I think, at times, I must be allergic to the sun.
Even as I crave it, it burns.
Even now, hidden behind a cloudy mix of billowing cotton and white wisps of ragged linen, the sun sears the earth hot enough to burn bare feet. My flip-flops slid as I walked up the soft-sanded dune; thongs digging into my toes until I couldn't take it anymore and took them off, knowing full well my soles would only burn until I got used to it.
And everyone gets used to it; eventually, we all accept progress over perfection.
The path was unchanged. I hadn't bothered walking along the shore of the small lake, even though the cool water would've soothed my smoldering feet; instead, I chose the quicker path with the steepest incline until, thigh muscles burning, the big lake was a blue mirage sparkling in the distance and the little one grew small in my wake.
The rows of cottages below seemed almost doll-like, made tinier even by the looming shadow of the advancing dune. Like a cat waiting patiently to swallow a bird whole, a heaping mound of sand was now a mere twenty feet from someone’s door.
But, the inevitable hadn't happened yet, and I was comforted by a familiarity that, here at least, change was promised but slow.
I continued along the top of the world at a steady pace hating the idea of anyone waiting on me; until I recognized the tree in the distance with an emptiness beneath and lost my urgency, my feet no longer burning, so I slowed to enjoy the steady cooling breeze that both caressed my neck and gave birth to the fine-grained mist which ran sporadically along the surface of the dune to assault my ankles with a soft prickling.
My breathing was heavier than I would've liked by the time I reached the bluff. There was a time, I thought, when running up here through the sand had been routine. Now, even though I ran regularly, I doubted I could manage more than a few miles. Running on sand was an entirely different animal than the smooth trek of a treadmill, and my years without practice had made my calves soft to the challenge. I convinced myself it had nothing to do with being seven years older. Certainly not.
I sat in the patchy green beneath the tree. An old log, bleached and stripped by time, was placed with purpose beside a circular stain of burnt ash from past fires. I instead settled into the sand, leaned back against the tree, and pulled out a two-pack of joints from my pocket ripping in half the purple tied business suit printed on the cellophane beneath the words: Middleman.
Running late, I'd only just managed to swing into a gas station on my way. Lucky for me, big marijuana made even gas station clerks expert budtenders. "It’s all about feeding your monkeys,” the clerk smiled in uniform. “Do you want to get productive with a fine sativa dominant like ‘Monkey Tamer,’ or, completely shut your monkeys up with the indica heavy, ‘Monkey Slayer’?”
I didn’t care much about monkeys, didn’t feel like taming anything or slaying anything, so I opted for something called, ‘Middleman,’ after having listened to him for another five minutes further explain the differences between a recharging, cerebral sativa and its mellow, couch-locking indica cousin, or a hybrid blend his cousin swears by for pot yoga. All of which, he assured most certainly, could help me manage my circus.
Even now as I sat before the calming sunset, I felt the anchor of life’s spectacle juggled alongside a funnel of emails from patients I had to answer, bills I had to pay; flying monkeys that needed either taming or slaying, and I fought the urge to reach into my pocket and pull out my phone, to deal with the housekeeping of my circus.
But, I didn’t.
Today, I had something to do that couldn’t be avoided, tamed, slayed, or completely ignored—something that deserved all of my attention.
Something for me.
The memory of my promise made my heart heavy, and I sank deeper into the sand, gingerly rolling the joints between my opened palms like one does when they roll them by hand. They were different than I remembered: hard, perfect little cylinders, more like cigarettes than the soft, irregular paper rolls I'd smoked when they were still illegal.
I glanced over my shoulder once more before relaxing alone with my summer memories; those sunny thoughts we revisit every winter to see us through to spring. Mesmerized by the pinks and oranges of the sun setting over Lake Michigan, my mind drifted back to the summer that’d led me to this spot.
