Gasp 11

  “We just need to put our life vests on first,” I say at one point. “That’s what’s going to keep us alive.”

  “I know,” Sawyer says.

  “I wasn’t telling you. I was just talking out loud.”

  He turns his face toward mine with the hint of a smile. “Oh.”

  Later, he says randomly, “Rope.” He sits up. “Are you free tomorrow afternoon?”

  “Duh.” I shield my eyes from the sun with my hand. It’s getting close to the thirty-degree-angle mark.

  He pulls out his phone and sends a few text messages, then settles back down.

  I pull out my protractor, scoot out from under the blanket, and set the tool on its edge on a mostly smooth portion of sand that looks like it’s pretty level. Then I lie on my stomach and put my face in the sand next to it. I use a thin stick to project the thirty-degree line and wait.

  “It’s close. What time is it?”

  Sawyer checks. “Eight fifteen.”

  I dig a little hole in the sand for my face, to make sure my eye is lined up with the protractor. My eyes water. “Should have brought sunglasses,” I mutter.

  “What exactly are you doing?” Sawyer asks. I can hear the amusement in his voice.

  “I don’t know! I’m just trying to think logically.” I sit up and wipe the sand from my cheek. “The ferry leaves at six. It is now eight fifteen and the sun is in the position where Tori believes it to be behind the clouds. The question is, could the ferry get this far in two hours and fifteen minutes? I say absolutely yes, but only if it intended to, and at a reasonably high speed.”

  “But that is not the normal intent of this ferry.”

  “Correct. So what would have to happen to make the pilot of the ferry go so off course?”

  We contemplate.

  “All I can think of is the mafia,” Sawyer says, half joking.

  “Maybe it’s hijacked. It can go wicked fast, you know. Or,” I say, “I know—maybe there’s a different vessel in trouble, and because the ferry can carry so many passengers, and because it’s fast, the Coast Guard calls them to assist.”

  Sawyer drums his fingers on his thigh, considering. “That actually sounds plausible. Remember when that plane landed in the Hudson River in New York? Didn’t the ferries come to help pick up people?”

  “I don’t know. But,” I say, thinking of something new, “if the weather is too windy and the lake is choppy, a helicopter wouldn’t be useful. Plus they can only rescue one person at a time.”

  We both think about it.

  “And then,” Sawyer says, “maybe in the act of saving the people on the other vessel and riding the crazy waves, the ferry smashes against a breakwall. It takes on water fast, plus the waves are getting higher and water rushes in over the sides, too, and in a matter of minutes, it’s the Titanic.”

  “Man, that would suck for those people from the other shipwreck to be rescued and then immediately be in another one. Two shipwrecks in a matter of hours? Now that’s a bad day.”

  “But the irony makes it feel right, doesn’t it? I mean, unbelievably tragic shit like that happens all the time.”

  I stare out over Lake Michigan, which is deceptively calm this morning, with light waves washing ashore. I check the weather on my phone. The chance of thunderstorms has increased to 50 percent on Monday, and decreased to between 0 and 10 percent the rest of the week.

  “Sawyer,” I say, “based on the weather forecast and the banner Tori saw, I’m convinced this is happening on Monday. I think we should plan on being on that ferry in Milwaukee at six a.m.”


  We do a quick conference call on the way home from the beach. I explain my reasons for believing the ferry disaster is happening on Monday, and after a short discussion, everybody agrees. Ben, who has a credit card, buys five tickets for Monday at six a.m. We plan to pick up Ben at four (groan) and drive up to Milwaukee together.

  Saturday night, after Sawyer gets done playing with kittens at the Humane Society, he and I meet up at Tori’s to see how she’s doing.

  Her mom lets us in. “She’s a wreck,” Mrs. Hayes says fretfully. “Are you sure this will go away?”

  “If we have all the clues right and we manage to save some people, it will go away.” I’m still a little wary of her. I don’t need her obstructing things now. But she doesn’t argue and she stays out of our way.

