“Oh, fuck,” I swore, as my oars collided with those of Alissa Barton, high school skank. “For the love of God, bitch, will you please pay attention?”
My arch nemesis didn’t reply.
We were out in the middle of the lake, just over 2 kilometers from the boathouse. It was six thirty in the morning. The sun was just rising over the flat, crystal clear water on a still-warm fall day. Around us, the people inside their multi-million dollar lakefront houses were just starting to stir. We were alone, working on a pyramid of row times Coach had given us – two minutes on, one minute off and so on until we had to row in. He was far ahead of us with the rest of the team, and Alissa and I had been rowing badly and I was pissed off.
It was my first semester on the varsity crew team, and my coach had put me in a double with none other than Alissa “Blow-Me” Barton. Rumor had it she’d already done it with no less than three of the boys in our high school, including my recent ex boyfriend, Alex Abernathy. I wanted to row a boat with her about as much as I wanted to give CPR to a live python, but I’d already promised myself that I’d do anything possible to get to states this year.
“Hey, Barton,” I sneered when she didn’t respond, “any year now.” Her oars were drifting listlessly on top of the water, bouncing lightly in the soft current.
“Barton?” I felt her fall before I heard her hand slap heavily against the side of the boat. Alissa’s head dropped listlessly against my shoulder as I turned. Her eyes rolled sightlessly in their sockets.
“Fuck!” I cried out, taking her shoulders and pushing her off of me. Alissa’s head fell against her chest and lolled sideways. Without thinking, I dipped my hand into the lake and splashed her liberally. The water was lukewarm. The boat rocked dangerously to the side.
“Coach!” I screamed, but the eights were a good 4 kilometers away. There was no one around save a blue heron flying low over the water, scaring off the seagulls who lined the rocky coastline.
Alissa let out a low groan and I looked back at her.
“Hey, Alissa, wake up,” I said, trying to regain some calm, although my voice was pitchy and sounded cartoonish. I splashed her again for good measure, and she seemed to refocus on me.
“Are you okay?” I asked absurdly. She blinked.
“Are the muffins ready yet, Mom,” she said, blinking. Her voice slurred badly and her eyelids were out of sync with each other.
“Shit. Shit. Okay, hold your oars. Can you do that?” I babbled in one long stream. I took her hands in mine and wrapped her fingers around the oar handles. Luckily, she latched on and slumped, marionette style, over her bent up knees.
I turned the boat around in two powerful strokes and started for the boathouse without ceremony. Our craft felt like lead with Alissa’s dead weight, and my oars kept bumping into hers as they dangled from her hands, but slowly I picked up some semblance of a rhythm and the thin craft picked up speed, the water running against the sides of the boat in a low hum.
“Hey, if you die on me, I will kill you,” I panted, with a full kilometer left to go to the boathouse. There was no reply, but I could hear Alissa’s seat rocking rhythmically forward and back on it’s slide under her slack weight. I tucked my head into my chest and kept pulling.
The day I moved out of the little apartment on Canal Street was relentlessly dreary. The grey sky had the consistency of a murky pond, and although it was stubbornly overcast, the heat and humidity were oppressive.
Connor and I worked in silence, out worn-out t-shirts clinging to our overheated bodies. It rained at one point, weakly, a fine, cold mist that just barely puddled on the ground. We worked right through it, letting the condensation hold where it would.
Alissa was nowhere to be seen, but she’d relocated most of her possessions into her room and closed the door. Without her cheerful, personal touches, the apartment seemed alien and unfamiliar.
If there was anything of mine missing, I didn’t notice or care. I was desperately tired, fueled only by a weak cup of coffee and a grim determination to finish the job in one day. Connor seemed to sense my uneasy temperament and worked without complaint, pausing only to grab us some sandwiches from the deli down the street.
As I packed, I realized how much of Alissa and my things had become intertwined over the years. The silverware drawer was still full – all mine – but the plates were gone. The kitchen table was mine, but her chairs had been pulled to the side. She’d even gone so far as to pull down her beloved Ansel Adams prints from the walls and leave the hangers I’d bought for them hanging.
I left a lot of the bigger items behind. The table, my worn out recliner, the crock pot with the bottom melted from when Alissa accidentally put it on a hot oven burner. Connor whisked away what few boxes I managed to pack into the truck he’d borrowed from his friend. We were done by late afternoon.
I left a check for the month’s rent on the table and put my key next to it. I took about leaving a note, but decided against it. There was too much to say.
“This isn’t your fault,” Connor said quietly as I ducked into my now empty room for the last time.
“It’s not not my fault,” I shot back. He looked wounded.
“I’m sorry,” I amended quickly, reaching for his hand. “I don’t mean to lash out at you. I’m just sad. It’s the end of an era.”
“I know,” he said, stroking my knuckles lightly with his thumb. “She’ll come around. Don’t worry. She’ll be standing next to you at the altar on our wedding day, holding your bouquet,” Connor added, although we both knew that it probably wasn’t true. I closed my eyes and sighed.
“I hope you’re right, Mr. Kline.”
“I do too, Mrs. Kline,” he murmured, pulling me in for a hug, “I do too.”