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Gasp

Gasp

Gasp 15


  “I just knew you were going to yell at me,” he says glumly.

  We round the corner and see that the couch is already occupied by Ben.

  “Oh no.” Sawyer says. He looks longingly at the cushions, then collapses on the floor and lies there. It’s like he’s drunk with exhaustion or something.

  “So what happened to you guys?” I say. “Have you slept at all?”

  “In the taxi.”

  “You took a taxi here? Why the heck didn’t you call?”

  “I don’t know anybody’s phone numbers. Tried to get people on the street to let me google your landline, but they pretty much took one look at the two of us and ran. When I finally got the taxi driver to look the number up for me, he just wrote it down and wouldn’t let me use his phone at first. I guess we look like scary, drug-addicted homeless guys.” He takes a breath. “Later I finally convinced him I wasn’t going to steal it and I called, but I got the recording.”

  “But—” I sputter. “But what about Ben? Didn’t he have his phone?”

  “No,” he says sadly. “It fell in the water because I’m a loser.”

  “You’re not a loser, you just need to fucking learn how to swim,” Ben says in a muffled voice from the couch. “It’s really not that hard.”

  But Sawyer doesn’t respond. A moment later, I realize he’s asleep.

  I look at Rowan and Trey, and we don’t know what to think. Finally I shrug and go into our bedroom, pull blankets from our beds to drape over them, and give Sawyer my pillow. All we can do is hang around and wait and make up more crazy shit to answer our parents’ questions about why Ben and Sawyer are crashed out in the living room.

  When it becomes clear that Ben and Sawyer are down for the night, we three Demarcos go to bed early, since we’re exhausted too, and everyone sleeps until morning, when we finally get to hear the whole story.

  Fifty

  Rowan and I get up at five to take showers and make some breakfast. When I tiptoe past Sawyer, he grabs my foot and scares the crap out of me.

  “Hey,” he says. He eases his way to his feet with a little help from me, and gives me a long hug. He follows me to the kitchen and sits by the table. “I just need to be near you,” he says in his hoarse voice.

  By six forty-five, all five of us are sitting around the kitchen table.

  “I’m so hungry,” Sawyer says. “I have never been this hungry in my entire life.” He shovels a forkful of scrambled eggs and a biscuit into his mouth, and Ben chows down as well. While they eat, I fill them in on what happened on our end, and how Tori couldn’t tell who the three dead people were, and how the news practically confirmed to us that it must have been Sawyer and Ben who had drowned.

  “But I didn’t give up hoping,” Trey says. “By the way, information about the three dead was released this morning. They were the guy with the glass in his head, some woman I can’t figure out from the victim list, and the pilot, who I don’t think was even on Tori’s list, unless he looked like one of the other passengers. I don’t know what happened there.”

  “We must have confused something,” I say. “I’m sad three people died, but that means we saved twenty-four. And our boys are alive, which means more than anything.”

  Sawyer squeezes my thigh under the table.

  “So tell us everything,” I say. “I saw you with the girl with the polka-dot headband up at the railing, but then I looked away and you were gone.”

  “Ah, Bridget,” Sawyer says. “What a piece of work that girl is. I’m sure her ankle was broken but she was a total trouper.”

  “Yeah, I noticed that. I also noticed the life vest she was wearing.” I give him a patronizing smile.

  “Okay, look,” Sawyer says, wiping his mouth with a napkin and sitting back. “What do you want me to do? Throw a thirteen-year-old girl with a broken ankle out into the water without one? The ferry was rolling onto its side, and there was no time, and I’d already given out all the ones I was carrying. I figured once I had her safely in the water, you guys would take care of her, and I could more easily get another life vest without her on my back. So I gave her mine. And I’m not sorry, because according to the death list, she’s not on it.”

  “But you almost were,” I say. “I’m not letting this one go. I have to be able to trust you.”

