HE could see his bare feet slapping a tune in a puddle on the concrete. Small relief from reeking grey school socks and dirty tennis shoes, shucked off nearby. He was still hot but he wouldn't go in.
The breeze buffeted his ears and little kids shrieked in the soupy shallows. He chose to believe it was the sun burning his neck as he sat on the block watching her finish her laps.
He'd liked Julie in a time when things were simple and still good. They'd gone to different schools but shared the same bus stop. Sometimes, they'd walked home together, her brown legs striding out from under a too-short uniform. They'd try to talk above the deafening buzz of cicadas but had nothing much to say.
Sometimes on those stinking hot afternoons, he'd go straight to the baths after school because he knew she'd be there, stroking along the ocean wall. He'd be dying to go in, but couldn't risk her seeing his timid aversion to the cold water. So he'd suffer until she'd climb out - which was what he came for - and then go in.
He must have spent more adolescent hours thinking about her and this place than he realised for his brain to grant them such an encore at the end.
Does anyone really want to know how they'll finish up and would it make a difference? Would she have been happy then to think she'd be a nurse and not a swimmer, marry an engineer, raise a family and die of breast cancer only last year? He assumed she'd have had no regrets.
It was different for those who chose the slippery slope, as his mum had called it when she'd found out what he was doing.
He remembered the surprise and fear in her eyes when he'd leaned in too close to jeer at the outdated term. He'd felt disgust then - at himself and at her - which at the time had only made him angrier. Now he just felt sad. Now he was in here where there was no second chance.
He'd used up all his fight in the night, when young blokes had spilled out of the pub, swearing and breaking beer bottles. He'd thought it was his big chance but any squeaks he'd made went unheard in the din.
With dawn came the gulls and the surfers scratching at their boards. Gravel popping under car tyres, navigating the narrow pass. Car doors slammed and boards slid off roof racks and out of trays. The joggers panted and dog leads jingled. He'd known where he was by the sounds.
The old blokes had come and sat on the steps and gone again, calling gruff farewells in voices so alike you'd never know who'd stoked a blast furnace or owned a newsagent. He could almost see the wet towels stretched round their bellies and the terry cloth hats, too short in the brim to shade their white-zinc lips and noses.
They'd gone home to their Margarets and Marys who'd have cuppas and teacakes ready. There'd be framed pictures in their long hallways of Mark and Cheryl's wedding; and Andrew, who's an accountant in London, earning pounds; and grandchildren in school uniform with clear bright eyes and as yet, unblemished records.
The slam of a car door jarred the bitter reverie. A toddler's wail overpowered traffic from the main road above, but was no match for the cranky bark of its mother. A clatter of buckets and spades. School would be in now.
Debbie and the kids. Until now he'd been able to push thoughts of them away. Remorse coursed through him like nausea. They'd been out when he'd been taken. Thank Christ, or they would all have wound up in a dirty great ditch in the Watagans.
By now Debbie would have put two and two together. She'd be scared but she'd keep her mouth shut so they'd leave them alone. If he'd taught her only that much, it'd be worth it.
At least when someone found him - here - they'd know what happened. They wouldn't think he'd left them or didn't love them enough. They weren't his kids, but they were good enough, and their lives didn't deserve to be any harder than they were going to be.
He scrunched his eyes but there was no water left in him to make a tear. The hot metal seared down from above, baking him.
It hurt to breathe the air that was left. His tongue was swollen. He knew he should turn over, but he couldn't feel his legs.
Lucidity brought only pain and regret but the mouldy carpet of the car boot under his cheek was like a wet towel on hot concrete.
He pressed into the comfortable delirium until water lapped at the edge beside him. He was almost hot enough to go in, but still, he held back. Old habits. From somewhere close by his mother carped at him to put on more sunscreen: "One more swim and we'll go!".
It was always easier when you didn't over-think it. The story of his life. He inhaled for the last time and rolled abruptly into the cold green water.