I let go of Michelle’s hand and raced over to the row of canoes lined up along the beach. I heaved one of them into the water and pulled the plastic paddle out from the middle of the boat. The last time I was ever in a canoe was when my parents took my two older brothers and me to Algonquin park. It was one of one of the last times our entire family had spent any sort of decent time together.
“I’m coming! Just hold on!” My voice bounced around the surrounding pines and jagged rock.
“Wait!” Michelle rushed out into the water, tossing her flip flops on the sand. “I’m coming with you.” She held onto the back of the canoe and steadied herself in.
Simon sat down on the large boulders at the point. The moon beamed out from behind him like a spotlight shining down onto a stage.
"Who's out there?" Michelle shifted in her seat, rocking the canoe from side to side. "Is that...Riley Grayson?"
"No. It's Simon. I'm pretty sure it's Simon, unless Brandon found a new person to rip apart in the last five hours." I dropped the end of the paddle into the water and powered forward. The lake was calm and silent.
"What's Simon doing out there?" Michelle asked. Her voice echoed out around the bay.
"My friends thought it would be funny to dump him in the lake because he can't swim." I turned back to Simon. “We’re coming!”
Michelle sat in the middle seat and faced me. Her hands gripped onto the sides of the canoe. "That's awful."
“I know. I don’t get those guys sometimes.”
Who was I kidding? I never understood them. Some days I felt like I was trapped in someone else's body, just waiting for that right moment to burst out and actually be...me.
"What did Simon do to Brandon anyway?"
I shrugged and shook my head. "Beats me. All I know is it has something to do with their dad's fighting about...who-knows-what."
I didn’t realize how far the point was. My back and arms started to kill. A flock of birds burst out of the trees behind me, escaping over the horizon. Michelle dropped to her knees and watched the boy shift about on the rocks. I had no idea what time it was, but the moon began disappearing behind the trees. It had to be nearly sunrise because at the far end of the lake, the sky was turning dark shades of purple.
Michelle didn’t say anything as we approached the rocks. I couldn’t see Simon but I knew he must have wandered around to the other side - perhaps embarrassed about what had happened. The cluster of giant boulders and oddly shaped stone was about the size of a basketball court. Chaz told us it was from carbon and the big thaw that happened about 10,000 years ago. I was always interested in that kind of stuff, but never wanted to stand out as a nerdy ‘keener’, especially with Brandon always jumping down my throat.
“We have an image to uphold,” he would always say.
I pulled back on my paddle and let the canoe drift toward the edge of the cluster. Michelle stood up, holding out her hand for me to balance her. She stepped out onto the mini-island and carefully climbed over to the other side.
She was only gone for a minute when some movement caught my attention back along the shore. I strained my eyes to see what was there.
“Michelle, do you see him?”
The dark blanket of water brushed up against the side of the boat, trickling through the warm, quiet air. The blood pulsated through my veins, pushing through my skin.
Michelle shimmied herself back, moving carefully over the loose stone. She shook her head and looked at me - a faint glow from the horizon filtered over her face. “I can’t see him. I don’t get it. It’s like he just disappeared.”
I helped Michelle climb into the boat and then pointed to the shore. “There’s...there’s someone on the beach. There’s someone standing there on the beach. Do you see?”
Michelle slipped over my legs and back into the center of the canoe. She steadied herself before looking out to the camp. “Yeah, I see. Who is it? Where’s Simon?”
“I dunno. If he fell into the lake, we would have heard him, right?”
“Yeah,” Michelle replied. “This is creepy.”
I dipped the paddle over the side and turned the canoe around. Michelle sat on her hands - her body was rigid. I steered us back toward the docks, checking over my shoulder from time to time. Where was Simon? I didn't get it.
The dark hand once again appeared in my thoughts - reaching out above a body of water.
I wondered if this was real. Part of me thought I was back in the cabin, sound asleep, having a freakish dream. I had them every now and then, mostly when my dad was fighting with my brothers and me.
A light mist hovered over top of the water. The splashes from the paddle bounced around us like a leaky faucet dripping in the darkness. The purples in the sky, gradually warmed into a brownish red. As we approached the beach, I lifted the paddle and placed it on my lap letting the canoe glide into the shore. Michelle and I looked out at the person by the docks. An uneasy wave of energy shifted through my body. My gaze was glued to the blurry shadows.
Michelle didn't move.
The tiny stones and grains of sand scratched along the bottom of the boat.
The boy’s face appeared through the dark haze - the whites of his eyes stood out like two distant moons from a mysterious planet.
“Oh my god,” Michelle whispered. “How did he get back?”
I stepped out of the canoe, and pulled it up beside the other boats. My shoes felt like I was wearing two wet bricks. “Simon? Is that you?”
The boy stepped around the wooden dock and walked over to Michelle and me, dragging his feet along the ground. “Yeah, I’m here,” he replied. His hood was pulled over his head, his hands tucked closely into his pockets.
"What happened to you? We thought you were out at the point."
Simon shyly lowered himself onto the wooden steps leading up to the main lodge. “No, I got away.” He picked up a stick and twirled it around in his hand. He looked up at us and took a big breath, snapping the stick between his fingers.
Michelle and I glanced at each other and sat down on the sand in front of Simon. A tear trickled down his nose, dangling for a moment on the tip before dropping onto his lap.
“I’m sorry,” I said finally. I wasn't sure my apology really meant anything to him, but I didn't really know what to say.
Simon wiped his eyes and looked at the two of us. “Don’t be sorry. It is what it is.”
I shook my head and grabbed part of the stick from the ground. “I can talk to him if you like.”
Simon lifted his head. “Brandon? No, that would just make it worse.”
He was right. This battle between the two had turned into a lost cause. Brandon held so much power in our school that by stepping in I would just be adding fuel to the fire. I knew this was a clear case of bullying. We’d all been apart of assemblies and workshops at our school. We’d had specialists come in and teach us how to deal with bullies face to face. But somehow, this was different. Yeah sure, it was physical at times, Brandon had taken a few swings at Simon in the past - most of the time, it was just verbal abuse. But there was more - Brandon had managed to turn an entire grade against him. I couldn't think of a single person at our school who even tried to make friends with him - including me.
I wanted to say something - anything to make him feel better, but before I could, a bright light beamed down from the top of the hill, spilling out over us. Coach Mackleby scurried over the grassy slope with Chaz and Mrs. Finch. He looked at us, pointing his flashlight in our eyes. "What do you kids think you’re doing?”
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