we've got a big diving meet coming up this weekend. It's the last meet for the summer diving league – the Tri-County League championship they had to postpone because of the big storm, and Coach Lisa is trying to make sure we're ready." She was excited whenever she talked about the diving team, their coach, or an upcoming meet. "Coach thinks we've got a pretty good chance of winning."

Jeff smiled at her. "That'd be neat. I wish we had a decent boys' team so maybe we could practice together. Or even practice at all."

"You'll be competing next year on the high school team," Natty encouraged him. She leaned a bit closer to him – close enough to tell him something privately, but not close enough to embarrass him in front of his friends. Boys his age were quite shy about any public displays of affection. "I know where you can practice any time you want." She smiled. "You could come and practice with us if you want."

"Uh, no. Not going there," Jeff proclaimed firmly. "Not unless you give me a good reason," Jeff added in a whisper to Natty. _There_ referred to Bikini Beach, and Jeff and Eric knew the secret of the magic park – the park was designed for women only, and any man or boy who went there was transformed by the magic into a girl to safeguard the male-free haven that was the park's calling card. "Without a good team and coach, you're getting better than I am," Jeff feigned a complaint.

"I am already better than you," Natty shot back, sticking her tongue out at him.

"Hey, you two," Megan giggled, "knock it off. We all know who's best."

"Natty," Ashley and Sydney said jointly, while Doug and Eric both chimed in, "Jeff!"

"Do we need to have another dive-off?" Megan said playfully to the boys, words which caused them to gulp nervously or flinch. The last time the subject of competitions in water sports had come up, the girls had dragged the guys to Bikini Beach, and they competed – as girls – in the park's Olympic pool and diving area.

"Uh," Eric stammered quickly and nervously, "I don't think so."

"I've got to wait a bit for Melinda to get out of classes so she can take me to the water park for practice," Natty explained. "So you guys go have fun. Maybe I can catch up with you later."

Jeff saw an opportunity to be a knight in shining armor riding to Natty's rescue. "Maybe my mom can take you when she picks me up," he offered.

Natty's eyes lit up. "I know Melinda would appreciate it. I'll text her." She was really excited by the possibility of spending a few more minutes with Jeff, even though it would be chaperoned by his mother, in the family car. They might not be able to kiss under the watchful eye of their chauffeur, but they could at least hold hands. It was better than nothing.

Moments later, she crawled into a car with Jeff. Their friends were going ahead to Fun Zone, and Jeff would meet them there, but he was so interested in Natty that he wanted to be chivalrous and help her. Besides, as the two kids quickly discovered, when his mom was busy watching traffic, he and Natty could steal quick kisses. With all that attention from Natty, it didn't take Jeff long to change his mind about diving with her at Bikini Beach.

**********

Natty intercepted Jasmine as she emerged from the smaller locker room, the one that on the outside said 'men', but on the inside of the park was 'women's overflow shower'. "Just don't say anything, okay?" she said to Jasmine. Despite this being Jasmine's second trip to Bikini Beach, she wasn't used to the whole 'guys changing into girls' thing, and she was visibly nervous.

Natty took Jasmine's hand. "Let's go do some diving." She giggled. "It's a good thing I told Anya to make your swimsuit a one-piece."

"Why?" Jasmine frowned.

"Because, silly," Natty giggled more, "if you had a bikini, you'd be putting your top back on every time you dived." She saw Jasmine's cheeks turn crimson. "Besides, a one-piece gives more support up top. With a chest like yours," she glanced knowingly at the breasts on Jasmine, which were larger than average for a girl her apparent age, "high entries into the water can hurt if your boobs are flopping all over."

"Voice of experience?" Jasmine asked.

It was Natty's turn to blush. "Yeah. I made that mistake twice." She smiled at Jasmine. "It's not so bad off the one meter board, but it can sting a lot off the three meter board and platform."

Jasmine squeezed Natty's hand affectionately. "Thanks for looking out for me."

The smile nearly split Natty's face in two as she beamed with pleasure. "Let me do the talking, okay?" The two girls walked toward the diving pool, to where several tweens were congregated around a slightly taller, slightly older girl and a tall, lithe, athletic-looking coach.

"Hi, Miss Lisa!" Natty called cheerfully as she and Jasmine neared the group.

"Hi, Natty," Lisa, the coach, replied after turning and recognizing Natty. A frown crossed her face. "Uh, is your ... friend going to watch?"

Natty shook her head. "No, Jasmine wants to dive today, too."

Lisa winced. She wanted to use every possible second to hone her team's skills, and an outsider would be a distraction. "Uh, I suppose," she said hesitantly.

"It's not a closed practice," Natty added quickly, "and you saw her dive a couple of weeks ago. I _know_ she won't slow down our practice." She canted her head toward Jasmine. "You better not make a liar out of me," she whispered sharply.

Lisa nodded. "Okay, join the circle." As soon as Natty and Jasmine were gathered in the group, Lisa outlined the plans for the day. "We're going to review our basic dives, starting on the one meter board, and then the three meter board, and finally, the three meter platform. We need to make sure our fundamentals are sharp. Questions?" None of the girls spoke or raised a hand. "After two practice rounds, we're going to score our dives, so you know what it'll feel like with actual judging."

One girl raised her hand. "Are we scoring dives like we normally do?"

"Yes," Lisa answered. "Me, Mel, and three of you girls, in turns." Lisa firmly believed that scoring and critiquing the dives of others helped her divers better understand what the judges looked for, and therefore help them focus on areas they most needed to improve. She and her daughter Mel watched the divers with their usual critical eyes, pointing out even the smallest of flaws in the girls' techniques. Coach Lisa was a demanding instructor, stressing that each of her pupils had to show continuous improvement, never repeat old mistakes, and strove for perfection. Her diligence had paid off, with her divers winning many meets both in individual events and in team scores.

After the first two practice dives on the one-meter board, Lisa sidled up to Jasmine, who, as usual, was with Natty. "You're a little hesitant," Lisa told Jasmine.

"I guess," Jasmine replied nervously, hoping that Natty would help bail her out of what felt like a sticky situation. She glanced at Natty, hoping to see some sign of help.

"That's what I said," Natty joined in. She saw the distressed look on Jasmine's face, so she took the girl's hand. "I know you can dive better than you have today."

Lisa nodded her agreement. "I remember you from a couple of weeks ago. You've got talent, but you don't show any confidence. You need to be a little less hesitant and a little more aggressive with your dives."

Jasmine winced. "I'll try," she said. As Lisa walked away, she scowled at Natty. "Thanks for the help there."

"Well, you _were_ being timid!" Natty countered. "Not at all like the overly-confident boy who challenged me to a diving contest at Megan's house!"

"Oh," Jasmine perked up. "You want to make this into a personal contest?"

Natty smiled smugly and confidently. "Yeah. Unless you're afraid of losing."

"Bring it on," Jasmine said defiantly. "I'm not afraid of a fair competition." She eyed Natty carefully. "What are the stakes?"

Natty glanced around. "Miss Lisa would kill us if she found out. It's just bragging rights."

The friendly wager caused Jasmine to step up her efforts considerably. She dove after Natty, and when she crawled out of the pool and saw the scores, which were slightly higher than Natty's, she stuck her tongue out at Natty. After the second such dive, with Jasmine again outscore Natty, Jasmine did a little dance at the edge of a pool, like her own diving version of a 'touchdown dance.' "Give up yet?" Jasmine taunted.

"You wish," Natty said with a scowl.

"Aw, c'mon Natty," one of the other girls decided to have some fun teasing, too. "Just admit it – Jasmine is better than you."

Natty held her own in the third of the four dives, but on the last one, she mis-stepped on her takeoff, and under-rotated a bit, splashing sloppily into the water.

When Jasmine nailed her last one-meter dive, another girl teased, "You should take some lessons from Jasmine," which evoked a frown from Natty. It didn't help her mood to see Jasmine high-fiving with the others, and then sticking her tongue out at Natty.

After two dives on the three-meter board where the scores were close and in Natty's favor, Natty performed a good third dive. To her dismay, and to the delight of the other girls, Jasmine performed a nearly flawless dive. She danced a bit at the pool's edge, pausing to look at Natty, and impulsively, held up her thumb and finger in a 'L' shape on her forehead, signifying that Natty was, in Jasmine's opinion, a loser for their bet. Two of the other girls joined the taunting, egging Jasmine into even more displays of poor sportsmanship when she bested Natty in dive after dive.

Natty's confidence was shattered, and her heart was aching at the petty display. She expected such behavior from the other girls, but the ease with which Jasmine joined the taunting and ridiculing hurt her deeply.

After a disastrous backward dive by Natty on the three-meter board, Jasmine smiled sweetly. "I guess Megan and Sydney were wrong, after all," she said. Natty fought back tears, not understanding how Jasmine could be so vicious and unfeeling. She turned her back on the divers and stomped away from the diving pool, while the other girls gathered around Jasmine.

Natty's scores placed her seventh in the day's diving, her personal worst ever. And Jasmine looked so smug and pleased with herself.

A small group of girls surrounded Jasmine as they walked from the diving pool toward the locker rooms. "You're really good," a couple of the girls commented admiringly.

