I’d like to thank my good friend Marshall Tankersley for all his hard work in in making the cover art for my stories, Facebook pages, and Patreon. Without your talent this would be a very bland place to read stories. A special thanks to my Fiction 2 classmates and professor for helping me work on this story and figure out the heart of it. Finally, thank you to my patrons or supporting me, both current and future. Thank you all!
Tyler opened the front door after his morning run. The open living room, housing only a few chairs and lamps was oddly dark for a Saturday morning, normally his roommate Lee was up by this point. Both were early risers, which helped them not to bother each other at night, unlike what happened back when they both were still stuck in the freshman dorms a couple years earlier where their suitemates would stay up all night blaring loud music and complain when Tyler and Lee used the restroom during the day, waking them up. Since then, they decided to move off campus with a couple other friends, but the others ended up changing arrangements a week before signing the lease.
Walking over to the kitchen Tyler started making breakfast, scrambled eggs and PB-and-J toast. The toaster dinged the moment the eggs were finished. Successfully timed yet again, Tyler patted himself on the back. If the timing was off, then he ran the risk of either his toast or eggs getting cold while the other finished.
Lee’s door creaked open, like a dying cat, down the hall. The sound jerked Tyler’s head towards his roommate. Never in need of an alarm clock whenever a door like that opens before you wake up . Stepping out the door in a pair of gym shorts and a t-shirt, Lee lazily came to the kitchen. His eyes opened just enough to aim his coffee.
“Sleep well?” Tyler said with his back turned.
Lee mumbled something that sounded like, “Yeah.” He plopped down on one of the stools standing in front of the kitchen’s bar. Without taking a sip of his coffee Lee laid his head on the bar, hand still gripping the steaming mug.
“I take it you pulled another all-nighter,” Tyler set his plate on the opposite side of the bar.
“Stupid finals,” Lee moaned before pulling his head up and taking a sip.
“Again? You’ve pulled almost three for this test. It’s killing you,” Tyler said, taking a bite of egg.
Lee rubbed his temples. “No, I need to study. This is for Dr. Pierce.” The logic made sense due to Dr. Pierce having the reputation of the business department’s drill sergeant.
“You know breaks help. We could go kayaking today. It’d be good for you,” Tyler said knowing he needed to study as well, but helping his friend outweighed the need to make the top grade.
“I’m not going on one of your adventures,” Lee said a little more awake now that his study-time was under threat.
“Come on, bro. It’ll be fun, and you seriously need to get out of the house. I get that you’re tired, but you’ll have fun,” Tyler said. If he didn’t sell it soon, then Lee would stick himself back in his little cell and practically kill himself with both lack of sunlight and total brain overload.
“Listen Tyler, I’m exhausted and don’t want to get out in the water. I’ve never been in a kayak before,” Lee sipped some more coffee.
“Come on, this’ll help you relax. You can’t study constantly and expect to do well,” Tyler set down his sandwich.
“Spending a day paddling aimlessly does not sound relaxing,” Lee stared out the top of his eyes before closing them again and rubbing his forehead.
“What if we made some kind of deal? We go kayaking this morning and we’ll be back before three. That way you get to get out of the house, and you still have time to study,” Tyler said.
Lee rocked his head tumbling the idea over and around. Eventually he spoke, “Fine, but this better not be like the time we decided to prank Mark.”
Tyler threw up his hands, “Hey, he seemed to enjoy it.”
“Only after he hid toads in our backpacks,” Lee said.
“Well,” Tyler drew out, “there might be toads, or frogs at least, but no pranking. I don’t like making people hate the water.”
“All right, fine, l I’ll go. I’ll go get dressed,” Lee trudged back to his room.
Tyler drove down the interstate as Lee sat in the passenger seat reading a textbook. The silence between them stood as a testament to Lee’s attitude towards the whole thing. Tyler had to break the silence somehow. “I’m glad you decided to come, I knew it would be good for you.”
Lee pulled himself from his book. “What?” his voice snapped like a whip.
Tyler closed his eyes in frustration then opened them, remembering he was driving. He cursed to himself. Sometimes silence was better, right?
“Let’s just get this whole trip over with,” Lee readjusted himself to read.
“I was trying to help,” Tyler struggled to get the words out.
Lee’s silence said it all. He was done. Both had no choice but to go kayaking at this point since they were over an hour away from the house and Lake Keowee was within a couple miles. Tyler had to break the uneasy silence somehow, maybe a joke . . .? No, Lee would get angrier.
A cloud line formed in the distance. Tyler knew what to say despite knowing that Lee would probably not take too kindly to it. “Well, it looks like it might get cloudy. At least we’ll be shaded out on the water and we don’t have to take into account sunscreen.”
