ENG 302 A
Short Story Revision
“So do you like the river or something?”
The question felt like a dumb one for to have Alex, mostly because Leah’s only response had been to laugh. She grabbed onto Leah’s shoulder as Leah lead her down the the steep path filled with roots and loose rocks, the same one Alex was leading Reilly down now in silence. It was weird going back.
“Here it is!” Leah said with a flourish not fitting the showing off of a muddy river bank littered with discarded wrappers and cans.
“Looks like a place you’d dump a body.” Alex said as she wiped the muddy toe of her boots against a rock.
“Yeah, its pretty awful. Don’t worry, you won’t end up on a missing person list, I promise.”
That had been late summer and the river had been slow and shallow from the drought the area was having. Not at all like the river Reilly was being shown. The laziness of the water was gone now, replaced by an angry turbulence brought on by the melting snow and spring rains. It put Alex on edge.
“This was Leah’s spot.” Alex said unceremoniously as she sat down on a log.
“Oh.” Was Reilly’s only response. She’d been friends with her and Leah but always seemed to only be in their peripherals. She knew enough about them though that it must have been obvious what this excursion was about, to some extent at least. And as pathetic as it was for Alex to realize, she couldn’t think of anyone she was close enough to to talk to about this except Reilly. It dawned on her that Leah had really been the only one she had been close to around here.
She sat down next to Alex. It was cold by the river but Reilly was wearing a jacket and Alex was determined to tough it out.
“You’re like a furnace.” Alex had told Leah one night as they sat on the same log, bullshitting and attempting to skip rocks as they usually did. It chilly that night but Leah always seemed to have an aura of warmth around her and sitting shoulder to shoulder with her made that clear.
“Kinda think I’m more like a garbage fire.”
“Well you are a pretty nice garbage fire in my opinion.”
Leah chuckled but something about it sounded off. Something about the whole night had felt off, like Leah was holding some sort of tension within her.
“Can I tell you about something shitty that you probably don’t want to hear?”
Alex didn’t respond sarcastically like she normally would, something about the shake in Leah’s voice stopped her. So they had talked and then Leah had given her a hug. Alex hated hugs, always had for no good reason that she could think of, nothing like the reasons Leah had, other than being touchy feely always made her feel weirded out. It was one of the things she liked about Leah up until that point, that they could be close and distant at the same time and it was fine. But as Leah hugged her, Alex hugged back, and it felt safe. It was the only time that either of them had really felt safe like that.
And now it didn’t matter.
She had never gotten the whole story about what had happened by the river. No matter how close her and Leah were the information had only been stuttered out in bits and pieces over time. Used to go fishing here…when she was little…her brother…this was a bad place. It seemed like even Leah herself wasn’t quite sure of the whole thing.
It had become habit for the two of them to come here often. Sometimes it was once a week and sometimes, when Leah’s was having a down turn, it was every day. It was always Leah who would be the one to suggest coming to the river but Alex didn’t mind. Even when Leah spontaneously suggested a nighttime trip there and they would have to carefully find their through down the slope by the light of their phone so they wouldn’t trip and break their necks Alex didn’t mind. Maybe she should have though. Sometimes Leah wouldn’t care how dark it was, how many roots and rocks were waiting to trip her. She’d barrel down the slope and by the time Leah had made her way down to the bank Leah’s be sitting with arms cut and bruised from the thorns and branches. But she had never barreled down to that bank hard enough to actually get herself in danger even if she laughed about it often on her bad days, laught about breaking her neck on that slope, about falling into the river and never coming out. And Alex had laughed along. Of all the things she could have done she just laughed along.
For a moment Alex wanted to get angry but she didn’t know at what. At this place? At the situation? At Leah? At the fact that just like Leah’s past she would never truly know what caused Leah to die?
Why the fuck would Leah hang out here? Why would she torture herself like that? Just sit there surrounded by something horrid her memory couldn’t quite grasp. If Alex would have known what it would lead to- yet she was doing the same fucking thing sitting here like she had any reason to now that Leah was gone. Why was she even here?
Alex watched Reilly out of the corner of her eye as the silence lengthened. Watched how her arms braced against the log seemed tense, how her eyes only focused on the muddy stone she was rolling with her foot, how she gnawed on her inner cheek in nervous contemplation. Alex should tell her to forget it, that this was dumb and she should leave. Walk her back up the path again and go their separate ways. But before Alex could form the words Reilly spoke.
“Do you like the river?”
Alex didn’t know she was laughing until she found herself doubled over. She couldn’t stop herself from the letting out the kind of laughter that was too loud for the quiet forest, loud and sudden enough to cause Reilly to flinch.
It was like Alex was watching it from outside herself. She could hear the question, hear her own laughter. Her eyes stung and her cheeks were wet but the feeling was far away. She must have looked crazy. And then it began to fade, turning into soft giggles that sounded more like sobs.
“No, I hate this place. It’s fucking awful.”
The arms wrapping around her were so tentative she didn’t notice at first. But then the hug became firmer and Alex leaned into it. Reilly’s hug wasn’t at all like Leah’s, but it didn’t terrify her, and she supposed that was a start.