"Why don't you join our team? We could use good divers." Natty fumed inwardly as she heard the excited chatter and gushing praise of Jasmine.

"Yeah, and it's perfect time, because the tri-county juniors championship is this weekend!"

''I bet you'd medal in the individuals," another girl added quickly.

"Coach, you've _got_ to convince Jasmine to dive with us," one of the girls said, turning with pleading eyes to Lisa.

Lisa laughed. "Much as I'd like to have another good diver on the team, it's kind of Jasmine's choice, isn't it?"

"Please, Jasmine," a couple of girls pleaded, "dive with our team?"

Jasmine noted that Natty was walking apart from the group, and judging from her expression, was not in the least bit happy. "I don't think so," she said, wondering why Natty had her panties in a bunch. "It's fun to practice once in a while, but I don't think I could compete with you girls."

"Oh, yes you could! You were fantastic today."

Natty bristled at the sappy, syrupy comments. Little miss perfect was a big hit, and all the girls were paying attention to her. No-one wanted to talk with Natty tonight, except to tease and mock her for an uncharacteristically poor day of diving . She fumed all the way back to the locker rooms.

After the other girls disappeared into the women's locker room, Jasmine caught up with Natty. "I'll see you in a few minutes," Jasmine said cheerily just before she sauntered into the overflow locker room.

"Yeah, whatever," Natty snarled. She flopped heavily onto a bench at one of the many tables in the entrance plaza, a frown firmly displayed.

"I want to talk to you a bit about Jasmine," Coach Lisa said as she strolled easily toward Natty.

Natty scowled. "What about?"

Lisa couldn’t help but notice Natty's mood, nor had she failed to notice the growing tension between Natty and Jasmine as the diving practice had proceeded. She'd also noticed the teasing, which she thought was just good-natured ribbing, but apparently had gone beyond that point, at least to Natty. "Is there something I should know about?"

Natty shook her head. "No," she said crisply. "Nothing that matters to the team."

"I wish you'd talk to her about diving with us," Lisa commented. "She's good. And we could always use another diver, just in case someone can't make a meet."

"Yeah? Well, she's can't," Natty practically spat distastefully.

Lisa's expression changed, until she looked like an adult who found a child to scold. "I don't think that's your decision. If she wants to come back and dive, then it's her choice."

"Fine!" Natty snapped. "You go ahead and take her side, _too_!" She turned and started to storm off. "You can have _her_ on the team. She can take my place."

Lisa put her hand on Natty's shoulder, knowing that something was bothering the girl and she probably needed to talk about it. But instead of talking, Natty just rolled her shoulder from under Lisa's hand and continued stomping off deeper into the park.

A few minutes later, Jasmine emerged from the locker room, changed into her street clothes, and she looked around the plaza. A frown formed when she didn't see Natty, but then she realized that Natty was probably changing in the main women's locker room. She sat down at one of the tables, waiting. After nearly fifteen minutes, Jasmine's cell phone buzzed, and with one last look – in vain – for Natty, she strode forlornly toward the main gate, to where her mother waited in the car.

**********

Her long, red ponytail bobbing in time with her steps, Jenny, the red-headed mechanic of Bikini Beach and Natty's guardian, strolled happily from the elevator to her and Melinda's condo. She paused to unlock the door, whistling happily to herself It had been a very good day; parts had finally come in for one of the pumps, and she'd gotten it, and the two rides it serviced, back on-line, making for happy customers, a happy Grandmother, and a deep feeling of satisfaction. Grandmother had given final approval for Greg's plan to add more rides and water slides in the existing park, which meant that she could finally get functional utility tunnels that would allow her to reroute some of the more convoluted and complex water pipes. The result would be a water flow system on the 'volcano' that would be much easier to maintain, would allow her to consolidate five pump-houses into two, and would reduce the power bill for the South Seas Adventures half of the water park by a significant fraction. And if that wasn't enough, she'd replaced one pump completely, so it could be taken to her 'shed' and rebuilt, and the Dambuster ride had been off-line for only thirty or thirty-five minutes. All in all, a good day's work.

When the door swung open, Natty's music drowned out Jenny's whistling. Normally, this wouldn't be a problem, since Jenny was learning to like Natty's music, especially Pink, but at that moment, Natty was listening to what sounded like her 'depressed' tunes, with long, slow, sad tempos and somewhat melancholic lyrics. That music never bode well.

Jenny kicked the door closed behind her and set her purse on a counter in the kitchen, while slinging off her backpack "What's up, kiddo?" she asked, trying not to sound like a nagging parent. "Did you have a good day?"

Instead of the usual, expected teenage response of, "It was okay," Natty bolted from the sofa she'd been sprawled on, wrapped her arms around Jenny, and sobbed on her shoulder. "It sucked!" Natty whimpered between sobs.

Jenny embraced Natty tightly to let her know that she had a loving, secure place to vent her problems, and to help if she desired. Her fingers tenderly stroked through Natty's hair, brushing her damp cheeks lovingly. "Do you want to talk about it?" Jenny asked. At the moment, Jenny was so thankful for her partner Melinda, who, though she appeared to be about the same age, was much younger, and having a little sister, understood far better than Jenny how to deal with tweens and teens. Melinda had been giving Jenny crash courses in being tender with the girl without being smothering, listening without trying to problem-solve, and being supportive without interfering.

"What happened, sweetie?" Jenny asked, guiding Natty to the sofa so they could sit beside each other to talk. Jenny kept an arm around Natty, so the distraught girl could lean on her as she continue to cry.

"Jeff ... Jasmine came to diving practice today," Natty sniffled.

"She's been to the park before," Jenny observed cautiously.

"But ... Coach Lisa and all the other girls want her to be on the team!" Natty continued.

"That's not likely to happen, is it?" Jenny asked.

"No," Natty said softly. "But we were scoring our dives today, and ... and she was winning! And all the other girls were making fun of me because I wasn't winning."

"She was having a good day, right?"

Natty cried. "And ... Jasmine was being stuck up about it! She was making fun of me and saying how much better she was, too, and I was a loser. And all the other girls were asking her for tips about diving, and treating her like she was a diving goddess or something."

Jenny knew instantly what had happened. Natty had been hurt by Jasmine's ... Jeff's ... taunting. "Oh, honey," she said, wrapping Natty in an even tighter embrace. "Remember that Jasmine is still a guy inside, and guys do stupid things like that without thinking."

"Yeah, but she was really mean!"

Jenny wanted desperately to say something about boys and girls and young love, but she held her tongue and just let Natty cry on her shoulder as Jenny hugged her and reassured her that things would be okay.

**********

"Natty! Wait up!"

Natty stiffened as she heard her name, recognizing the voice calling her. Her instincts had been to turn, but she fought them successfully, and with a frown and an angry expression, she ducked into the girls' restroom. She leaned against a wall, shaking from a combination of anger and depression, and her hands and lower lip trembled with the unpleasant emotions she was feeling. She did _not_ want to deal with Jeff, not after yesterday's fiasco at Bikini Beach. Thinking about Jeff's actions and words still stung.

"Natty," Megan said as she burst through the door, following Natty as she dashed into the bathroom so quickly. "What's wrong?" She could tell, from Natty's posture and facial expression, that something was really bothering the girl.

Natty shook her head, biting her quivering lip in a futile attempt to not show Megan that something _was_ upsetting her. "Nothing," she lied.

Megan put her arm around her best friend's shoulder. "Come on, Natty," she urged, "I know when something's bothering you." When Natty didn't respond, Megan continued, "I heard Jeff calling you in the hall, and then you ran in here like your butt was on fire. What's going on?"

"Nothing," Natty continued her denial.

"You weren't out front before school, you're avoiding Jeff in the hallways. Did he do something to upset you?" Megan's logic was precise. "Did something happen last night? While you two were at the park, maybe?"

"I don't want to talk about it," Natty pouted.

"What did he do?" Megan asked firmly, still hugging Natty.

Natty shook her head as if to deny that anything had upset her, but she abruptly wiped at a single tear that had leaked onto her cheek. Even as her fingers wiped away the moisture, a second drop followed, and then a slow trickle began to roll down her face. She pulled herself against her friend, burying her face in Megan's shoulder.

"What happened, Natty?" Megan asked as she clutched Natty close.

"He ... he was ... he was an asshole!" Natty sobbed.

"What did he do?"

"We scored the dives, like Miss Lisa sometimes has us do, you know? Well, Jeff did better than me on our first dive, and when the other girls kidded me about it, he joined in."

"A little kidding is okay, isn't it?" Megan asked, hesitantly.

Natty shook her head. "He was getting kind of insulting, and then the other girls picked up on it, and it started getting kind of nasty."

Megan frowned. "Did you tell him?"

"The other girls were all around him, treating him like he was a star and stuff, and I never got a chance. Not that I wanted to."

Realization dawned on Megan's features. "That explains what Eric said."

"What?" Natty straightened and looked into Megan's eyes, her own red eyes narrow slits. "What did he say?"

"Just that Jeff didn't understand why you didn't meet him when he came out of the locker room. He said that Jeff looked for you, until his mom came and he had to go home."