Though, back then I hadn’t walked up here alone and ended up higher than a kite that'd broke its string…
Nobody wins and nobody loses: the art of compromise; it finally happened after a sixty-day stint learning to swallow cruel, insensitive words. And though I repeatedly expressed that I lacked the skill to ever become master, perhaps I finally had shed some impulsivity, along with a few other self-destructive behaviors, because a miracle happened— I finally shut my damn mouth.
And full-on bit my tongue.
Not just verbally, you know, like what members of polite society do: I tasted blood.
It was the only way I knew to do it. I’d sat across from Mom last night at dinner, smiled so hard you couldn’t see my eyes, swallowed back my retort to allow her little quip, and created the scab near the tip of my tongue that now rubbed against the roof of my mouth.
Had I mastered the art of silence a year ago, it would’ve saved me a lot of grief—you tell one doctor to go get ass-fucked by a MRSA covered speculum and all hell breaks loose.
But, they all promise the world would still be waiting, and I’d come to claim it.
I was standing in front of the bathroom mirror, with a flashlight because the lighting is horrible, trying to gauge how bad it was when the horn started blaring from the driveway.
"Cass!" Mom called.
"I'm coming. I hear it." I called back to her.
They honked again.
"I got it, Mom! I’m coming." I grabbed my phone and purse off the bedside table.
They got another honk in before I could make it to the front door. Mom was standing in the tiny cottage kitchen with her hands in the air.
"I know. I know. Sorry." I said with a hasty exit.
The screen door bounced closed behind me as my dad's deep voice called out from somewhere in the front of the cottage. "Hey—Don't forget."
I stormed up the driveway, hands above my head in the same ‘what the hell’ position as mom’s. "What are you idiots doing? Seriously?"
"Happy Birthday!" Wally yelled, sticking his head out the passenger side window of a big silver truck, his eyes two slits and a grin from ear-to-ear.
"Really? Already?" I stopped dead in my tracks a few feet from him and crossed my arms.
"It's summer, and it's your birthday!"
"Come on! I told you he had to meet you first."
"Who?" his eyebrows crinkled above squinty eyes.
"My dad," I barked the obvious.
"Oh, shit. Too late. I can't meet your dad today."
I advanced on him, wagging my finger. "Don't you screw this up for me. I need this, Wally. Break out the Visine and cologne and get it together."
Ollie jumped down from the driver’s seat. "I'm good. I can come in and say ‘Hi,’" he said with a smile just as wide but with far clearer eyes.
“He’s known you since before you could walk,” I said fully annoyed. “It’s this clown that he wants to meet. Come on,” I ordered Wally with an irritated hand motion that said ‘get out of the truck.’
Wally begrudgingly opened the door. “Can’t you just tell him I’m making sure the canoe is secure?” He gestured a thumb back toward the truck bed where a swath of red fabric dangled from the end of a green canoe to draw attention to the oversized cargo jutting past the truck’s tail lights in case someone happened to miss a giant green fiberglass hull.
“Visine,” I repeated. “Cologne.”
He patted down the outside pockets of his cargo shorts as he climbed out. "Sorry, I must not have grabbed it. No Visine."
I cocked my head, eyebrows raised, hand on a curved hip, and dug my scarred tongue deep into my right cheek.
He'd seen this look before and knowing there was no point in arguing, reached into his pockets and put two drops in each eye.
He blinked wide and wiped away what ran down his cheeks. "Better?"
He took that out as well and gave himself a couple squirts.
"How 'bout now?" he asked with a grin like the Cheshire Cat.
I rolled my eyes. “Ollie, give him your sunglasses,” I said turning and walking back toward the cottage.
“Hey, wait,” Wally pleaded despite falling in line behind me. “I’ve gone years having never met your parents, why now?"
“And, Ollie, I need you to do most of the talking, please," I said ignoring the anchor we dragged behind us.
"I got you," Ollie said with a confident nod.
“Really, I just don’t think it’s a very good idea for it to be today. Can we possibly reschedule?”
