Family Reunion
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Family Reunion

 Brian Biunno
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 Brian Biunno
Family Reunion
by Brian Biunno  FollowFollow
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Brian Biunno spends his days dreaming and his nights creating worlds. His lovely daughter Allison often enters said worlds and refuses to come...read more out. "Something yummy" is what usually grants a reprieve.
Issue 26 · fiction
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Family Reunion
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THE PHONE RANG once, twice, three times. Katie counted the rings, knowing that the machine picked up after four. Gracie looked up from her changing pad and stuck out her tongue, laughing all the while as Katie hurriedly fastened a fresh diaper in place. Diaper secured, she scooped up her daughter, placed her on the floor and ran to the telephone.

“Hello,” Katie panted.

No response. Katie heard a buzzing in the phone that sounded empty, like the moment before a telemarketer clicks on the line. Her finger poised over the End button, Katie waited for the first word from the other side.

“Kathy…” a voice said.

“Who is this?”

“It’s Elda, Aunt Elda.”

Something was wrong. Aunt Elda never called. Her stomach tightened reflexively, like she was about to be punched.

“I can’t believe I have to tell you this,” Aunt Elda continued. “Doris, your mom… she’s gone.”

Stars appeared in her peripheral vision and Katie hurried to sit down. There were only precious seconds before the floor came up to meet her. Her body folded onto the cool of the hardwood floor, the phone still clutched to her ear. She felt nauseated; her head drooped and her long brown hair tumbled down over her face. Her elbows rested on bent knees. A hand instinctively covered her mouth and held the words in her throat.

“Kathy?” Family still held onto her childhood name. “Are you still there?”

Slowly her hand fell to her side. “I’m here.”

“I’m so sorry,” Elda said. “I’m so sorry to have to tell you.”

“Me too,” Katie replied in a whisper.

Her mother had passed suddenly but peacefully, Aunt Elda assured her. One minute she was there, complaining as usual about her social security payments and the next, she was gone.

“She’s left to join her beloved David in God’s Kingdom,” Aunt Elda said. “You know, she never got over losing your father so early in their life together.”

Katie nodded. She had seen the loss on her mother’s face when her mother didn’t know anyone was looking.

“Carlton? How’s Carlton?” Katie asked.

“Oh, your brother is taking it as well as someone in his condition can be expected to take something like this. He’s been very quiet and refuses to change his clothes. I can’t get him to take off that silly Pink Flowers shirt.”

In spite of it all, Katie smiled; the shirt was actually a Pink Floyd t-shirt their mother bought for him last autumn.

“Has he said anything?” Katie asked. Carlton hadn’t spoken much in the years since his accident. Words had become precious, difficult to find and harder to express. Only Katie and her mother knew the actual circumstance behind Carlton’s accident. The extended family long ago accepted that Carlton nearly drowned while learning to swim.

“Now dear,” Elda began, “you’ll need to give thought to Carlton’s situation. He obviously can’t stay by himself. He needs supervision. He needs structure. Without it, he may go back to his old ways, and no one wants to see that happen.”

Katie paused. She hadn’t thought of Carlton’s future. The options were limited and her husband, Matthew, wouldn’t be happy with any of them.

“Our love to everyone. We’ll be up tomorrow,” Katie said and hung up.

She called Matthew, but his voicemail answered. She left a vague message that asked him to call her back, and then turned her attention to packing. Katie cleared a place on the bed and heaved the suitcase onto it. She took a pile of Gracie’s clothes from the drawer and set them next to the suitcase. The purple shirt on the top of the pile had been a gift from her mother, a small present for Gracie the last time they went up to Vermont to pay a visit. Katie held the shirt in both hands. Her eyes explored the interwoven threads that formed the shirt. She realized her mother had taken all her recipes with her; her stubborn mother who refused to use those index-sized recipe cards with the little drawings of cupcakes and breads on them. Why did she have to keep them all in her head? But it wasn’t her mother’s fault. She told Katie each visit to copy down the recipes, but Katie put it off. “I’ll get them next time,” was her response. Why wouldn’t there be a next time? Now she didn’t remember how to cook key lime chicken and she didn’t have anyone to ask. What was she going to do? How could the chicken be gone forever? Katie buried her face in Gracie’s shirt and struggled to calm the heaving of her chest.

