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“Oh c’mon! You’ll love it!” I begged, poking Skyler in the shoulder. He looked at me, giving up half a smile in what would otherwise be a scowl.
Skyler and I have been dating since the summer of our freshman year in high school. Back then, he was what you’d call “emo”, all in black, and chains, but no eyeliner. We met when I joined the band he was in (which, nowadays, it’s just us two chugging it along, the other band members quit). Now, four years later, we are about to go into our first year of college at Harvard (which, coincidentally, was the college that we both planned to attend since day one), and he still hasn’t changed. Orientation was only a week away, and it felt like adulthood was way too close for comfort. It felt like we were wasting life away as all we did was sit on the grass in the public park, eating subway sandwiches. I thought on all this as I waited for his answer (even though I had a pretty good idea of what it was going to be).
He sighed. “Why,” he drawled, “should we have to go camping to celebrate our four year anniversary?”
“It’s not just camping,” I said, rolling my eyes, “And we have to go because this is the summer before college! We should do something big while we have the chance! Plus, four years is a significantly long time, especially for teenagers. It’s something worth celebrating.”
“ I get that.” He said, fishing a guitar pick out of his pocket, “what I don’t get is why we can’t just go to, say, a dinner and a movie, or bowling or something. Something, I dunno, safe.”
I threw my hands up, exasperated. “Gah! We’ve been over this! This is our summer, Sky! Our summer to live and to have mindless fun! And you know my parents said that it’s alright for you to join us. There’ll be two chaperones, and our own private camping spot. I don’t about you, but that sounds pretty safe to me.”
“Well, yeah, to you.” He muttered, fingering the pick, “but I still would rather do something that normal people do on anniversaries.”
I moved away, and looked him in the eyes. “Not me. Is that what I am to you, ordinary? After four years, you haven’t learned that I’m far from the word?” I said through my teeth. “Sure, let’s do something ordinary, because we aren’t special to each other at all!” I said over my shoulder as I stood up, walking away in anger.
“Kaythrie! Kay!” Skyler called as I walked away. I ignored him, and opened the driver door to my white Pontiac. I saw him coming, and locked the doors. He tried the handle, but couldn’t open the door, so he rapped on the window. He yelled my name again, though it was a bit muffled. He sighed, and got out his phone. 2 minutes later, I received a text message that read “I’m sorry. Please, unlock the doors so we can talk. Please”. I waited a minute, and looked at Skyler again. “Please.” He mouthed. I sighed, and unlocked the doors.
He walked around to the passenger side and got in.
“I’m sorry if I offended you.” He said, closing the door behind him.
“ ‘If’?” I scoffed.
“Okay okay! Sorry that I offended you!” he corrected himself quickly.
“No, really, I am. I didn’t mean to. I swear.” He sighed, and took a moment to get his thoughts together. “I know what I said was wrong. I just didn’t want to do anything dangerous. You’re special to me, Kay, and I just don’t want to take any chances of either of us losing each other.”
“I understand that,” I said slowly, “But there’s going to be two adults there, plus I’ve been rafting countless of times. You’re safe with me.”
He sat there for a minute, mulling this over. “Alright. Alright, I’ll go.”
“Really? You will?!” I said, smiling.
He nodded. “Yes. Like you said, we’re something worth celebrating.”
We left two days later, reaching the camping site within a 4 hour drive.
“Hey,” I said to Skyler, parking the car, “go help my dad gather some firewood, mom and I will set up the tents.”
“Okay.” He nodded, and, with a bounce in his step, headed off into the woods with my dad. Ever since he agreed to go on this trip, he’s been making an effort not to worry. I smiled, recognizing this, and got the tents out of my mom’s minivan.
A few hours later, night hit, and we were all sitting around a large campfire, roasting marshmallows while mom and dad tried to tell embarrassing stories about my childhood.
“Oh, and there was this one time, when she was little, that she decided she didn’t like wearing diapers! So, she took one, put it together, and went around the house with it on her head while she wore absolutely noth-”
“Mom!!” I shrieked, “Stop it!!”
Skyler laughed, and said, “Oh no, these stories are hilarious! Sounds like you were quite the wild child!”