They followed me around to the front of the cottage where my dad was sitting with coffee and a newspaper on the cement patio just outside the screened-in porch. "Happy Birthday, Peanut," he said standing up to hug me and kiss my forehead.
"Alejandro, great to see you,” Dad said, addressing Ollie with his formal name. “Your dad still planning on golf tomorrow?"
"He mentioned your horrible score keeping just this morning," Ollie said.
Dad laughed. “The man’s delusional and can’t keep the ball on the green to save his life. Thank God you take after your mother.”
“She can out drive him.”
“That I don’t doubt,” Dad agreed.
"And this, is Walter.” I introduced Wally, trying not to hold my breath as I did. “I know you've heard his name mentioned."
"Many times—it’s great to finally meet you," Dad said extending his hand. "Feel free to call me Rick."
Wally took a step forward, shook his hand silently, smiled, and took an immediate step back.
"What time would you like her back?" Ollie asked.
"Midnight," Mom answered him walking out with a cup of coffee wearing the ‘going-for-a-run’ attire that became her daily uniform while training. Exercise was her go-to response to stress. This year she’d gone from occasional-walker to marathon-runner.
"You do remember that it's my 18th today? I'm pretty much an adult now," I reminded her in the adultiest tone I could muster.
"No," she shook her head, "No, you're not. But, Happy Birthday!" She leaned in and gave me a quick kiss.
Wally kept wiping his palms up and down his shorts.
"2:00," I bargained.
"1:00," Dad countered.
"I'll take it."
"Once again," Mom huffed, "it's like I'm not even here." The chair scraped against the concrete patio as she slid it from the table to sit. "Are you even going to bother getting the job applications?"
"Yes, I told you that's what we're going to do this morning before we hit the river."
"Morning's about over, dear. You still going to come home with a stack of them?" Mom eyed me over the rim of her mug. She turned her gaze to the two boys. "Is that what she told you gentleman you’d be doing today?"
The guys nodded in unison. Though, Wally’s head bobbed a bit too long and Mom gave him an odd look.
I felt a sudden urgency to speed the meeting up.
"Yes ma'am," Ollie saved me. "I figured we'd drive down to the strip in Pentwater to see if any of the shops are hiring and maybe drive into Hart. We’re not expected by the rest of our group until 2:00."
Wally wiped sweat from his forehead.
“Your group?” Mom pressed, not bothering a glance in my direction as she knew without looking that I was giving her a dirty look.
“It’s actually a work function, a company picnic for a place I’ve been doing a little web designing for,” Wally answered her flawlessly. “We were invited to tag along. The company rented one of those big canoe haulers, and they had space. Thought we’d take advantage of a free ride back to our cars and take Cass on a river trip for her birthday.”
Dad grinned. Ollie was a year younger than me. Our dads went to high school together, along with the dad of my best friend, Summer.
“So, Wally,” Mom continued questioning, “Do you do drugs?”
She stared at him awaiting a response as if the tattoos up his arm and lone earing dangling from his ear weren’t already screaming at her.
I’d already warned Wally she was going to ask him. He shook his head with a slightly over animated ‘no’ while nonchalantly moving to stand with both his hands hidden behind his back, conscious of a particular bracelet he was known to wear about his wrist and had clearly forgotten to remove.
“Is this really necessary?” I snapped. It felt especially ironic that she was worried about Wally—Wally whose two rebellious tattoos and one earing was a recent attempt at revamping his freckle-faced, mousy brown-haired, vanilla image. He was the only stoner I knew who didn’t want weed legalized because he felt it would then seem, somehow, less edgy and he would then seem, somehow, less edgy.
I felt for Wally; I too had mousy-brown hair destined to never be edgy.
“This is borderline embarrassing,” I added.
“You’re earning our trust back,” she said unafraid of her unfamiliar audience. “We need to know we can trust your judgement.” She stared me down with that condescending glare she introduced me to the second I hit puberty and started talking back.
