Sara is one of those characters in Swimming Sideways and The Ugly Truth that is easy to hate. She’s petty, vindictive, self-centered and does some really shady stuff. But I’ve been wondering why she’s like that because while I think there are probably instances of people just “being bad” I don’t think that’s the case all of the time. Experiences shape perspective for the most part. This made me curious about Sara. Here’s a snippet from Sara while she waits in the hospital. (I do wonder, what kind of consequences will be set in motion because of the choices Sara makes).
I slump into the green chair against the ivory wall of the waiting room. My mother sits down next to me. I push a hand through my dark hair and move locks around to find a place the strands feel perfect that way if anyone is watching, it can’t be said I don’t take care of myself. I glance around the room to see who’s here. Many of the faces in the waiting room are strangers but many are not. Carter is by Freak 2 and it makes my stomach churn with hatred. Maybe if I’d put out a slutty video of myself on the internet, all the guys would like me too. Anger slithers through me looking at her, rolled up into a ball on her seat, her head against a large man’s shoulder - her dad probably - if she has any right to mourn Seth. She looks like shit. Her dark hair drawn into a messy bun, dressed like she just rolled out of bed. I don’t understand why Seth -
But I push the unfinished thought away. I don’t want to think about that now. I’m sitting in a hospital where Seth is and I don’t know any more than what Britney’s call had told me this morning: Seth was in a car accident. He’s at the hospital. I’m here to be what a girlfriend would be - even if that isn’t what we are. Right now.
“Are you okay, Babe?” My mom asks. She places her warm hand on my arm.
I shake my head and whisper, “No,” instead of what I want which is to scream: NO! Seth is in the fucking hospital. MY SETH. That bitch doesn’t deserve to be here!
I close my eyes shutting out what’s around me and picture him: his beautiful golden brown eyes, his brown hair streaked with sunlight. His dimpled smile. I remember that night - our first night together - when he’d finally seen me. It was all I’d ever wanted: to be seen by Seth Peters. It had been at a summer party - end of June - at the lake. I’d ridden up with Cara. Drank. Danced. Bumped into him. He’d smiled at me.
“Hey there, Sara,” he’d said and leaned forward to give me a light hug. He smelled spicy and my heart leapt being so near him. He’d been wearing a white t-shirt stamped with a rainbow and the word Hawaii; the cloth stretched around his lean body, the cotton taught in all the right places. I was sure he could hear the breath catch in my throat.
I offered him my own version of his smile. “Hi,” I’d said. “I haven’t seen you at any other parties this summer.” I’d pressed my lips against his ear to tell him because the music was loud. It hadn’t actually been necessary, but it allowed me to get closer to him, my hand on the bare skin of his arm. His hand was on my waist - my skin exposed to his because of my cropped top - and the warmth of his hand on me caused sunbursts to explode in my chest and heat my nerve endings.
“You’ve been looking for me?” He asked, the whisper of his breath on my cheek. I could smell the alcohol spinning a magical spell between us.
I leaned back so I could see his eyes and smiled. I didn’t care that he knew I’ve wanted to see him. We were both alcohol loose and I wanted to jump into this ride and follow the loop-de-loops. I wanted him. I’d wanted it for so long. He was the reason I’d attended every party I’d ever been to. Seth. He was looking at me.
He tugged me closer, and we danced. He held my hips to his and we moved with a rhythm I’d once only imagined. The music wrapped around us like a blanket and everyone else seemed to disappear. The stars were out, bright and twinkling in the night sky. I thought about the water of the lake, and other revelers in it, doing their own dance and wondered if Seth would ever see me like that - as someone he’d want to slip into the cool water with. I’d been infatuated with him since eighth grade when my girl-clan had clumped at the edges of the basketball court watching our crushes and hoping they would look our way. That night he did, both of us tipsy. His hands slid over my body and I wanted him to. I kissed him so he wouldn’t wonder about my want.
