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Gasp

Gasp

Gasp 10


  “Okay,” he says. “And?”

  “And so we need to be on that ferry.”

  The only sound is a wooden spoon scraping the bottom of a stew pot. I smell fresh basil.

  After a moment, Sawyer says, “How do we save twenty or thirty people from drowning when we’re on a sinking ferry?”

  “By organizing the passengers and keeping them calm. Handing out life vests and helping the crew with the lifeboats. Taking charge of the situation and trying to make sure that the runaway lifeboat doesn’t get detached from the ferry until it’s full of people.”

  “And when the ship sinks?”

  “We . . .” For the first time I falter. “We get into a lifeboat too.”

  “And then?”

  “We get rescued,” I say. I look down at the table, staring at the remains of the charcuterie plate, no longer hungry.

  Sawyer pulls an electric hand blender from a cupboard and pulverizes the contents of his stewpan into soup while the rest of us imagine ourselves in lifeboats, crashing into breakwalls and splitting our heads open on rocks.

  Or maybe that’s just me.

  Thirty-Two

  I stay at Sawyer’s when everybody else leaves.

  “The soup smells delicious,” I say, trying to get a peek at it over Sawyer’s shoulder. “Looks great too.” I wrap my arms around his waist and he pours a splash of cream into the pot. I can feel his muscles tense as he stirs.

  “Almost ready,” he says. He takes a clean spoon and dips it in. “Wanna test it?”

  “Of course,” I say. I blow on it and take a sip, closing my eyes to savor it. “This tastes like a cold fall day,” I say. “I forgot it was April. Delizioso.”

  He turns off the burner and faces me. I put my arms around his neck and he slides his around my waist, and he looks into my eyes, not smiling.

  I look into his eyes, and I don’t smile either. “Talk to me,” I say softly. “What happened to you?”

  His eyes narrow a fraction. “Nothing,” he says.

  I tip my head slightly. “So what’s going on?”

  “What do you mean?”

  Our faces are inches apart.

  “What is it about the water?”

  He breaks his gaze. “Oh. That. It’s no big deal.”

  I stare at him. “Come on.”

  He loosens his grasp on my waist and turns to look at the soup. “Okaaay,” he says. “When I was ten I was kayaking on a lake with my brother. There were two guys on Sea-Doos screwing around nearby, doing stupid stunts. One of them fell off and his Sea-Doo kept going for a ways after the motor cut, and the guy wasn’t wearing a life vest or anything.”

  Sawyer stirs and shrugs his shoulders. “He was trying to swim to the craft but he was starting to struggle, so my brother and I glided over to try to give him a hand. I took off my life vest and threw it to him while my brother tried to reach out to him. The guy was starting to freak out, and he grabbed the side of the kayak. With my brother leaning out in that direction, the kayak flipped.”

  “Oh no,” I whisper.

  “Oh yeah. So basically I wasn’t prepared. I panicked. My mind went blank. I was underwater, and when I finally had enough sense to realize the kayak wasn’t flipping all the way around, I tried to get out. My leg got stuck. And the Sea-Doo guy was holding on to the bottom of the kayak, so I couldn’t flip it upright again.”

  He pulls two bowls from the cupboard. “I sucked in some water and started to black out. And you know what’s so scary about starting to drown? You stop moving. You can’t struggle, because you go into shock, and you have no oxygen, so you can’t make noise. You just go limp.”

  I can hardly breathe, listening to him. “What happened?”

  “My brother got me out, and I coughed and puked and started breathing on my own again. And I was fine. But I never went in any body of water over my head again.”

  He gets spoons for us and ladles the soup into the bowls. “I’m not a strong swimmer, either. So.” He shrugs and pulls a chair out for me, and we sit and eat our soup, even though I can hardly get it down after hearing that.

  “You don’t have to do this, you know. You can stay back on shore and help from there.”

  He smiles and draws his finger over the back of my hand. “And that’s why I didn’t tell you this before.”

  “I’m just saying—”

  “I know. And I’m going with you, and I don’t want to talk about it anymore. I’m dealing with it, okay? And this time I’m keeping my damn life vest to myself.”