The phone rang again. Katie pulled Gracie’s purple shirt from her face and set it aside. Mucus and tears had stained the shirt bruised.

“Hello,” Katie said weakly.

“It’s me,” Matthew said. “What’s up?”

Her tongue perched expectantly on the inner recess of her lower lip, but Katie could not find words to put to the phone.

“You there?” Matthew asked.

Katie took a deep breath and exhaled, “My mom died.”

“Oh, shit. Should I come home?”

Anger cleared her throat. “What do you mean, ‘should I come home?’ Of course you should. My mother just died.”

“All right, I just need to finish this hole or Tommy’s never going to let me hear the end of it.”

“Matthew, please,” Katie said, stressing each individual word, “Come. Home. Now.”

“Hold on one sec.” Katie heard an inaudible voice in the background and then Matthew’s muffled voice through the hand that covered the receiver, “You guys go on without me. Katie’s mother just died.” Silence. “I’m not making it up. She’s crying into the phone.”

“I’ll be home soon,” he said. The line went dead.

Katie returned to Gracie’s room. Piano book before her, Gracie sang while she methodically pressed the same key over and over, producing a sonorous, incessant beat. She found the lyrics hidden in the illustration, somewhere between the star’s golden glow and the dark recesses of space that surrounded it. A broken rendition of Twinkle, Twinkle filled the room. Her daughter was blissfully unaware of any change to her universe. While the piano book chimed its solitary melody, Gracie remained lost in a one-track world, distractions being the air toddlers breathe. Katie sat down in the rocking chair by the window and watched the March sunshine dance off the windshields of cars. It was too pretty a day for someone to die. Katie associated death with rain and clouds, those cliché cinematic symbols of tumult and heartbreak. The motes of dust that danced in the sunlight made the whole thing seem unreal. Katie felt like she could close her eyes and hear her mother vacuuming the living room. Gracie’s song blended into the made-up tune her mother hummed while she frowned at the stains on the carpet. Nearly all Katie’s childhood memories were of her mother doing some chore or running some errand. Her mother was in constant motion from early morning until bedtime. Her husband dead, she refused to allow being alone to be an excuse. Only once, when Katie was fifteen, did her mother relent and they all took a family vacation. Her eyes still closed, Katie tried to keep her mind far away from the shores of Lake Morey.

“Mother, is this for real?” Katie asked.

She blinked her eyes in disbelief. The surprise, the one her mother had promised, was spread out before them as far as they could see. Katie looked at her brother and watched his mouth break into a goofy smile.

“Oh man, Kath, can you believe this?” he asked.

Katie stared at her mother. Even with the lake before her, she still had trouble believing they were actually there. Her mother had never taken them on a road trip, let alone a vacation. She complained that traveling tired her out so much that she’d need a vacation from her vacation. Katie understood that her mother worked hard to keep food on the table, to provide a decent life for them after their father passed. So she didn’t complain when her friends went to Florida or some other fun place during summer break. Losing a parent does that to a child, makes them appreciate the one they have left.

Katie went to her mother as Carlton ran off to explore.

“Mom,” she never called her mom – no, she had a hard working, no-bullshit mother, “is this for real? Are we really staying here?”

Her mother looked at her with tears in her eyes. “Well, I can’t have the family saying I don’t take you kids anywhere, now can I?”

Katie wrapped her thin arms around her mother’s generous sides. Katie was tall for a fifteen year-old, but her mother stood a good foot taller. Her mother rested her chin on top of Katie’s head and squeezed back. She let out a short sob and then broke the hold to wipe away a tear.

“Now, off with you,” her mother looked around with a well-trained eye, “Carlton! Where’d that boy get off to?”

