The summer before my senior year I hooked up with Alec.
Alec Osborne: tall, cute, built. The guy every girl wanted and every boy wanted to be. That’s how it seemed, anyway. He was captain of the football team, captain of the baseball team. Damn, he was captain of the debate team. Even the teachers looked at him with awe. He was it in our small high school.
But this is the honest-to-God truth: I never saw why. I never knew what they saw in him—the pack of friends that swaggered with him through the halls, the girls, his teachers. To me it was bizarre, his appeal. I couldn’t see it. He was a big jock; that helped his case. But it was more than that. He could sway people, win them over. But not me.
That’s what I thought, anyway.
Alec’s friends were football players mostly, or basketball, or baseball, or all three. They were good-looking. But they were arrogant, too. Not all the guys who played sports—that’s not what I’m saying. Just these guys Alec hung out with. There
were plenty of good guys who were athletic. My best friend, Matt, for one. And field hockey means everything to me; it’s my life. No, playing football wasn’t what made Alec the way he was. I’ll never understand what made Alec the way he was.
Anyway, we went to the same parties, had a few of the same friends. Both of us were totally devoted to our sports. We had those things in common; that was it. He’d never been part of my plans. But back then, what I planned and what I did weren’t always the same thing.
Sometimes that was a problem.
You can make your head spin asking yourself why you did something. Something your gut tells you is trouble. But there are some questions that don’t have answers—not good ones, not ones you can live with. This is what’s true: I let myself get sucked in by Alec, even when I knew better.
And I did know better.
It started early that summer, in June. I’ve gone over it in my head a hundred times.
* * *
“Nine!” Matt hollered as I emerged from the water. He held up nine bony fingers as if that made it official.
“What? That dive was so a ten!”
“Sorry,” he said, poker-faced. “Toes not quite pointed on the touch. Gotta deduct one for that. If I don’t, what does a ten really mean? What is a ten really worth? I mean, if I allowed that . . .”
“Shut up.” I laughed and swiped my arm across the lake’s
surface, sending a mini tidal wave in his direction. Water flew up and over where he sat on the side of the dock, his long legs dangling over the side.
“Shouldn’ta done that,” he said, grinning, and hopped in, arms and legs flying, chasing me all the way to the ring of buoys and beyond, straight across the lake.
Breathless, we collapsed in the shallow water on the opposite side. Kids’ voices echoed across the lake’s surface. Our little town beach sat in one of the lake’s narrows, and a ten-minute swim got you to the other side. Not far, but a world away when the beach was crowded and noisy, which it was on this first truly hot day of the summer.
Matt leaned back, his elbows sinking into the wet sand. His legs stretched out into the lake, toes poking out of the water.
I propped myself up next to him, then lifted my chin to the clear blue sky. “There goes Cassie.”
Matt looked up. A tiny, silent airplane passed slowly overhead, leaving a thin white trail in its wake.
Cassie, the third member of our trio, who any other summer would have been sitting here beside us, had left that morning for London. There, she’d spend the summer with her aunt and cousins seeing and doing things I could barely imagine. I’d lived in Maine all my life. I’d been to Boston twice. By car. That was as far away as I’d ever been.
“Must be nice,” Matt said.
I kicked at the soft sand under my feet, sending smoky clouds through the water. “No kidding.”
We were stuck here like the rest of our friends, working two jobs, trying to save money for college.
“I’ll miss her,” I said.
“I’ll miss her boat.”
He laughed. “She’s insane in that boat.”
I pictured Cassie—all five feet two of her—at the wheel of her parents’ motorboat, red hair lit up in the sunshine, grinning as she gunned the throttle and took off down the lake. We loved going fast in that thing, the wind tangling our hair, our loose T-shirts flapping in the breeze.
“Remember this?” Matt threw his arms dramatically across his chest in a big X and leaned back in the water, laughing.
I shoved some water at his head. He knew I remembered.
It had been June and Cassie had just moved here, so we were about thirteen. The three of us had ridden in Cassie’s boat up to the widest part of the lake and shut off the motor as far from any shore as we could get. I’d dared them to jump in with me, and we’d plunged into the dark blue water in shorts and T-shirts. Matt came up hollering. The water was still only about sixty-eight degrees on the surface, and when you jump off a big boat, you go down deep.
“It’s like the ocean!” Cassie yelled, pulling herself back on board.
Exhilarated by the cold, I went back under, then opened my eyes and swam until my breath ran out.
“You’re crazy!” Cassie said to me when I came up again. She
was hugging herself, shivering in the sunshine. “Are you really staying in there?”
“It doesn’t feel that cold,” I said.
“That’s because everything’s numb,” Matt said.
When I climbed back into the boat, my thin white T-shirt—under which I’d worn nothing—had turned transparent. I threw my arms across my chest in the big X.
“Don’t worry.” Matt turned around and grinned. “There’s nothing to hide.”
“Men,” Cassie said, rolling her eyes, and tossed me a life jacket. We all remembered what Cassie now referred to as “the wet T-shirt incident.”
* * *
“Men,” I said to Matt now, but Matt’s attention had shifted, his whole demeanor changed.
“Shhh,” he said, and touched my arm, signaling me to stay still.
I followed his eyes to a line of ducklings that had just emerged from some brush, swimming in the shallow water behind their mother. While the mama duck hovered protectively, the baby ducks dove for food.
We watched them, silently, until they finished, lined up once more, and swam away.
“Reminds me of your family,” I said.
“We’d need Dad and Grandma taking up the rear,” he said. “And Mom’s protective of the twins, not me.”
“That’s because you don’t need protecting.”
“Not anymore,” he said, and a shadow crossed his face. Sometimes I forgot how bad it had been in middle school, when Alec Osborne’s sidekick, Scott Richardson, had relentlessly bullied Matt. It was so many years ago—and Matt could hold his own in any situation now—but he’d never gotten over it.
“Definitely not anymore,” I added. “Let’s swim back.”
* * *
The beach was quiet, only a few stragglers left. The air had cooled and the mosquitoes were starting to swarm in the shade under the tall pine trees where Matt and I sat on a bench putting on sneakers and T-shirts.
“Damn things,” I said, and swatted another one. They could eat you alive in June. “Let’s get out of here.” I ran to grab my bike.
When I wheeled it around, Matt was standing still, skateboard tucked under one arm, his eyes fixed on the dirt parking lot across the road.
“What the hell is he doing here?” he said.
I followed Matt’s gaze to a blue and silver pickup truck, the handles of a lawn mower sticking up in the back. Alec Osborne sat behind the wheel. He lived in Deerfield, ten miles away, where there was a bigger lake and a nicer town beach.
“Who cares?” I said, and I meant it. I had no use for Alec.
“I do,” Matt said. “I can’t stand that guy.”
“No one can.”
“That’s not true,” Matt said, “and you know it.” He jumped on his board.
I climbed onto my bike and began to pedal slowly, watching Matt as he weaved down the lake road on his skateboard just ahead of me. His balance seemed effortless. With each turn, his long, slender body bent gracefully, a tall blade of grass in the wind. The breeze blew his bright blond hair back from his face.
Something made me hang back. I stopped pedaling, letting Matt get farther ahead. Then, I don’t know why I did it—curiosity, the strange sensation that someone was watching me, the pull of something I didn’t understand—but I looked back toward the beach as we rode away. And for an instant, my eyes locked with his: Alec Osborne had stepped out of his truck and was standing still on the pavement, staring up the road after me.