Kyle sat slumped in the boat’s passenger seat, in a daze, while Briana drove back to the marina. He kept looking at the water bottle, then back at her, trying to make some sense out of what had happened.
As they approached the marina, Kyle snapped part-way out of his stupor and decided to take the wheel himself. He trusted her to drive around the lake, but not where she could do any damage. The summer before, she had driven the boat too close to some rocks and had broken the propeller, which was one of many reasons Kyle’s father didn’t want him out on the lake with her. Of course, Kyle had lied to his dad and said that he had been driving the boat, but Kyle Senior seemed to have a sixth sense about that kind of thing.
Kyle pulled the throttle back to a fast idle and they glided past the rows and rows of sailboats that lined the left side of the cove. She picked up the water bottle and peered at it, turning it this way and that. “I think it’s losing its glow. Don’t you?” She held the bottle out to him.
“I don’t know,” he said, barely glancing at it. He was so upset and confused that he couldn’t seem to think at all.
They soon reached the dock and he turned off the engine. Kyle stepped off the boat to tie it up.
“I feel greeeeat!” Briana yelled.
It was so loud and unexpected that Kyle almost fell into the water. Several fishermen who were launching a bass boat turned and looked in their direction.
“Shhh!” Kyle hissed at her. “What’s the matter with you?”
“But I do feel great, Kyle. If I knew who ran me over, I’d kiss them for it.”
Kyle wondered when the euphoric effects of whatever was in the water would wear off.
She picked up the bottle and inspected it again. “It’s definitely losing its glow,” she said, with obvious disappointment. She flipped the top up and sniffed it, then crinkled up her nose and held it out to Kyle. “Smell.”
He cautiously leaned over and took a whiff. He almost gagged—it smelled vaguely like rotten eggs.
“I better pour it out,” she said.
“No,” he said, glancing over at the fishermen. For all he knew, it might froth up the water or turn the whole lake green. “Put it in the cooler and we’ll dump it later.”
She snapped the lid back in place and did as he told her. After they got the boat tidied up, they carried the cooler and life jackets over to his jeep and got ready to leave. When Kyle started the engine, Briana said, “I can’t wait to tell Tanya about this.”
He immediately turned the engine off. “You’re not telling Tanya anything, Brie.”
“Because nobody in their right mind will believe you. I want to forget this whole thing ever happened. You seem to be all right, and that’s all that matters. Okay?”
“I’m not going to just forget it! How can you say that? I want to take someone else back there tomorrow, someone who’ll appreciate it.”
Kyle felt himself becoming angry. “You’re not taking anybody back here...” A couple of little boys carrying bamboo fishing rods walked in front of the jeep and eyed them curiously. Kyle waited until they were well out of earshot before he continued. “Look, Brie...I don’t know—or even understand—what happened here today. What I do know is that if my father finds out about it, I’m in deep trouble. I’m not even supposed to be hanging around with you, let alone taking you out on his boat.”
“Thanks a lot,” Briana said, crossing her arms.
“Well, I can’t help how he feels about you.”
“Maybe not, but you don’t have to let him run your life.”
“I don’t let him run my life.”
“Coulda fooled me.”
“What’s that supposed to mean?”
“You know exactly what it means. You could have gone away to college with me, but you’re staying here because of Daddy.”
“No I’m not. I’m staying here because I can go to school for free, because he works there.”
She rolled her eyes, then looked away. “Well, I think there’s another reason.”
“What’s that?” Kyle asked, feeling a little uneasy.
“To get away from me.”
Kyle felt a sharp pain in the pit of his stomach. In a way, she was right. It may not have been the only reason he had decided to stay in town to go to college, but it was certainly one of them. He had been pretty wild himself when he had met her back in the tenth grade. But over the last couple of years, he had mellowed a lot. Not that he was conservative like his father, but he had begun to be concerned about his future—he didn’t want to end up working in a McDonald’s or a Walmart the rest of his life. Briana didn’t seem to be concerned about anything but having a good time from one moment to the next.
But of course, he couldn’t tell her this. Instead, he searched for something to say to her that wouldn’t hurt her feelings, but was still honest.
“You’re my best friend, Brie. You know that.”
She eyed him warily. “If that’s true, then how come we never do what I want to do?”
“What are you talking about?” I brought you out here on the boat, didn’t I? Even when I’m not supposed to.”
“Yeah. But you wouldn’t drink the green water.”
Kyle shrugged. “You’re right. I wouldn’t.”
“Well what? I’m not going to just drink anything anybody shoves in my face.”
“But look what it did for me,” she said, pointing to the scar on her stomach. By now, it was only a vague, pencil-thin white line that could have been nothing more than a well-healed cat scratch.
“I see that, but there’s no reason I should drink it. There’s nothing wrong with me.”
