That ruined day we went to the shore will remain perfectly etched in my memory as long as I live. We piled into Dan's green Volkswagen Beetle, the four of us, intent on making it to Lake Michigan. We had never skipped school before, but didn't let the bleak autumn sky hold us back.
I packed a picnic lunch. Candy brought a jug of lemon sun tea. Josh paid for gas, and Dan drove. Telling our parents we were going out for breakfast before class, we hit the road an hour early. The small town streets basked in their emptiness, preparing themselves for the day ahead. We slipped away, headed east toward the shore.
The beach was empty except for us. We chose a spot and wrapped ourselves in two camouflage blankets, Dan and I, and Josh and Candy. We sat quiet on the sand, listening to the wind whistle. On a clear day, you could look out across Lake Michigan and see Chicago, but the skyline of the city eluded us. A thick mist rose up from the water to meet low gray clouds, obscuring even the rocky piers that extended out into the lake.
The air was cooler on the shore than it had been inland, so the guys decided to build a fire. Candy and I giggled as they gathered kindling, amazed that they were ours. We talked about how we hoped this would never end. We speculated that when we were fifty, we'd still meet together at the beach. Maybe if we changed our trip to spring, the wind wouldn't be so cold. On the other hand, we would have to give up the sweet isolation of late autumn at the beach.
The guys gave up on the fire, and kicked sand at each other instead. Candy and I covered ourselves and the picnic with a camouflage blanket, but Josh snatched it off and our lunch was ruined. "Oh, well," Dan said. "Let's go to McDonalds."
Ice laced the edge of the lake, and before we left, Dan threw Josh in. He came out with blue skin, his breath rattling in his chest. We were all silent, but spoke to each other with the concern in our eyes.
Josh had to strip off his clothes and wrap up in both blankets to keep warm. We drove to my house, because my parents weren't home. To be safe, we hid the green Beetle in the garage. Candy made hot chocolate while I washed and dried Josh's clothes. He shook, and could barely talk through the chatter of his teeth.
Dan put in a movie, and we watched quietly. No one talked about the day. We took turns asking Josh if he was all right, and piled quilts on him. He fell asleep, and Candy felt his forehead for fever.
At 3 o'clock, the three of them left for home. I felt very alone. I wanted them with me, even though our day had been less than perfect.
Candy telephoned later that night. Josh was in the hospital. His mother had called her and told her that Josh had leukemia. We never knew because he didn't want us to know. They had been searching for a bone marrow donor and she asked if we would come down and be tested.
The next day, we piled into the green Volkswagen beetle, the three of us, headed for Kenosha County Hospital. We skipped school, with our parents permission, to visit Josh and see if we could donate our marrow.
Dan argued with the nurses when they wouldn't allow us to be tested without our parents' signature. I called my mother, and she said maybe tomorrow. We went to Josh. We couldn't touch him, or speak to him, because he was in a bubble. Dan cried, and went outside for a smoke. Candy fainted while talking to Josh's mother. I stood in the window, staring at Josh, wondering if this was our fault.
He died that night in his sleep. Eighteen years old, a beautiful young man with fiery eyes and black hair. I cried for Candy who, the moment Josh faded away, lost an entire version of her future.
I felt sorry for Dan, who lost his best friend and pool partner. He was never the same after that.
That day at the beach was the last day we were together as friends. With plans for tomorrow that we thought were etched in stone, we were unaware it could all slip away like sand through our fingers. We were too young to know that the only thing solid in our lives was our past, but just old enough to realize that our lives would never be the same.
Freedom Smith is in the process of completing her first novel, Raven. She has been published in Fiction Fix, is a contributing editor for Suite101.com, as well as assistant Fiction editor for Moondance. She is minoring in English/Journalism, and hopes to finish by winter 2000.
Freedom's personal interests include amateur archaeology, vegetarianism, spending all her money on books, and playing with her two dogs and two cats.
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