Life is like a friendship, eventually it will end, by conflict or God's hand
Since their beginning, Andy felt protective of him.
It had begun six months earlier, what seemed a lifetime ago, during a balmy day in Texas on their junior high school football field. Andy was busy running his usual sprints, amazing the coaches, gaining the lust of the girl's soccer team, and embarrassing his teammates not standing a chance against his speed. Wade was trying to avoid another black-eye against an angry little punk looking to make a name with his fists; just another playground bully whose inexperienced ego made him braver than he should have been. Andy quickly stepped in, humiliated the kid into a coward, and gained a friend for a lifetime.
Andy was the stouter of the two and carried it well. He had bulky biceps, a chiseled chest, with slender legs to match. At the age of twelve, his confident attitude and athletic build captured the attention of every coach's eye, though his interests sat mainly in the confines of the latest mathematics textbooks or aviation magazine. His newest friend, much more content to gain a first date with the captain of the cheerleader team, cared less about such things. Wade was pure and unassuming, slightly younger, like a smaller brother always wandering off, eventually finding his way back home then repeating the same adolescent innocence at first chance.
The opposite personalities both had genius IQs, each carrying the confusing weight of puberty atop their squared shoulders. Their lives were drawn together as though they came from a single womb without the union of blood. Andy had always heard, sibling love needn't come from the same mother, only emotional chemistry bonding two souls to walk through life at the same time.
And they were also Leos, born under the sun sign of warmth and courage, mutual respect, strength, and the gift of caring for another. Of course, the heat of summertime, particularly July 4th, was their favorite time of year.
Andy sat on the aged-leather seat of his bike, silently waiting for Wade, staring across the wavy ripples of current at the local lake. The winds were sporadic this evening. Gusts would encroach from the side, making strands of his auburn hair fling from his brow. He gazed at his watch, wondering if Wade made it out without his father knowing. What they wanted tonight would be risky, if not stupid, for two boys nearing teenage years anxious to shed their shells of being children.
The clanging of steel bicycle rims charging along the rocky pathway behind him made Andy smile while holding his posture. He knew the sound well: loose rear sprocket rubbing against faded blue jeans followed by a seat squeaking on cue within each pedal's rotation. Soon, he would squint and close his eyes, waiting for the flinging gravel to fly around him as Wade slammed the brakes, slinging his body to the side. But not today. Today, Wade slowed calmly to a stop.
"You're hell-bent on doing this, aren't you, Wade?" Andy said, looking at the key dangling from Wade's hand.
"It's worth the risk, besides, what better offer you got right now? I've already done this a hundred times without any problem. It's the only good thing my dad ever taught me."
"Anybody know? I mean, that we should worry about."
"Just you, me, and the water, and none of them are talking, right?" Wade said, raising his eyebrows.
Andy grinned, giving Wade a confident stare. "Always."
"You bring some food or something with ya?" Wade said, scanning Andy's saddlebag.
"Just my company, that outta be all we'll need."
"Aren't you confident. If you sail as good as you talk then I just might take this risk again. After all, there ain't nothing to lose, it's just my dad's boat, and I don't see him using it."
Andy stared back. "That's what makes me nervous."
They straddled their bikes, riding along the rocky shoreline. The evening sky was mostly blue, soft and calm, with a touch of haze as the sun began spiraling down. Picnic tables and volleyball courts were filled with children at play while parents kept their eagles' watch upon them. The smell of charcoaled hot dogs and hamburgers over open flames thickened the air, making the energy of summertime calm and surreal. The lake extended its invitation with a gentle mist, spraying their faces as they approached a sloping dock, making its request seem unlikely of being dismissed.
They continued peddling, reaching the outer gates of the sail club known as The Pelican. A name criticized constantly by Wade's father, seeing as though the nearest actual pelican would be sitting hundreds of miles away in Galveston, or even South Padre Island nestled next to the Gulf of Mexico. It was known as the working-man's country club. Membership was simple; thirty bucks a month for a slip, tax included, though most aligned their associations here with entitled celebrity status. After all, what's wrong with a little high-society narcissism within a predominantly blue-collared community?
