Wes had a perfect plan for a day at the end of the summer. Then Kayla came along.
I took my time.
Never the one to rush into a decision, I did the research and weighed the pros and cons. I did my best to write out letters to everyone I would hurt with my decision, explaining, as tenderly as possible, that they were not to blame. I performed every waking minute--looking happy, engaged, relaxed...hiding any visible sign of my plan to deliver my body to the lake.
It was deep enough, I imagined, that they'd never find me. Far enough and isolated enough that they might not bother looking for me there. I made no mention of the excursions I'd taken to plan the last day to perfection.
And now, here I was. I took a taxi from the city to three miles outside the state land. Paid cash. From there, I took a bike I'd hidden in some brush a few weeks before to the railway bed that would lead me to a deerpath, winding narrow and grassy to this opening in the lake.
Here I'd placed two cinder blocks in the reeds, one at a time, starting two months ago, invisible at the water's edge. I brought a backpack with a heavy gauge chain wrapped in a towel to keep the thing from jangling around on my way here.
And now, here I was. Backpack, chain, lock, cinder blocks, bike, and a huge blunt laced with opium. Minus the blunt, which I'd smoke before my final adventure, all the rest would be coming with me to the benthic floor, bound by steel and determination.
I brought no keys.
It was a gorgeous day at the end of the summer. I listened to the cicadas. They were chittering their pleas to the gods--gods that would bury this place in snow and ice in just a couple of months. I saw a family of deer that waded and drank from the opposite shore, less than a mile from me. Secluded. I prayed to the absence of God that no one would walk to this lake in the next 90 minutes, because I was ready. Everything was planned. Before sundown, the rushing complexity of consciousness would give way to the quiet complexity of decay.
I pulled out the handcuffs that would keep me attached to the chain loop, cuffing one to my left hand and throwing the chain over my shoulder. I looped the chain through my bike and threaded my cinder blocks and backpack straps. Eighty pounds would be enough to hold me down, especially after making the effort to drag the weight behind me once I started swimming. I knew right where I would stop paddling, cuff my right wrist, and breathe out, slipping under the veil of blue-green. It was foolproof.
Sitting beneath a Willow at the shore, I flicked my lighter, blazing up for the last time. I pulled softly and slowly, letting the opiates and cannabinoids numb me under a charge of noble sentimentality. This is the day I die, and so many things I love about the world are right here in front of me. There's no kinder way to go.
Ten minutes later, half my blunt is fallen ash, and I have a stupid smile on my face as I drop all of my regret and spend my last fifteen minutes thinking about my best moments on this planet. I look at the chain, the cinder blocks, the bike...this is really happening.
"I have finally followed through on something," I say to the lake, chuckling at my self-mocking pride. And not long after the sound of my voice is swallowed up...
"What's that, getting kidnapped from the Tour de Marshland?"
I jump up, looking over my shoulder to see a woman in a spaghetti strap top, denim shorts, knee socks and sneakers—standing a few feet away from me.
"Shit," is all I manage. My plans are not only shot, but I look like the biggest jackass in world, decked out in chains and cuffs and smoking a blunt.
"That's right, buddy. Share the wealth," she says, pointing at the smoking blunt.
"Don't suppose you'd be willing to forget you saw me out here if I did." She approaches, and I pass the blunt to her and sigh, wondering how I'm going to explain myself. "I could say 'what are you doing out here', but I guess that's your line." She takes a long, harsh drag from my blunt, and a smile widens across her face. Dark brown hair. Darker eyes. Blood red lips and gleaming teeth. Fate is seriously fucking with me.
"Well," she says, looking at the strange collection of objects threaded to the chain like a giant's tacky charm bracelet, "I don't suppose you're just incredibly dedicated to your triathlon training, are you?"
I have to laugh. I can't help it.
"I think my intentions are pretty clear," I say, taking the blunt back and hitting it again, "but now that you're here, I suppose I'll have to find another lake to swim in."
"Mind if I sit?" She asks. Weird calm. She does see all this stuff, right? Does she see the situation? I shrug and slide aside a bit, my chain jingling with me. "Supposing I run into you again at another lake--would you delay your plans again?" So non-chalant. So absolutely cool. Am I hallucinating this girl?