The wake and funeral were a blur that left little time for grieving. Seated near the front and flanked on both sides by her elderly aunts, Katie received a seemingly endless procession of family and well-wishers. She saw all the familiar faces that only showed up at weddings and funerals. The little Italian man who ran the funeral home directed traffic. He made for a cartoonish version of a Joe Pesci character, his hair slicked back in stereotypical Italian fashion and his top three shirt buttons left open so clumps of chest hair poked out. Katie couldn’t conceal her laughter when her old Aunt Polly wondered aloud what a mobster was doing in Vermont. “He must be a rat,” Aunt Polly insisted. “Witness protection is the only explanation.”

The day dragged on. Katie was growing more amazed throughout the day by the one-size-fits-all approach to burial. She felt more like she was buying a garden hose than attending a funeral. Katie merely nodded when Aunt Elda leaned in close and whispered, “Your mother would have thought this was beautiful.”

Not until that night, back at her childhood home, did Katie have a moment to herself. She used to joke that religion ran in their family, but had skipped a generation, implying that her belief in an eternal power was limited at best. But alone in her old room, Katie knelt down before her bed and recited The Lord’s Prayer over and over. The prayer may be nothing more than silent words, but her mother believed in it and that was worth something.

Katie felt someone behind her. “Carlton?” she asked. She wanted to have a talk with him to make sure he understood what had happened.

Matthew stood in the doorway. Once seen, he entered the room and sat on the edge of her bed. The mattress and box spring sagged beneath his weight. Matthew was never thin, but had begun to accumulate added girth around his waist in recent years. The weight congregated solely at his mid-section and his face remained the same one he wore when he proposed eight years ago. His brown eyes were fixed on Katie as he searched her face for a clue into how to make her feel better.

“How are you?” he asked. No doubt it was a silly question, but the situation left Matthew exposed. Familiar words bear comfort in confusing circumstances, but cannot supplant what physical contact always conquers.

Katie looked at Matthew. Her eyes glimmered with the remains of tears.

“I’ve been better,” she said.

Matthew continued, “Can you believe how much snow they still have up here? I was playing golf at home the other day. There’s still eight inches on the ground.”

“It’s Vermont,” Katie said. “Winters are more pronounced.”

“I don’t remember it being this bad. Anyway, I stopped up to see if you needed anything. I’m going to run into town to get some milk before the storm hits.”

“What storm?” Katie asked.

“This freak storm that’s come outta nowhere. I flipped on the Weather Channel before and it was all they talked about.” Matthew stood up, unsure how to leave. “Well, if I don’t get to the store soon they won’t have any milk left. People get crazy when there’s a snowstorm coming.”

Katie called him back. He poked his head through the doorway.

“What about Carlton?” she asked.

“What about him?” Matthew said, coming back into the room.

“I mean, we can’t just leave him up here. There’s only one other house on this street. And we both know he can’t survive alone.”

“I agree, but what do you want me to do about it. He can’t live with us.”

“Why can’t he live with us?” Katie asked. “He’s my brother. What do you want me to do with him?”

Matthew started to shift his weight between his feet, a sure sign he was growing agitated. “I’m not having him in my house. Not after the things he’s done. Your mother could control him, but there’s no guarantee that you can do the same. What if he did something to Gracie? How would we live with ourselves?”

“I know what he did,” Katie said. “And I also know that he’s my brother and I love him. You don’t just throw family away when they’re an inconvenience.”

“Inconvenience! Inconvenience? Are you insane?” Matthew was shifting quickly. “He broke into that women’s house and hid in her closet. You don’t know what he would have done if her boyfriend wasn’t there. Then he got himself banned from the Fountain of Youth because he couldn’t stay out of the girl’s locker room.”

“But that was all more than four years ago,” Katie replied.

“I don’t care if it was ten years ago. You’re not bringing a potential rapist into my house so he can molest our two-year-old daughter. I can’t believe you’re even considering this.”

“Now he’s a potential rapist? You’re making assumptions about what he was going to do. Whatever happened to innocent until proven guilty?”

