The next day, Kyle got home from school around 3:30—his MWF class, honors calculus, ended at three. He climbed out of his jeep, carrying his backpack full of books over his shoulder, and walked up the sidewalk.
He stopped abruptly when he reached the porch steps. Briana was sitting on the swing, rocking slowly back and forth. She was barefoot, as usual, and had on some worn jeans and a faded orange State T-shirt. There were circles under her eyes, and she looked pale.
“What’s the matter?” he said. His heart was already thumping hard. While he was at school, he had managed to hold the troubling events of the day before at bay, but now they all came rushing back at him.
She looked down at his hands. “Where’s the water?” she said. Her voice was weak and thin.
“Why? What’s wrong, Brie?”
“I think it’s wearing off.” She slowly reached down and raised her T-shirt, her lower lip trembling.
Kyle gasped. The faded white line on her stomach was now a deep, snarling rut, oozing with yellow-green pus.
“The other one’s just as bad,” she said. She grimaced as she turned sideways so he could see the back of her leg. There was a dark wet spot on her jeans, over the middle of her thigh, where the gash had been the day before.
“You have to take me back to the lake,” she said.
“What?” Kyle said.
“You have to, Kyle. I’m afraid if I don’t, I’ll...”
“You have to go to a hospital right now, Brie.”
“I’m not going to a hospital,” she said, with a firm shake of her head. “There’s nothing they can do for me.”
“Yes there is. They can sew you up.”
“No, Kyle, it won’t work.”
“What do you mean it won’t work? Why not?”
“It just won’t. I know it, Kyle.” She stood up, wobbling a bit. “I have to get more of the green water. It’s the only way.”
He watched her for a moment, not knowing what to do. “How can you get more of it? You can’t swim down there now.”
“Because you...” He started to say that she looked terrible, but checked himself. She was already frightened enough as it was. “You don’t look as strong as you did yesterday.”
“I can do it,” she said confidently. “I’m in better shape than when I did it the first time.” She motioned to her stomach. “I told you, my insides were hanging out. My intestines were...”
“I believe you,” Kyle said quickly. He tried to think of some way to coax her into getting medical attention, but he didn’t know what else to say. “Go wait in the jeep and I’ll get the key to the boat,” he finally told her.
She nodded, looking hopeful, and climbed down off the porch, using the railing to steady herself. He tried to help her, but she pushed him away. He watched her struggle down the sidewalk, then went inside the house. When he walked through the living room, he glanced through the front window and saw her climbing into the jeep, hunched over to one side and holding her stomach like an elderly woman. This was crazy.
He hesitated on the stairs, debating about what to do. Maybe she would come to her senses if he talked to her a little more.
He went upstairs and headed down the hallway towards his dad’s bedroom, where the key to the boat was. He stopped when he saw that his own bedroom door was shut. There was a note taped to it. Kyle stepped over to the door and read it.
I came home at lunch and thought I might find you here. Why aren’t you answering your phone? I’ve left you three texts and a voicemail. It’s extremely important that none of your friends drink any more of that water. I had it analyzed this morning and it might be very harmful. I don’t have time to explain now. Wait here for me until I get home.
Kyle read it again, and this time his eyes stopped on the last line. He stood there for a moment, vacillating, and then decided to ignore it. He would simply pretend he hadn’t seen it.
He continued on to his father’s bedroom and opened the top dresser drawer. When he reached into the left-hand corner where the boat key was supposed to be, he stopped short.
It wasn’t there.
He pulled the drawer out farther and frantically searched through the old watches and sunglasses and other odds and ends, but he knew the key was gone as soon as he had seen the empty corner—he had put it there himself the night before.
He slammed the drawer shut, cursing under his breath. My father doesn’t even trust me, he thought.
Whatever guilt Kyle felt about disobeying the note vanished. He trotted down the stairs and out to the garage. His dad’s tool chest was sitting on the floor, next to the workbench. Kyle grabbed it and headed out the door and down the driveway.
When he climbed into the jeep, Briana noticed that he was upset.
“What’s wrong, Kyle?”
“My jerk father took the key to the boat.”
“Why? Does he know I was with you yesterday?”
“No, I don’t think so. I don’t know why he took it. Anyway, it doesn’t matter. I can hot-wire the boat.”
“You don’t need to do that,” she said, as he backed the jeep down the driveway.
“If you take me to the boat ramp, I can swim to the cave from there.”
Kyle glanced at her as he pulled out into the street. He could have laughed, if she hadn’t been so pitiful. The way she looked right now, he doubted she could swim across the shallow end of a pool, let alone the half-mile or so she was talking about.