"By the time the diving was over, I didn't want to even talk to him!" Natty snapped. She paused, and then looked at Megan. "You promise you won't tell him? Or Eric?"

Megan looked stricken. She knew that someone needed to do something to patch things back up, but .... She nodded, already thinking that she could tell Sydney, who would relay word through _her_ boyfriend Doug to Jeff. "Okay," she said hesitantly.

"Promise me you won't tell _anyone_!" Natty added, like she'd already guessed what Megan was thinking.

"Okay," Megan sighed, nodding. "Let's get your eyes cleaned up, so we can get to class."

**********

At the end of the school day, as Natty stood outside waiting for Megan, Jeff sauntered up to her, smiling like there was nothing wrong. "Hi," he said warmly.

Natty made a show of noticing him. "Oh. Hi," she said, her voice ice cold.

"Mom's making a pina colada cake, and I thought maybe we could go study for a bit and have some of her cake, and then she could take you home for dinner," Jeff offered hopefully.

Natty frowned. "Sorry, but I have to go to dive practice," she announced, her voice still frosty. "We have the diving meet, and I have obligations to the team."

"Do you want a ride to the park? Mom and I could take you," Jeff offered, trying to recover some time with Natty, and a bit confused by her chilly responses.

Natty shook her head. "No. I've already lined up a ride with Megan's mom."

A few of the other members of the group were strolling toward Natty and Jeff, and Jeff had noticed. He had a few moments alone with Natty before the others got close enough to interfere with any private discussions. "Is something wrong, Natty?" he asked, baffled.

"Why would you think something's wrong?" she retorted sharply, making it painfully obvious that something _was_ wrong, and heavily stating without words that she wasn't going to tell him if he couldn't figure it out on his own.

The conversations of the group of friends was awkward, where Natty was blatantly ignoring Jeff, and poor Jeff was trying to talk to Natty, knowing that something was bothering her, but not knowing what. Finally, to break the uneasy situation, Megan's mom arrived, and the two girls scampered off to meet her so Natty could get to Bikini Beach for dive practice.

Behind them, watching them go, Jeff shook his head sadly. Eric couldn't help but notice. "Why is Natty pissed at you?" he asked.

"I don't know," Jeff answered. "Everything was fine yesterday."

"What happened yesterday?"

Jeff sighed. "I went with her to diving practice."

Eric frowned as he realized what Jeff was saying. "At ... there?" It was as if even mentioning the name of Bikini Beach could curse him to change into a girl again, like he and the guys had a few weeks earlier. He was not anxious to repeat the experience.

"Yeah," Jeff nodded. "I thought we'd have some fun diving together."

"So what happened? Why is she pissed?"

Jeff shook his head. "I wish I knew. The coach was keeping score, and I won, but ...." He sighed. "I know Natty is competitive, but I don't think she'd get this upset about losing."

"Something had to have happened," Eric replied, "because right now, she's the Ice Queen toward you."

"Yeah," Jeff agreed forlornly. "And if it's like my dad said, I'll have to figure out _what_ I did, because like most women, she's not going to tell me!"

**********

"Okay," Megan asked sternly, "what's going on? You were kind of an ice-cold bitch to Jeff back there."

"He doesn't have a clue about what he did," Natty retorted sharply. "He has no idea how much it hurt. And ... all the girls on the team want him to join and dive with us."

"Aha! So you're jealous that Jasmine is a better diver!"

"No!" Natty snapped. She paused a moment. "Well, maybe a bit. But the worst part is that she was nasty about it."

"That's not fair to Jeff, if the other girls started it."

"They didn't. Jeff did. Kind of. And when the other girls started in, he didn't stop, but joined in and was getting kind of nasty about it."

"So tell him."

"What?" Natty asked, astounded.

"He's a boy," Megan said, as if that would explain everything. Seeing that it didn't, she continued. "Boys are clueless! Even men don't know when they've done or said something stupid and hurtful. Isn't that right, Mom?"

Megan's mom, sitting in front and focusing on her driving, started. "Huh? Oh, yeah. They're totally clueless about what they do wrong." She _had_ been listening to the conversation.

"So what am I supposed to do?" Natty grumbled. "Forget that he hurt me? Tell him so he gets a free pass and doesn't have to think about it?" She crossed her arms angrily. "I don't know _what_ to do!" She didn't have time to listen to any advice, either, because the car arrived at Bikini Beach.

"Thanks for the ride," Natty said, still a little glum, as she climbed out of the car.

"Natty," Megan's mom said with a smile at the girl, "things work out. Don't worry."

"Easier said than done," Natty replied. She closed the car door, and then walked through the turnstile, pausing to swipe her membership card, and into the girls' locker room. A quick change and a shower later, and Natty trudged through the entrance plaza and to the diving pool.

As she approached the diving pool, Natty frowned to herself at seeing a cluster of girls gathered around Coach Lisa and Mel. It wasn’t so much that the girls were gathered as much as that they looked very unhappy. As she neared, one of the girls noticed her, and turned, a look of near desperation on her face. "Natty," the girl practically cried, "you _have_ to talk to your friend Jasmine! We need her!"

Natty's frown deepened to a full angry scowl. "Why? She was just visiting." Inside, her head spun. She was sure that Grandmother had said that Jeff's change had been a local one, which is why the girls remembered Jasmine now, even though she changed back to Jeff, but if the spell was local, Jeff's mom couldn’t have picked up Jasmine because she wouldn't have known who Jasmine was. The only thing that could explain this is that Grandmother or Anya had slightly 'tweaked' the spell, so that Jeff's mom didn't notice the change, but otherwise, it was local. Damn, she thought – this magic stuff could get so confusing so quickly. Just when she thought she had it figured out, something different happened. Once, Jenny had told her to stop trying to make sense of it before Natty went nuts. Now, Natty understood how prescient that advice had been.

Lisa sighed. "Kaelin's mom called. Kaelin's grandmother passed away this morning. The family will be at the services this weekend, so Kaelin won't be able to compete." She turned toward the entire group. "I know you've been working so hard to win the team championship this year. We had a really good chance, too. I know it's disappointing, but there's always next year."

"But ... but Miss Lisa," Natty protested quickly, "that means we don't have enough divers for the team competition!" She felt the bitter pang of disappointment rise within her.

"But if you could get Jasmine to dive ...," another girl asked again. Several others chimed in their agreement that Jasmine

Natty started to feel nauseated. The girls' hope, their only chance of a payback from all their hard work, rested on her asking Jeff to be Jasmine for the weekend, and to dive in the competition. But Jeff had been a complete asshole when he outscored Natty, and the thought of enduring that again made her both angry and also heartbroken. "I ... she can't," she stammered, feeling sick inside.

"You can still compete in the individual events," Coach Lisa said, trying to bring some hope and enthusiasm back to the bitterly-disappointed girls. "Let's get practicing."

As the diving proceeded, with noticeably less enthusiasm than the girls had displayed the day before, Lisa pulled Natty to one side. "Are you sure that Jasmine won't consider diving with us? She _is_ pretty good."

Natty scowled. "No. She won't."

Lisa could tell that there was something unspoken, but she decided not to press Natty. "Okay." She suspected that Natty wasn't even going to ask, despite what it would mean to the team.

**********

"You're still in a funk tonight," Melinda noted as Natty stirred the vegetables cooking in a wok. "What's up?"

"Nothing," Natty answered.

"You're awfully quiet. Did something happen at school today? Or is this more of Jeff from yesterday?"

Natty winced; she didn't think her motives were so transparent to Melinda and Jenny. "Kaelin can't dive Saturday, so we can't compete for the team trophy," she muttered.

"Don't you have extra girls on the team?"

Natty shook her head. "Charlie had appendicitis, and Yvonne quit when school started so she could focus on cheerleading. We don't have enough girls on the team now."

Melinda set down the plates she was carrying and swept Natty into a hug. "I'm sorry, Natty," she said as she hugged the girl. "I know how much you and your friends wanted to win."

"Stuff happens," Natty said, trying to sound philosophical, but failing to completely hide her disappointment from Melinda. Jenny noticed as well when Natty was so quiet during and after dinner.

Natty's depressed mood continued through the night, even when she was talking with Megan later in the evening. "What's wrong?" Megan asked after only a few moments of conversation because she, too, had noticed that Natty's mood was even worse than it had been at school.

"Kaelin can't be there this weekend, so we can't compete as a team. We won't be able to win the team championship."

"You can still compete and win the individual events," Megan tried to encourage Natty.

"Yeah, I guess."'

"Or you could ...."

"No!" Natty replied emphatically.

Megan's voice sounded a little hurt at Natty's quick, firm reply. "You didn't know what I was going to suggest," she said.

"Sorry," Natty apologized contritely. "It's just that, well, everyone's been suggesting that I ask Jeff if he'd be Jasmine and dive. I figured you were going to say the same thing."

Megan chuckled nervously. "Actually, I _was_ going to suggest it. But I know how much he hurt you, so forget I said anything," she added quickly.

"When he started teasing me after the first dive," Natty continued, "it _hurt_, because he seemed so mean. I kind of got upset, and then the other girls saw that and joined in. I ... kind of lost my self-confidence. I'm ... afraid."