The key dangling around Wade's neck sparkled like a rough diamond. He pulled it earlier from a lock box in his father's ultra-private office. An office, which no one at any time was allowed to enter, though Wade visited it quite frequently away from watchful and drunken eyes given the opportunity. The dangerous game of cat and mouse he seemed to enjoy playing. The bruises on his forearm reflected the punishment of getting caught.
Wade lowered his head, pulling on the chain around his neck. His fingertips gripped the chromed key, making sure it didn't fall and disappear into the water lapping along the docks support columns. Others were walking about straight ahead, moving up and down along a long deck leading to their prized watercrafts. Some walked better than others, laughing out loud; the affects of late-afternoon cocktails and cases of beer filling their veins. Andy and Wade waited, looking for the right moment to enter. Two kids, not old enough to drive yet eyeing some expensive toys of the self-appointed rich might stir a little unwanted attention. Attention, this evening, they really hoped to avoid.
They laid their bikes under a leaning oak. A few steps later and Wade's father's key fit snugly into the entrance gate. They swung it open, watching sharply as most were too busy popping beer cans and uncorking rosy bottles of wine to notice. The thick smell of canned dip along with hands scratching inside chip bags was fitting for a sultry July 4th evening. Tall, swaying sails were neatly lined in perfect rows in front of them; the fiberglass hulls nodding in the water as a
gust of wind rocked them sideways. At the end of the pier, it came into view, the one with the highest sail separating it from the rest: Wade's fathers most valued, and prized possession.
Wade walked in front, carving a path. His stride was determined, stomping the wooden boards underneath with wide gaps between each step. Andy watched him, his best friend practically running now as if being chased.
A hand thumped atop his shoulder. "Nice evening huh, son?" the deep voice thundered from behind.
Andy spun around, then smiled in relief. "Um yes, yes it is, sir. How are you?"
"Just came back from trying her out for the first time. You two guys have your parents coming soon? It's gettin' a bit choppy out there."
Andy kept his expression, watching Wade walking onboard, making himself at home. "Oh yeah, his dad will be here soon. Told us to go ahead and start gettin' her ready, you know, his dad's kinda impatient. You go anywhere new lately, Mr. Anderson?"
Stark, blue eyes, kind and focused, stared back. "Went down to the Caribbean last week, then up and down the east coast. You two keep up your schoolwork now, I know you both have ideas of flying someday like me. Tell ya what, Andy, you guys should let me give you a tour of our training area soon. I started doing some teaching now, y'all might enjoy checking it out. Tell your dad, Andy, he can come along if he wants."
Andy's eyes widened. He looked at Wade, holding ropes in his still hands. "We'd love that! I'll ask my dad about it. You think we could climb into a cockpit?"
Mr. Anderson grinned. "No problem, buddy, tell Sonny to call me."
Tall and slender, with a touch of grey lining his temples, he was befitting of what one would expect of an airline pilot. Andy admired his disposition; calm and confident. Mr. Anderson walked away, climbing over the shore then approaching his car atop the tree line. Wade wanted to fly too, both had, ever since watching man land on the moon inside their families' television sets not long ago. Flying was their ultimate dream. They spent their Saturday afternoons at the local airport, watching, fantasizing, tasting something that seemed so close, yet, so ridiculously unattainable. Their desires burned deep down inside, occupying their dreams of the future.
Dusk was quickly approaching, the sky, a darkening eclipse among winking city lights. They had escaped the jaws of the rented dock slip and were sailing now, Wade at the wheel, Andy managing the weighty sails. They were free. Out of reach of everything they yearned to escape: the confines of school, their parent's supervision, the peer pressure of schoolmates, the confusing drain of sexual development. The distance between them and the shoreline was mesmerizing.