  Thirty-Three

  Tori calls every day. Things were better for a day or two after we met at her house, she says, but as the week progresses the vision is growing stronger and more intense. By Thursday afternoon she can’t watch TV because it’s just the vision on a loop, and on Friday it’s reflected in all the windows in her house.

  “Are you sure there’s nothing more?” I ask. I’m getting impatient. We really need to figure out what day this will happen.

  “Nothing,” Tori says. There’s an edge to her voice now, and I know she’s suffering. “I’m looking at everything. I promise.”

  “I know.” I don’t know what else to say. “Be sure to tell me if . . . well, you know.”

  “Yeah.”

  “And e-mail me a detailed list of what all the drowning people look like and what they’re wearing.”

  “Got it.”

  We hang up. I dig the heels of my hands into my eye sockets and yell out my frustration.

  Rowan comes running into the bedroom holding a dish towel. “What? Did something happen?”

  “No. I’m just frustrated.” I fall back on my bed, and Rowan sits next to me. She checks her phone.

  “I’ve been watching the weather. There’s still a small chance of thunderstorms pretty much every day next week, but the highest chance is Monday.”

  “How big is the chance on Monday?”

  “Forty percent, and windy. Ten to twenty percent on the other days.”

  I stare at the ceiling. “My gut says this is coming soon. It’s getting really bad for Tori. And that’s always been an indicator that we’re either doing something wrong or the tragedy is imminent. And after doing this a few times, I’m feeling relatively confident that we’re getting it right except for knowing the day. So that makes me think it’s imminent.”

  “Like Monday imminent?”

  “Like Monday imminent.” I close my eyes, trying to really think it through. I muse, “Do we take a chance and get tickets for Monday’s six a.m. voyage? If we’re wrong, we’ll miss school, and that’ll be really hard to explain if we have to do it again later in the week. Not to mention expensive. And since none of us is working much at the moment, the money stash is definitely dwindling.”

  “How much is a ticket?”

  “Like eighty-five bucks.”

  “Sheesh.”

  “I know, right? Not only do we have to save people, but we also have to spend big bucks to do it. This is getting outrageous.” I turn my head to look at Rowan and smile. “We could always leave you home and save some money.”

  “No!”

  “I’m kidding. We need you. Twenty-some people to save—heck, if we had any more friends I’d recruit them, too. We need all the help we can get.” I size her up. “I wonder if they have children’s tickets. If you can act like a little kid, we might be able to save money by getting you one.”

  She snorts. “Yeah, I’ll tape my boobs down and wear my Burger King crown. That’ll fool ’em. They see five-foot-seven-inch-tall, hippy eleven-year-olds all the time.” She leers at me. “You, on the other hand . . .”

  “Did you just call me short?”

  “And, apparently, boobless.”

  “Sawyer doesn’t think so. How about Charlie? Oh, wait, he can’t even tell because he’s your fake Internet boyfriend.”

  “Shut your face, I hate you.”

  “I hate you, too.”

  • • •

  That ni
ght Sawyer comes over with a diagram he somehow found of the ferry, showing the locations of the lifeboats and all the life vests. We study the diagram and Trey takes a photo of it and e-mails it to Ben so he can look at it too.

  On Friday night we check the weather forecast. It’s unchanged. Ben and Sawyer come over while my parents are out at some Friday-night food truck festival.

  My phone vibrates. It’s Tori with her daily call.

  I hold my hand up to hush everybody, and answer. “Hey, Tori, how’s it going?”

  “There’s something new,” she says, almost breathless.

  “Finally,” I say. “What is it?” I cover the mouthpiece and whisper, “She says there’s something new.”

  “Two things, actually. The first thing is inside the glassed-in deck. There’s, like, a banner of some sort. Like a long birthday banner, you know? I can’t read what it says, not even with my mom’s binoculars, but I got to thinking that maybe on the first day of the season they might put up a banner of some sort, don’t you think?”

  I shrug. “Yeah, sounds reasonable.”

  “What?” Rowan whispers.

