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I will write the secret into a story, and there it will linger. Brooke will sing the secret every time she picks up her guitar, the way k’s break open in her mouth, her heart in her eyes, and Heather will return to Colorado, thinking that she has left it behind floating on the breeze over Lake Michigan.
But for now, tonight, we are free.
Heather feels the bones of the fish before she sees them, dull and half-buried in the sand that had sheltered them in a veil of privacy as they rotted.
She shrieks, jerking her foot away, and trips, and we grasp her - “One, two, up!” - and giggle, our laughter as fluid as the rainbows which flow on the surface of a bubble.
Brooke sighs, “My parents are waiting back at the cabin. I can’t stay long.”
“You’re so lucky your flight is tonight,” I say.
“Why?” she asks incredulously.
“You’re the first to go. You don’t have to be left - you only do the leaving. It’s not fair.”
“They’re both the worst,” Heather breaks in, her first words in a while, kicking the sand.
Our silences are awkward, the times we would rather look into the water than at each other.
“Before you leave, can I tell you both a story?” Heather asks quietly.
The gazebo is a few steps behind us, laced with shadows and shedding splinters. We enter and fold our legs awkwardly beneath us, aiming for comfort. We feel we are living our own story and need nothing else; we are independent and so is Heather, but still she speaks.
Her voice paints notes of blue and red.
“She was alone,” the story begins, Heather’s gaze on the ground. The shadows of the gazebo form shapes; she breathes a nightmarish life into them. “On a cold winter day, a girl stood on the same city street as a faceless man with waiting eyes.”
I’m tempted to critique, telling her that her tale has no suspense. This story of shame is as familiar to us as the stories our parents murmured at night when we were young, letting us fall into sleep with happy endings dancing on our lids.
Her voice remains steady as she continues, until, suddenly, it isn’t. We all note the moment it quivers, and soon it breaks off entirely. The rainbows are washed away; the bubble is frighteningly transparent before it pops. We see through everything; we move with the wind now.
She does not cry, but rubs her arm to hide the chills.
We promise secrecy, speaking words of faith and trust, as if this will stop her from shaking, but we wonder what our promises will mean after we depart.
When we walk back to the beach, where there is just the sand and the water and the air like perfumed rain, I think wildly, Let’s run away. Grab some clothes first, our camp uniforms as ironic mementos. My notebook, Heather’s laugh, Brooke’s guitar, hold our memories close, and retrace the faint steps which brought us here. Follow them along the lake, fall into the arms of the dawn, and bathe in the sunrise.
But when the night dies with the coming of the sun, we can see ourselves reflected with each imperfection we had abandoned in the night. We cannot help but note the desperation of our families waving on the other side, miles away, while our expressions, so close, are almost imperceptible, and that is when we know it is over.
The air is balmy and the piercing light of sunset has faded. I see that it is damp and my hands are tempted by a few wildflowers, covered with spray. Brooke chastises me for yanking them so harshly but I simply shrug, as if I have heard this before. Their stems are rough and uninviting - they do not want me, but I am a human and they are flowers and so I win.
I feel Heather’s arms around me as I whisper that we are safe because we are here, the most wonderful here. Brooke surrounds us both as we relearn the most basic truth, the truth of emotion. We want to protect. Their hair mixes with mine.