“That works for the courts, but it’s not the rule in my house,” Matthew replied. His face burned crimson.

“Funny,” Katie said, “I thought it was our house. I thought we would make a joint decision on this. Maybe you should call your golf buddies and ask them what to do. They seem to make all our decisions for us anyway.”

“If I asked them they’d…” Matthew’s voice trailed off. He saw the look on Katie’s face and he knew why it was there. He turned to his right, past the pictures of Katie from high school that were tacked to the wall, and saw Carlton standing in the shadows of the hallway. The white of his Pink Floyd shirt reflected the forty watts that escaped from Katie’s room.

“We’ll discuss this later,” Matthew said and he was out the door and down the stairs. The front door slammed behind him. Katie heard his car start and then pull away over the loose gravel.

“Carlton, we’re not done discussing this yet,” Katie said.

She moved toward the door, determined to make it better, but Carlton pulled away. He disappeared into the blackness of his room without a word.

The days slipped quickly by. Katie had given up trying to catch the days as they fell from the calendar and was determined instead to enjoy the page she held. The unobstructed sun hovered above, blanketing the whole of Lake Morey in waves of apposite heat to the tune of eighty or so degrees. The blues of the lake and sky mixed with the greens of the trees and mountains to form an intoxicating potion that Katie drank heartily. But the weather alone was not solely to credit for Katie’s delight; even better, she had met a boy. He worked as a lifeguard at the lake, and drove a green Chevy Impala. He was bound for the University of Vermont late that August, but for now he was focused on Katie. She playfully dubbed him Morey, after the lake, although his real name was Brandon. Katie spent the sunny hours laid out on a towel within eyesight of Morey’s lifeguard post. She feigned sleep behind sunglasses and waited for his eyes to find her, smiling inwardly whenever she caught him staring. Never before had the direction a boy looked mattered so much. She wanted his eyes on her.

Occasionally, she left her towel and walked out into the lake until the water reached her knees. The mud enveloped her feet, oozing between her toes. Her feet sank down into the soft bottom, sending a shiver of fear up Katie’s spine. The soft danger made her steps longer than usual, but kept her feet wet.

At night she walked with Morey. Her mother sat on the deck and watched them walk. Katie ignored her mother’s presence, but knowing she was there kept space between their bodies. Katie felt an urge to do all the crazy things she had seen in the movies: skinny-dipping, drinking, pot. But her mother’s stare kept her clothes on and her insides pure. There were certain spots around the lake where a tree blocked out the lodge, and she kissed Morey in those brief instances of unsupervised freedom. His lips tasted of lemon-lime Gatorade. But the moments were fleeting and their lips had barely met before Katie reluctantly pulled him along. Stopping too long would arouse suspicion and end their walks permanently.

Carlton trailed them at a safe distance, darting from tree to tree under the cover of darkness. Katie was oblivious to his presence, wholly lost in her companion. Only her mother knew that Carlton followed them around the lake, but she chose to hold her tongue. Having been young too, her mother knew what Katie was thinking and hoped that Carlton would keep her out of trouble.

Katie slipped into her mother’s office to check on Gracie. Her little angel was still fast asleep in the makeshift bedroom, her monkey blanket wrapped by both arms. Being a mother had taught her so much about her relationship with her own mother. Once no more than an authority figure, her mother had grown into a friend and confidant. Their frequent phone conversations, mostly centered on Gracie and her latest discoveries, were a favorite way for Katie to spend time. Her mother’s death left a larger void than Katie was prepared to fill.

The house itself seemed to be in mourning. The stillness was palpable, making the house feel more like a forgotten crime scene than a home. A little yellow police tape across the door and a chalk outline on the floor were all that was needed to make the illusion real. The change was so dramatic that it was hard for Katie to remember the house full of life. It was a different house when Katie was six and she would run up the wide pine stairs, darting around the corner and hitting the straightaway at full speed, rushing to fill her mother’s awaiting arms. Or the times they all played hide-and-go-seek at night. Katie was nine and the silence and darkness she found under her bed nearly drove her to run from her hiding place with lungs blaring. She felt the need to break the spell, to reset life. Now she was faced with a similar feeling. She wanted to scream with all her might until her lungs ached and her face was red with exhaustion. Only by emptying her body of air could she relieve the tension that burned in her heart. Her heart needed to breathe.