  I kick her.

  “What’s the other thing?” I ask Tori. Rowan pinches me, Trey slugs her, and I realize I could probably just put Tori on speakerphone to avoid this situation. “Hang on, Tori—I’m going to put you on speaker.” I snarl at Rowan and press the button. “Okay, go ahead.”

  “The other thing is that there’s a new frame added on after the frame of the two buildings in the distance. I can see more buildings—tall ones. It’s definitely a skyline. So I traced it for you guys.”

  “Cool, that’s awesome! Downtown Milwaukee is right there, I think, so that makes sense that you can see the city from the water. Do you want to scan it and send it to Sawyer’s e-mail?” I give her Sawyer’s e-mail address. “Send him the victim list, too, would you? Then he can print copies for us.”

  “You got it.”

  “You sound a little better today,” I say.

  “I’m just relieved there’s more. I feel like I’m not doing a very good job of this.”

  “Are you kidding me? You’re doing great!” I say, and the others all chime in with their praise. We need to keep her going in these last few days.

  “Okay,” she says, like she’s embarrassed. “Let me know what the plan is when you have one.”

  “I will,” I say. We hang up.

  “What was the first thing?” Rowan asks.

  “Give me a second and I’ll tell you, you little pain in the butt.”

  “Nose,” Rowan adds.

  I grin reluctantly. “Nice. Anyway, she said in the glassed-in cabin there’s a banner hanging, like one of those kinds you see for birthdays and graduations, you know? She can’t read it, but she suggests that they might use a banner like that on opening day of a new season.” The more I think about it, the more sense it makes.

  “Seems reasonable,” Ben says.

  “Yeah, I think it make sense,” Sawyer says. He pages through the sketches, and then turns to his computer when it beeps to open up the files from Tori.

  I look over his shoulder. “Well, they’re not the most stunning revelations we’ve ever had, but it’s progress.”

  Sawyer studies his computer screen as the others come around to look.

  Trey takes a look at the skyline picture. He squints and looks closer. And then he shakes his head. “Guys?” he says. “That’s not Milwaukee.”

  Thirty-Four

  We all look at Trey, and then at the skyline sketch.

  “Zoom in a little, can you, Sawyer?” Trey asks.

  Sawyer expands the page and zooms in.

  “If she traced this correctly, and I don’t know how she could possibly mess it up, this is definitely not Milwaukee.” He looks at me. “In fact, I think it’s the north view of Chicago.”

  The room explodes in questions. We all talk over each other until Trey emits a shrill whistle with his fingers.

  “Knock it off, guys,” he says. “I don’t know how the ferry could be this close to Chicago, but it is. That’s the John Hancock building, and there’s the Sears Tower. Or whatever they call that building now.”

  “Willis,” Rowan mutters, but nobody cares. It’ll always be the Sears Tower.

  I’m so confused. “Why is the ferry this close to Chicago? Are we sure this is the Milwaukee ferry? It shouldn’t be anywhere near here. It’s almost a straight shot across the lake to Muskegon.”

  “Tori saw the ferry’s website, including a picture of the ferry,” Ben says. “She said she was sure that was it. Besides, our only other option for ferries on Lake Michigan is the one that operates even farther north than Milwaukee, and it’s an old nineteen-fifties schooner type—nothing like the high-speed Milwaukee ferry.”

  “Okay,” I say, “but Milwaukee isn’t just the next town north of Chicago, you know. It’s like seventy miles.”

  “True,” Trey interjects. “But Tori’s sketch shows the skyline quite far away. And Chicago is on the southwest curve of the lakeshore, so it’s possible to see the skyline from quite a distance.”

  “But I don’t understand how or why the ferry would venture so far off course.” I know I keep saying this, but it doesn’t make sense. And I’m getting frustrated.

  “Maybe there’s something wrong with the ferry,” Ben says. “Maybe it’s not just the storm causing this. Besides, I’ve been thinking about the storm a lot. And if the waves were really that enormous, no captain would take a passenger vessel out to sea. I could see them taking it out in eight- or even ten-foot waves, but not much higher than that, or everybody would be yakking the whole trip. It must not be as rough as Tori made it out to be. I keep reminding myself that Tori’s personal experience factors into her perspective.”

