A little hand was clasped in a mother's steady grip as Jacob and his caregivers journeyed across the parking lot.
Simon acted as the pack mule, towing the bags they packed in preparation for the day's outing while Angelique escorted their little one. The middle-aged man remained determined to make only one trip from the car, and the number of items in his hands, bands on his shoulders and straps around his neck reflected that.
All three of them were already dressed in their swimwear, although Angelique had a white, knitted wrap tied around herself to guard against the cool, fall air. As they walked through the doors of the indoor pool, the trio looked like a picture-perfect family. Dressed in matching outfits, courtesy of Angelique, the family appeared genuinely happy to strangers, and maybe it's because they were.
That morning had gone by smoothly with no appearances from Jacob's adult consciousness. Getting the little boy prepared for the day proved to be especially easy, enticed as he was by the promise of a special outing. By the time they were leaving the house, the boy's excitement became all too visible for his caregivers. Relief surged for Simon and Angelique when they had finally arrived, grateful to no longer be bombarded by questions about how much longer the trip would take.
While his caregivers looked around to find a good spot to place their belongings, little eyes lit up as they took in the colorful, relaxed atmosphere. Jacob tugged against Angelique's hold on his hand, hoping to speed up her pace. The boy had been looking forward to swimming all day, inspired by his recent dreams of doing just that. Certainly, the expanse of water before him matched the vast ocean of his imagination. It wasn't just a tiny tub that he could stand in.
The big, blue pool would almost be intimidating, if not for the few other children who were splashing around and playing in the water. Giggles, shrieks and cheers echoed throughout the building, inviting Jacob to join in on what could only be described as fun. Transfixed by the excitement in the air, small feet bounded in pace with Angelique.
Simon and Angelique led Jacob to the smaller kiddie pool that wasn't very crowded. Only one family occupied the deeper end. Jacob's caregivers waved to the nearby family as they walked past them, and when they reached the other end of the pool, Angelique took a seat at a nearby, empty bench and lifted the tyke onto her lap.
"Let's get these sandals off," she told him, undoing the Velcro straps.
Jacob watched as Simon organized the bags. His caregiver appearing intent to find something until he unzipped a compartment and pulled out a pair of blue, armband floaties.
"Are you ready for your first swimming lesson, Jacob?" Simon asked, sliding the floaties along the boy's arm.
"Yes!" he squealed with his arms raised in the air.
Jacob followed Simon to the edge of the pool where the water was the shallowest. His caregiver helped him get his feet wet, hoping to get him acclimated to the temperature of the water.
After removing her wrap and discarding her flip-flops at the edge of the pool, Angelique waded further into the water and sat down. She reached her arms out to Jacob, urging him to join her.
"Come on sweetie. The water is nice," she encouraged.
Jacob tentatively entered the pool with Simon's support. His legs generated tiny ripples in the water, and he was already enjoying himself. His arms flailed, splashing his caregivers a tad as he steadied himself. Concentration defined his features as he waded over to Angelique, afraid to slip and fall.
When the water was deep enough that he had to tiptoe, his armband floaties did their job, helping him to stay afloat even though his first swimming lesson had yet to commence. His tiny legs apprehensively kicked through the water, and Angelique helped him swim in a tight circle around her.
Simon reached over and snapped a few photos on his phone of his wife guiding Jacob into the pool. He watched as the little boy's trust for his caregiver eased his noticeable anxiousness from this new experience.
"Let's practice floating on your back," Simon began. "This one is important so you're as safe as can be when playing in the water."
Guided onto his back, Jacob experienced a bit of nervousness, unable to see the water below him. He squirmed in Simon's arms, adjusting to this new exercise.
"That's it. You're doing it," Angelique praised, rubbing his arm.
Simon waited patiently for Jacob to calm down, and when he did, the experienced swimmer slowly released his hold on Jacob. Gentle as he could be, Simon offered more affirmations to Jacob as he moved his hands away, allowing the child to float on his own.