But she said nothing. Out the window, the first few snowflakes began to tumble toward the earth. The solemn glow of the porch light made the snowflakes seem more numerous than they were. Her mother had loved the snow. Katie knew it was impossible, but she had a feeling her mother had something to do with the freak snowstorm. Why couldn’t the snow be her farewell? If she had any means of communication, her mother would surely choose something simple. The tension lifted from her chest as Katie sat on the edge of the desk, the snow beginning to form a layer over the driveway. Katie listened to her daughter’s slow, deep breaths and watched her mother say goodbye.

Tomorrow was the final day of Katie’s vacation. She only had one day left with Morey and there was so much she wanted to tell him. Would he always remember her? Would they ever see each other again? Her body was telling her that Morey, with his tanned skin and soft hair, could be her first. She was ready. At least she felt like she was ready. Thoughts of sneaking out to meet Morey filled her head as she dressed in her green and blue bikini. Katie admired herself in the mirror before slipping on a pair of exercise shorts and heading down to the lake. Her mother and Carlton were waiting for her.

“What took you so long?” her mother asked.

“She wanted to make sure she looked good for her boyfriend,” Carlton answered for her.

She was squarely at a point in her life where ignoring Carlton’s juvenile emphasis on “boyfriend” was impossible, but admitting she enjoyed hearing Morey given that title was equally difficult. A sarcastic reply still felt most natural.

“Grow up,” Katie said, rolling her eyes.

Katie laid out her towel and gracefully collapsed onto her belly. Carlton ran off to play in the shallows. She snuck a glance at Morey’s lifeguard station and saw her look returned. She loved his eyes. The pale blue screamed innocence and daring. She stood up, adjusted her suit, and then walked over to his station.

“Hey,” Morey said as he hopped down.

Katie stood awkwardly before him. More than anything she wanted to kiss him, but not with her mother watching.

“Can you meet me tonight?” Katie asked quietly.

“Sure. Usual time?”

“Later than usual. I was thinking we could go off by ourselves this time.”

Morey paused, looking deep and hard at Katie. Was there a hidden meaning in her words? He decided it best to wait and find out.

“How about eleven? By the old pier?”

“Sure,” Morey replied. “I know just the place we can go.”

Katie slipped from Gracie’s room back into the hallway. She navigated the dark by memory. The sound of her footsteps echoed methodically as she stepped down the stairs into the living room. A fire was burning in the oversized fireplace and the warmth spread throughout the room. The fire made the house feel a little like home again.

The front door slammed and Katie waited to hear Matthew’s heavy steps on the linoleum of the kitchen floor. She kneeled by the fire to keep her back to him. When no sound emanated from the kitchen, and her knees began to scream at her from prolonged kneeling, she stood and saw the kitchen was empty. Matthew had not come home.

Katie knew what she heard. There was only one explanation, but she refused to entertain it until proven. With all the speed of her younger days, Katie rushed up the wide pine stairs, turned the corner and burst into Carlton’s room. She turned on the light and saw that the room was empty. Katie hurried from Carlton’s room to her mother’s office. Gracie was still in her bed, undisturbed. Katie quickly checked each room, but all were empty; Carlton was missing. Katie was putting on her boots when she heard Matthew’s car on the gravel.

He came in holding a gallon of milk.

“Listen, about before,” he began.

“I know,” Katie said, “But we have other problems. Carlton’s gone.”

“What!” Matthew exclaimed. “Are you sure?”

“I went all through the house and he’s not here. Plus, I heard the door slam. I thought it was you, but obviously it wasn’t.”

Matthew placed the milk down on the step. “I’ll go after him,” he declared.