I’d grown accustomed to it. “Well,” I said with a wiseass smile, “I can’t do that without going out into the world and suffering through a few bad decisions.” It was a constant struggle keeping my smart mouth at bay, particularly as my filter seemed to dissipate with the ozone every passing year as I got older, and then went through a phase not too long ago where it disappeared entirely. My mouth, unfiltered, was ill-received.
Dad shot me a look that was both a reminder and a warning. It’s amazing, the things dads can say clearly without speaking, and the logical side of me agreed that mouthing off while trying to project trustworthiness to your parents—particularly as you defend the friend whose pot bracelet you planned to suck on at the earliest opportunity—was not wise.
Despite the dirty look, when Dad spoke, his voice was lighthearted, “One day, when you’re rich and famous and can do whatever you want, you can tell all the nosy paparazzi your harrowing survival story of living with parents who loved you. You can start a support group— your first meeting can focus on the nerve of parents who try to steer their children away from bad decisions.”
“Speaking of…I can’t believe you’re going to go dressed like that?" Mom criticized.
"I'm not interviewing anywhere, just picking up applications." I said with absolute politeness.
"First impressions count," she said firmly.
“If I grab an application, I doubt it’ll be handed to me by their CEO. You know most places make you apply online now, anyways. I think this entire exercise is kind of stupid.”
Dad gave me another look and I spoke up before my mother could even open her mouth. "Fine. Give me two minutes." I shot a warning glance to Wally and disappeared back into the house.
"Have you found a summer job?" Mom continued interrogating them.
I listened to the conversation that drifted in from the patio through my open window as I ripped the first sundress I found off its hanger.
Wally barked and cleared his throat. “Ice cream,” he answered. “My family owns The Frosty Oasis.”
“Oh, you don’t say,” Dad said. “I’ve been going there since I was little. That must’ve been great growing up as a kid, your family owning an ice cream store.”
My fingers felt thick as I fumbled with the straps at the back of my neck.
‘I’m,” Wally cleared his throat again, “lactose intolerant.”
“Oh. That’s unfortunate,” Mom mumbled.
"What river you going down?" Dad asked.
"The White," Ollie answered.
"Where you boys putting in and out at?"
They all turned at the sound of the porch door swinging closed behind me.
"We're all meeting at Sischo Bayou, and I think traveling down to Happy Mohawk or Diamond Point," Ollie finished.
“Ok.” I tried to end the interrogation. “You’ve met him. I’m in a dress. Can we go, now?”
"I've been down the White," Dad continued as he ignored me. His lips twisted into a reminiscent smile. "Jack Walsh damn near impaled himself on a log. Ask your father about it, Ollie. He’ll remember. Jack got a good scrape, but the rest of us knew where not to land." He laughed harder than his story warranted, no doubt remembering other parts he had no plans to share.
"How long will you be on the river? Surely not all day," Mom asked.
I knew she was taking mental notes to use in the interrogation that I’d face tomorrow.
"It's maybe two to three hours depending on stops,” Ollie answered.
"That doesn't give you a lot of time to get applications. It's nearly noon now. And that certainly doesn't take you all the way to one o'clock in the morning."
Worse, she was already looking for holes in a story we hadn’t yet crafted.
"Yeah,” Ollie didn’t miss a beat, “we planned to end the day with a bonfire at my place, which, you know, is just a few houses that way."
"Yes, we know where you live, Ollie. Remember that,” Dad teased.
“White?” Mom asked. At first I thought she was talking about the name of the river, until she pointed to my dress. “You’re going to end up on the river and you’re wearing white?”
I looked down at the dress I’d grabbed, a bright-white halter I’d bought last summer because I saw on a podcast that bright-white is, supposedly, the best shade of white to complement pale skin, and almost snapped under her scrutiny. My mind flickered with the notion of ripping off the dress and stomping away to drop off applications in just my bikini, when Wally broke the tension.