And so the night went on, and it seemed like the world was on hold. After we were done with marshmellows, Mom got out two big blankets, giving one to Skyler. He wrapped it around his shoulders, and beckoned me over, cloaking me in it as well. Dad got out the radio, then wrapped mom and himself in the other big blanket. I leaned into Skyler’s shoulder, and for while we sat there listening to music combined with nature’s sounds. After a little while, I stood up, and went to the car.
“Where are you going?” Skyler asked. I didn’t answer as I opened the car door, and pulled out my camera. After setting it on night mode, I walked back to my loved ones, and snapped a photo of them sitting around the fire. Then, I handed it to mom, asking her to take one of me and Skyler. She nodded, and waited for me to go back to him. I settled down under the blanket in his arms, and smiled.
“Cheese!” He said as the camera flashed.
Everything was perfect.
We woke up the next morning to clear skies and crisp autumn air. I looked Skyler, who was sleeping next to me in one of the two tents we packed. I smiled, and shook him awake.
“Nrrmmmmrrnnn…” he moaned.
“Wake up, Sky.” I murmured, “we have a big day ahead of us.”
An hour later, we were all packed in the minivan and ready to go white water rafting. We reached the water 30 minutes later, and unpacked the raft. Mom and I got out some drinks while Skyler helped dad get the raft ready.
“Okay!” Dad said, after taking a drink from his water bottle, “clear skies and sunshine, time to go rafting!”
We put on our life jackets, put the boat in the water, and got in. The water was smooth for the first few minutes, so I grabbed my camera and took some shots of my parents splashing water at each other, of the scenery, and of Skyler actually smiling and enjoying the great outdoors.
“Now aren’t you glad you came?” I said.
“I’m surprised you didn’t talk me into it sooner!” He beamed, “This is awesome!”
I laughed, and stowed my camera away to splash water in his face.
A few minutes later, dad turned around and shouted, “Torrents up ahead! Heads up for the new comer!” We all laughed at the nervous look on Skyler’s face, and braced for the rapids coming up.
When we reached them, our raft jerked up and down, left and right, tossing us around as if we were caught in a storm.
“WOOOO HEH HOOOO!!!!!” Skyler shouted from behind me, laughing manically. I laughed, even though it was lost in the crash of the water. With a group effort, we dodged rocks and managed to stay upright throughout the ride.
Then, out of nowhere, the sky darkened, and rain began to drizzle down on us. Dad looked at the sky with a confused face. I followed his gaze, and, sure enough, huge rain clouds loomed over us. I glanced at Skyler, and tried to give him a reassuring smile.
“We’ll be fine!” I yelled over the crashing torrents. Then, a huge BOOM cracked as a flash of lightning split the sky. I filled with dread, knowing that rafting on rapids is one of the most dangerous places to be during a storm.
Rain began to come down in thick sheets as the wind picked up, pushing the water around and causing us to struggle for control of the raft. After a few minutes, things turned to utter chaos.
“Rocks!!” Dad yelled from the front. The wind picked up even more, and we were hurled into oncoming boulders. We crashed into one on your right as the waves picked up speed and ferocity just as our raft began to tilt, and time seemed to go unnaturally fast. It turned over when we crashed into the rock, and all I could hear were the terrified screams from my parents and Skyler as we fell into the raging rapids. I hit the water head first, with my eyes open. I went under water and saw as my face was propelled into a rock under the water surface. Everything went black.
Something. Something was telling me to open my eyes. I waited, too tired to try just yet, but I was conscious enough for my senses to work. It was dark, and sterile smelling. Without opening my eyes, I knew where I was, but hoping I was wrong. The blink of a heart monitor confirmed my guess, and I was filled with dread.
“Please,” I whispered, “please let this be a dream.” I opened my eyes, and wished I hadn’t. I was lying on a hospital bed, tubes were running up and down my body, in and out my face. Mom and dad were sleeping in chairs next to me.
“Mom? Dad?” I whispered. Mom stirred, blinked her eyes open, and looked at me.
“Kaythrie! Oh darling, you’re here!” she said, crying. Dad woke, and took my hand. “May,” he said, “we have our daughter back!”