"Of what?"

"That if Jasmine dives with us, I'll lose my self-confidence again, and blow it." Natty sighed. "I don't want to be the one who costs us the team championship."

Megan winced, her slight gasp audible through the phone. "If Jasmine doesn't dive because you don't want to task her," she ventured, "aren't you doing the same thing to the team?"

**********

Because of the layout of the school, and the way their classes dismissed for lunch, Natty and Megan got to the cafeteria several minutes before the boys, enough that the girls were seated and eating when the class the boys were in finally got into the serving line.

"Natty!" Megan snapped, startling her friend. "You're going to choke or something."

Natty glanced at her, and then at the serving line, where Eric and Jeff were slowly making their way toward the food. "I'm ... I'm not really hungry," she said, putting down the remains of a sloppy joe and pushing her tray back a bit.

Megan snorted, "That's news, because a second ago, you were eating like you hadn't seen food in a week or something!"

Natty scowled. "I'm suddenly not feeling very hungry."

"Still mad at Jeff?" Ashley chuckled from beside Natty.

"I'm not mad at him!" Natty retorted angrily.

"Coulda fooled me," Sydney said with a giggle. She looked up. "Hi Jeff, Eric," she crooned. "Is Doug here today, or is he still sick?"

Jeff shook his head. "Nah, he's still out sick."

"He's milking that bump on the head for all it's worth," Eric added with a laugh. "Concussion, my ass!"

"You'd get a concussion if you fell on your ass," Sydney chortled, leaving Eric red-faced at her jab.

"I gotta go ... to the library," Natty blurted as she stood quickly, even before Jeff had taken a seat. "I need to find ... a book." Her lie was so flimsy that it was nearly transparent.

"Wait a sec so I can wolf down my sloppy joe," Jeff said with a smile, "and I'll go with you."

"That's ... that's okay," Natty said hastily. "Don't eat so fast that you choke." She spun and darted with her tray to the dirty-dishes line, where she quickly dumped her leftover food and plopped her tray on a conveyer belt. Without a look back, she scampered out of the cafeteria.

Jeff sighed heavily as he watched her go, knowing that she'd been avoiding him for the past day and a half. He shook his head sadly, dropping his half-eaten sloppy joe onto his plate. "I wish I knew what was bothering her," he said wistfully, "but she won't talk to me."

Across the table, Megan winced visibly. She knew, but she'd been sworn to secrecy by Natty.

"What?" Jeff asked her, his eyes narrowing. He saw Megan flinch ever-so-slightly. "You know something, don't you?"

Megan shook her head. "No," she squeaked, intimidated by Jeff, but trying to stay loyal to her best friend.

Jeff just sighed, then dropped his gaze and stared at the remains of the food on his plate, shaking his head slowly.

**********

By the time Jeff and Eric emerged from the school building at the end of the day, Natty had gone with Melinda to another afternoon of diving practice. Jeff watched Melinda's car drive off as he and Eric trotted toward where Sydney and Megan remained. "Dang it," he muttered as he slowed and halted.

Megan, by contrast, was pleased to see Eric. "Hi," she purred, smiling.

Eric smiled at Megan. He looked like he wanted to kiss her, and he might have, if it weren't the middle of the school ground swarming with students. "History was so cool today," he chortled.

Sydney rolled her eyes. "You guys _would_ think that the French and Indian Wars were cool!"

Megan chuckled at Sydney's comment. "I think it's neat how Mister Rogerson has all those historical costumes he wears to class."

"It'd be cooler if he had a musket and stuff," Eric lamented. He noticed that Jeff wasn't joining in the conversation, but was instead staring forlornly at where Natty had departed the school grounds. "Hey, Jeff," he said sharply to try to get his friend's attention.

Jeff started, and then turned slowly. "Huh?" he asked blankly. "What are you talking about?"

Eric snorted. "For all you're paying attention, we could be talking about bug-eyed space aliens."

"Sorry," Jeff murmured, looking down. "I guess I'm a bit distracted."

"No shit?" Sydney asked sarcastically. "Is something up with you and Natty?" she continued, "because, like, you two have barely talked the past two days."

"I don't know," Jeff replied sadly. "I think she's mad at me for something, but I don't know what." At his words, Megan cringed a little bit. Jeff noticed, and turned on her, his eyes focused intently on her. "What? Do you know something?"

Megan glanced at Eric and Sydney for support, but found that they, too, were staring at her like they knew that she knew something.

"Yeah, like, you're her BFF," Sydney said almost accusingly. "What's going on?" She saw Megan flinch visibly. "You _do_ know something!"

Megan took a half-step back from her three friends. "I ... I promised I wouldn't say anything," she pleaded. "I can't tell you."

Sydney's gaze bore down on the girl. "Remember when we were in fourth grade?" she asked. "Remember we pinky-swore that we'd never, ever keep secrets about boys from each other?"

Megan scowled unhappily at Sydney. After thinking a moment, she grabbed Sydney's arm and pulled her aside. "I promised Natty!" she protested.

"You _pinky-swore_ with me," Sydney retorted, trumping Megan's argument.

"I _can't_!" Megan complained. "Natty's my best friend!"

"Megan, you _have_ to tell me," Sydney insisted.

Megan looked helpless, but then she spied her mom's car. "Oops," she said quickly. "Mom's here. Gotta run." She took a step back from her friends.

Sydney caught her arm. "Not so fast. Your mom will wait. You said she'll always give you a few minutes to talk to your friends, right?" She grinned triumphantly.

Megan frowned, drawing a couple of deep breaths. Still scowling, she grabbed Jeff's arm and pulled him aside, and when Sydney started to follow, Megan's glared froze her in place.

"What's going on with Natty?" Jeff whispered when they were a few steps from Sydney and Eric. "What's bothering her?"

"If you tell her that I told you ...." Megan threatened.

Jeff slowly nodded his agreement to her terms. "What is it?"

"She's upset that you were an ass the other day at diving practice," Megan hissed at him. "And I would have been too, if I was in her shoes."

A frown crept onto Jeff's features. "I don't understand. Is she mad that I beat her?"

Megan shook her head sternly. "No. She's mad that you were taunting and teasing her, and when the other girls started, you took it up a notch. You hurt her feelings pretty bad, and you didn't even notice. That's what she's pissed about."

Jeff thought about the day of diving, and what had happened, and he sheepishly lowered his gaze. "I ... I guess I might have gotten carried away."

"You're going to have to figure out how to apologize to her, and it's not going to be easy, because she doesn't want to talk to you right now."

Jeff nodded glumly. "Yeah, I noticed."

**********

With a nearly flawless entry, almost as if a knife had slowly cut into the water, Natty finished her dive, a one-and-a-half in the pike position. With her flexibility, her head had been practically touching her knees, her hands clutched behind them, in a picture-perfect example of the proper position for that dive. Natty knew, as she surfaced, that she'd nailed it; it _felt_ so right. Her confidence, so brutalized a few days earlier, was rebounding.

"Very nice," Coach Lisa said as Natty swam to the edge of the pool. "It looks like you've got your form back." She grinned. "Just in time, too."

With a lurch at the edge of the pool, Natty pulled herself up on her arms and climbed out of the water. "That felt good."

"What happened the other day? You were ... off."

Natty frowned; she didn't want to think about how poorly she'd done, and how Jasmine had taunted her with the other girls. "It was ... something personal," she muttered, looking away from Lisa lest something in her eyes betray her.

"I _saw_ how the other girls were teasing you," Coach Lisa admonished her. "And I had a talk with them before you got here today. Just to let you know, I told them that I won't stand for it, especially if it rattles one of our team members and costs us in the team competition."

Natty nodded, not quite trusting herself to speak at that moment.

"But what started it? I've never seen the girls getting so catty before." Her eyes narrowed. "Was it your friend Jasmine?"

Wordlessly, Natty nodded.

Lisa winced. "That's going to make this harder, then." She saw Natty look up at her, an expression of dread on her face. "I really wish you could convince Jasmine to dive with us Saturday. We could enter the team competition if she did." Lisa saw the look of shocked dismay on Natty. "But if she can't act like part of the team, then ...." She didn't need to say more.

"It wouldn't work anyway," Natty said defensively. At Lisa's questioning look, Natty continued. "She's ... just a ... visitor to the park," Natty concluded, wincing at her words, and hoping that she didn't have to be blunt with Lisa. It would be embarrassing to reveal to Coach Lisa that her boyfriend – make that 'former' boyfriend – changed into a girl a couple of times.

"So, she's ... changed?" Lisa asked with certainty of the answer. "And her skills ... are they ... magically enhanced, too?"

"Yeah, she, er, _he_ changed. But I don't think that Anya did anything to her diving skills. She's good all on her own."

Lisa sighed with relief. "That's good, because it wouldn't be fair to compete if someone's skill was due to magic." She thought a moment. "It probably couldn't work out anyway. If this ... boy ... changed into a girl, then when she changed back, she wouldn't have existed and we couldn't have competed."