“That’s not the point!” she said with exasperation. “It’s how it makes you feel, Kyle. It’s what it makes you able to do.” She looked out the window, as if searching for something to convince him. “Remember when we did the coke?”
“Yeah,” he said.
“Remember how you said you felt like you were so powerful you could do anything?”
“Yeah. I didn’t like it.”
“Ha! You wanted to buy some more the very next day!”
“That’s right. That’s exactly why I didn’t like it.”
“Well, this is different. It’s not addictive, and it doesn’t make you feel bad afterwards. It’s good for you.”
“Oh, really? And how do you know that?”
“I just know, that’s all. It’s healthy. It’s natural.” She nodded to her scar again. “How could something bad for you do that?”
She had a point, he had to admit. And there was a part of him that was tempted to try it. He turned and glanced at the cooler, where they had put the water bottle.
“I’ve got an idea,” he said.
“I could get my dad to take it to school and have it tested. We could find out what’s in it.”
“Who cares what’s in it?”
“I care. I’m not touching the stuff unless I know what the ‘active ingredient’ is.”
“I’ll bet there isn’t any active ingredient. I think it’s just water. Wonderful water.”
“You could be right.”
“Well, if I am, will you drink it, too?”
Kyle hesitated. “Maybe.”
She rolled her eyes. “Major Snooze. No, I’m giving you a promotion for that one. Colonel Snooze.”
Kyle ignored her and started up the jeep. They drove for a few minutes in silence.
“Damn it,” Kyle muttered.
“We left our phones on the boat.”
Briana shrugged. “I don’t care.” She turned and looked at the cooler. “Where are you going to tell your dad you got that stuff? I don’t want a bunch of nerdy professors to mess up our secret.”
“I don’t know,” Kyle said. “But I’ll think of something.”
When Kyle got home, he found Kyle Senior sitting at the kitchen table, absorbed in one of his engineering journals. That’s how he always thought of his father—Dr. Kyle Dunlap, Senior, big-shot university professor. Kyle was only Kyle Dunlap, Jr.
Kyle set the cooler down by the sink.
“How was school today?” Kyle Senior asked, without looking up.
“Fine.” Kyle opened the cooler and dumped out the melting ice, keeping the plastic water bottle out of his father’s line of sight.
“How’d the boat do?”
“Fine,” Kyle repeated.
“How was the beer you stole from the refrigerator?”
Kyle started to answer “fine” automatically, but stopped with his mouth half-open. His face flushed.
Kyle Senior put down the journal. “It’s all right, Kyle. I’m not mad. But I don’t like the idea of you operating the boat while you’re drinking.”
“I just had one, Dad.”
He peered at Kyle over the top of his reading glasses. “Honest?”
“Yeah. Daniel had two, but he didn’t drive the boat.”
His father looked skeptical. “You didn’t ski today?”
“On a great day like this was? I’ll bet the water was smooth as glass out there.”
“It was,” Kyle said, remembering how the lake had looked before he and Briana had taken their fateful swim.
“Well, if you didn’t ski, what did you do?”
“Nothing,” Kyle said, with a shrug. “Just laid around a while and swam a little. I wasn’t in the mood to ski.”
Kyle Senior looked his son over more closely. “Are you feeling all right?”
“I’m fine, Dad,” Kyle said, turning his back towards the sink.
“You look like you might be a little shaken up or something.”
“I’m fine,” Kyle repeated. “I might have gotten a little too much sun, that’s all.”
“You don’t look burned.”
Kyle simply shrugged again. He wasn’t surprised that his father had noticed something amiss—he had that spacey, washed-out feeling you get from staying up all night studying for a test, only this was a lot worse. He tried not to think about what had happened on the lake. It seemed so unreal. He turned on the water and started rinsing out the cooler, aware of his father’s eyes still on him. After a long moment, he finally heard the pages of the journal turning again.
Kyle pulled out the plastic bottle, still keeping it out of his father’s sight. Now, the water looked completely ordinary—there was no glow whatsoever. He snapped the top open and carefully inhaled. To his surprise, he could only faintly smell the previously intense rotten odor.
He turned to face his father again. “Dad?”
“Yes,” Kyle Senior said absently, looking up from his journal.
“I was wondering if you could have this water checked at school.”
Kyle’s father looked surprised. “Why? What’s the matter with it?”
“I don’t know if anything’s the matter with it. It’s from a spring out by the lake that some of the kids are drinking from, and I didn’t want to drink any unless I knew it was okay.”
Kyle Senior smiled. “That’s smart, son,” he said, getting that I must have done something right look that parents get from time to time. “I’ll give it to Hal Litchfield over in chemistry in the morning. Set it by the front door so I won’t forget it.”