“I can do it, Kyle.”
He just nodded and kept driving.
Two hours later, Kyle was sitting on a boulder at the edge of the lake, about a twenty minute hike from the marina. Briana’s rolled-up jeans and T-shirt were tightly clutched in his hands.
He was almost sure she had drowned. She had been gone over an hour and he hadn’t seen the slightest sign of her, not even a ripple on the water. Save for a lone fisherman that had trolled by in a bass boat a few minutes before, the lake was just as deserted and still as it had been the day before.
He was racked with guilt for letting her go. He had argued with her against it for most of the 25 minute ride over to the lake. But the more he tried to convince her to let him take her to a hospital, the more resolved she became in her belief that the only thing that could help her was more of the green water. She was so persuasive he was beginning to believe it himself, even though a part of him told him that it was crazy. But the closer they had gotten to the lake, the more energy she seemed to have, and by the time they parked by the boat ramp, she seemed to be completely unaware of her dire physical condition. She threw the door open and started running along the shore so fast that Kyle had trouble keeping up with her. She finally stopped, stripped down to her bra and panties, and dove into the water, ignoring his protests and reassuring him that she would be back “soon.”
Kyle gazed out at the flat lake water, now angry at himself for not being stronger. There was little doubt in his mind that she had drowned within seconds of entering the water.
You thought she was dead yesterday, too, some part of himself said.
This thought gave him little solace. He stared at the glassy water, waiting and waiting, becoming more and more certain that she wasn’t coming back. The fisherman started up his motor, trolled twenty feet or so in Kyle’s direction, then shut it off again. He gave a friendly wave and Kyle waved back.
A moment later, Kyle saw ripples in the water some fifty yards out. The fisherman noticed it, too, and stood up, shading his eyes.
Briana shot up out of the lake like she had been fired from an underwater cannon. She flew a good ten feet into the air, then came back down gracefully, with her feet together, her toes pointing downward, as if she had just jumped off a diving board. When she surfaced again, she flung her long blonde hair to one side with such force it sent spray almost all the way to the shore.
“Yes!” she screamed, thrashing her way towards him. She swam so forcefully that she looked like she was running across the surface of the water on all fours. The fisherman’s mouth dropped open and his rod tumbled into the water.
Kyle stood up as she approached.
“I made it!” she cried. She was still wearing her panties and bra. Kyle cocked his head towards the fisherman, whom he didn’t think she had noticed. She looked over at the man and gave him a dainty little wave. “Hi!”
The fisherman’s mouth was still unhinged. He slowly lowered himself back down into his seat, staring at Briana as if she had emerged from a space ship.
She skipped lightly across the slick rocks, as if on air, and gave Kyle a quick kiss on the cheek.
He handed the clothes to her. “Hurry up,” he whispered, eyeing the fisherman. “Let’s get the hell out of here.”
After they got back to the jeep, Briana raised her T-shirt to inspect the scar. It looked like it had the day before when she had treated it with the green water—just a faint white line.
“I’m sorry I was gone so long,” she said, “but I really wanted to work on this and see how far I could go with it. I figured out that the reason the scar won’t go away completely is because it has to be tanned again. I guess it’s new skin or something.”
“That makes sense.” Kyle glanced at her, and saw that her hair was still wet. “Are you cold? I should have brought a towel.”
“No, I feel great!” she said, rubbing her fingers vigorously through her hair. “When you drink the green water, you’re never too cold or too hot, or lonely or sad or anything. Everything’s perfect.” She looked over at him with a slightly raised eyebrow.
“I’m not going to drink it, Brie,” he said firmly. “At least not until I find out what’s in it.” He wondered what would happen if you drank it when nothing was wrong with you. Would it just make you feel good for a while and then wear off? Or was it addictive, like cocaine? It seemed to Kyle that everything in life was in balance. If you pushed the scales one way, they had to tip the other way to compensate. There’s no free lunch, as his father liked to say.
Briana watched him for a moment and then looked back out her window. “You don’t know what you’re missing, Kyle.”
“Maybe you’re right,” Kyle said. While Kyle drove, he was deep in thought, trying to grapple with the future. Briana’s future. So, the green water had saved her again today. But what about tomorrow? And the next day? And the next? What was she going to do, just keep coming back to the lake and swimming down to the bottom for her green-water fix, like some sort of aquatic vampire? And what about school? She was supposed to leave for State in another week. It was a three-hour drive away. What was she going to do then?
He glanced over at her, wondering if she had considered any of this. There was a peaceful smile on her face, her hair blowing in the wind. She seemed to have not a trouble in the world.