After Kyle dropped Briana off at her house, he headed home. When he pulled into the driveway his father immediately stepped out onto the front porch. His expression was blank, his mouth only a slit.
It was an expression with which Kyle was intimately familiar.
“Where the hell have you been?” his father snapped.
Kyle got out of the jeep and approached the house.
Kyle Senior stood at the top of the porch steps like an army sergeant, his beefy arms crossed over his chest. Although intellectually he may have been a “nerdy professor,” physically, he was an intimidating man. He was a couple of inches taller than Kyle—about 6’3”, and a lot thicker and heavier.
“I was just over at Daniel’s,” Kyle said. “What’s wrong?”
“No you weren’t. I called over there. I called all over the place looking for you—why aren’t you answering your phone?”
“I...it’s in the boat. I forgot it yesterday.”
His father shook his head, then jerked his thumb towards the house. “Didn’t you see my note?”
“No,” Kyle lied. “I haven’t been home all day.”
His stood motionless, his eyes locked on Kyle’s face. “That makes you twice a liar.”
Kyle swallowed hard, afraid to say anything more.
“I know for a fact the toolbox was here when I came home at lunch, because I put the boat key in it. Now, it’s gone.” His father paused. “I had a feeling I couldn’t trust you, and it looks like I was right.”
Kyle said nothing. He only wished he had opened up the toolbox and found the boat key. It would have saved Briana a lot of swimming.
“What the hell’s the matter with you, boy?” his father said, throwing his hands up in the air. “You see my note and just defy me? People’s lives might be in danger, your friends’ lives, for Christ’s sake...” He ran one hand through his hair, seeming to become aware of his ranting and raving. He motioned to one of the wicker chairs on the porch. “Sit down for a minute.”
Kyle stepped up onto the porch and did as he was told. His father sat down in the swing, arms still crossed. He looked directly into Kyle’s eyes. “Where did that water come from?”
“Why? What’s the matter with it?
“I asked you a question, Kyle.”
“I told you, it came from a spring out at the lake.”
“What spring? Where?”
“In a cave.”
His father looked surprised. “What cave?”
“I don’t know. Just a cave, Dad. What do you want me to do, draw you a map?”
“Yes, as a matter of fact I do.”
“Why? What’s in the water?”
His father started to say something, then leaned forward, touching his fingertips together. His face lost its agitated expression and took on the learned look of a professor. “I assume you know what specific gravity is?”
“Yeah. Of course I do.”
His father waited patiently. He wanted a definition, as if Kyle was sitting in one of his environmental engineering classes.
Kyle sighed. “It’s like the density.”
“Yes, in a way,” his father said, clearly not totally satisfied with Kyle’s answer. He touched his fingertips together again. “Do you remember what the specific gravity of water is?”
“Yeah, that’s easy. It’s always equal to one.”
“Right.” He reached under the swing and pulled out the plastic water bottle, which was only half-full now. “Every standard test they performed on this sample over in the chemistry department said that this is ordinary water. Except one, that is. The specific gravity test. That test says this stuff isn’t water. Why? Because the specific gravity is slightly greater than one. They tested it over and over again, thinking that something might be wrong with the instrumentation or the procedure, but the result was the same every time.” He looked at the water, shaking his head in a perplexed way. “The only thing that could cause that is if it has a concentration of some isotope of water.” His face took on that academic look again. “Do you know what an isotope is?”
“Yeah,” Kyle said, rolling his eyes. “It’s a molecule with an extra or missing neutron. It gives it a different atomic weight.”
“Right. Good, Kyle. They tested this sample against all the known isotopes of water, and it doesn’t match any of them.” He leaned forward, his eyes gleaming with excitement. “The professors in the chemistry department are very excited about this, Kyle. They think it may contain a new water isotope. The implications could be staggering.”
“Oh,” Kyle said.
“‘Oh’? Is that all you’ve got to say about all this? ‘Oh’?”
Kyle swallowed again. “I’m sorry, but I...what would happen if you drank it?”
“I have no idea. I’m an engineer, not a biochemist. We don’t even know that it’s a water isotope, anyway—that’s just a theory at this point. In any case, nobody should be drinking it. God only knows what it might do.”
Kyle nodded, but his father was wrong. God wasn’t the only one who knew what it might do—he and Briana had a pretty good idea of at least some of its capabilities.
“We need a lot more of it so we can do some other experiments,” his father said. “I want you to draw me a map showing exactly where this cave is.”
Kyle nodded. “I’m not going to do that.”
Kyle Senior nodded back, then did a double-take. “What?”
“I said, I’m not going to do that.”
His father leaned forward, his mouth half-open. “Could you repeat that one more time? I don’t think I’m hearing you right, son.”
“I think you’re hearing me just fine, Dad,” Kyle said. “I’m not going to draw you a map.” He got up and walked inside the house, though a bit uncertainly. He had only taken two steps before he heard his father throw open the door and stomp into the living room behind him.
“Kyle!” he yelled.
Kyle turned around. “What?”
“What in the hell’s the matter with you, boy? I want to know where that spring is!”
