The Greenish lake shimmered in the summer sunlight, reflecting a wavy picture of the tree-topped cliffs encircling it on three sides. Ten girls in dirty orange life vests stood along the strip of pebbled beach talking amongst themselves. Between them and the water were several green canoes, a pile of paddles, and a tall blond counselor also wearing a life vest, desperately trying to get their attention.
“Listen up, girls!” she said loudly. Most of the group turned toward her, but two girls kept talking. “Erica, Becky, the longer this takes, the less time you’ll have on the lake, OK?” The two girls jerked their heads around. “All right then. We’ve gone over the safety procedures and you all know how to paddle and steer, so this time I’ll just let you start out without a lesson first. I’m going to put you into pairs this time so there’s no trouble over who goes with whom. Becky, go with Jennifer. Haley will be with Nicole, and I’ll ride in their canoe. Lucy can go with Breanna, Maria with Lindsey, and Amy with Erica. I want you to go to the middle of the lake and practice steering by going in circles, clockwise, then counterclockwise. Listen for my whistle. I’ll blow it when it’s time to go in. OK, you’re off!”
Talking and laughing once again, the girls headed for the canoes. “Did you hear that?” said Erica quietly to Becky as they walked down toward the canoes. “I have to be with Amy! I hope she isn’t too annoying.”
“Yeah, good luck. See ya later,” replied Becky, smiling sympathetically as she strolled toward where Jennifer was already pushing their canoe into the water.
Amy walked over to Erica, holding out a paddle. Amy’s long light brown hair was tied up with wide pink ribbon in a ponytail centered on top of her head, a style that the other girls had rolled their eyes at as they stood in front of the bathroom mirror that morning. “Here, Erica, I got you a paddle so you wouldn’t have to go get one yourself.” She gave Erica a friendly grin, glanced at her feet, and launched into fast-paced babble. “You might wanna take off your tennis shoes, you know. I had my shoes on last time we canoed, and they’re still so wet they squish when I walk, since you have to walk out, like, a foot into the water to get into the canoe, and also if you tip you really don’t wanna have shoes that will weigh you down. It would be horrible to drown in this icky lake just because of your shoes, wouldn’t it? I think we’re both pretty good at swimming, but still, it’s a scary thought. I just left my shoes back at the cabin and walked out here barefoot, even though you’re not really supposed to, but no one cares.”
Erica nodded slightly and turned toward the one unclaimed canoe before Amy could say more. She pushed the canoe into the water. “Come on, get in. I’ll be in the front.”
Amy walked into the water. She made a face. “The bottom of the lake feels so gross between my toes! I hate to think about what’s down there—you know, it’s mostly just mud, but I bet there’s some fish poop too, since we saw those fish jumping on our morning hike, remember? That really cool blue one? Well, no one else saw it, but I saw it and really wished I had brought my fishing pole, but Mom wouldn’t let me because I might lose it. Oh, that’s so gross that I’m walking in fish poop. And probably rotted plants too. And other stuff I don’t even wanna know!” She climbed into the boat, staring down at her bare feet. “Look! There’s a little glob! And it’s a really sick color of brown! Eeewww.”
Erica sighed, pushing the boat out. “Here, put my paddle in the boat. Thanks.” Amy took the paddle and stayed silent for a moment as Erica pushed the boat away from shore and climbed in. They both started paddling.
“Weren’t the tacos last night really good?” Amy said suddenly, pausing in her paddling. “I just love Mexican food. Aside from pizza, it might just be my favorite kind of food. And at this other camp, the one with horses I told you about yesterday, they had even better tacos, with really good hot sauce, but I ate only one because I was feeling sick, and then later that night I threw up, so it kind of ruined it. But my mom makes really good . . .”
“Amy,” interrupted Erica, “if you’re going to talk, try to paddle at the same time, because we’re veering off to the side.”
“Oh, OK. Well anyway, my mom . . .”
“No, no! You should paddle on the opposite side from me when we’re going straight. If we both paddle on the left, we turn into shore, but we need to go straight out into the lake. Just watch me and think about where we’re going, and you’ll figure it out.”
“OK, sure. Well, as I was saying, my mom makes really good burritos, especially when she makes them spicy, and . . .”