Anya sidled up to the two from seemingly nowhere and joined the discussion. "If it was a local change, though," she said easily, "then she would have competed, even after changing back."

"Yeah, but ... what would Jeff, er Jasmine, do in the evening? He, er she, couldn't go home!" Natty protested. She really, _really_ didn't want to think about diving against Jasmine in the competition. Not after the way Jeff had acted.

Anya smiled at Natty, a knowing expression that made Natty feel a little uneasy. "If Jeff is going to change for the competition, then I would strongly suggest that he changes tomorrow, so Jasmine can practice with the team tomorrow afternoon before the meet on Saturday. As to how to handle the change back, I suppose a late movie and pizza party with you and your friends would keep Jasmine occupied until after the change, and then Jeff could either stay at his friend's house, or his mom could pick him up late."

"But ...." Natty started to protest. It _felt_ like she was being railroaded into something that she didn't want to do.

"Natty," Anya said firmly but kindly, "you need to think of your team, and not be selfish. If you ask Jasmine to dive, the team has a chance to win. If you don't ask her, your team has no chance, because you can't even compete."

Natty glared at Anya, but eventually looked down, shaking her head. "I _really_ don't want to do this," she muttered.

Unseen to Natty, Anya gave a head signal to Lisa to give the two of them some room to talk, so Lisa walked quickly to where other girls were waiting their turns to dive. "Natty," Anya said, putting her hand under the girl's chin and lifting so Natty had to look at her eye-to-eye. "You're better than this."

"He ... she _hurt_ me! She was making fun of me!" Natty said, fighting tears. "You weren't there! She was being really mean."

"Maybe," Anya acknowledged. "Natty, do you like Jeff?"

Natty's head spun at the abrupt change in direction of the conversation. "Huh? Yeah. What does that have to do with ...?"

"And _you_ got kind of competitive with him at a party, didn't you?" Anya continued. "You're _both_ very competitive. You two have to figure out how to keep the competition friendly, or at least separate from other things."

Natty gazed at Anya questioningly for a moment. "I suppose," she said half-heartedly.

Anya continued. "Lisa told me that she could tell when you were starting to get competitive with Jasmine, because you started pushing yourself too far and were making basic mistakes. If you two can't put the competitiveness behind you, then asking Jasmine to compete with the team will be a big mistake, for you _and_ for the team. You'll both be so focused on outdoing the other one that you could make big mistakes and cost the team a victory." She gave Natty a quick hug. "Now go practice some more. I want you to be nearly perfect Saturday."

**********

Jenny walked silently beside Natty from the gate of Bikini Beach toward their condo building, which was only a few hundred yards from the water park. Jenny could tell that there was something on Natty's mind, but so far, the girl had been silent.

"Jenny?" Natty finally asked, her voice small and hesitant.

"Yeah?"

"Uh," the girl began. "Uh, what if, uh, you knew someone who was mad at a boy, but, uh," she stammered, "her friends wanted her to ask him for a favor?"

Jenny smiled to herself. "It depends, I guess," she replied. "What would the girl be mad at the boy for?" She was pretty sure she already knew, but was playing dumb so that Natty would maybe tell her more than she and Melinda had overheard.

"Uh, the boy was making fun of me, er, my friend," Natty corrected herself quickly, "and he doesn't have a clue, and she's mad at him because of that?"

"It depends," Jenny said. They were walking into the lobby of the condo, and as they came in one door, Melinda coincidentally came in from the parking lot, joining them by the elevator.

Melinda wrapped her arms around Jenny and gave her a deep kiss. "How was your day?" she asked, pausing to wrap an arm around Natty's shoulder affectionately, and gave her a kiss on the forehead, which caused the girl to wince uncomfortably. She was, after all, a tween, and displays of affection from parents and guardians was embarrassing to her.

"Natty was just explaining a problem that _a friend_ was having," Jenny explained, winking at her partner.

"Oh? Is it serious?"

"It's about a boy," Jenny explained before Natty could speak. "Her boyfriend did something to upset the girl, and he doesn't realize it, but the girl's friends want her to ask him for a favor." The trio stepped into the elevator, pausing only long enough for Melinda to retrieve their mail from mailboxes in the lobby.

"Well," Melinda offered, "you should remember, er, I mean, your _friend_ should remember that most guys are clueless about when they do or say something that hurts a girl. Especially when they say something."

Natty goggled at the two, and then smiled. "Is that the voice of experience?"

Jenny and Melinda exchanged glances, and then they both burst into giggles. "Guilty," they said at the same time.

Natty looked back and forth between the two, and then chuckled. "When I was a boy, I don't think I was old enough to do that."

"Don't bet on that," Jenny cautioned. "I recall ...."

"Okay, okay," Natty interrupted harshly. "No need to go into details."

Melinda patted the girl on the shoulder. "Boys say and do dumb things, and then they don't remember what they did until you remind them." She grinned. "And every once in a while, you can remind them again to keep them in line."

Natty frowned at that suggestion. "That sounds kind of mean."

Jenny nodded. "She's joking. If you care about someone," she exchanged a loving glance with Melinda, "you don't keep score, and when you say you forgive something, you don't bring it up again."

"Yeah. I know people who _do_ keep bringing up past wrongs," Melinda added, "and it just keeps hurting."

"So," Jenny said, leading the girls off the elevator and down the hall toward their condo, "I take it that someone wants you to ask Jeff for a favor, but you're still upset at what he did the other night?"

Natty nodded slowly. "Yeah," she admitted.

Melinda had her keys out first, unlocking the door and letting them in to their home. "Is this about the diving meet?" she asked with certainty.

"Yeah," Natty said, sinking into the sofa. "The other girls, and even Coach Lisa, want me to ask Jeff, _Jasmine_, to compete with us this weekend."

"Wow," Melinda muttered under her breath. "That's tough. Since Jeff was kind of an ass last time, you have a right to be worried that he'd do it again. But if you don't ask, you and all the other girls lose out on a chance to win the team competition."

"And if he did compete," Natty added morosely, "he might beat me for a medal."

Jenny sat down and hugged her charge. "I'm sure you'll do what you think is right."

**********

Students were congregating in front of the school building as the buses and parents dropped them off for the morning. It seemed that they were trying their hardest to delay the onset of classes, waiting until the very last moment to enter the disliked educational edifice. One girl stood apart, half hidden around the corner of the school, glancing nervously toward the gathering hordes. She saw her friends gathering, and with a deep breath to steel her nerves, she began her slow march toward them, as yet unseen by the still-gathering cluster.

Jeff looked around anxiously, watching for his friends, but even when he spied Megan and Sydney approaching from one side, while Doug and Eric approached from another direction, he seemed hopeful to find someone besides the four he'd already seen.

"Hi," Eric called cheerfully to Jeff, and then he turned to smile shyly at Megan. "Hi," he repeated, almost blushing.

Megan sidled up beside Eric, trying to make it look casual, and she grasped his hand in her own. "Morning," she said with a smile.

"Have you seen Natty?" Jeff interrupted the pleasantries.

Megan and Sydney shook their heads. "No," Sydney replied. "It's kind of weird, like she's avoiding us or something."

Megan frowned at Sydney. "Thanks to you and that stupid pinky-swear, she's kind of pissed at me right now. She found out that I told Jeff."

Sydney's eyes popped wide open. "_I_ didn't tell her!"

"Don't look at me," Jeff added when Megan glared at him. "She's not even talking to me!"

"I know," Megan grumbled. "But it _is_ your fault that she's mad, and then thanks to you," she shifted her disapproving stare to Sydney, "and that stupid old promise ...."

"How'd she find out that you told?" Eric asked.

Megan didn't ease her glare. "When you tried to call her to apologize, she got suspicious because you were pretty specific, when you'd been totally clueless before. She called me, all pissed off, and made me tell her what happened," she answered. "Because she's my best friend and we promised to be honest with each other," she added, answering the unasked question.

"You didn't _have_ to ...." Jeff's voice trailed off, and his gaze was fixed toward the school building. When the other three realized that he'd stopped talking, and that he was staring at something, or someone, they turned, and all jaws dropped.

"Uh, hi," Jeff said slowly as Natty neared the group, her face inscrutable.

"Hi," she answered in an equally unreadable, emotionless tone. Before anyone else could speak, she continued. "I need to talk to Jeff. Alone."

Exchanging uneasy glances, the other three kids walked toward the school entrance, glancing frequently over their shoulders at Jeff and Natty.

"Natty," Jeff began speaking immediately, "I need to tell you that, well, that I'm sorry. I shouldn't have teased you when we were diving. It wasn't, well, it was pretty mean. I'm sorry."

"I know," Natty said slowly and uncertainly. She took a deep breath, exhaling slowly. "I guess I over-reacted a bit. More than a bit maybe. It just ... hurt, though. A lot. Especially when you were teasing me so much with the other girls."

"I'm sorry," Jeff repeated. "I wish there was a way to take back those things I said." He looked at her hopefully. "Are we ... okay now? I mean, do you still want to be my ... girlfriend?" he asked softly, hesitantly.