"Well look at that," he announced suddenly, "the old man's back at it again."
Everyone turned in the direction of loud banging noises and swearing coming from three houses down. Mr. Randall's white-haired head was bent over the open chassis of what looked like a construction crane of some kind with a scooping bucket at the end.
"Someone needs to tell him that he's only going to keep the dune back for so long. Eventually, it’s going to cover that cottage. Gonna swallow it up whole, like a—"
"That thing always breaks down," Ollie interrupted. "I have a friend who may be able to fix it for him. I should give him a call, help Mr. Randall out."
"I'm sure he'd appreciate that," Dad said with an approving nod.
I watched my mom scan me again from top to bottom.
"Ok, love you both. See you later." I pushed the guys toward freedom, even though Wally still seemed distractedly entertained by Mr. Randall's continued swearing and kicking of metal.
"It was good seeing you both again, sir, ma’am," Ollie smiled to both my parents.
Wally just nodded and raised his bracelet-free hand in greeting as I gave him another shove.
“Stay out of trouble!” Dad called from behind.
We made it around the corner and almost to the driveway when mom caught up with us. "Cass," she said grabbing my arm.
I gestured for the guys to go ahead, though Wally never looked back.
"What?" I asked in my best 'trying not to be annoyed but if she says my shoes aren't good enough or tries to renege on our deal I'm going to internally explode' voice.
"You can have an extra hour if you do me a favor."
"What?" I asked both skeptical and intrigued.
"I need you to go to church with me tomorrow morning."
"Church?" First there was surprise, then irritation. "Church."
"I know.” She put up her hands defensively. “Just hear me out. I need this one morning. We wouldn't leave until 9am, and you’ll be back in bed within a couple hours."
"Church," I repeated flatly, my eyes reminding her of another, longer-standing arrangement in which I no longer attend church. I’d tried church, but always left feeling like a right foot being stuffed into a left shoe.
"I know,” she repeated. “But," she took a deep breath and crossed her arms, then shook her head and sighed heavily as if expelling all the worry she couldn’t otherwise ‘marathon-run’ away in one desperate breath, "I think it could help."
I felt my eyebrows draw together as if by magnets. "Help with what exactly?"
She leaned in slightly and spoke in almost a whisper, "You know, with your dad.”
I continued to look at her as if she had two heads.
Mom let out an irritated huff since I wasn't following her train of thought. "To find him a job," she said as if the clouds of revelation should’ve parted on their own.
"You want us to go to church and pray that dad finds a job?"
"No," she said chuckling, "to network, silly. Help him connect. Janice said a lot of the local lawyers and elected officials attend one of about three different churches. If your dad is going to start building an accounting business, now that we live here…” her voice trailed off as she eyed the old, tiny cabin that was, for now, home.
"Wait, what?" I crossed my arms, realized I was imitating her stance, and immediately uncrossed them. "I'm pretty sure that's not why people go to church, mom."
"Your father needs our support. All I'm asking for is a few hours of your time tomorrow morning. You won't do this for him?"
"Is Dad going?"
"Of course he won't go. You know how he is."
Dad hadn't been to church since he was seventeen and punched the Deacon's son. He always told me it was a stupid argument about football. It wasn't until I was older that I found out the truth and was glad he’d hit him.
"Yeah, Mom I do know how he is. I’m the same way. Besides, I might spontaneously combust into hell fire before I even make it across the threshold."
"Don't be ridiculous, even his mother goes to church, and if they let that woman into church, then it shouldn't even matter why I want to—"
"Mom!" I interrupted.
She took a step back and opened her mouth ready for a fight.
"I'll go," I said before she could speak.
She paused to let her easy win sink in. "Perfect. Be ready by 9:00. And look," her finger wagged up and down my outfit, "even nicer."
"Yep," I answered, turning and walking from her. "See you around three."
"Two!" she called back.