Andy sat on the bow, curling his hand in the wind, his pasty complexion moist. Checkered Bermuda shorts and t-shirt clung to his body. The shoreline behind faded smaller, the smell of burning barbecues and splattered beer diminishing by the second. Wade stood tall and proud, gripping the solid mahogany steering wheel inlaid with gold lettering. The words Hamilton's Pride boldly stared back. He turned it sharply, sending Andy rolling to the side, bending over with laughter.
"Easy there, wouldn't want to end this early, would ya?" Andy said.
Wade spun the wheel back to its center. "That's the last thing I'd want to happen. Out here, I'm free from everything bad. Don't ya wish we could just live out here?"
Andy grabbed a worn rope to his side, steadying himself and making his snow-white tennis shoes point toward the stern. He drew his eyebrows close, studying the white-knuckles of Wade's hands. "You can't mean that, what would we do without pizza or cheetos? Besides, this lake just ain't big enough for the two of us forever."
Wade jerked his head, throwing back his black hair. His dark eyes whipped side to side, studying the motion of each sail, waiting for a heavy gust to churn out of control.The lights of spacious homes sprang alive in the distance, welcoming another summer day to its end. A dam, tall and angling to the side of their wake kept the water's power in place. And behind them a spillway churned thousands of gallons into a choppy waterway leading to the water treatment plant over the hillside. The lake was limp in comparison to a mighty ocean. It was normally tame, with a depth of fifty feet at most, perfectly nestled in the center of Dallas. One lap around took about thirty minutes.
"Pull on the third sail, Andy, the wind's picking up some."
Andy took his orders well. A few other secret times like this made him respect his friend's knowledge of the open water. He pulled hard on a set of ropes, making an ivory sail fully deploy and sending the boat leaning with its added bite into the wind.
Wade whirled the wheel hard over, compensating for the added speed. "We're moving now, man."
The shore sped by faster. A hot-air balloon floated overhead, omnipresent clouds towering behind its bulge. A reddish sign hung from the side: "Hot Air Balloon Rides $50, 214-808-1289," was spelled out in crisp, bold letters. Broad, mischievous smiles came from their faces. A new adventure...
"I know what I'll be talking about when I get home." Andy said.
"Think they'll let us go?" Wade asked.
"Maybe, if you keep us alive long enough."
The forty-foot-long sailboat raced faster. Wade stiffened his grip, his feet widening their stance on the polished deck. Andy watched him, making sure his friend kept a handle on the whitecaps starting to roll higher in front of the bow. "Everything cool, Wade?"
Wade stayed silent.
Andy began clawing his way toward him. In such wind, the added strength of four hands over two couldn't hurt, especially when the fate of his father's self-described mistress was on the line.
Wade beamed straight ahead, acting oblivious to Andy by his side. He swayed as the rush of wind rippled his yellow t-shirt, making his chest grow big and wide. He mumbled slowly, "I got this, Andy, I ain't gonna' give the devil his excuse tonight."
Andy threw his arm around him, locking his frame close to his like a bulky block of granite. "Forget the damn devil, we're the ones startin' to get pounded out here."
Andy knew who the devil was.
Minutes later, they turned a corner, whipping the pasty-blue craft around 180 degrees; folks watching from the rapidly approaching shoreline breathing sighs of relief, clutching hot dogs and cans of beer for the imminent impact.
"That was fun, huh?" Wade said, exhaling deeply.
All three sails re-filled with air and slung to the starboard side. Wade re-gripped the wheel, spinning it hard to the right. The boat settled well into the new pouch and began its march forward. Hamilton's Pride was worth every penny his father paid for it last year. It was solid, docile, a cause of jealousy among other club members, and fresh off a win in last month's racing competition. The polished trophy stood proud atop the family's mantel at home. Andy had heard Wade's father bragging about it all the time, relishing the slaps-on-the-back admiration.
