Carrie pedaled faster. The wind hit her face like needles. She closed her eyes, lifted her hands from the handles and took a breath. She opened her eyes just in time to turn the corner and barrel down the hill. Her face stung, her fingers froze, the wheels on the bike wiggled, but she didn't care. She skidded to a stop in front of the red fence and looked back to see if her sister had managed to follow.
“Come on, Sarah!” she called.
Sarah just waved her off as she pushed her bike down the hill. Carrie set her bike against the railing and climbed over. Her feet hit the slushy mud on the other side and it covered her tennis shoes in a white-brown mix. Her mother would be mad. She walked to the end of the concrete slab and stood centimeters from the water line. Disappointment welled up in her. It didn't snow in Louisiana, not often at least. This year's snow was the same as before, ice turned to slush in the afternoon sun. The weather man had lied again.
“I miss Oklahoma, sometimes,” Sarah said as she stood next to Carrie, her legs covered in cold mud too.
Carrie just sighed and crossed her arms. It snowed real snow in Oklahoma when they lived there. Fluffy snow, buildable snow.
“Let's walk,” Carrie said.
They left their bikes and walked down the newly paved path. When they had first moved, the path had been made of dirt and rocks, but when the lake flooded a few years ago, the city decided to fix everything. Carrie missed having to go to the edge of the grass and hop across rocks to get to the small island in the middle of the lake. They would fall into the water at least twice while attempting it. A pier covered that spot now. They sat on the wood siding of that pier and let their legs dangle over the water. They had to lean closer to see the fish in the murky water.
Sarah nudged Carrie and pointed a small distance away at the little turtle head poking out. “I heard there's a gator somewhere around here.”
Carrie picked up a rock out of the stack she had gathered on their walk there and tossed it in the water. It didn't skip, just sunk to the bottom. “I doubt that.”
“Landon told me.”
Sarah huffed and looked away. Carrie bit her lip and glanced over at her sister. Her blonde hair was down around her face, but when the wind blew, Carrie could see the blue and black spots on her neck. She looked away and down at her own hand – a scar ran across the palm. “They wouldn’t let us back here if there was one,” Carrie said.
“Maybe you’re right.”
Carrie turned and jumped down off the side, her feet crying when they hit the ground. Sarah trailed behind her. Farther down the path was a tunnel that allowed the trail to continue under the dam. They weren’t supposed to go past it. As they walked, Carrie ran her hand across the side of the tunnel, feeling the bumps and the chipping beige paint. Once, Landon got in trouble with the community and had to repaint the tunnel, but before then, he had taken Carrie and Sarah down there, and they wrote their names next to his own in red. “A rite of passage,” he had said. That day he had acted like he liked them, but it wasn’t long before Carrie realized it was a lie.
“We should write our names again sometime,” Carrie said, flicking the paint off her finger.
“We’d get in trouble if we did.”
Carrie shook her head. “I plan on leaving soon anyways, get as far away as possible.”
Sarah jumped up onto a piece of wood and held her arms straight out for balance even though the plank was lying flat on the ground. “Like California?” She walked across it like Johnny did in Dirty Dancing.
“I was thinking Maine. It snows there.” Carrie had already applied to Southern Maine and was anxiously awaiting her acceptance letter.
“I’d go somewhere tropical like Bora Bora,” Sarah said, tipping her head back as if she were in the sun.
Carrie chuckled and poked Sarah. Sarah wiggled on the plank, almost losing her footing. “You don’t even know where that is.”
“What better way to learn? Anyways, I’ll probably stay here forever. I like it.”
Sarah jumped back off the plank and walked out of the tunnel, pushing past some of the overgrown vines. Carrie followed, wiping her running, red nose. She stuffed her bare hands into her jacket pocket and hugged it close over her chest. The path grew steep and wound up a hill, around a fenced-in backyard. Carrie used to know the family that lived in the house on top of the hill, but they had moved out several years ago. The new owners didn’t keep up the yard like the others did.
“I bet you five dollars that it’s still there,” Sarah said. She jogged ahead, but Carrie kept at her pace. A rusted “Beware of Dog” sign hung nailed to the wooden fence; the wind blew, shaking the already loose sign. A dog started barking. Carrie waited to see what would happen, but the dog hushed, and she moved on.
Sarah had stopped to busy herself by moving away sticks and leaves from the side of the path.
“I never made the bet,” Carrie reminded her.
“I don’t see it anyways.” Sarah stood and whipped off her pants. “Landon wouldn’t have moved it, would he?”
It’s just a rock with a face, Carrie wanted to say. They had made it one day about five summers back. Sarah was only ten then. She had been so careful gluing on the googly eyes so that they aligned perfectly. She even made hair out of old gold Mardi Gras beads.
“He probably tossed it into the lake,” Carrie said.
Truthfully, it had been Carrie after a bad day at home. Their mother had been away on business and their stepfather had left them with Landon. She had escaped to the lake for a few hours, but immediately regretted leaving Sarah behind. Landon didn’t mess with Sarah with Carrie around.
Carrie sighed and nudged her sister’s shoulder. “Anyone could’ve taken it. We can just make a new one.”