  He sighs. “Fair enough. Anyway, I dropped her down into the water and then tried to scale the deck, but the ferry tilted even farther until I felt like I was trying to climb straight up. And just when I’d almost made it to one of the benches with the life vests inside, the ferry shifted hard and rolled, and I lost my grip and slid down the decline, hitting the railing and flipping over it into the water.” He scrunches his eyes shut for a moment and gingerly rubs the nape of his neck. “That sucked bad. Good thing I have such a hard head.”

  “I saw him go over,” Ben says. “I was in the water on that end of the ferry. I thought he might be knocked out, because he hit the railing pretty hard. So I swam out there and saw him flailing and realized he didn’t have his life vest on. So I grabbed him and started looking for debris to hang on to.”

  “But,” Sawyer says, “it was almost dark by then, so we had to rely on lightning to see anything.”

  Ben continues. “I decided our best option was to try to make it to the breakwall we’d hit, even though the waves were washing over it at the mouth of the channel. I could see the higher part of it, and that was closer to us than the lifeboats at this point. But then we got caught in a riptide that took us out even farther away from you guys, and honestly, I thought that was going to be the end of us. I was tired, hanging on to Sawyer, and trying to coach him on what to do without losing all of my energy talking.”

  “Never fight against a riptide,” Sawyer says wisely. “Swim perpendicular to it, parallel to the shore.”

  “Very good,” Ben says. “Now learn how to swim.”

  “Anyway,” Sawyer says. “So by the time we get out of the riptide we’re really far from the ferry and from you guys, and Ben’s trying to conserve energy because he’s got to keep my face above water, and I’m trying not to freak out and make it worse. Then,” he says with a sardonic smile, “we make a brilliant decision to get Ben’s phone out and call for help. So he tries to keep his life vest above water and I try to get it out, except my hands are numb. I manage to get the phone out without it getting too wet, and as I’m trying to hold it above the water and get to the phone page, I fumble it, and it bounces off Ben’s vest and plops into the water. And I am a loser.”

  “Dude, seriously. I kinda figured that would happen. But we had to try. We weren’t going to make it.”

  Sawyer nods. “It was pretty frightening.” He pauses and looks up. “I really thought Ben was going to have to let me go any minute. We were both freezing and exhausted and running out of hope.”

  Trey, Rowan, and I are spellbound. I’m gripping my fork so tightly my knuckles are white. “What happened?”

  Sawyer leans forward. “But then there’s more lightning. And poof.”

  “Poof,” Ben says, nodding.

  “Poof?” Trey asks. “What the hell does that mean?”

  Fifty-One

  “It means poof! The sky lights up, and there, not forty yards away, is that runaway lifeboat,” Ben says.

  “No way,” Rowan says under her breath.

  “Yeah way,” Ben says.

  “Hey, let’s not bring God into this,” Trey says.

  I laugh because I’m a dork, but Ben ignores the joke and continues. “So then I have to decide if we should try to rest for a few minutes first by floating on our backs, and then strike out, or if we just go for it so it doesn’t get farther away. And ultimately, I don’t want to risk losing it, so I get Sawyer to kick his lazy-ass feet and hang on to my vest belt, and I flip over and start swimming breaststroke like my life depends on it, which it does, out in ten-foot waves trying to catch a lifeboat.”

  “It took us forever,” Sawyer says. “I watched the heli
copter leave—it never swept the light out as far away as we were. By the time Ben got us to the lifeboat, he was practically dead. I climbed in and hauled him up. He saved my life.” He turns and looks at Ben. “You saved my life, man, and I will never forget it.”

  “Now we’re even,” Ben says lightly.

  There’s a quiet moment while that sinks in.

  “But how did you guys survive the night?” I ask. “It was cold, and you were wet—how are you not frozen or hypothermic or dead?”

  Ben and Sawyer exchange a glance and a small smile. “Body heat,” Sawyer says with a shrug. “Skin-on-skin contact.”

  Trey stands up, his chair hitting the wall. “What?” he screeches. “That is . . . holy crap,” he says, softer. “That’s a picture, is what that is. Mmm.”

  “It was super-romantic,” Sawyer says.

  I bite my lip.

  “Naaah, we’re just kidding,” Ben says after a beat. “The lifeboat had supplies in it. Blankets and hand warmers. Stuff like that.” He grins as Trey sits back down. “But I did get to see his junk.”