Natty smiled. "I think so." She hesitantly reached for his hand, and he took hers and held it for a few moments. Together, smiling again after a tense couple of days, the teens walked toward the school entrance, their hands held like they desperately wanted to clasp, but shy and tentative because of the tremendous peer pressure of teenagers.

**********

For a normal school day, it seemed to drag on forever, the march of time having slowed to a crawl. Natty fidgeted and squirmed uncomfortably through her afternoon classes, waiting with dread the end of the school day and the second task she had to do. Part of her wished that the clock would simply stop, postponing indefinitely what she knew she had to do, and part of her wished that time would speed up, so she could get it over with and be free of the anxiety she felt.

Natty tried to smile and act nonchalant as she walked out of the building with Megan, but her friend noticed Natty's apprehension. "What's up?" Megan asked.

Natty winced. "I ... I have to ask a favor of Jeff."

"That should be easy. He'll do _anything_ for you!"

Natty shook her head slowly. "Not this. Not after what happened Tuesday."

It took a second for Megan to put the pieces together, and when she did, a horrified look spread. "You can't be serious!" she exclaimed. "After what happened the last time?"

Natty nodded glumly. "Miss Lisa and the girls want me to ask, because if Jeff won't do it, we can't enter the team competition."

"But ... you and Jeff! You could get into a huge fight again!"

"Yeah," Natty agreed sadly. "That's what I'm worried about."

"What are you worried about?" Jeff asked cheerfully as he joined the girls, having slipped up behind them unnoticed. "It's Friday. We're free for a weekend. What could there be that you're worried about?" He took Natty's hand, hoping that the simple act would spread some cheer to the gloomy girl.

Natty bit her lower lip for a moment. "I need to ask a favor."

"Anything," Jeff answered immediately.

"It's going to be hard – for both of us," Natty continued.

"What is it?" Jeff was getting a little impatient that Natty wasn't being direct about the favor, which made him a little uneasy.

"Miss Lisa and the girls want you, or rather, Jasmine, to dive with us tomorrow," Natty said with a grimace. "Because we don’t have enough for the team competition, and, well, they thought you were pretty good."

Jeff felt a surge of mixed emotions. To have been recognized as a talented diver was a big boost to his ego, but the fact that it had been as Jasmine was a little disconcerting. And then there was the fact that he was very competitive, and when he'd let that get out of control before, he'd hurt Natty. "Uh," he stammered, "I ... don't want to repeat ... what happened."

"I don't either," Natty said slowly, looking down. "But ... the team needs you to help." She looked up at him, not realizing that she was using big-sad-puppy-dog eyes. "I need you to help us." Despite trying to sound confident, her voice trembled, echoing her inner turmoil.

"Are you sure?" Jeff asked nervously.

Natty shook her head. "No. But ... I need to think about my team."

"What if I get caught up in being competitive again?"

Natty shook her head. "Miss Lisa won't let you, because it would hurt the team."

"But if ..."

"We'll have to not let it, okay?"

"I don't think it's a good idea."

"But you liked diving with me - before things got ... tense, didn't you?"

Jeff nodded. "I guess. Yeah."

"So after school, we'll go to the park and practice for tomorrow?"

"Okay, but ...." Jeff paused. "What about my mom, and ...?" His fear of changing into a girl, with the implications for his family, caught up to him.

"I don't know how, but Anya said she'd take care of it." Natty took Jeff's hand tentatively, and gave him a nervous smile. When he smiled back, and grasped her hand, her nerves calmed down considerably. She still wasn't sure, despite Anya's assurances that things would work out.

**********

Jasmine was smiling, but there was something hidden behind the cheery disposition. "I had a good time today."

"So did I," Natty agreed. "I told you Miss Lisa wouldn't let things get out of hand."

"Yeah. That cold-steel glare of hers does a pretty good job of stopping anything, doesn’t it?"

Natty giggled. "She practices that look, I think."

Now what?" Jasmine asked nervously. "I can't go home, because Anya said it was a local change."

"Yeah. You can stay at our place," Natty offered.

Jasmine goggled at her. "Uh, are you sure?" she stammered. Normally, as a guy, Jeff would have practically killed to spend a night with his girlfriend, or almost any girl for that matter. But now, being Jasmine, it was radically different, and the thought of a sleepover was a little unnerving.

"No sweat," Natty explained casually. "The way it works is, when you change back, you won't remember some of the details really clearly, like, well, intimate stuff." She blushed as she spoke the last words.

"So," Jasmine said with hesitation, "if we have, you know, a naked pillow fight, then ...."

"You won't remember seeing me naked," Natty finished. She suppressed her shudder; even though she trusted Grandmother and Anya implicitly, the thought that Jeff _might_ remember scared her a little bit.

"Um, Natty? How am I supposed to ask my mom's permission? The way Anya talked, it sounded like she will remember me as Jeff, not as Jasmine, and, um, I don't think she'd let me stay at my girlfriend's house for the night."

"Oh, yeah," Natty wrinkled her nose. Then she had an idea. "I'll call Megan, and have her talk to Eric. If he gets his folks to call, saying that you're spending the night there, then your parents will be okay with it, and you can stay here."

"But ... won't Eric's parents get suspicious if I don't spend the night?"

Natty smiled knowingly. "Eric's mom has a membership. She _knows_. His dad doesn't know, though, so Jasmine can't stay there."

"Oh. Yeah, that might work."

"Anya said everything would work out. She's pretty good at seeing the future, you know."

Thirty minutes later, after a few phone calls, Natty and Jasmine flopped on the sofa in Jenny and Melinda's condo. "What do you want for dinner?" Natty asked. "We can try to talk Jenny into ordering pizza, but with Melinda's cooking, that gets harder all the time."

"Is Melinda a good cook?"

"She's the best!" Natty said enthusiastically. "And her desserts are to die for!"

Melinda smiled in the kitchen. "Flatter me all you want, but I'm _not_ baking anything for dessert tonight! Or even for dinner. Not after the day I had. How does fresh garden salad with chicken and honey-mustard dressing sound?"

Jasmine wrinkled her nose in disgust. "Rabbit food?"

Natty and Melinda laughed together. "Trust us, with that body, you can't eat nearly as much as you did before," Natty explained. "Besides, Melinda's honey-mustard dressing is the best ever."

"So we'll have garden salad. Natty, get the chicken from the freezer and cook up two breasts. Jasmine, can you peel and prepare the vegetables?"

Natty frowned. "No fair! You didn't tell us that _we'd_ have to make dinner!" She took Jasmine's hand and led her to the kitchen. "Do you know anything about cooking?"

Jasmine slapped Natty's arm playfully. "Mom makes me cook sometimes, so yeah, I know my way around a kitchen, you goof! Sheesh – just because I'm a boy, you think I'm helpless at cooking?"

The doorbell saved Natty from further embarrassment. It was Megan, who'd come to join the girls for dinner and movies, spending the night, and attending the diving meet the next day as a spectator and fan.

**********

Megan and Natty talked excitedly as the girls walked to Bikini Beach, the designated meeting place for the dive team, but beside Natty, Jasmine strode in silence. She was confused by the previous night; the girls had watched movies, which were more of the 'chick flick' variety, and despite protests to the contrary, Jasmine had found them interesting. She attributed that strange behavior to the magic of the water park, and shuddered with dread at the thought that some of it might persist after her change wore off. In the previous visits, her change had worn off the same day, so she didn't sleep as a girl, nor wake up as a girl, nor deal with a girl's morning routine. And yet, she'd had no problems, as long as she just _did_ and didn't think. Jasmine had experienced some of the power of Bikini Beach before, but this was a whole new, and frightening, level.

"You're pretty quiet," Natty observed after a bit.

"Huh?" Jasmine started. "Oh, I was just thinking."

"Did it hurt?" Megan chuckled, earning a reproving glare from both Natty and Jasmine.

"It's ... weird," Jasmine muttered. "Doing all these girl things as if I've always done them. Watching the movies last night and feeling interested in them." She shook her head. "I feel like I'm not me, kind of."

"That stuff'll be gone when you change back tonight," Natty assured Jasmine.

"What if it _doesn't_? What if the magic gets stuck?" The girl fought to keep panic out of her voice. "What if all these things don't wear off, and I'm left kind of ... girly?"

"It's just temporary."

"But ... couldn't they make it so I don't remember being Jeff? Or that I _want_ to stay as a girl? Or ...?" Jasmine broke off, shaking a little as she gave voice to the fears that had permeated her brain since she'd changed the day before.

Natty winced, but Jasmine didn't see. She _knew_ that the magic was powerful enough to do exactly what Jasmine worried about. "They don't do that unless you want," she replied, hoping she sounded convincing. It had, after all, only been a short time ago that Anya had been rather capricious with her changes, doing the sorts of things that had Jasmine fretting. But Anya had been under the influence of a powerful confusion spell, and since that spell had been broken, she was sweet and cautious again.

The girls walked to an area with picnic tables outside the gate, where Miss Lisa and the other girls, and many parents, were gathering. Seeing Jasmine, two girls ran up and gave her hugs, and then hugged Natty. Jasmine flinched; the girl thing of hugging as a form of greeting was unfamiliar, and uncomfortable to her. But she had to act, and there were those pesky girl instincts that had come with the change.