“Honey, that’s very sweet, but you don’t know the first thing about this area. I grew up around here. You’ll fall down a hill, smash your head on a tree and then what’ll I do?”

“No, you’re not going alone,” Matthew said.

“Someone has to stay here with Gracie.” Matthew knew she was right. He went into the kitchen to get a flashlight and Katie dressed in her boots and winter jacket.

“Here, take my cell phone,” Matthew said. Katie pushed his hand back.

“They don’t work in Pomfret. No cell towers for miles,” she replied. “I’ll be back as soon as I get him. I think I know where he went.”

“Oh, and one more thing,” Katie said, “you know better than to call the cops.” Matthew nodded.

Katie opened the door and stepped out into the night. The snow was starting to pick up.

Katie lay still in bed, listening for the wood-on-wood groan that signaled her mother’s bedroom door closing. The wood wailed at eleven-ten and she willed herself to wait fifteen more minutes. Patience was necessary to ensure her mother was asleep. The quiet of the hotel room pervaded her senses, her ears open and attuned to the slightest noise. The seconds hand ticked away and Katie began to count the ticks. The illuminated clock methodically counted the requisite fifteen minutes and when reached, Katie eagerly tore the sheets off. She emerged fully dressed in denim shorts and a pink t-shirt. Katie slowly opened the door to her room and looked out. Darkness leaked from beneath her mother’s door. Katie had spent an hour earlier that day practicing her routine, learning where the floor creaked and how far she could open the hotel door without it squeaking. Her actual escape proved more difficult. She quickly lost her way; the pressure of her feet caused the wood to groan beneath her. With each step she paused, waiting for her mother’s head to appear in the doorway, waiting to be found out. But her mother never heard and Katie escaped into the hotel hallway.

Katie suppressed the urge to run. Her arms swung at a rapid pace, her sandals barely touched the red shag carpet. She threw open the door that led down to the lake and stopped just outside. The last wisps of air conditioning dissipated into the humidity of the summer night. The air conditioning’s fingers tickled her exposed skin as the heavy dampness carried all hope of a temperate night away. Roses wafted into her nose, carried by the light breeze that delicately ruffled the leaves of the maple trees that grew around Lake Morey. The sky was clear and the nearly full moon cast a glow that seemed to emanate from the lake. Katie easily made her way down to the water and found Morey waiting at the pier.

“This way,” he whispered. Katie’s heartbeat pounded in her ears as she allowed him to lead her away. She did not know where he was taking her. She did not know what would happen once they reached their destination. The only thing she knew was that roses in the air made her feel like she could do anything.

Morey stopped once they were under the canopy of trees. He leaned in close to her face and let his warm breath rub against her cheeks, her nose. He kissed her. It was not the anxious, hurried kisses they shared during their moonlit walks; it was a long, soft kiss that stole the life from her legs. While he kissed her, Morey’s hand ran from the base of her spine all the way up to the nape of her neck. Only her cotton t-shirt separated his hand from her skin. Morey released his hold and again took her hand. He led her deeper into the woods.

They had walked for a long while in silence when they suddenly emerged from the canopy back onto the shore of the lake. Katie thought Morey was lost and they had traveled in a circle.

“Look,” Morey said, pointing across the lake, “There.” The yellow glow of lamplight still illuminated several rooms of her hotel, the light escaping into the summer night. Katie realized they had taken a long route through the woods and had ended up on the opposite side of the lake.

“The water here is warmer and shallower, only about six feet deep.” Morey lifted his shirt over his head in a swift motion. He looked at Katie and waited.

“Are we going swimming?” Katie asked.

“Only if you want to,” Morey replied. “But I’m going swimming either way.”

He slipped off his shoes and socks, his pants and underwear. Katie glimpsed his pale butt for a brief second as he ran to the water.

Katie looked around. They were alone. She slipped off her sandals.