  “Easy there, sailor,” Sawyer says. “Don’t spoil the surprise for the ladies.”

  Rowan laughs and then pouts. “I never get to see junk. Not fair.”

  “Fake boyfriend,” I cough into my hand.

  “Shut it,” Rowan says. She turns to Ben. “So was there a flare gun or whatever? How did you get to shore?”

  “Well, the helicopter was long gone by the time we got into the lifeboat. So we rested for a while first, and then we went into supersleuth mode and decided that we were out of immediate danger, and that life in general would go much smoother for Sawyer if his parents didn’t ever find out he was on a ferry wreck on a school day. And my parents are out of the country, so I wasn’t too worried about any news getting back to them very quickly.”

  Sawyer looks at me. “And I figured the last thing you’d do would be to go to my parents to tell them I’m missing, and that you’d go to Kate first to see what she thought, and she’d most likely want to wait to say anything until we knew for sure what was happening, because of the way my father tends to overreact.”

  “You know us pretty well,” I say. “Though I’ll bet Kate was on the verge of telling them when you guys landed on the doorstep.”

  Sawyer nods. “Yeah, I wouldn’t blame her. Anyway, we decided the best plan would be to paddle to a pier or a jetty, put our wet suits back on, ditch the lifeboat, and walk to the beach like we were out just having fun.”

  “By then the rain had stopped,” Ben says, “and the wind started calming down. It was just a matter of time before the lake would be easier to manage. So once we rested and got warm and ate some weird freeze-dried food and crackers we found in the lifeboat, the sun was coming up, so we could see where we were heading. We started paddling toward that bird sanctuary out there on the harbor north of Chicago. When we got close, we put our wet suits on again and I made Sawyer wear the life vest all the way into the park in case he fell headfirst into a bucket of water or something.”

  “Well played,” Sawyer says, and they do some secret fist-bump handshake thing I’ve never seen them do before.

  “We hailed a cab not far from the beach,” Ben says. “Sawyer used the driver’s phone to call your landline, but just got the recording that Demarco’s Pizzeria is rebuilding and will reopen this fall.”

  “We didn’t hook up the residential number when we moved here since we all had cell phones,” Trey murmurs. “And those numbers aren’t listed.”

  Ben nods. “I’m just glad I still had my wallet. It was a bit wet after the phone ordeal, but obviously the credit card still worked, and that’s all that matters.” He checks the clock on the wall and frowns. “The driver dropped us at my dorm and waited so we could quickly change into some clothes, and then took us straight here.” He looks at Trey and reaches for his hand. “We couldn’t wait to get here. It was so frustrating how lost we were, not having anybody’s contact information memorized. I always had it there in my phone. And now it’s at the bottom of Lake Michigan.”

  I notice Ben checking the time, and reluctantly I stand up, because we need to go. “Sawyer, do you want to go to school or just go home?”

  “I want to go where you go.”

  Ben says, “My only class today starts in ten minutes, so I think I’m skipping one more day.” He grins. “You want me to hang out here and wait for you?” he asks Trey. What a guy.

  “Um, no.” Trey looks sidelong at Rowan. “You wanna be Mom and call in sick for me?”

  Rowan smirks. “How much is it worth to you?”

  Fifty-Two

  Trey drops Rowan, Sawyer, and me at Kate’s. Sawyer brushes his teeth and grabs his backpack, and we take his car to school. Trey takes a sick day and spends it with Ben. Mr. Polselli checks in with me and I give him a bright smile. Lunch is intimate, just Sawyer and me, and we hold hands across the table as he tells me all the places on his body that hurt so I can feel sorry for him. In sculpting, Ms. White asks me if Trey and I got the news we were hoping for.

  “We did,” I say, and I can’t stop smiling. I decide to work extra hard on my vase today to thank Ms. White for being lenient. And maybe I’ll even pull off a better grade on it than Trey, which would rock.

  After school, Sawyer drops Rowan and me off at our house so he can go home, rest for a bit, and catch up on his homework.