"Okay, we're all here," Miss Lisa announced, silencing the girls. "Let's get loaded up and go. We want to have time so you stretch and do a few warm-up dives while I'm taking care of the registration." She looked at Megan, frowning a tiny bit.

Megan picked up the coach's discomfort. "My mom will be here in a bit, and we've got room in her car for four or five others if we need to help carry people."

"I can drive, too, but I don't have a lot of room," Melinda's voice carried from behind the coach.

Lisa turned, and gave Melinda a quick hug. "Is Jenny going, too?"

"Yeah," Melinda smiled. "Grandmother gave her the day off so we can watch Natty dive."

"And win," Natty said playfully to Jasmine, who, without thinking, stuck her tongue out at Natty. Only after she'd done that did she realize it, and she hastily retracted her tongue and clamped her hand over her mouth, embarrassed at doing such a girly thing.

Lisa ignored the playful teasing. As long as it was light-hearted, a playful attitude would relieve tension. "Okay, Melinda, I'll leave you in charge of fan and family transportation, then."

The girls piled into three cars, one driven by Coach Lisa, while the remaining adults and several kids waited to see if other friends or family were coming. It was a relatively short drive to the event site. As the girls scampered to the locker room, Lisa went to the check-in table to finish all the registration. By the time the two coaches in front of her had finished, the girls were changed and stretching, and when Lisa finished, they were, under Mel's critical eye, doing practice dives.

Lisa pulled Natty and Jasmine aside. "You're diving for the team first," Lisa admonished the duo.

Jasmine looked down at her shuffling feet. "I know," she said sheepishly. "It's just that ... when I'm diving against Natty, I want to win."

Lisa shook her head, scowling. "When you're diving with us today, you're still competing, but you're part of the team first. Got it?" She saw Jasmine's somewhat distressed look, as if the thought of not competing individually was distasteful. "Team first, right?" Lisa repeated.

Jasmine saw the look from Natty, and the stern gaze from Lisa. "Yeah," she squeaked.

As soon as Lisa turned away, Natty took Jasmine's shoulders and faced her. "I know you want to beat me," Natty said. "Don't you?"

Jasmine nodded. "Yeah. I ... I can't help it. I like to win."

"What do you get if you win?" Natty asked.

"Huh?"

"What do you get if you win, if you beat me?"

"I ... uh, I dunno," Jasmine finally admitted. "I get a medal or ribbon or something."

"Exactly. But if you work with the team and we win, what do you get?"

"All of us win?"

"Right. Now quit being such a boy and work with the team!" Natty chided him with a giggle.

Jasmine frowned. "Are you trying to tell me that girls _don't_ compete?"

Natty laughed. "Hell, yes, we compete!" Natty countered strongly. She grinned at Jasmine. "And once I do my part so that our team wins, I'm going to kick your butt in the individuals!"

It took a second for Jasmine to recover. "You think! I'm going to win _all_ the events and the all-around! Get used to taking the silver!"

"You wish!" Natty teased, and then stuck her tongue out at Jasmine. After a moment, she took Jasmine's hands. "Are we okay with this? Honestly?"

Jasmine nodded somberly. "Yeah. We're okay." She suddenly gave Natty a big hug. "And tomorrow, maybe we can go to Fun Zone, or a movie, or something?"

Each of the three competing teams had five divers, and each diver would do four dives. There were also divers who were competing individually, without teams. To speed the competition, each device had its own set of five judges, with divers and teams rotating among the stations. The competition included the one-meter board, the three-meter board, and the three-meter platform, with medals for the top three divers on each device, and medals for the three best all-around divers. There were also three trophies for the team all-around displayed on a table beside the judges' table. Like the others on the team, Jasmine and Natty gazed longingly at the largest trophy in the center of the display, the team first-place trophy.

The group starting on the one-meter board included Natty's team and five independent divers. A quick random drawing by the judges determined order, and the diving began. Natty, diving fifth in the group, did a one-half backward dive that had excellent form, but her legs were splayed apart very slightly upon entry, and it cost her in her score. Diving eighth, Jasmine started with the same dive as Natty, but her dive was picture-perfect, the entry so smooth that it was like a knife had sliced into the water. On her second dive, Natty scored better, and with a higher degree of difficulty than her first dive, and she edged out Jasmine's score. On the third dive, Jasmine's dive was flawless, but Natty over-rotated a tiny bit, so in the friendly duel between the two, Jasmine was ahead again. For her final dive, Natty did a forward one and a half in the pike position, and it was her best score to that point. Jasmine's dive, the same forward one and a half but in the tuck position, was just as good, and the two girls' scores were nearly identical, so that when the scores were added for the group for the one-meter board, Jasmine was in first, and Natty held second place. It would remain to be seen if those scores would hold as the other two groups rotated through their turns on the one-meter board.

Natty and Jasmine's group next rotation was on the three-meter platform, with a new diving order from this set of judges. Natty started with an inward one and a half in the tuck position, and scored exceptionally well. Jasmine's first dive was a back one-half with a full twist; this time, it was her turn to mess up slightly on her entry. Jasmine caught up in scores on the second dive, but Natty was better on the third dive, and was very slightly ahead. For her final dive, Natty did a backward one-and-a-half in the tuck position, and her dive was completely error-free. Jasmine, too executed her dive, nearly as perfectly as Natty.

Because of a little delay on the three-meter board with the second group, the girls had a chance to gather around Mel, who had an app on her cell phone that was watching the scores. Natty looked at one, and turned, squealing and hugging Jasmine. "You're still in first place!"

Jasmine broke from the hug and looked over Mel's shoulder, and grinned. "And you're still holding second place. But you're first on the three-meter platform," she said, smiling warmly at Natty. Lisa watched the exchange with a smile; the two girls were controlling their competitive streak, and thus not self-destructing nor hurting the team through reckless cut-throat competition.

After about fifteen minutes of rest, the group, following Coach Lisa, moved to the three-meter board. As the girls dove, Mel kept Coach Lisa apprised of the running scores, not only from the team, but from all the team and individual competitions. Natty was edging Jasmine through the first two dives, and the team totals were inching back and forth between Jefferson Junior High leading, and the Bikini Beach team being on top. For her third dive, Jasmine performed an exceptional two-and-a-half tuck, and as Natty looked over Mel's shoulder at the scoring, she saw Jasmine's numbers come up. She grinned at Jasmine, giving her a solid thumbs-up, and as soon as Jasmine pulled herself out of the pool, Natty gave her a big hug. Four divers later, it was Natty's turn, and she did a backwards one and a half, surfacing with a raised fist she pumped, and a huge grin on her face. She knew that she'd nailed the dive, and as she swam to the edge of the pool, she saw a grin and thumbs-up from Mel. Her scores were outstanding, and the Bikini Beach team moved back into the lead, while she moved quarter point ahead of Jasmine in the cumulative scores for the three-meter board.

With one round of dives to go, the team was up over Jefferson by a half a point, and Natty had a slight edge in the scores of the team for the three-meter board. When she and Jasmine asked about the individual scores, though, Mel shook her head. The team was so close to winning that, following advice of her mom, she wouldn't let these two see their scores, lest they let loose the competition demon.

Jasmine dove first, and her one-and-a-half with a full twist was solid, but not perfect. Her feet splayed a bit on entry, and she over-rotated just a tiny fraction. Feeling like biting their nails, the girls watched as they continued to dive, and the Jefferson divers racked up scores on the one-meter board.

"Natty," Coach Lisa called to her.

Natty scampered to the coach's side. "Yeah?"

"All the Jefferson divers have finished, so the team competition comes down to you. Don't get fancy. Just make a solid dive, and we'll do okay."

"Yes, Miss Lisa." Her curiosity got the better of her. "What are our individual scores?"

Lisa flinched. She hated to lie to the girls, but she didn't want Natty to start feeling nervous about what rode on her last dive, nor did she want the girl to start the same type of obsessive competing that she'd done a few days prior. After a momentary silent debate within her mind, she explained the situation to Natty. Good scores on a dive with a high degree of difficulty might edge her into first on the all-around. She'd have to have extremely good scores on a difficult dive to take first on the three-meter board from a girl from Grant Middle School, and it was very close between her and Jasmine for second place.

Finally, the judges called her name. Natty started toward the ladder, but then paused and walked to the judges' table, causing Lisa to frown. What was the girl up to, she wondered. With a nod of acknowledgement from the judges, Natty strode to the ladder and climbed to the board.

Everything to Natty narrowed to her, the turquoise board with its black non-slip coating, and the water. The rest of the team, the judges, Coach Lisa, the fans – they all vanished. She saw and heard nothing but the elements of her dive. She walked to the end of the board and bounced lightly, testing one final time the springiness of the board, before she strode confidently back to the ladder end. Natty drew a couple of deep breaths, and then she moved.

Everything to Natty was slow-motion. Her approach steps quickened, and then she pushed herself up, coming down with both feet on the end of the board, and as it deflected downward, her knees bent with it. For what seemed an eternity, the board hesitated at the bottom of its travel, and then it began to accelerate upward as the stored energy of the bounce unleashed to propel Natty upward. Her knees straightened, and she timed the push-off with her ankles to when the board was at the peak of its movement, thrusting her gracefully skyward.