Erica whirled around. “Paddle on the right!”
“But you’re paddling on the right!””We both have to so we can turn away from shore. Then we’ll do opposite sides to go straight.” Erica sighed in exasperation. “Do you get it?”
Amy nodded enthusiastically. “Yeah, I do, I really do, but it’s just I was thinking about my mom’s burritos and I sort of forgot.”
“Maybe you should stop talking about burritos for a little so we can focus on getting out in the middle of the lake, OK?”
“OK,” Amy agreed solemnly, repressing the urge to say more.
They slowly and silently steered the green canoe away from shore and toward the middle of the lake where the other canoes careened in wide circles around each other. Erica and Amy started circling also, but soon veered off toward the side when Amy went back to talking. Erica managed to quiet her, but they had so much trouble steering successfully back toward the center, they ended up just circling in one corner of the lake. After several minutes, Erica suddenly looked around.
“Where did everybody go?” she asked quizzically. “It couldn’t be lunch yet—did you hear the whistle?” She turned back for an answer, just in time to see Amy’s paddle slip out of her hands into the water.
“Oh my gosh!” Amy shrieked. “I dropped my paddle! This is so horrible!”She reached for its sinking black form, causing the boat to rock.
Erica gripped the sides of the canoe. “Don’t try to grab it—you’ll tip the boat! It’s gone, OK? I don’t think you can get it now.”
“But now I can’t paddle, and we’re going to go crooked, and you’re all mad at me!” exclaimed Amy. “And we’re never going to get anywhere!” She bit her lip, staring wide-eyed at the spot where the paddle had been.
“Gosh, Amy, it’s OK,” she said, looking across the lake to see if anyone else was near. “I can paddle, I just have to switch back and forth every time, and we’re in no hurry—oh there they are! But why are they going in already?” She studied the boats being pulled up on the other side of the lake. A rumble of thunder answered her question.
Amy stiffened. “Was that thunder? Are we going to be caught in a thunderstorm out here? That would be really bad. And we can’t pull up on these cliffs. We could get struck by lightning!” Her eyes widened and her mouth clamped shut in fear.
“I know!” Erica was already paddling, frantically steering them toward the opposite shore as it began to rain. She could see their counselor waving and shouting hysterically at them, so she waved and tried to shout over the thunder that they were coming back as fast as possible.
The thunderclouds opened and rain poured down, drenching them both. While Erica paddled as hard as she could, Amy sat shaking in the back, her soaked ponytail plastered to her head, her mouth strangely silent despite the fact that no one had told her to be quiet. Erica didn’t notice, concentrating only on getting them back to shore, ignoring that with each stroke of her paddle, her arms became more and more exhausted.
Amy, staring at the water with large, frightened eyes, began to notice that they were going slower. She looked at Erica. “Are you getting tired?” she asked.
Erica turned to face her, panting. “I . . . I am, a little.” She clutched her paddle. “But I’m OK, don’t worry.”
“No,” said Amy, her voice shaking but at the same time firm, “you don’t worry. I’m all rested up now, so I’ll go faster than you’re going. And I know what you’re thinking, but don’t worry about that either. I don’t talk when I’m really scared.”
Erica smiled at Amy, a grateful look in her eyes. “Go Amy,” she said quietly, handing over the paddle.
Amy took it and paddled with all her strength, fueled by the bright lightning flashes along the horizon and the frightening sound of thunder coming closer. She propelled them smoothly through the water, hardly swerving at all. Erica sat huddled in her seat in the front, crossing her fingers. Both were completely soaked as they finally neared the beach.
Several girls had run out into the water to meet them. Their voices rose in a happy clamor of relief and excitement, drowning out the counselor’s stern words about always listening for the whistle and watching the weather and holding onto paddles. Amy was exhausted, so the girls pulled the canoe in to shore.
Erica and Amy walked together as the girls trekked back to their cabin, to the disbelief of Becky behind them. Erica didn’t mind Amy’s idle chatter as much, knowing that she had seen the other side of Amy, the serious, frightened side. Amy, walking along in her soggy clothes and wet bare feet, was just glad to have someone who listened.