Eyes squeezed tight-shut.
Pull in the line.
Eyes open. Take a breath.
Back at the beginning. Is the lake bluer this time? I swish yellow-painted toes through the still chilly May water.
I wait for him to tell me about the smiling Golden Retriever who was put to rest.
“I’m sorry. She was a sweetheart.”
He nods absently. “I’m kind of glad, though. She seemed… tired. Ready to go. Besides, she went peacefully.”
That’s most any of us can hope for, right? I say it to myself, not to the boy beside me. “Remember the summer we found her?” I ask. “She was so cute.”
His laugh is so heart I can’t help but smile. “Cute? She was sopping wet, covered in mud, with too-big paws. Kept jumping on us. If I recall correctly –”
” — she ruined my blue dress.”
“See? What a little hobgoblin she was.”
I smile, weary. This time. This time I have to tell him. “Hey, so I actually need to say something that I’ve been meaning to mention for a while now but I can never quite get my courage up because you know I’m really bad at serious conversation like I start rambling –”
” — and get kind of tie-tongued and don’t make sense and sort of forget to breathe –”
” — like I try to plan out the speech in my head but it backfires because I always forget everything I had planned out to say and get kinda trembly, you know –”
I take a nice large gulp of air, feeling slightly dizzy. “Yes?”
“You were doing that rambling thing you do when you’re nervous.”
“I didn’t want you to pass out –”
“Don’t say it.”
” — again.”
“You’re the worst.”
He bumps his shoulder against me. “So what were you gonna say?”
He sways from side to side — bump, bump, bump.
I smile, reluctantly. Roll my eyes. “You’re such a little kid.”
“But you love me anyway.”
I look out over the water. “Something like that,” I murmur. Too quietly.
“What was that?”
He squints at me. Stands up.
No. Make it stop.
I shake my head, refusing the hand he offers.
“Jupiter. We can’t stay here all night.”
He walks to the other end of the dock, tugging on a fistful of sprightly, drying yellow wildflowers. He turns, offering his best smile and the bright weeds.
I nod, slowly. “Yeah. We should go.”
The walk to his pickup feels slower than it should, my bare feet scuffing the loose dirt noisily. He opens my door and I am too tired to say thank you. The engine sputters, catches, starts. Winding back roads. An old love song I wish I didn’t have to listen to. Headlights, too bright and too fast and I can’t see anything for a moment.