"Two-thirty," I yelled over my shoulder.
"Cass!" She called my name in warning.
"Yeah, yeah. It’s a deal." I didn’t stop walking away toward freedom.
"Love you, honey. Happy Birthday!"
"Thanks, love you too," the good daughter in me called back without turning around.
I climbed into the back seat. "Get me out of here."
I smacked Wally in the back of the head as Ollie pulled out of the driveway.
"Any particular place you want to get aps from?" Ollie asked.
"Truthfully, I don't care if we stop at a single place." I peeked my head into the front of the cab. "Wally, pack me a bowl."
"No way," Wally said firmly. "I'm afraid of your mom."
"I'm afraid of what she'll do if we don't come back with job applications."
"What the hell, Wally? Have you already smoked yourself paranoid?"
"Sorry, chica," Ollie agreed. "We told your mom we'd get job applications first, and I don't want to piss her off."
I crossed my arms and sunk back into the cloth seats. "I need better stoner friends."
“Stoner friends? Aren’t we basically your only friends?”
“You’re right; I need better friends in general.”
We laughed, but they were serious about being afraid of mom so I negotiated terms. It wasn't difficult. It took two stops, a restaurant and a gift shop down by the pier, and a promise to grab an application at the gas station when we stopped for snacks. I reassured them that I could say we tried several places that weren't hiring, or insisted I apply online. In less than an hour, the great job hunt was done.
The sun was hot and high when we pulled into the gas station to grab pre-made sandwiches, drinks and chips to take on the river.
Standing in line at the counter, I'd been so busy looking up at the different scratch lotto tickets for sale that Wally had to nudge me forward after the lady at the counter said "next" in an irritated way that told me it wasn't the first time she'd said it.
"Sorry," I said putting my food on the counter, my heart pounding harder than it should've. "Can I also get a five-dollar Cash-For-Life, and—" I looked back at Wally, "what kind of smokes should I get?"
"Smokes? Since when do you smoke?"
"Since today," I said pulling out my wallet, removing my driver's license and slapping it down on the counter.
The cashier, assuming she had plenty of time, had taken her pony tail down and was putting it back up with relative disinterest in my pride on her counter. "What kind?" she asked. Though she was easily ten years older than me, she'd obviously never mastered the art of chewing gum. I could still hear it in her mouth as she turned away from my license without even a glance to face the great wall of cigarettes behind her.
"Minty ones, please," I asked.
"Yeah, the ones that taste like mint."
"Menthol," she corrected with an obvious smirk and smack of her gum. "What brand?"
I pointed at a box with a camel on it because they seemed the least intimidating, which I suppose is the point of the camel.
She tossed them onto the counter. I waited for her to reach down and check my license, oddly nervous as if I was trying to get away with something illegal.
But she didn't, and instead reached up above her head at rolls of lottery tickets. "What kind of lotto did you want?"
"Cash For Life," I said.
"Just one," I said with a polite smile to hide my annoyance.
She smacked her gum again. "I mean, what denomination—one dollar, five dollars, ten?"
"Oh. Five, please," I answered.
She ripped it free from its perforated edge with a neat and practiced fold-and-pull and began punching keys on the register. "Sixteen dollars and twelve cents," she said not bothering a glance at me let alone my license, instead chipping away at the few remaining purple remnants of nail polish that dotted her nails.
I handed her a twenty, leaving my license in plain view.
She handed me back the change, told me to have a nice day, and was already looking back at Wally to begin ringing up his food.
I stuffed my ID back into my wallet along with the lotto ticket and gathered my stuff from the counter as Wally tossed his down. "Hey, don't you need an application?" he reminded me.
"We're not hiring," the clerk said scanning his items with the red beam of her laser gun.
"Can I get an application, anyways?" I asked.
"Why? I said we weren't hiring," she shot back.
"Do you have any regardless?" Wally asked.