Distracted by the funny distortion of his caregiver's voices through the water in his ears, Jacob was none the wiser that Simon was no longer supporting him with his arms. He was able to maintain his balance for a while before his concentration broke, and he realized that he didn't feel Simon's arms supporting him anymore. He stirred and Simon quickly caught him before he could slightly submerge.
"You did so good, buddy," Simon said, ruffling Jacob's wet hair.
"That was such good swimming," Angelique added, sporting a huge smile on her face.
The trio played in the water for a while, attacking each other with small splashes. Simon did a few tricks for Jacob's amusement, and he even managed to surprise Angelique with a few. Jacob got to practice floating a few more times, and by the time that he was ready to leave the pool, his caregivers crowned him a master of floating.
Jacob was looking forward to some snacks while Simon towel dried him off before they headed to the locker room. After Angelique offered to take Jacob with her to change him, she opened his changing bag to make sure that all of the items she would need were there.
Chaotic shouting and screaming startled Jacob and his caregivers, causing all of them to abruptly pause their tasks and focus on the source of the commotion. Simon and Angelique immediately realized that an older woman from the family next to them appeared to be having a seizure.
After one glance to make sure that Simon had Jacob, Angelique ran over to help. Growing up with a doctor as a father had left her with a bit more medical knowledge than the average person. That wouldn't be the first person that she helped someone through a seizure.
"My father was a doctor," she shouted as she stumbled through the crowd that was already beginning to form. Quickly, Angelique rolled the woman onto her side and ensured that her airway was open.
Simon grabbed his cell phone and dialed for emergency services. With one hand, he held the phone to his ear and led Jacob toward the crowd. After a moment, he joined Angelique in the center of the crowd and began conveying the information to the operator.
"Tell them that she might have a concussion," Angelique instructed Simon, inspecting the back of the woman's head. "It looks like she hit her head pretty hard."
While Simon kneeled down to help his wife lift the woman into a sitting position, Jacob spotted a purple noodle floating close to the edge of the full-sized pool. He easily slipped through the crowd as he was the only one unperturbed by the situation. The little boy kneeled at the edge of the pool, intending to retrieve the forgotten item.
"No!" twenty-two-year-old Jacob shouted as his regressed personality reached for the noodle. He knew the danger that the deep water posed for his two-year-old self. He compelled his body to stop, feeling fortunate to have woken up before the situation became dire, but to adult Jacob's surprise, his command went ignored. Little arms stretched out to reach the floating purple foam, and he scooted closer and closer to the edge.
"Stop it!" Jacob tried again, demanding control over his limbs, but still the tips of the little boy's fingers wiggled through the air and eventually touched the coveted plaything.
It was one more scoot towards the edge of the pool that did it. The little boy lost his balance and fell face-first into the deep water. Little legs kicked through the water, trying to fight gravity as it pulled him toward the bottom of the pool, but it was no use. Without his floaties on his arms, he could only plummet rapidly.
Bubbles escaped his mouth as the little boy screamed for help. He desperately needed Simon and Angelique to come save him. Frightened and confused, his screaming and kicking only accelerated, tiring him out quickly.
Adult Jacob couldn't make sense of what had happened. For the first time, he remained conscious, but the control was not his. Still, he did what he could to coach the child to save himself. Jacob tried his best until his inner child tired and closed his eyes, exhaustion beating his best attempts to reach the surface.
The profound fear on the little boy's face left a heavy impact on Jacob's heart. He genuinely felt sorry for the kid, moved by the fight for survival that he just witnessed. It was so primal, and it didn't matter that the little boy was really him. It didn't matter that he had fought so hard for the right to end his own life. An innocent kid was drowning right in front of him, and he couldn't do anything to stop it.
That's when the hardest realization hit Jacob. For the first time, he saw himself as an innocent child who deserved the chance to live, and he wondered if that's what Simon saw in him. He finally understood why Simon intervened - why he couldn't just let him die. Even though he got to experience true parental love for only a moment, he held onto the fond memories while darkness encroached upon him.
As his inner world faded, a single tear fell from his eye. The black void surrounded him, and as he accepted his unfortunate end, he heard a strangled cry as Simon screamed his name.