  Tori is sitting in the same recliner as last time we were here. Her eyes are closed. “I’m awake,” she says. “Just resting. Trying to get away from it for a bit.” The vision must be playing out everywhere.

  “How has it been?” I ask.

  “A little better starting this morning.”

  Sawyer and I exchange a glance. Did we do something right today by deciding to buy tickets? Sure seems that way.

  “Is there anything new?”


  I take in a deep breath and let it out slowly. “We bought our tickets for Monday.”

  Tori nods slowly. “That makes sense to me.” She opens her eyes. “I wish this didn’t have to happen at all, but since it does, the sooner the better.”

  “We’re going to need to be in touch with you,” I say. “Call or text my phone if anything changes. I want you to watch the vision Monday morning starting at six, okay? Watch it like crazy, and send me a text now and then even if nothing’s changing.”

  “I will, Jules. I promise.”

  “Okay.” I look at Sawyer and he nods. I squeeze Tori’s hand. “We’re going to let you rest now. I’ll call you if anything changes, but plan on this happening Monday morning.”

  “Thanks,” she says. “And please be safe. I’d rather deal with this than have any of you get hurt. I mean it.”

  “We’ll be fine,” Sawyer says. But he kind of looks like he’s going to hurl.

  Mrs. Hayes walks us out and thanks us again.

  On the ride home, I realize how exhausted I am from getting up early and thinking hard about this all day. Sawyer’s tired too. I drop him off at Kate’s, drive home, and go straight to bed.

  • • •

  Ben and Sawyer show up shortly after Mom and Dad go to mass on Sunday morning. Ben comes into the house carrying two thick garment bags. Sawyer arrives with duffel bags.

  “Are you guys moving in?” Rowan asks with a grin.

  Ben smiles. “Got a little surprise,” he says. He opens the first garment bag and pulls out four wet suits. He eyeballs Sawyer and picks one, then does the same for Trey. “Try these on. They’ll keep us warm if we end up in the water. Not commando, please—they’re rentals. Here are instructions on the best way to get them on.” He hands each of them a half sheet of paper. “Main thing is to take your time. They should fit tightly. Don’t dig your fingernails in.”

  Sawyer looks at the wet suit like it might bite him. Trey takes both suits and drags Sawyer along with him, shoving him into the bathroom, and then continues to his bedroom.

  “I can’t wait to see your package in that suit,” I call out.

  “Thanks!” Trey answers.

  “Not you!”

  “Jules,” Rowan says, disgusted.

  “What? Might as well point out the obvious elephant in the room instead of stare and say nothing.”

  “I’m not quite that big,” comes Sawyer’s muffled response through the bathroom door.

  Rowan rolls her eyes and turns to Ben. “Won’t we look weird wearing them on the ferry?” Rowan asks.

  “You can wear clothes over it. No one will even notice. These are top-of-the-line, superflexible, and you’ll have complete range of motion.”

  “You’re brilliant, Ben,” I say. “How did you get these?”

  “We rent them out at the marina. I woke up this morning and couldn’t believe I hadn’t thought of snagging some before. My parents are out of the country, so I didn’t even need an excuse to grab a bunch of sizes I thought would fit.” He unzips the other garment bag and pulls out a few more, then takes a good look
at us and hands them over. “Let me know if you need a different size,” he says, loud enough for the guys to hear too.

  It takes forever to get them on. Once we have the right sizes figured out, we’re exhausted. Ben then hauls out some green life vests that are so petite they look like they couldn’t possibly hold us up in the water, but he assures us they are some of the best around. We practice getting into them, and then we have to take everything off again. We make plans to wear our wet suits from the time we get up tomorrow morning so we don’t have to mess with them on the ferry.

  Once we’re back into regular clothes, Sawyer gives us an evil grin and holds up one of the duffel bags. “My turn,” he says. “Get in the car.”


  “Rock climbing?” I ask.

  Sawyer leads the way into the gym. “It’s a class. We’re taking it.”

  “This is like seventh-grade PE all over again, when everybody called me gay,” Trey grumbles.