"You make a habit out of bugging random weirdos on lakeshores?” I ask.
“If they have a joint? Sure. I couldn’t exactly smell the cinder blocks.” She’s gorgeous, okay? She is. But her approach seems too comfortable. It’s unnatural.
“I went, like...way out of my way to make sure no one else was involved in this." I can’t help but laugh at myself. Best laid plans.
"Involved now, aren't I?" This arrogant woman, ruining my departure plans...and playing it so calm. Like this is a scene we planned.
"I don't mean to be a douche here, but are you--a suicide prevention hiker?" She took the blunt back, curling the red and grey burn with another pull.
"This is fate's intrusion, buddy." A grin like a Cheshire cat now, smoke rolling from her mouth. "We're only her agents." She examines the blunt row, rolling it between delicate fingers. "This isn't just weed, is it?"
"Some opium in there too," I said. "Sorry I didn’t mention."
"No need to apologize," she shrugged, taking another huge hit. "But I do, in advance, if I get a little funny or annoying."
"You do what?"
"Apologize." Another huge hit.
"Apologize for smoking the rest of that on your own," I say, impatience blossoming in my voice. She’s sucked it down to a roach in a couple of hits.
"Oh, no worries. I can contribute." She cups her hand over the now-stubby roach, and when she slowly pulls it away, there's a full blunt between her fingertips again, smoking at the end. "Here." My eyes and mouth are gaping as I take back the blunt and examine it. When I look back at her, she giggles.
"You're too cute," she said. "Certainly too precious for all of this." She motions to the chain, the blocks, and the bike.
"Um--how did you just do that?" I'm staring at the restored blunt like a pondering monkey, looking down at the ash on the moss, reconfirming that we certainly already smoked the thing.
"Same way I do this..." She snaps her fingers, and the handcuff on my left hand pops open and collapses on the moss. Once again, I'm stunned stupid.
"Wwwwwwwhat...was that?" I actually stand and back off two steps. "Did you--are you..." This is way outside of any earthly explanation for me.
"High as hell!" She laughs. "And so are you." She stares at the blunt. "It's burning, dude. Hit or pass." I stare at the rerolled cigar leaves in my hand, then at my wrist again--red where the cuff met my skin. I shake my head and drag the blunt deeper than either of us.
"Yeah, I'm high," I say. "I'm not tripping." I go to hand it back to her, but she stands.
"One sec. Gonna clean all this up for you." She steps up to the bike and pulls the chain toward the lake, rolling the steel links off of my shoulder until she has the end. She starts looping it around the blocks and the bike, untangling my backpack from the other free end.
"What are you doing?"
"I figure you still want the backpack," she says, rummaging through it and pulling out a steel padlock. She loops the other end of the chain through the blocks and bike frame and slaps the lock to both ends of the chain, turning back to me. "Shame. It's a nice bike." Before I can say a word, she jumps on the seat and throws her weight forward, coasting the bike toward the lake since the pedals are locked into place by the chained blocks.
"Hey, what the hell!?" I stand up way too fast as she cackles like a maniac, riding my bike into the water. When it slows, she tips off the seat into the water, grabs a handlebar and drags the weight behind her. "Bring back my bike!" She turns to swim on her back, laughing at me.
"Right, because you were going to get soooo much use out of it if I did." I still see the bike's tiny wake behind her before the rest of it slips under the surface. "Now say good riddance!" Once she's satisfied she's out far enough, she lifts both her hands out of the water to show me she's dropped it to the murky lake floor and begins back toward the shore.
"Oh, hit your blunt and shut up," she grins, stepping slowly out of the water. Her yellow strappy top is clinging to her every curve, revealing the shape of a bra beneath it. Her dark brown hair, done up in the back, mostly managed to escape the water, unlike the rest of her. I hit the blunt again, staring at the gorgeous wet body in front of me. "And so ends the mourning of your bike," she says, standing up straight and pushing out her chest. "What do you want to do now?" Her eyes flash mischief, but I'm too busy trying to absorb the last ten minutes...let alone her body.
