“Hey…you okay, Tess? Tessa?”
She didn’t answer him. But he hadn’t really expected her to. She wouldn’t even look at him. She kept her gaze on the swiftly running river in front of her.
“I’m sorry,” Ethan said. “You know that, right? I didn’t mean to. I swear, if I would have known how it would turn out, I never would have done it.”
That was a stupid as fuck thing to say. Of course, he wouldn’t have done it. No reasonable person would have.
He moved in front of her, trying to get her to look at him, but she wouldn’t. She kept her gaze on the ground.
Bruises marred the right side of her face, and it was impossible to miss the long rows of stitches that closed up the gashes on her forehead and temple. He reached out for her but drew his hand back just as quickly, doubting she’d welcome his touch right now. Or maybe ever again.
No more bonfires on the beach. No more late runs to Krispy Kreme. No more late night study sessions. No more slow kisses or dances or laughing. No more canoe trips down the Thornapple River. No more plans for the future. No more Tessa.
He wished he could remember more about what had happened that night. But it was mostly a blur. It had been raining when he was driving her home after the movie. And they’d been arguing–though he couldn’t remember what about. It seemed like it had been had been important.
His scholarship. That was it. He’d told her that he’d been thinking about turning it down so he could stay in town and go to college with her. He thought she would have been happy, but instead she’d cried and told him that she couldn’t live with being one of his regrets–being something he’d eventually resent.
She walked…well, limped, closer to the river bank, her blonde hair lifting in the breeze and shimmering under the morning sun. He could almost smell the scent of her shampoo–some fruity thing that always made him sneeze. He started to follow her, but he stopped at the sound of a car door slamming. Turning, he saw his mom headed down the path toward the water.
“Mom? What are you doing here?”
At the same time, she called, “Tessa?”
“I’m down here, Dana.”
“Be careful. Please.”
Ethan followed his mom to stand next to her and Tessa. “What the hell, you guys? Neither one of you can bother speaking to me?”
They didn’t even turn around.
“Nice. That’s great.”
“This is the spot?” his mom asked, her voice cracking.
Tessa nodded, tears slipping down her cheeks. “We used to put the canoe in right over there,” she said, pointing at the tiny inlet.
Her tears turned to sobs and his mom put her arms around her, tears streaming down her grief-stricken face.
“Mom? Tessa? What happened? What’s going on?”
They clung to each other, neither of them speaking.
“C’mon, you guys. I get that you’re both pissed at me, but this isn’t okay. Fucking talk to me already!”
Their tears slowed and quieted, and he waited for them to finally acknowledge him.
But instead his mom pulled a small glass vial out of the pocket of her jeans and pressed it into Tessa’s hand. “Do you want me to stay, or would you rather be alone?”
Ethan couldn’t hear Tessa’s answer, but he watched his mom head back toward her car, looking pale and exhausted. He started after her, but from the corner of his eye, he saw Tessa stumble as she inched closer to the water’s edge. He turned reached for her, but saw that she’d righted herself and let his hand fall to his side.
“I’m so sorry we fought, E.”
“Finally. Christ, I didn’t think you were ever going to talk to me again.” He moved closer until he was standing right next to where she was crouched on the bank.
“I love you, Ethan. I’ll always love you.”
Relief slowly unfurled in his chest like a plant stretching toward the sun. “I love you, too, Tess. So much.”
She unstoppered the vial and whispered, “I hope you’ll remember that I’ll always love you. No matter what.”
Lifting her hand, she tilted the vial, and they watched as the slight breeze gently carried the pale gray substance downriver. What had been a gentle breeze seconds before turned into powerful gusts knocking him off balance and lifting him off his feet.
“Tessa!” He reached for her as he rose into the air and started to drift downstream.
She was still in the same position by the river, her hair barely moving as she cried.