  “Me too,” Ben says glumly.

  “Clearly their taunts had no effect on either of you,” Rowan says.

  “I’m basically gay in defiance,” Trey says. “Rowan, can you write me an excuse to get me out of this?”

  “Because you’re gay?”

  “No, loser, because I got shot last month. Sheesh.” He rubs his shoulder.

  “Yeah, I thought about that,” Sawyer says. “Just take it easy and don’t overdo it, Trey.”

  Trey flashes a triumphant look.

  “You’re such a rebel.” Ben slips his arm over Trey’s shoulders and turns to Sawyer. “Now explain this. What are we doing? Is this the traditional day-before-disaster team-building event or something? Please tell me I don’t have to do a trust fall. Because the last time I did a trust fall was in seventh-grade PE. Just saying.”

  “Yeah, what is this?” Rowan asks. “I don’t want to mess up my hair, because I have to say good-bye forever to Charlie tonight in case I whiff.”

  “Oh my God,” I mutter. “You and your hair.”

  “Nobody’s going to whiff,” Sawyer says. “We’re invincible.”

  I shiver when he says it.

  “We’re here to learn the basics, mainly because I think rope might be our friend tomorrow. So we’re going to learn how to tie knots and effectively throw ropes for rescue and use the belay apparatus just in case, and we’re going to do a little practice climbing on the wall, too.”

  • • •

  We learn the ropes (har har) of rock climbing for a couple of hours. We decide not to do too much because we don’t want to be sore tomorrow, but the instructor shows us a lot of useful things that might come in handy in rescuing people from a sinking ferry.

  The rest of the day we wander around our neighborhood and the elementary school playground, looking like your typical hoodlums, talking through our plan, enjoying the sunshine, and watching the clouds build in the west. “There’s our storm,” Rowan says. “It’s causing flight delays in Minneapolis right now. Tomorrow morning’s forecast for Milwaukee is now seventy percent chance of thunderstorms, occasionally heavy with gusty winds.”

  And while that scares me, it also reassures me, and pretty much guarantees that we’re doing things right.

  I sit on the swings and talk to Tori for a bit. “She’s hanging in there,” I report to the others after I hang up. “The vision has calmed down a little.” I look at my shoes, dusty from the playground. “I think this is the most prepared we’ve ever been.”

  We go over the list of victims—now sitting at twenty-seven, according to Tori. We note what they’re wearing and discuss our plan to find them in advance and split them up so we each have five or six to monitor.

  When it starts to get dark and our stomachs are growling, we reluctantly part. Sawyer goes to Kate’s, Ben drives back to UC, and we three Demarcos head inside our house, lured by the smells of something delicious cooking in the kitchen and the pleasant faces of two seemingly normal parents who are happy to see us and enjoying life. Bizarre.

  All I know is that if anything happens to us now . . . it’ll pretty much wreck everything.


  We all sleep terribly for about five hours, and are extra quiet getting ready so our parents don’t wake up. Which they never do. Their body clocks are permanently on restaurant time, which means late to bed, late to rise. I see their faces before school so rarely I can count the number of times on one hand.

  Shortly after three, we’re off. Clad in wet suits and sweats, each of us carrying a duffel bag containing a life vest and rope, we are a glaringly obvious group of kids who are clearly skipping school and running away from home. Rowan, who can do Mom’s voice best, remembers to call the absentee hotline and report us all absent so Mom and Dad don’t get a call later.

  We pick up Sawyer first, who is waiting at the entrance of Kate’s apartment building. He holds my hand in the backseat, not saying much, his face strained. By four, the rain has started. We reach the UC campus and Ben hops into the backseat next to me. He’s wearing contacts today, not his usual glasses. He gives my arm a friendly squeeze and whispers, “We got this, kid,” for which I am more grateful than I expect to be. The journey continues.