“Oh, what the hell,” she said. She tore off her clothing as she ran to the water. She felt the cool embrace of the lake as she jumped in. Hair fell to her shoulders in wet clumps, framing her face and making her look older than her fifteen years. The water line rested just below her shoulders, the rest of her body tantalizingly close but obscured. They played in the water, splashing and chasing each other in circles. The thought of his naked body so close to hers filled Katie with a nervous energy; she had never felt such exhilaration in her life. They played cat and mouse until the water began to feel chilly. They reached for each other to keep warm.

Morey pulled her in close to him. His face wore a new expression, one of concentration and longing. Katie felt his hands at her waist. Slowly, his hands began to move down her body. Katie had envisioned this moment in the dark of the night many times before. In her mind, the boy’s hands always moved slowly. Katie lifted her leg, her inner thigh rubbing against the outside of Morey’s leg.

Katie felt Morey against her, his arousal so close beneath the opaque veil of the water. Katie knew what came next and she was ready. Her hand trembled slightly as it dipped beneath the water to reach for him, to feel for herself what her friends could not stop talking about.

A loud cracking sound shot through the night air. Katie instinctively turned her eyes toward the source of the sound; she saw something big fall into the water.

“What was that?” Katie asked.

“Probably just a squirrel,” Morey replied distractedly.

“Squirrels don’t make that sound.”

Something began splashing in the water. Katie had started to believe it was some unlucky animal until she heard gargled cries for help.

The air stung Katie’s lungs as she followed Carlton’s tracks away from their Pomfret house. Her flashlight showed the way, but she did not need its light. She knew the area around her childhood house the way only a child who spends most of her days outdoors can. She hurried along, trying to close the gap between them. Katie looked up the road from the end of the driveway. It stretched higher and higher and then disappeared over a hill. The road went only about a half mile and then ended at Freeman’s Pond.

“What could he want up there?” Katie wondered aloud.

Snow and darkness made the road difficult to traverse, but the walking stick she had grabbed before leaving helped her maintain her balance as she climbed the snowy hill. Katie stopped at the top of the hill and flashed her light around her. She saw a figure far off, nearly past the reach of the flashlight. Carlton was standing on the frozen waters of the pond.

“Carlton,” Katie yelled. “What are you doing out there?”

Katie heard her words echo around her. She began to move toward Carlton when a cracking sound ran down the ice. It sounded to Katie like the earth beneath her was being ripped open. She hesitated. Her brother was out there, but the water beneath the ice was only a few degrees above freezing. No one survived long in those waters. But restraint only stayed her for a moment. She had no choice; she owed it to Carlton. She dropped to her belly and began to crawl army-style toward her brother. The ice groaned as she slid across it. The powdery snow poured down the opening of her jacket, but Katie did not feel the cold. She kept her eyes locked on Carlton.

“I’m almost there,” she called. She was nearly to him. The flashing red and blue lights of a patrol car appeared. The car slammed to a stop and an officer hurriedly stepped from the car; he slowly jogged toward her. The flashing lights lit the clearing in an uneven, flickering glow. Carlton saw the officer too and he took a step backward, away from the lights he had learned to fear.

“Carlton, no, don’t!” she screamed. But the ice had already started a chain reaction that, when started, is impossible to stop. Katie held her breath and waited to feel the cold rush against her skin. But the pond had only opened wide enough to swallow Carlton. Katie pushed toward the opening in the ice and plunged her arm in up to the shoulder. She frantically waved her hand beneath the water. A voice behind her yelled, “Ma’am, step back, the ice,” but Katie ignored it. She needed to feel him, to know he would be all right. The black water splashed into her face; she couldn’t see anything. The ice opened farther and suddenly she was falling. It was a dark world beneath the ice. The freezing water rushed into her nose and she pushed it out with all the force in her lungs. Her breath escaped in waves that bubbled up toward the shimmery moon. The cold washed away the image of Morey applying CPR to Carlton’s limp body. “Go!” Morey had screamed at her. Katie pumped her arms and legs as she ran. She wore only Morey’s t-shirt and the branches of the forest, those moonlit angel’s wings, paradisiacal in their virtue and beauty, slashed at her naked face and arms as she ran with all the speed in her legs back to her mother.

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