“Hey, Faust,” Zeke turned in his seat to look at me. “Not too cramped back there? I know the seat’s small…”
“It’s fine,” I said.
It didn’t help that all the fishing equipment was somehow crammed in the back seat as opposed to the truck’s bed, but it was fine. A six pack sat on my lap. I thought about drinking it all myself, then considered that, perhaps, that may be a bit rude. At the very least everyone could have at least one. And then I could take the rest for myself, lay out on the pier, and forget that life was happening, that the Earth was still spinning around the Sun.
I was squished into this hellish compartment because we were all going out to fish. The sun hung low in the sky when we drove to the pond. It’d still be early morning when we arrived. Mark wanted to go, so Zeke agreed and dragged me along, too. “It would be fun to hang out together,” he’d said. I agreed because I had nothing else to do and it was slightly more appealing than sitting in their house all day, staring at the wall, wondering if I had missed every sign that these two were dating. If there had been a sign at all.
The ride was mostly full of silence. Maybe Mark thought nothing would change between us if he told me they were dating, but I felt like I was just tagging along in their life, more than I already had. Was this a date for them that I was interrupting? I stewed about it in the backseat of their truck, tucked away where they could pretend I didn’t exist.
But, unfortunately, I did exist, and so did they, so we were all on our way to sit for hours to stew about life, the universe, and everything while we waited for the little fish to nibble a line. And maybe it wasn’t actually a date I was interrupting. Maybe they really did just want me there with them. Like a friend would.
We were friends.
Things were complicated.
I’d thought about it while they were on their date. A lot.
I mean, I was just here because my own life was too miserable, so why did it matter what they did? We hadn’t spoken in years before, so of course I wouldn’t know what they were up to. They didn’t know what I’d been doing, either. It was mutual, really. We’d go to the pond and fish and pretend everything was just normal. That we didn’t have to say anything. That they didn’t know how much I fought with my husband. That my life wasn’t falling apart. That I wasn’t running away from home. That everything was fine.
We’d just pretend.
No one would ask any questions, except if we were keeping a fish.
Mark glanced at me in the mirror every so often, but otherwise kept his mouth shut. It wasn’t out of discomfort or anything, probably. Because he still smiled when he looked at me, and he still talked sometimes, but mostly he focused on the road so we wouldn’t careen into the ditches on the sides.
He smiled when he pulled into one of the two parking spots at the pond. They weren’t really for parking, but a few people had worn them down enough through the years that they really couldn’t be used for anything else. No reeds grew there. No little clovers or blades of grass. It was just dirt and mud. A few stones. They crunched under the weight of the truck, which killed anything else that would ever consider growing.
Everywhere else around the pond grew like normal, it was just the couple places around the little pier. Everyone knew that was where they were supposed to be, to keep the damage to a minimum. It didn’t get enough visits to officially maintain, though. Not that it mattered. People would still come. They always did.
Zeke pulled the equipment out from beside me, shuffling it under his arm to carry more easily. He grinned at me, then held out a hand, which I took. As soon as my feet were firmly planted on the ground he darted away, ready to claim the end of the pier. Mark was close behind him, hauling the rest of the gear.
I just brought beer, clutched tightly in my arms.
It was still cold.
Condensation formed on the bottles, dripping relentlessly down the sides to soften the carrier they rested in. I pulled one out and popped the cap off on the handle of the truck. Mark glanced at me when I fiddled with it, then looked away when I took a swig.
I think I deserved a bit of fun.
I’d finished the bottle and slipped it back into the container before I’d even reached the pier. Zeke was setting up a chair when I sat on the edge, my shoes already discarded so I could stick my feet in the water. He carefully examined the bait options, whispered something to Mark, then prepared his hook.
Zeke settled in his chair, careful about setting up his station, then took a few pictures with his phone. I knew he was sending them to his sister. He did it a lot when he was younger. Every fish we caught went through her, and she loved it. She was always happy with us, even if we caught a fish the size of my thumb. And my hands were even smaller back then.
I stared into the water for a while, kicking my feet back and forth. Nobody said anything. There was just the slosh of water around my ankles. It was pretty clear today, not enough to see the bottom, but enough that I could still see my feet in the water. Some days the murk was so thick once anything entered the pond it disappeared.
I used to swim on the clear days. I don’t know if it was allowed or not, but no one ever complained. I was usually the only one who did, but I saw Mark taking his shirt off from the corner of my eye. He flashed me a grin, then tossed it at my face.
“Hey!” I yelped.
“Come on, Faust, let’s go for a swim!” he said before leaping off the end of the pier. The water splashed up, soaking the end of the pier and our feet and half the equipment. Zeke chuckled and gave me a shrug. He did not take off his clothes, nor make any effort to move from his seat, even when Mark reemerged and splashed him.
“I don’t know…” I muttered.
“It’ll be fun! Just like old times. Besides… You’re already wet.”
“I’m not–” I tried to insist, but Mark stopped my protest by making sure I was thoroughly drenched with his next splash. I shoved back the hair sticking to my forehead. Now he wasn’t wrong. And I couldn’t think of another excuse and Mark was already readying his hands for another attack, so I tugged off my wet clothes and discarded them. Zeke leaned back in his seat and closed his eyes.
Before Mark could nail me in the face again, I stood, took a few steps back, then jumped into the pond.
Cold water surrounded me, rushed up my nose, my mouth, my eyes I shut just barely too late. I scrambled above the surface, throwing my hair out of my face as I gasped for breath. As soon as I emerged, all I heard was Mark’s laughter, and then he was at my side, dunking my head under once.
“Hey!” I shouted, swatting at him. “What if I drown?”
“Come on, you know I wouldn’t! The water’s nice, isn’t it?” he grinned.
“Weather’s good,” Zeke commented.
I shrugged, then laid back in the water, arms spread out, so I could stare at the sky. “Warmer than usual.”
Mark groaned. “Yeah, it’s been hot this year. The snow melted way too fast, too. Remember how the river flooded?”
“Remember how our fucking basement flooded?” Zeke sighed. “I know I said it would be cool to have a pool, but I didn’t mean it like that.”
They went back and forth about the flooding, a pool versus the pond, and the logistics of making a pool in the basement for a minute while I stared at the sky. Clouds speckled the blue, carried slowly by a gentle breeze.
My husband would have hated it here.
The thought made me smile.
And I thought that maybe things weren’t so bad for a moment as the water licked at my skin, as the chill of it washed over me. A calm settled over me as my friends laughed. It was a peace I didn’t know I missed. Or needed.
If only I could stay here forever, I thought.