  The wind picks up, blowing unidentifiable bits of floaty garbage across the highway, and the rain is steady. Occasional lightning streaks across the sky. There’s not much traffic heading out of Chicago at four in the morning, and we make great time, reaching the ferry terminal before five thirty. Trey parks the car and we sit for a moment, listening to the rain on the car’s roof and spraying the windows.

  “I have to pee,” Rowan says. It breaks the mood, and I’m glad she’s here.

  “Good luck with that,” Trey says.

  It might be our first mistake, putting these wet suits on at home. “I blame Ben,” I say.

  “Yeah,” he says. “I forgot about that part. It’s not as easy to pee in the suits if you’re not actually in the lake.”

  I look at him. “Are you saying these suits have been peed in by strangers?”

  “I’d say that’s pretty likely.”

  I close my eyes as the giant wave of grossness washes over me.

  “Why do you think I told you not to go commando?”

  There is silence.

  “We clean them, though, obviously,” Ben adds.

  I hold up a hand to him. “Okay, no. Let’s pretend we never had this conversation.” I take in a resigned breath and loop my fingers around my duffel bag. “Come on, guys. Let’s do this. Are you ready?”

  The murmur of agreement is soft but resolute. We have a plan.

  • • •

  Ben hands over our tickets and we board. The ferry is bigger than I pictured, and I imagine how monstrous and strange it’ll look tipped on its side. I grip my duffel bag tighter.

  I catch a glimpse of the vehicles driving onto the ferry and wince, wishing I could tell everyone to leave their cars on land. And themselves. One good thing about the weather this morning is that it’s probably keeping people from using the ferry. But there are still plenty of passengers boarding.

  We take a tour of our surroundings. There’s a private room for first-class passengers. I peek through the open doorway, and hastily back out when a guy in a suit gives me a cool stare.

  And there’s the banner. WELCOME TO OUR 13TH SEASON, it reads.

  “Lucky thirteen,” Rowan remarks.

  Glass doors and stairways lead to multiple open decks, which would be great on a sunny summer day, but everyone stays inside the glassed-in area today. There’s a snack bar, where passengers line up to get coffee and breakfast. We seek out the location of the lifeboats and flotation devices, and assign a lifeboat to each of us to man—if things work out to enable us to man them. That’s the thing. Who knows how this goes down? Who knows how hard that bump is when the ferry hits the wall? And what else happens that we don’t know about? I know there’s got to be something that puts people on the floor before the jolt.

  Once we
feel comfortable with the layout, we find a spot with a table by the window and sit around it, keeping our duffel bags close by.

  “This feels weird,” Trey mutters. He drums his knuckles on the table. “It’s really different compared to the other ones.”

  I nod. “The others were high tension, counting down to an exact time, and then over in seconds. This one’s going to feel like it’s going in slow motion, I think.”

  Rowan and Sawyer study the list of victim descriptions and look around for matches. Ben pulls his list out too. “This could be heartbreaking if we let it be,” he says. I follow his line of sight to a family with a baby coming on board.

  And I know what he means. I’m glad he said it, because that means he’s thinking the way you have to think when you are doing a job like this.

  I text Tori, letting her know our status, and she replies immediately, saying things are getting crazy strong. As the ferry’s engines rev and we begin to pull away, I can only hope the crazy strong vision is because it’s imminent, and not because we’re doing something wrong.

  “We’re moving,” I say. I look around at the people who stand by the windows, watching us leave land, and everything inside me wants to scream, “Go back!”

  Trey fidgets. After a moment he stands up. “I’m going outside to look for more life vests. I can’t stand sitting here.”

  And I watch the time, knowing there’s only so far we can go before the pilot—or whoever is sailing this thing—will take a sharp turn south.


  The minutes tick away, and soon we are past the pier and on the open lake. The ferry speeds up and flies over the choppy water. And damn, it’s rough. People take their seats and try to keep their coffee from spilling. A few stumble to the bathrooms, and I see somebody puking into a white barf bag. I look at Sawyer, who is gripping the table with one hand and staring at his victim list with the other. He looks ill.

  “You okay?” I ask.