With practiced precision, she bent herself forward slightly at just the right moment, translating some of her momentum into rotational inertia. Her body continued to bend, until she had her head touching her knees, grasping behind her thighs to hold herself in the desired position while she rotated and her center of mass arced along a parabola, reaching a zenith and then slowly accelerating toward the waiting surface of the water. From the corner of her eye, she saw the world spinning slowly, or at least to her it seemed slow, and at the right moment, judging both by the visual clues and her own sense of timing, Natty began to unfold, stretching her hands toward the water as her body straightened behind her until, at the moment her hands knifed into the water, her form was perfectly straight and perfectly vertical. She could feel, as the water close around her legs, that she'd made a nearly flawless entry.

Natty swam to the edge of the pool, but instead of climbing out, she turned her attention to the scoreboard hanging at one end of the pool, alternating her gaze between the board and the judges at the three-meter board. It seemed like forever to her, but her marks went up on the board, and then the team totals adjusted, shifting the positions of two teams.

The girls erupted in screams of joy, bouncing like super-balls on speed, clutching each other and crying happily as the Bikini Beach team moved to the top of the leader board for team standings. Natty smiled to herself, and then slowly levered herself up out of the pool. She glanced once more at the board, seeing the current standings for her event, the three-meter board. Her scores were good, but the dive wasn't as challenging as it could have been, and with the degree of difficulty of the dive, her position dropped a notch into third place.

Jasmine joined Natty with a towel for the soaking girl. "You ... you changed your dive," Jasmine said, confused.

Lisa, too, joined the two girls, leaving the celebrating crowd of tweens for a moment of semi-private discussion. "What happened?"

"I ... I didn't want to take a chance," Natty said softly.

"You were planning on a one-and-a-half forward dive with a full twist. Why did you back down?"

"Because I was afraid."

"Of goofing? You do that dive very well," Lisa countered.

Natty shook her head. "When I do it well, it's great. But I'm not that consistent, so I didn't want to take a chance and mess it up for the team." She let Jasmine and Lisa lead her to the celebrating girls of the team, and she was surrounded with hugs and accolades for her score, but there was something missing in her celebratory smile.

**********

Ashley, Sydney, and Brooke had gone home, and Jenny was dozing silently in her recliner. Now that peace and quiet had descended into the condo, Melinda moved to the kitchen table to work a little on her college homework, leaving Natty and Jasmine curled up together in one chair, a movie playing unseen on the television before them.

"Why?" Jasmine finally voiced the question that had been on her mind for hours, ever since Natty's final dive. "You could have won all-around and the three-meter board."

"I ... couldn't take a chance. There was too much at stake."

"So you settled for third place?" Jasmine asked. Her eyes narrowed. "Did you let me win?"

Natty shook her head. "No." She looked away from Jasmine. "Maybe. I don't know. I know that when we start competing, it makes things ... bad. I didn't want that."

"So you let me win," Jasmine sounded a bit unhappy.

Natty shook her head, looking into Jasmine's eyes. "No. Not on purpose. But ... there was too much at stake."

"For the team?"

Natty nodded. "Yeah. And for us," she added softly. "I didn't want to take a chance that you'd get all competitive again, and that we'd have another fight. It wasn't worth it to me."

"So you did let me win."

"No. I didn't know how things would end up in the individuals, but I knew I couldn't blow it for the team." She chuckled softly. "You know I'm not good enough in math to figure out all that stuff before I dove."

Jasmine fingered the medals hanging around her neck. She'd earned first on the one-meter board, second on the three-meter board, and third on the three-meter platform. And there was the first-place medal for all-around, and the first place team title. She let her fingers drift to Natty's medals, hanging between her small breasts. Natty had won first on the three-meter platform, third on both boards, and second all-around – losing that title to Jasmine by only two tenths of a point. The two really were close in their abilities, as their scores had shown.

Still not sure of Natty's reasoning, Jasmine looked up again ... just in time to get a kiss planted on her lips. Jasmine flinched, but with her position wedged into the chair, she couldn't get away. Finally, Natty eased back a bit, breaking the kiss.

"What ... what was that for?" Jasmine asked, frightened and hesitant.

"Congratulations on your wins," Natty said softly.

"But ... I'm a _girl_!" Jasmine hissed in protest.

Natty grinned. "It's still you inside, and lips are lips, right?" She planted another kiss on Jasmine's lips, and after more hesitation, the girl began to kiss Natty back.

At nearly midnight, a chime sounded on Melinda's watch, so she put down her pen, rose, and strode into the living room. Her eyes goggled at the sight of the two girls, sleeping soundly, curled up in a chair, and with Jasmine's hand resting inside Natty's half-unbuttoned shirt on Natty's small breast. Melinda sighed, and then stepped back into the kitchen. This time, she very noisily slid her chair back, pausing long enough that the girls would have time to recover from their embarrassing position.

"It's almost midnight," Melinda announced. "It's almost time for Jasmine to change back."

Groggy, yawning and stretching, the two girls sat up, and Natty and Jasmine both blushed when they realized how they were sitting. Jasmine retracted her hand as if dodging a snake, and Natty buttoned the two buttons that had been unfastened, before they disentangled and stood.

Jasmine went into the bathroom, and a few minutes after midnight, Jeff emerged. Natty smiled at him, and then, without warning, launched herself at him and kissed him right in the short hallway of the apartment. The medals hanging around their necks clashed and clinked together, and the two smiled as they disengaged from the brief kiss. Apparently, they'd survived their first dive meet together without letting competition overwhelm their attraction for each other.

Fifteen minutes later, Melinda pulled her car up to Jeff's house, and sat quietly as Natty walked Jeff to the door. As she was lifting herself to kiss him, the door opened suddenly, leaving her embarrassed.

"How was the meet?" Mrs. Watson asked, struggling to refrain from chucking at the embarrassment she'd caused her son and his girlfriend.

"Uh, it was good," Jeff stammered.

"Jeff won individual and the one-meter," Natty proclaimed softly, proud of Jeff's achievements. "And a team first place medal, plus a second and a third."

"Pretty good for a _girls'_ meet," Mrs. Watson said with a leering smile. "I wish I could have seen my _daughter_ diving, but someone didn't invite me!"

Jeff's jaw hung nearly to the ground, and Natty's was beside it. "Huh?" they stammered in disbelief.

Mrs. Watson continued to grin. "Eric's mom told me all about the water park's magic, and after that, it didn't take too much to figure out that the only diving meet was a girls' meet." She saw the look of absolute horror on Jeff's face. "Oh, don't worry. I'm not going to tell your father." She frowned for a moment. "Not unless you decide to change permanently, and I'm sure that your girlfriend," she looked evenly at Natty, "really wouldn't like that. Nor would your father."

"Uh, I just ...." Jeff started to sputter.

"Don't worry about it," Mrs. Watson said. "I understand. You like to dive, you like to spend time with Natty, and it was convenient. Now, since I know what's going on, you won't have to sneak around the next time this kind of thing comes up. As long as it doesn't become a habit."

"Mom!" Jeff protested softly. She was interrupting his good-night kiss, and seemed to be enjoying herself at the kids' plight.

"Oh, that's right. You were in the middle of a good-night kiss. Well, go on. Don't mind me."

"Mommmm!" Jeff whined.

"Oh. You want a little privacy? Okay." She turned toward the inside of the house, but glanced back. "Maybe we can frame those medals, so the inscription side is hidden, and no-one will know it was a girls' meet," she said absently.

"Mommmmmm!"

As soon as the door closed, Jeff turned to Natty again, and kissed her, a proper good-night kiss. "I had fun."

"So did I," Natty agreed. Slowly, hesitantly, she backed away from her boyfriend, and grudgingly walked down the concrete steps toward Melinda's car, beaming with happiness. She'd had a good dive meet, she'd had a lot of fun with Jeff and Jasmine, and things were great between her and Jeff. A girl her age couldn't ask for much more.

**********

Melinda carried the exhausted, sleeping girl into the condo. The noise of the keys rattling in the door and the door awkwardly opening awoke Jenny, and yawning, she helped tuck Natty into bed.

"She did really well today, didn't she?" Melinda asked softly as the two stood in the doorway, looking lovingly at the sleeping girl, Jenny's arm held tightly around Melinda's waist.

"I'm proud of the way she put her teammates ahead of her own desires," Jenny beamed. "She's a good girl."

"Mostly," Melinda said with a grin. "But we may have a problem creeping up."

"Oh?"

"Yeah," Melinda said, turning to lead Jenny to their bedroom. "I caught her and ... Jasmine cuddled up in a chair. I'm pretty sure they were ... touching and exploring a bit."

"Oh," Jenny replied, eyes wide.

"Yeah," Melinda replied, sitting on their bed. "I'm afraid that we're going to have to have 'the talk' with Natty tomorrow."

Jenny sighed. "I was wondering how long we'd get away with avoiding that subject." She shook her head and sat down in Melinda's lap. "Well, she _is_ a growing girl, isn't she?"

**********

FIN



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