I looked at them, confused. After they calmed down, I asked them to tell me what happened after the storm. They told me that I have been in a coma for 2 weeks, and the doctor was advising them to pull the plug. They held on, waiting here whenever they possibly could.
“Two weeks?!” I murmured, mostly to myself. “Mom, am I okay?”
She didn’t answer right away. “Well…we’re not sure honey. You might have side effects, and some brain damage…we don’t know.”
I paused, dreading the next question that came to mind.
“And Skyler?” I whispered..
Mom turned away, trying to hide the tears in her eyes. Dad put one hand on her shoulder, and the other hand in mine.
“We couldn’t find him, Kaythrie. We had a search party out there for a week and a half….” He said.
“Only that long? Dad, he could be out there!” I shouted, letting tears roll down my face.
“Kay, it was a severe storm, and out on the rapids like that, chances are-”
“Steve!” Mom hissed, cutting him off.
Dad didn’t need to say anything more.
“When.” I whispered.
“What dear?” Mom asked.
“When.” I whispered again, “When was he pronounced dead?”
“This morning.” Dad said softly.
I sank back into the bed, weeping quietly. “No.” I shook my head, “No, not Sky. Not Sky!” I shouted, looking up past the ceiling, “Why? What did he ever do to deserve that? Why…”
Dad stood up, and carefully pulled mom and I into arms. I wept, and wept, drenching his shoulder in my pain.
I sat next to my parents and his during the service at his funeral, concentrating at the wooden floorboards as the preacher went through the motions. Three weeks have passed since that night in the hospital, but time seemed to blur for me. In that time, I suffered frequent headaches, and found it hard to focus on anything. I grew distant from friends, my parents, and anything else I was close to. My drums have been packed away in a corner of the garage, the microphone with them.
Dad broke my reverie by putting his hand on my knee. “Honey? You okay?” He said under his breath.
I blinked slowly, and shook my head. He put his hand in mine and kept it there.
The service ended 30 minutes later, and everyone silently filed out of the church doors. Mom and dad stood up together, and left, giving me a moment of privacy. I finally looked up at the front of the church. In the middle, where the podium would be, was an easel stand, holding up a picture of Skyler sitting on a stool, playing his acoustic as he sang into the microphone. I know that picture, because I took it. That day, he was singing the song that we heard when we started dating.
I stared at that picture, wondering how, why, life had to go from being so perfect to being completely void. I don’t know how long I sat there, reminiscing.
I sat up straight, looking around. “Who’s there?”
I stood up, following the sound. I went out the church doors, ignoring my parents as I followed the voice to my car. I got in, started up the engine, and drove. I was out of town after about ten minutes, by then following my instincts instead of the voice. Without realizing exactly what I was doing, I drove to the woods that we camped in that night, then past them. Soon, I turned the car off, and got out, putting my feet in charge of taking me where I was supposed to go.
Fifteen minutes later, I found the river. I slipped off my shoes, and ran down the bank as fast as I could in a dress. I didn’t know why I was there, but I was, and I just knew where I had to go.
I slowed down when I reached the rapids, careful to stay five feet away from the edge, where the crashing waves splashed up the sides. The flat rock felt smooth beneath my feet as I edged along. Once I was clear of the rapids, I ran again. After a little bit, I got off the bank and veered into the forestry. Trees and bushes were a blur as I continued to run, going faster and faster.
I came to a giant tree, and froze.
Whatever it was, it was here. But I couldn’t move, I was scared of what I knew I would find. I took a deep breath, then took slow steps around the tree. Lying on his back, Skyler was at the base of the tree, halfway hidden by bushes. I knelt down beside him, looking at his peaceful face, and smiled sadly. One tear rolled down my face as I looked up at the sky, singing that song.
I left Skyler after that, heading back to my car. I called dad, letting him know where I was, and what I found.
“We’ll get someone out there, honey.” He said. “And Kay, are you okay?”
I paused, looking at the picture of Skyler and I wrapped up in that blanket, looking at faces of joy. He was gone, but to me, he left a sacred imprint, and would be with me forever.
“Yeah, Dad. I’m okay.”