Cross Your Fingers & Try Not to Drown
Author's note: An in-progress work of mine also on Figment
IMoonlight shone over the ocean, illuminating the darkness so much that the air seemed to gleam with light. Fireflies glowed nearby and the multitude of trees swayed in the harsh wind, their branches bending as if bowing to the goddess Diana.
Clutching his father’s hand, Max stood on the shore, shivering in his winter jacket; his small, plump cheeks flushed crimson from the cold. “Daddy?” He whispered, his voice lost in the howling of the wind.
Without a word, his father let go of his hand, stepping toward the tide as it rushed closer to the shore. His father was nothing but a dark shadow; a silhouette in the moonlight. He could see very little of the man he called out for and even less as his father walked deeper into the water until he was submerged in it, the unrestrained waves swallowing him whole.
Max waited and waited for his father to return to him, resting against a nearby rock and drawing his knees close to his chest to protect himself against the biting wind. His eyes grew heavy and he rested his head atop his knees.
He awoke later to the sun shining gently on his face and the familiar sound of birds chirping, the sea once again placid and still. His father still had not emerged from the ocean.
The splash that sounded as the swimmers broke the surface of the water brought Max out of his reverie; he stood just in time to cheer with the other supporters in the stands. Scanning the line of swimmers for Lyla, he broke into a grin when he saw her heading the race, cheering louder in encouragement as the other swimmers stayed right on her heels. He and the other spectators watched, taut with anticipation, as the race came to a close and the gun sounded.
The announcer’s voice filled the tightly packed gym, rising above the shouts of family members and friends. “And Lyla James of the University of Michigan comes in first place again at a minute and 5 in the 100 meter freestyle!”
Max’s grin widened and he rolled his eyes in amusement as she gave everyone in the stands the princess wave that she had spent the last few weeks perfecting in the mirror.
He waited patiently in the stands as the girls headed into the locker rooms and the crowd in the gym thinned. Minutes later, Lyla walked out, her caramel colored hair piled atop her head carelessly; her gym bag slung over one shoulder. She bounded up the bleachers and plopped down beside Max, nudging his shoulder.
“You’re doing it again.” She commented lightly, a small smile playing on the edge of her lips.
He blinked and turned to look at her, his dark eyes reflecting the pool’s image. “Doing what?”
“Glaring at the water. It won’t hurt you, you know. It’s just water, Max. It can only hurt you if you let it.”
He nodded and forced a grin. “Says the girl who just won for the third time in a row. You’re gonna be a shoe in for the Olympics at this rate, Ly.”
Red stained her cheeks and she rolled her eyes, swatting him playfully and standing. “Shut up. Now, c’mon, we leaving or what?”
Glancing back at the pool once more, he nodded and stood, grabbing the bag from off her shoulder and swinging it onto his own.
“Such the gentleman,” she teased and he pretended to tip his hat to her.
She laughed, the sound reverberating in the now empty gym, and bounded down the bleachers. Her mossy eyes were alight with mischief and her lips slowly curled into a grin. “I’ll race you to the car. Loser buys coffee for a week.”
“3 days.” He bartered, following her down, careful to avoid getting too close to the water’s edge.
“Ready. Set. Go!” She shouted, taking off, her twinkling laughter trailing behind her.
Max took off after her, his sneakers pounding against the wet concrete. His muscles burned and a fire sparked inside of him, urging him to run faster, to run further, to pass her. He ignored the longing building in him and let Lyla beat him by a fraction of a second, smiling to himself as she beamed.
“Ha!” she shouted, catching her breath, her hair, having tumbled out of its loose bun, now a cascade of loose, wet curls down her back. “I’m ordering the most expensive coffees for the next five days.”
Max chuckled and rolled his eyes. “Yeah, right. You never said where we had to get the coffee from. Wawa, here we come.”
Lyla mock pouted. “But Starbucks is better.”
“Not for my wallet.”
She stuck out her tongue at him as she climbed into the passenger seat of his truck, grimacing as the stifling heat attacked her. “Remind me why I’m friends with a cheapskate like you?”
He grinned, cranking up the AC until it could go no higher. “Because of my dashing good looks and my ability to write a term paper for you in an hour?”
She laughed, lounging back in her seat with her eyes closed as Max drove to his house. “So very true. God, I’m exhausted. I’m so glad that was the last race for the year.”
“Yeah, me too.” He agreed. He hated the smell of chlorine and only his sense of loyalty to Lyla kept him trapped in the cramped gym race after race, the Olympic-sized pool tantalizing him more and more the longer he stayed.
Lyla, who knew of his aversion to all bodies of water, cracked an eye open and smiled at him. His returning smile was automatic. He couldn’t help it; her smiles were contagious.
“Thanks for being my cheerleader.” She murmured, her voice heavy with fatigue.
“Don’t mention it, Ly.” He replied, keeping his eyes on the road.
In no time, the sound of Lyla’s soft snoring filled the car and he was left alone with his thoughts. Usually, his focus stayed on anything but water. School dominated his life and what little parts it didn’t were dominated by Lyla and his family. But today, like every other time he was forced to be around water for an extended period of time, his mind drifted, stirring up memories of his father.
The news reports that had come later had called what his father had done suicide, but Max refused to believe that. From what he could remember, which wasn’t much considering he’d barely been 4 at the time, his father hadn’t drowned. He’d calmly walked into the water and had simply failed to return.
For years afterwards, Max had tried to breech the subject with his mother, but she had refused to listen.
She’d sigh and her cinnamon eyes, ringed with exhaustion, would harden in determination. “You were a child, Maximus. You were exhausted and it was dark. You could not possibly have seen or known exactly what happened. Your father was a sick man, honey, and I am only grateful that he did not drag you with him. We will not discuss this again.”
And they hadn’t. Every time he even hinted at it, she changed the subject entirely. Finally, he’d just given up and kept the thoughts to himself. Oftentimes they nearly drove him crazy, so desperate was he to find out what had truly happened to his father. He couldn’t ignore his instincts and they were shouting- screaming- at him that his father was alive.
His body tensed automatically as he followed the curve in the road towards his house, the lake glittering like a mass of diamonds just outside his window. It called to him, its every wave the lyric of a siren’s song. Ever since he could remember, he had felt the pull of the water in his veins, his soul, his every pore. Never had its hold on him been quite as strong as the day his father had supposedly drowned. That day, before a wave of fatigue had overtaken him, he had very nearly followed his father into the remorseless sea.
He entertained the notion on his darkest nights, wondering if, like his father, he would have stayed submerged; hidden from the world forever and leaving behind unanswered questions.