"What did—I mean, I want to..." I look at the gleaming handcuffs on the ground, and she cocks her head and raises an eyebrow.
"That's a bit forward, isn't it?" She laughs. I look at her again, dumbfounded.
"Whoa." I hit the blunt again, hard. "Slow-the-fuck-down."
"Well, help." She reaches out for the blunt, her hands still dripping.
"No way! You'll soak it," I say, suddenly concerned about the quality of my earthly buzz again.
"Then shotgun me a hit, smart guy." She stands inches from my face, puckering her lips.
I wanna burst out laughing. Or cry. Or scream. Or something. I don’t know. I was going to die here today. Who is this lunatic?
I focus on the blunt, ashing to the cherry and carefully putting the burning end in my mouth, pulling back my tongue. Her brown eyes lock mine as I push air backward through the blunt, rocketing the smoke between her full lips. It felt like she was searching me, plunging right through my eyes and watching my thoughts. By the time she backs away, her eyes look glassy.
"That was a pretty big hit,” I say after taking the joint out of my mouth again.
"All that planning...all those details...just to join your bike at the bottom of the lake. Why?" It’s like her energy has shifted now. That giddy playfulness is drained from her. She looks genuinely sad, but I can’t help but roll my eyes. I can’t help it. This can’t be real.
Maybe I am at the bottom of the lake. Maybe this is Saint Peter. Pinching my own arm doesn’t help one way or the other.
But everything still feels real...it just doesn’t make sense. I didn’t bring a key--and my cuffed wrist is no longer cuffed. I brought one joint and smoked almost two. My bike and cinder blocks are gone. My way out is gone. My ruined plans have no contingency for this event.
I have no explanation as to how or why this woman is here.
"You don't know a thing about me or why I'm here." I sit back against the tree again. "And your lax charm and...admittedly good slight of hand aren’t going to change anything."
"Already did. Your bike is rusting in a pond. Besides, we haven’t even fucked yet." Her eyes are burning into mine. I just blink and huff, leaning away. Pretending disgust at the lascivious comment.
"What the hell are you talking about?" I raise my arms in a dramatic shrug. "Whatever you're doing, this turn-on-a-dime conversation and mind-fuckery you've got going on are not really helping this already sick individual." I sigh. "You get that, right?" She just shakes her head, shrugging. Her smug expression is hiding a damned smile. "So, one more time. Who are you, and what do you want from me?" She raises her eyebrows.
"I’ve got half of what I want already." She smiles like a goon and clasps her hands together, hitting me with droplets of water. "Now I want you to walk back out of these woods with me and bring me back to your house." I smear my palm across my face.
"Insane. You're insane."
"Listen, you don’t have to,” She said. “Lake's still out there waiting for you. All Virginia Wolff needed was a couple stones in her pockets."
I stop for a second, thinking about her response. She's so terse and polar, so sure of everything that comes out of her mouth that I feel like I'm being directed—pushed into reactions one after the other. I take a deep breath and sit up, reaching for my backpack, the blunt still in my mouth.
Okay. I’ll follow her lead. Just to see.
"Alright," I shrug, "Fine. Let's walk." She smirks down at me, offering a hand.
I hate it. It’s delicate and gleaming in the sunlight. Her nails are painted lilac, cracked and chipped. What is this stupid bullshit in the last half-hour of my plan? Why couldn’t I have been here fifteen minutes earlier?
I take her hand, and she pulls me up. "It was going to happen anyway, you know."
“What was that?” I ask her. Was she reading my thoughts? “What do you mean by that?”
“The walking,” She laughs. “I mean, you don’t have a bike anymore. There’s a chance you could initially outrun me, but if you smoke as much as I think you do, I’d catch you with stamina.”
Her demeanor is so bizarre, so off-putting...at least it would be, if there wasn't something familiar about it. I don't know this woman, I don't recognize her, but--
“Who are you?”
"Kayla," she says.
"Wes, I know who you are." She smiles and keeps hold of my hand, picking up the cuffs on the bank and pulling me back toward the woods.
I let her.