Sarah shook her head. “It’s fine…”
It wasn’t fine. Carrie knew that, but she didn’t pry, not wanting to talk about Landon and his stupid rock. The next part of the path was all uphill, so by the time they reached the top, they were both out of breath and bent over. A single stone bench sat on the side, overlooking the lake below. They both sat, Sarah cross-legged, eyes towards the water, but Carrie looked up at the cloudy sky. A raindrop fell and hit her cheek. She felt it slowly move down her face. Another one fell. Carrie smiled and held her arms out in front of her. It poured.
Sarah had jumped up, putting her arms over her head. “Come on,” she squealed. “We’re getting drenched!”
Carrie ignored her, closed her eyes, and let the rain hit her face. She liked the feeling, even if it stung, even if it ran into her eyes, her nose, her mouth. The sound of the rain drowned out her thoughts and worries. It brought her back to a simpler time. A time before her father died and her mother remarried. A time before high school and boys, before Landon moved in. She saw her mother, her real father, and Sarah sitting on that pier, the sun shining down on them, smiles bright on all their faces. Birds chirped.
Sarah yanked her out of her trance. The sun disappeared. A crackle of thunder echoed in the distance. “Let’s go.”
This time, Carrie listened and the two ran down the rest of the path, past a wooden fence and across the street. She blinked at the brightness of the Exxon sign. A man stood at one of the pumps; he nodded as they walked by.
“Do you have any cash?” Sarah asked.
“No, I didn’t think I’d need it,” Carrie answered.
The bell chimed when they entered and the lady behind the counter watched them as they walked the aisles. Carrie picked up a bag of Cool Ranch Doritos, then put them back down and turned to Sarah. “I don’t have my phone either. Go see if you can use hers.”
“Out of minutes again?”
Carrie pushed Sarah towards the counter. “I just forgot it. Now, ask.”
The lady eyed Sarah as she approached. She placed both her hands on the counter and leaned forward. “Can I help you?”
Sarah took a step back, but Carrie was there to push her forward again. “My sister and I got stuck in the rain. Do you have a phone we can use?”
Carrie hurried towards the bathroom before she heard the clerk’s reply. She turned and saw her sister talking to someone on a silver flip-phone. Sarah handed the phone back to the lady and walked over to her. “Landon is coming.”
Carrie felt the blood rush out of her body and onto the gas station’s already sticky, checkered floor. “Why did you call him?”
Sarah shrugged. “He’s the one that picked up.”
“Of course,” Carrie muttered under her breath. “You—I have to pee.” She stepped into the restroom. The lock was broken, so she pressed her weight up against the door instead. She reminded herself over and over that Sarah wasn’t to blame. It was Landon. The scar on her hand, the clouds in her eyes. The heat in the bathroom kicked on and she could feel his hands travel up her body. A shiver went through her and she slid down onto her butt, hugging her knees close to her chest.
There was a soft knock at the door. “Are you okay?”
Carrie ignored her.
“Why did you call him?” she asked again.
“Because his is the only number I can remember.” She sighed. “Can we not do this here?”
Carried buried her face in her hands. Something being shoved through the crack startled her.
“I won’t stop you, if you decide to go.”
Carrie reached for the envelope and pulled the letter out. “I was accepted?”
“I think… it would be better if you went,” Sarah said. “And also, if we could talk without the door between us.”
Carrie scooted away from the door, letting Sarah come in. “How long have you had this?”
“Just this morning,” Sarah said. “I was going to give it to you earlier, but I didn’t know what to say.”
“There’s nothing to say.” Carrie set the letter down.
Sarah crouched down beside her. “Listen, I’m not as dense as you think I am. I have eyes and ears. I know what’s been going on.”
Carrie looked up at her. Anger rose inside her. “You knew?”
She moved her hair from her neck, revealing the spots. “It’s different for me.” Sarah took Carrie’s hand and squeezed it tightly. “He doesn’t hurt me.”
Carrie opened her mouth, closed it again. “Sarah…”
“Go to Maine, okay?”
All this time, Carrie thought she was protecting Sarah, but she didn’t need protecting. What Sarah needed—something Carrie didn’t know how to give—was help. They both did.
Carrie shook her head. “Mom will never let me.”
Sarah grinned, stood up, and held out her hand. “I have your back.” She lifted Carrie to her feet and the two stood outside the station to wait for Landon. Next to the Exxon was a small wooden building without any sign. It was empty now, but crawfish season was in a few months and the locals knew that was the place to buy the best, cheapest crawfish in North Louisiana. Do they have that in Maine? Carrie wondered.
“Got any ideas for your dorm room?” Sarah said.
“No, I just got accepted.”
“I’m thinking a pink and gold color scheme.”
Carrie rolled her eyes. “Blue and gray, maybe?”
“As long as it’s a light gray.”
Carrie couldn’t see the sky from beneath the awning, but she could imagine its color and the way it was compiled of all different shades. She preferred the darkest one, the one right before snow starts.
Emmaleigh Bush is a junior English major at the University of Southern Mississippi. She was raised in Oklahoma and Louisiana, but her heart has always belonged to the place she was born, Mississippi. The South is the inspiration for most of her stories because of its unique traditions and perspectives on family, friendships, and relationships. She hopes to continue to write and share those stories in the future. She has been previously published in Bridge Literary Journal with her story, “Colored Egg.”