She smacked her gum. "Seventeen dollars and five cents," she answered.
We drove along shaded country roads past acres of apple orchards budding with the promise of fruit and fields of neat-rowed asparagus already harvested. I wondered how much of the asparagus was lost this season, mowed down for growing too fast for the few hands available to harvest them.
We drove until neat fields became wild forests and turned onto the dirt path that led to Sischo Bayou.
A sign by the road warned that the county didn't plow during winter, meaning it was only passable by car seasonally. Even now, totally clear, the path was so narrow that twice we had to pull off so a car could pass traveling in the opposite direction.
The dusty road, long and bumpy, twisted in on itself like a trapped snake. There were no houses, only rustic campsites scattered randomly—a van beside a tent, or a camper settled just beyond and even less-traveled path. The site numbers to the most perfect campsites were nothing more than the black circles of someone else’s ash.
Ollie parked between another pickup and a large oak tree. We had to be careful not to ding the door against the tree’s massive trunk exiting one at a time.
Other vehicles were parked the same sporadic way. Most were empty, but a few were surrounded by clusters of people unloading kayaks, canoes, and coolers.
"I don't see D yet," Ollie said looking around as he began unhooking the bungee cords that'd held the boat snugly within the bed of his truck.
"Maybe he rode with someone?" Wally looked around before nudging me as I scrolled through my phone. "Hey, Summer's still coming, right?"
"She said she was. Has some 'big birthday surprise' for me."
“That girl's always late," Wally said biting his lip.
"D won’t wait,” Ollie warned. “When it's time to go, we'll go."
"Relax, guys. She said she's not meeting us here but will meet up with us later on the river."
"How the hell's she going to find us on the river?" Wally said as the aluminum canoe came to rest in the dirt with a series of hollow, vibrating thuds.
"No Idea," I answered. "She didn't say."
"Don't hold your breath, Wally," Ollie added.
He shrugged as if it was no big deal, but his shoulders slumped a few inches lower as he walked. I went to grab the end of the big canoe but the guys shooed me away saying it was too steep a walk and suggested instead that I grab one of the soft side coolers.
Reaching the crude log steps that led to the river below, I was instantly grateful for the chivalry. The hill was steep, and much like the path that'd led us back, long and twisty. Many of the steps were dangerously worn, missing or loose.
The guys put down the canoe in the grass leaving a clear path to the river, and Ollie went back up to grab the second cooler. Wally and I waited until another group had cast off and been carried away down river leaving us alone before unfurling the pipe bracelet from his wrist.
I inhaled deeply, held it, and exhaled without coughing. I was fifteen the first summer Wally introduced me to weed. I'd never smoked a cigarette before that, so he warned me to be careful, then was oddly disappointed when I hadn't hacked up a lung, quickly excusing my smoke-inhaling proficiency as a side effect of growing up in the smog of Detroit. He was the only person I’d ever smoked it with, so my flirtation with marijuana was limited to summers when I came into town to stay with my grandmother.
My body relaxed and the log I was sitting on became more comfortable with every pull from the soft pipe. Weeks of pent up anxiety melted from my body and my smile felt more genuine than it had in months. The clatter of plastic bouncing against wood and rock drifted down from behind us mingled with voices. But the loudest song came from the birds all around us and the soft rustle of wind through leaves. I took in another deep, but this time smokeless, breath and held it.
"So, you think Summer is really going to meet up with us?" Wally asked again.
"I don't know, Wally. She's not the right fit for you, anyways."
"Fit? Why'd you say fit?" he asked fidgeting.
I looked at him without speaking. Wally was a sweet guy, but, truth be told, Summer was far too wild for him. There was no tattoo or piercing he could get that would change that.
He looked disappointed by the answer I didn't give but shrugged it off as he always did and offered me another pull.
"I'm good, thanks. I want to relax, not get blown out. My afternoon plans don't include drowning." I smiled in anticipation of a tranquil float downstream.