Opening my eyes, I return to the hospital waiting room from my mind and glance around again. The bitch who messed up everything is across the room. Abby with a-last-name-no-one-can-even-pronounce. More of the soccer team has congregated around her while I’m alone against the wall with my mom. They should be with me instead of an internet whore. I’m popular and he was MY SETH, not hers.
Tears burn against my eyes and then fall. My mom holds out a tissue to me. I take it and press it to the corners of my eyes.
Seth and I had been fine before she showed up.
That first kiss had been everything I’d imagined. The feel of his tongue. The rhythm of the way we could work together. It turned out I was a girl that Seth could see slipping into the water with. It hadn’t happened that night, but at a summer pool party I’d thrown a week or so later. After everyone else had left or passed out, we slipped into the pool and then up to my room. My heart still trips around in my chest thinking about his hands on my body, the way we connected, the cadence and sway of our bodies together. Then I became the girl he held at every party after that. And sometimes - when I invited him over - he’d show up at my house and we’d find one another again in the frenzy of want. Always us. Seth and Sara. Sara and Seth. Exactly as it was supposed to be. Sure - we were always drunk, but it made it hotter and sort of perfect. He was finally my Seth just like I’d always wanted. All summer and into the first weeks of school.
Until that day in the hallway at school a couple weeks after classes started and he said: Look Sara, we aren’t really together-together. My heart crashed into my chest and then he’d offered hope when he showed up at my house one more time. Hungry for me and what I could give him. Me. Then he stopped talking to me, stopped seeing me as if everything between us had dried out. He started seeing the bitch, brought her to a party even, and I tried to get his attention back, but even then, he was jaded by her.
I was left behind in the wake, floating untethered to anything as if a strong wave had rushed through and broke me. I couldn’t find anything to hang onto. I’d given him my everything - every part of me. I wasn’t ready to let it go, so when I found that horrible video of her. How could I not share it? I was certain it would bring Seth back - away from her. It hadn’t gone the way I imagined.
Then, unexpectedly, Seth showed up at my house. He’d thrown pebbles at my window to draw me out to the pool house. I’d been shocked but that part of me who still wanted Seth and Sara was elated. He’d talked strange and disjointed. That conversation a few weeks ago has been running like a loop in my mind since. This was after his surfing accident, after I’d shared bitch’s internet shame that made her Freak 2, after everything had changed. He’d asked me that stupid question: Why do you like me?
A fresh bout of tears start thinking about it, and faces in the waiting room swing toward me. I turn my face into my mother’s shoulder and her arm comes up around me.
Why do I like me?
The truth was I couldn’t believe that he liked me, that he ever had, but when he kept coming back, I could feel the stitching of the parts of me fortified. I’d always liked him. He was Seth Peters. I’d written his name on my folder and signed my name as Sara Peters in my diary. I’d imagined he and I together because it just was what I’d constructed in my mind. He was perfect. Good looking. Popular. Athletic. Funny. And his question - his stupid question - opened up a fissure inside me because why would he like me? I’d thrown the same question back at him. And then instead of saying why he might have liked me, he’d said: I’m sorry I used you, for hurting you. The gap had widened and suddenly I was falling through.
But I can’t believe it. I won’t believe it. He’s my Seth. Has always been MY SETH!
There’s movement across the room drawing me back into the waiting room, and I look to see who it is.
Freak 1 - Gabe Daniels - steps into the doorway and Freak 2 gets up and walks into his arms. They cling to one another like they have a right.
My eyes narrow.
The rumors have been burning about them leaving everything else smoldering with smoke. Freak 1 and Seth got in a fight the day before. Was it about her? That stupid bitch who’s ruined everything. Why the fuck does Freak 1 think he has any right to be here? What if it’s his fault Seth is here in the hospital?
Freak 2 is clinging to him like she’s an extension of him. What about Seth?
I pull out my phone and text Cara and Bri: you wouldn’t believe who has the nerve to show up at the hospital.