  And there’s my dad, sitting in the living room with the shades drawn and the TV on at three o’clock in the afternoon.

  Rowan gives me a look of doom. My stomach drops. The stretch of good times is over. Did I do this to him?

  He looks up when we walk through the room on the way to our bedroom. “Girls!” he booms. “How was your day?”

  I freeze. And slowly turn to look at him. “Fine,” I say.

  “Good. Rowan, your mother wants you to help her in the backyard. She’s planting a garden so we can grow our own stuff for the food truck.”

  Rowan’s eyes widen. “Oh. Okay.” She drops her backpack in the bedroom and escapes out of here like a sidewinder.

  Dad turns the TV off and reaches back to open the blinds behind the couch. “I was just killing time waiting for you to get here.” He’s shaved and showered and nicely dressed as usual for the past few weeks. “We never finished talking yesterday.”

  “Oo-kay,” I say. I slide my backpack off my shoulder and lower my body to perch on the edge of the couch next to him.

  “Your mother told me I need to communicate more, and that I should tell you that we, ah, we like your friends. And that it’s nice to have them come over, and at first we weren’t used to having them in the house, but now it . . . it’s nice. Because then we know where you are, and . . . well. She told me to tell you that.”

  I raise an eyebrow. “So you like Sawyer now?”

  He shifts uneasily. “I . . . yes, I think he’s okay. Your mom said he’s not living at home.”

  I tilt my head. “Oh, I get it. He’s having problems with his parents, so you like him more because of that.”

  “That’s not what I meant. That’s not fair. I tell you something nice and you throw it in my face.” He fidgets with his hands and I can tell he’s getting defensive.

  I choose to let it go since he seems to be trying to be a better . . . whatever. “Okay. I’m sorry. I’m glad you like our friends.”

  “Also,” he goes on, his face pained, “you told me I needed to own my mistakes, and I’ve been thinking about that. And even though your mother has been telling me that for years, hearing it from you seemed, well, different. It made me feel . . . ashamed.”

  I don’t know where this is going, and I don’t know what to say.

  “I decided I’m going to go see somebody. A therapist,” he says. “Your mom’s coming with me.”

  “Oh,” I say. “Oh. Well, that’s great. I mean, I hope . . .” I trail off. What is the appropriate response to this statement? I don’t know.

  “Yeah,” Dad
says, his gaze drifting to the window, where we can barely see Mom laughing with Rowan and digging up the lawn. “I hope it’s good, but I don’t know. We’ll see.”

  “Sure. Of course.” I want to fall through this couch and through the floor and through the earth’s crust and disappear. “Well, thanks for telling me.” My body aches to stand and walk away, but my butt is glued to this cushion.

  “And so, thank you. And for not saying anything to Trey and Rowan. I appreciate that. I—I think I’m going to tell them soon, but I want to ask the therapist first.”

  Who ARE you? I swear I am in an alternate reality right now. There’s no way this can last.

  “That brings me to my next question,” he says. “Why did you ask me about the health stuff?”

  My head grows light. “No reason,” I say. I shift my weight farther onto the cushion, not because I want to relax and chat, but because I’m teetering on the edge of it and could fall at any time.

  “Why did you ask me about visions?”

  I glance at his face and see him looking earnestly into mine. And I still can’t read his expression. Is he asking me because he wants to confess that he has seen visions too? Or because he’s worried that I have, and he wants to put me in an asylum?

  “I don’t know,” I say, scrambling. “I guess I’ve seen you staring off into space, and you don’t drive much, and we’ve got the whole mental illness thing in the family with Grandpa Demarco, so I thought I’d . . . ask.”

  He regards me thoughtfully. “Are you asking because of . . . anything personal that’s happening with you? Do you need to talk to a doctor?”

  Ugh. I wish he’d just answer. “Well, I’m not pregnant, if that’s what you’re asking.”

  He chuckles. “I said I was sorry about that. It really was a joke this time.”

  I feel the residual resentment boiling up again. “Yeah, well, you’re very different lately and hard to read, and you’re telling jokes now, so I guess I just don’t know how to talk to you.” I can feel my face getting hot.