“We’ll follow the river for the first bit.” Jessie grinned, flashing dimples Julie used to think were adorable.
“Watch the road.” She closed her eyes and leaned against the window. She couldn’t see his frown, but his annoyance turned the air in the truck chilly against her skin. It surprised her how little she cared. She shouldn’t have gone on this trip, but they’d planned it for months and she’d never been to Lake Roosevelt.
To be honest, she’d never been to any lake. She’d never told anyone that. Growing up in Spokane meant spending summer days at “the lake.” There were so many to choose from, but everyone had their special lake. It wasn’t like she hadn’t been invited before. Most of her and Jessie’s friends had access to their parents’ boats. But Julie worked in the bakery on weekends and during school breaks. Instead of water skiing and impromptu sandbank partying, she sweated by the ovens and the doughnut fryer.
When she was younger, her mom had sometimes packed a picnic and they’d gone to the river. But that was before Julie knew the difference between people who took their kids to swim in the slow currents and the people who steered their boats over wider waters.
“I’m glad we’re doing this,” Jessie squeezed her knee. “Between college visits and basketball camp, I never get to see you.”
She mumbled an agreement. For once, it was just her and Jessie without his basketball teammates. They needed to talk, but she still hadn’t found the words to express her worries. Not even to explain to herself how she felt. She opened her eyes to look at his familiar profile. The strong jaw and tousled sun-bleached hair didn’t cause the familiar magnetic pull. She’d spent hours studying his perfect features while he slept beside her, wondering at her luck of being able to call him her boyfriend. Now he didn’t seem to belong to her any more. Or maybe she was the one who didn’t belong.
Her gaze moved to his hands on the steering wheel. Thinking about those fingers caressing her naked skin used to make her body tingle. All she could think about now was that they were driving his dad’s truck. The same red truck that had been too big to fit in her apartment complex’s parking lot when his dad came to talk to her about his “son’s bright future.”
It turned out to have been a wasted trip. She didn’t need Jessie’s dad’s money after all. “The problem” had taken care of itself. She swallowed hard and shifted in her seat.
They’d picked up his dad’s boat from the storage place north of the city and were now cruising along Little Spokane River to join Highway 291 in Nine Mile Falls. Jessie wanted to go the scenic route and show her Long Lake Dam. She closed her eyes again, fighting down the vague worry that had plagued her lately.
At the dam overlook, Jessie put his arms around her and they posed for a selfie. She smiled for the camera, but her lips felt wrong. Jessie went back up to the road, looking for a cellphone signal so he could post their picture. She stared at the massive amount of water falling over the spillway while the sun warmed her body, at least the outside. An interpretive sign explained the history of the river and the dam.
“Did you know this was the highest dam in the world when it was completed in 1915?” she shouted to Jessie, but he was all the way back at the car and couldn’t hear her. He’d never been interested in history anyway.
She climbed the stairs back up from the overlook and stopped to look at the big osprey nest on top of a power pole. A special platform had been built on one side of the cross-arm beam. On the other side, spiked wires bent over the insulator to discourage an osprey duplex. She waited a few moments to see if a white bird head with the black Zorro-mask-markings would pop up, but the nest was empty. The juveniles must have already moved out. She stubbornly clung to that explanation and rejected others, such as the eggs not hatching or the chicks not surviving. Thinking about those would just expand the cold, hollow place inside her.
Jessie had already started the car by the time she reached it. He pulled out on the road as soon as she’d closed the door behind her. “There’s no coverage here. We need to get back to civilization so I can text Danny and Mac what time we’ll get to the lake.”
“Why do they need to know?” Julie clicked her seat belt in place.
“They’re meeting us there.” He didn’t look at her.
“I thought this was going to be just the two of us.”
“Babe, you know I love to spend time with you. But Danny and Mac are my boys and I couldn’t say no when they asked to come.” He fired off the smile that used to make her melt inside.
“Whatever.” She looked at the dam when they crossed over the river. The force of the water mesmerized her again.
“Ah. Don’t be mad.” He squeezed her knee again. “Besides, I didn’t know if you wanted it to be just the two of us. I wasn’t sure you could … you know … so soon after …”
“Come on. Say it. After what?” The hardness of her tone surprised her.
“Babe, don’t be like that. It was for the best. I … we have plans.”
Cold fury filled her. She was afraid to open her mouth because of the words that might spill out. She just shook her head and looked out the window again.
Jessie steered the truck off 291 and onto 231. Julie always made a point of reading road signs. The new highway veered away from the river and the colors outside turned from green to yellow and brown as they sped by dry fields. Jessie cranked up the air-conditioning and goosebumps broke out on her arms. She fished out a hoodie from her tote bag and pulled it on over her tank top. Jessie had bought her the Zags shirt for Christmas, back when he thought he might play for Gonzaga. Recently he’d declared that leaving Spokane for a while would “provide more growth and challenges.” She suspected his reasons had more to do with not being offered a spot on the team than wanting to develop as a player.
It wasn’t like he wasn’t good. Several other colleges had sent scouts to check Jessie out and he’d already received unofficial offers of scholarships. He just wasn’t Division I good, but that wasn’t something a supportive girlfriend should ever say out loud. Not even when it was just the two of them. And she had always been supportive, because the girlfriend status would eventually turn into supportive fiancée and wife role. Jessie had outlined that as part of his plan several times. Julie had tried to share those details with Jessie’s dad, but the man had just shoved the cash at her and walked out the door after his speech.
They turned onto Highway 2. The truck’s engine roared as Jessie gave it more gas on the faster road.
“I need the restroom,” Julie said as the buildings of Reardan flew by and thinned out.
“You just missed your chance for a while, but we’ll be in Davenport soon.” Jessie’s phone chirped. “Could you get that?”
Julie grabbed the phone and read the text silently. Running ½ hr late. Sorry Bro. Try to block on your own until we’re there to assist. Ps. Does she still look good in a bikini? She blinked quickly to stop the tears that welled up in her eyes to spill.
“Is it Danny? Tell him we’re on schedule.”
“Got it.” She texted back: Jerk.
They entered Davenport and Jessie turned into a parking lot by what looked like an old-fashion burger place. The sign declared it to be Edna’s Drive-In, Inside Seating. Underneath it said “Seven Days without Ednas Makes One Weak.” The missing apostrophe made her more angry than it should.
“The bathroom is on the outside of the building,” Jessie held out his hand for his phone.
She grabbed her tote, opened the door, and jumped out of the truck. The phone bounced off Jessie’s chest when she threw it at him.
She turned the corner, passed the bathroom, and kept walking up the road. Her vision was blurry now and it took a few tries before she found her own phone in the bag. Her mom answered on the first ring.
“Can you come pick me up?” Julie choked out between tears.
“Where are you?”
“Davenport. Not the hotel, the town.”
Her mom paused only for a short moment. “On my way.”
Julie sat down behind a cluster of green trees and dry brush. She rested her head on her knees. If she ever did have a child – far, far into the future – she would take her or him to swim in the river as often as she could.