Kyle braced himself for the coming storm. “I can’t tell you, Dad. I’m sorry, but I just can’t.” He turned around and headed towards the stairway. The next thing he knew, he had been jerked backwards by the collar and whirled roughly around by his father’s powerful hands. He found himself looking into Kyle Senior’s beet-red face.
“Who do you think you are, you little...!” He grabbed a fistful of Kyle’s sweatshirt and pulled Kyle forward until his angry face was only inches away. He was so close Kyle could smell salami on his breath. “You’re going to tell me where that spring is right now!”
“No I’m not,” Kyle said weakly. He cringed in expectation of a blow.
Kyle Senior’s face got even redder, the veins on his forehead bulging out so far it looked like they might explode. “WHY?”
“Because nobody has really drunk any of the water, and nobody ever will.”
His father’s grip loosened a little. “I thought you said some kids—“
“I said ‘kids,’ but I guess I meant ‘kid.’ Only one person has drunk it, and she’s kind of a...special case, I guess you’d say.”
His dad let him loose. “What are you talking about, ‘special case?’ Who drank it?”
“I’m not telling you,” Kyle said, backing away.
“Oh yes you are, son. Whoever this ‘she’ is could be in very serious...” A flash of insight come over his father’s face. “It was Briana Fox, wasn’t it?”
“No,” Kyle lied, but he knew his eyes betrayed him.
“I should have known,” his father said, shaking his head. “That girl will put anything in her mouth.”
Kyle felt his own face flush. “Don’t you talk about her like that!” he snapped, pointing a menacing finger at his father.
Kyle Senior looked a little taken aback, then a smile formed on his lips. “What are you going to do, Kyle? Beat me up?” His smile widened into a taunting sneer. “You think you’re big enough now to take me on?”
Kyle glared at him for a moment, breathing hard, his fists clenched tightly together. “Just don’t talk about her like that.”
They both stood there looking at each other, panting, in a stand-off. After a few long seconds, the sneer on Kyle Senior’s face disappeared. His expression became solemn and strict. “You’re going to cooperate with me, son, or I’m going to kick your smart ass right out of this house and onto the street.”
“Do whatever you want,” Kyle said, as he turned around and walked up the stairs.
Kyle went up to his room and called Briana.
She answered on the first ring. He repeated what his father had told him, explaining the tests that had been performed on the water. He didn’t think she understood everything about the isotopes, but she got the general idea.
“What do you think they’ll do?” Briana said.
“I don’t know,” Kyle whispered. “Probably send divers down to try and find the cave, if I tell them where it is.”
“Don’t tell them,” she said quickly.
“Don’t worry—I won’t.”
There was a click. They both stopped talking.
“Dad?” Kyle said.
“I need to use the phone, Kyle,” Kyle Senior said irritably.
“I’ll be off in a minute.”
After a few seconds, there was another soft click.
“Is he off?” Briana whispered.
“I think so. He knows I’m talking to you, though. He was probably going to call your mom.”
“Let him call. It should be an interesting conversation. She just broke open her second six-pack.”
Kyle paused, disgusted by the image Briana’s comment brought to mind. But Briana’s alcoholic mother was the least of her problems now. “Listen, Brie...have you thought about...you know, how you’re going to deal with this green water...situation? Over the long run, I mean?”
“You mean when I leave for State?”
“I’m not going.”
“What do you mean, you’re not going?”
“How else can I say it? I’m—not—going. Period. Unless I can take some of the water with me, somehow.”
“I don’t think that’s possible.”
“Me either. It has to stay in the cave, or it goes bad.”
Kyle wasn’t sure this was true. He had already given the problem a lot of thought. There were several reasons the water could have gone bad after they took it away from the cave. The bottle they had put it in was far from sterile, and whatever was already inside might have contaminated it and caused it to go bad. And it had gotten warm as well. Kyle remembered how cold the spring in the cave had been. Maybe the water had to be kept cold or it would lose its healing properties.
But even if he could devise a way to bring it up and keep it from going bad, by packing it in ice, in sterile bottles, for example, he didn’t think they could bring up enough of it to last her more than a few days.
There was another click.
“Kyle?” his dad said gruffly.
“I told you, I need to use the phone.”
“I’m getting off right now.”
His father slammed down the receiver—Kyle could hear it through the floor of his bedroom.
“He’s pissed as hell, isn’t he?” Briana said.
“Yeah,” Kyle said, not wanting to think about it. “Listen, Brie, you can’t stay at your house right now. You have to go somewhere and hide, until we figure out what to do.”
“Because my father might call the cops or something, and they might haul you off to a hospital. Is there somewhere you can go?”
“I could go over to Tanya’s.”
“That’s no good—it’s the first place they’ll look.”
“But I could stay in the tree house. Nobody would know I was there except you and her.”
Kyle considered this. They hadn’t been over to Tanya’s tree house since the last day of school the year before, when they stayed up all night and got drunk. “It will have to do. Go there right now, okay?”
“All right,” she said.
“I’ll take you back over to the lake tomorrow, right after school, if you need me to. I’ll be finished at eleven.”