Andy scurried below, climbing down the four-step ladder and into the cabin. Two beds, a small kitchenette, bathroom, and closet stared back. A make-ready bar sat in the corner, fully stocked with full bottles of scotch, rum, tequila, and a portable ice machine waiting for use. Lots of drinking had gone on down here. Andy smelled the alcohol everywhere, picturing full, swashing glasses as hands steadied themselves with drunken heads in high winds. He'd never tasted alcohol and the smell started nauseating him. He opened the flimsy bathroom door and relived himself of a full bottle of coke from earlier. Moments later, a sharply cooler breeze slapped him onboard. He looked behind him. Two towering thunderheads billowed in the short distance.
Wade stood calm, oblivious, and enjoying the risk. Sneaking out his father's boat was ballsy and, one would argue, deserving of consequences if caught. He didn't care. The smile inside him hadn't stopped since they pushed away from the rented dock.
Andy pointed at the sky."You see those, Wade? The winds shifted and it's cooler. Feels like rain to me. Why don't we head on in, man, we've had fun tonight, it ain't worth the risk anymore."
Wade kept his grip, stiffening his stance. "Just a while longer, okay? I'm really getting the hang of this thing now. Besides, if we stay out the rest of the crowd will be gone when we get in. Those clouds ain't nothing', let's keep on a rolling!"
Andy kept insisting, practically begging, as the horizon ahead darkened by the second. Behind them the sky was filled with stars. Straight forward, a lightning bolt flashed with a clap of thunder. The boat began swaying harder, faster; Wade's arms flexed trying to control it.
Around them the lake was vacant, others now safely tied at the dock as Andy peeked over. He kept insisting for them to call it a night. Wade held his ground as if he had something to prove.
Andy clung to the side. "Your dad's boat, your rules, huh man!"
Wade barked at him, "Grab the first sail rope and pull it in, we need less sail right now!"
Andy managed to keep his balance clawing toward the bow. He found the wanted rope and yanked it, standing on his knees, gritting his teeth, the waves jolting the boat sharper.
The sail came down and gathered next to its steel beam. Andy secured it together then inched his way back to Wade. They both clung on, water hurling over each side.
Wade shouted, "Yee haw, man, this is where we grow a pair!!"
Andy tried to sit, his body being thrown around like a Frisbee. He could see the spillway through the rain. "Hey, you see the drop off!"
Wade squinted ahead. "Yeah, just hang on another minute!"
It was deep here. Andy knew it because fishing was always better on this side of the lake. Fifty feet at most, parts sixty, he wasn't really sure. Deep enough for concern, swimming hadn't been his best skill.
Wade yelled, "Take a hold of the wheel and keep it straight. I'm gonna' lean on the side and give it more balance, when I tell ya, spin her over and make the turn!"
Andy traded places with him, watching his friend crawl over the clumsy decking. He held the wheel sternly, awaiting orders. The visibility worsened, maybe twenty feet at most with rain shooting horizontally. Wade's yellow t-shirt blurred a few feet away. Andy jerked. Thunder clapped overhead like band cymbals.
"Spin it, now!" Wade screamed.
Andy threw his weight into the wheel. He wrestled with it, making it spin at breakneck speed. He watched the bow change its angle, the two-ton boat rolling over. It moaned slightly as another quick gust slapped his face. The deck was clear. His buddy had vanished.
Andy cried out, "Wade!"
The sails caught hold of the wind, pushing Andy away, steering him in the opposite direction.
"Wade, where are ya, man!"
Nothing, only the rain coming down in sheets, pounding the surface.
Andy looked behind him, staring intently at the water. The whole lake stirred in angry waves.The shore couldn't be seen, the air thickened harder and greyer.
Good God! And Wade was a worse swimmer than he was. He only had seconds to save him. He swung the boat around, fighting it hard til it finally gave in, visibility ten feet now.