  I lie back on the floor and close my eyes. We’ve managed to come up with more questions than answers. And I’m starving. “Foooood,” I groan.

  Sawyer rolls over to me and rests his head on my stomach. “Yep, you’re definitely hungry,” he says. “And I think we can all use a break. Let’s go get dinner.”

  “But we need to save our money for ferry tickets,” I moan.

  “I’m hungry too,” Rowan says. “Hey, I know—we could go find Mom and Dad. They’ll feed us for free. I think.”

  “They will,” Trey says. “Well, maybe not Sawyer.” He grins.

  Sawyer shrugs. “I can pay. I’m not some jobless punk like you, you know.” He straightens his collar. “I work with kittens.” He pulls me to my feet and we all stagger to the not-delivery car and go in search of the giant balls.

  While everybody chatters around me, I realize the thing that’s so unsettling about the ferry within sight distance of Chicago is that it would take quite a long time for it to travel that far. And if Tori’s spot of potential light low in the sky is actually the sun, I need to know how low in the sky it really is. And if it’s possible for it to still be “low in the sky” if it takes a while to get from Milwaukee to the location in the vision.

  Tori didn’t draw the possible sun on the sketch. I text her. What would you guess is the angle of that spot of yellow to the Earth?

  Sawyer peeks at what I’m doing. He nods. “Yeah, I was wondering the same thing.”

  Tori replies: I was told there would be no math.

  “Oh, look,” I say. “Tori’s being funny for the first time in her life. She must be feeling better.”

  “I bet it’s because we’re figuring things out.”

  We wait, and in a few minutes she has an answer. Around thirty degrees, I guess.

  I glance at Sawyer as Trey pulls into the parking lot for the Friday-night food truck festival. “You up for a little early morning research at North Avenue Beach tomorrow?”

  “I don’t start work until one,” he says.

  “Cool. I can probably get the car. I’ll pick you up at five?”

  “Oof, that’s early. Yeah, sounds good. It’ll be cold out there by the water.”
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  “We can snuggle,” I say. “I’ll bring a blanket.”

  He wraps his arms around me and kisses the side of my head. “I like it. We can do more sexy time.”

  “You don’t do sexy time. You have it.”

  “Yes, yes, I do,” he says.

  “Please stop now,” Rowan remarks. “Gross. It’s time to eat some juicy balls.”

  “Dot-com,” I add. Hey, it’s good to mix things up a little.

  Thirty-Five

  “There’s probably a math problem that will tell us the answer here,” Sawyer says. We snuggle together under a blanket on the beach facing the water, looking toward Michigan even though we can’t see it, and watch the sunrise.

  “Yeah, but any math problem that relies on the rotation of the Earth makes my head explode,” I say. “Besides, this is more fun.”

  Sawyer rolls onto his side, facing me, and rests his hand on my stomach, his fingers tracing the stitching on my pullover. He nuzzles my neck. My skin tingles. I close my eyes and suck in a breath. My brain argues with my body, but my body wins. I turn toward Sawyer and slip my arm under his head, and my lips find his.

  His hand travels to the small of my back and pulls me close, our legs entwining. In all our layers of clothes and blanket, we kiss, gently, softly. We touch our foreheads together and exist, for a moment, only in each other’s eyes. I pull the blanket over our heads and we lie there, just kissing and touching and being close and safe and free of all the stress. I would lie like this forever if I could.

  “I love you,” I whisper.

  “Yes, yes, you do.” Sawyer grins and kisses me, and I grin too and our teeth click together. “Ow,” he says, laughing.

  The spell is broken. The brain wins round two. I pull the blanket off our faces and check the sun. Not quite there.

  We wait and watch, mostly in silence amid gentle, somewhat absentminded caresses, cool fingers on bare skin, as the Earth turns us. As we focus on the task we’re here to do, my mind moves to logistics. I think we’re both trying to visualize this rescue and how it has to happen.