"Move, move, move!" he yelled at the bow. Right, left, right, left he looked til a yellowish dot popped into view, bobbing like a buoy. He leaned toward him, watching his target.
"Wade, can you...?" Wade lay face down on the surface, his shoulders rolling with the swells.
Andy steered toward him, then bumped Wade's flailing arms. "Look up, man, just look up!"
Andy floated by, unable to stop the boat's momentum. He kept his eye on the yellow shirt, then lunged after a lifesaver hung on the cabin door. Another minute and he was back within range.
Wade floated lifeless.
Andy hurled the lifesaver at him, hitting his head. Wade's right arm slowly lifted, curling around the white target.
"Look behind you!" Andy yelled, stretching his hand toward him.
Wade barely moved. The water was growing rougher by the second. He didn't know where they were. What he did know was the spillway wasn't far away.
Another pass, he couldn't stop it. Wade was alive, at least for now, Andy trying to take a crash course in sailing. If he jumped, they'd both be dead; both of their weight along with limited swimming practice would make the morning headlines for sure. He had to try something.
Wade's face suddenly lifted and stared back. Andy turned straight at him. Within mere feet, Wade gave a limp wave and dropped beneath the surface, as if to say, goodbye.
"It ain't 'gonna end like this!" Andy yelled into the wind. He wrapped a rope around his waist, climbed over the side railing, and jumped. Two seconds later he was submerged, his arms fighting for survival, his equilibrium out of balance. He looked through the grey mass and saw the yellow t-shirt, lifeless and drowning. Is this it? he thought. Is this how things end, out for a simple sail?
Andy fought against the current, harder than anything in his young life. He pulled on Wade's shoulder and kicked them up to the surface. His mouth opened wide, drawing in the rain-soaked air. He felt around his waist and gripped the rope, still attached to the railing.
Wade, lifeless, barely conscious, mumbled, "Just let me go, Andy."
"No!" Andy managed to yell. They drifted.
Andy stretched and heard it in the faded darkness: the giant spillway roared ahead with rain-injected momentum. The hundred-foot drop off came up quickly, after that, nothing but hard, concrete slabs waiting down below.
Andy lifted Wade's head out of the water. His shoulders ached. His feet and legs kicked at blinding speed. This was it. The boat yanked the rope around his waist, pulling him hard, and wanting to float away with the current.
"Ya 'gotta help me, man!" Andy screamed in his ear.
Wade rested his head against Andy's shoulder, whispering in his ear, "Please, I wanna die, it's okay, Andy, just let me go."
"What are you saying to me!" Andy yelled, fighting with the surging current.
Wade swallowed hard. "I want to go now, it's better this way, it's okay, Andy."
The rain slowed, lightening its tone. An even patch of calm air settled over them.
Andy kicked harder and harder. "Not today, not with me here."
"You don't understand, Andy," Wade said calmly. His hands flattened against Andy's chest.
Andy pulled him around, facing him. "Whatever this is, we'll work it out. What about our plans?"
"Go ahead without me, Andy."
"No, I ain't listening."
"You have to."
"No!" Andy screamed.
Andy tightened his grip. He tugged the rope, swinging them to the boat's rear ladder. One more giant thrust and his hand grabbed the first step. "No one's dying today, Wade."
The roar of water thundered over the bow.
Wade curled his arms around the ladder as Andy swam around the hull, twenty feet, nothing but pure air.
"Come on!" Andy shouted, pulling Wade on top of him. He bolted, surging them toward the shore.
A few feet later, and the softness of grass rubbed against their hands. Wade leaned against Andy's arms and watched as his father's pride and joy hurled over the edge, the tallest sail gliding before diving and disappearing. Seconds later, two loud bangs boomed as the crunching of fiberglass against solid concrete sounded off within the showering rain.
Andy held him close listening to his tears.
"Should've let me drown, it'd been easier that way."