It sounded like Lee let out a quiet growl of contempt at the joke. The silence returned just as they were pulling off the interstate. The exit sat about a mile and a half from their destination. Those couple minute were some of the most awkward Tyler can remember having with Lee. It was already turning into that time they pranked Mark, except instead hiding an army of rubber snakes in the man’s bed, it was with the lake, and Lee was equally as displeased about being dragged into this situation. At least with the last one they got a good story out of it by getting their suite’s biggest prankster with his biggest fear.
Back then Lee wouldn’t refuse to go kayaking, or hiking, even just forego his homework to spend time with friends. Now that he came close to failing a class the previous semester all he’d done is work. The results were showing: fatigue, stress, and a general annoyance at the people around him. Tyler had to fix this, make sure his best friend was better before he ended up hurting someone or himself.
They pulled onto the gravel road. The car jostled with every rock. Once parked they got out and Lee threw his book onto the seat and slammed his door.
“You know I have no idea what I’m doing, right?” Lee said as they stepped up to the rental shack.
A young man, about their age, with shaggy hair and a five-o’clock-shadow leaned against the rentals desk. “What can I do for you guys?”
“We need two kayaks and life vests, for about three hours,” Tyler attempted to ward off the awkwardness by putting some pep into his voice.
“Okay,” the rental guy typed on his computer. “That will be 35 each.” He pulled out a waver form. “I also need you both to sign these and you can go and pick up a kayak and life vest from the racks outside.”
Tyler signed his name quickly without reading either paper, already knowing that the paper said they couldn’t suit them if anything bad happened. Lee, on the other hand took his time reading everything carefully, probably trying to delay them getting to the water. At last he signed his name and pushed his papers back to the attendant. “Okay, enjoy,” the attendant said. “Oh, yeah, what name do you want me to put this under?”
“Tyler James,” Tyler said. “I’ll pay for both.” Lee seemed to relax a little after he said that. At least he wouldn’t be responsible for the bill at the end of the day, especially if this all blew up in their faces.
They went to the rack and picked out a pair of kayaks and strapped on their life vests. Lee’s vest fit loosely on him, almost dangling from his shoulders like it had as much care to be on Lee as Lee had to be there. “You know you should tighten that, right?” Tyler said.
“Yeah,” Lee sighed, tightening the straps ever so little.
“You ready?” Tyler said.
“I guess,” Lee shrugged.
They pulled their kayaks to the water’s edge. Tyler sat in his kayak and pushed off, backing into the water It was obvious Lee really had never done this before by the way he nearly fell on his face trying to step into the kayak: the frustration on his face was the trustiest evidence. Once Lee finally situated himself, Tyler set off and showed Lee how to paddle and steer the craft. Once Lee had gotten the hang of it they paddled along the shoreline to steer clear of any nearby boats.
Lee’s face seemed to light up the moment he figured out how to actually maneuver. Whatever Lee would say, he was enjoying himself. Lee seemed like his old self. That outdoor loving maniac was back. Eventually Tyler led them out into open water. The lake was fairly quiet, only a few boats in the distance whizzed past each other. Lee looked more alive than he had that entire semester. It was good to see his old friend back, at least for a moment. Maybe they could play Warhammer again, or have friends over to watch Star Wars instead of Lee getting annoyed when Tyler brought his girlfriend and their friends over for Dungeons and Dragons. Most of those times Lee would hide in his room studying or playing video games by himself as a means of escape, and after everyone left complained about how he never got to see people like he used to.
The cloud line they saw earlier approached and now filled a quarter of the sky. Hopefully it wouldn’t rain, but at least the clouds would provide some shade from the early May sun. He should’ve checked the weather. “Be Prepared”, apparently that lesson didn’t stick with Tyler.
“You’re taking to it,” Tyler laughed as his best-friend sped past him.
“I think so,” Lee’s voice seemed to dissipate as he flew farther away. A large branch floated twenty or so feet in front of them. “How do I stop?” Lee yelled.
“Put your paddle in the water like you’re turning,” Tyler called. Lee did so and banked hard to the right, missing the branch by a couple feet. The kayak nearly tipped over from the inertia of the 180.
“Well that just happened,” Lee pinched his lips together and glanced around as if trying to figure out if he was actually still in his kayak or just imagining it.
“It’s all a part of the sport,” Tyler said as Lee paddled towards him.
Lee chuckled, “Yeah.” He then composed himself. Tyler knew Lee’s pride was preventing him from admitting he was actually enjoying himself.
Thunder rumbled in the distance. They both snapped their heads towards the clouds, which now covered most of the sky. “We should probably get back to the rental place,” Tyler said.
“We’ve been out here for at least a couple hours, how far out are we?” Lee rolled his paddle up and down his kayak.
Looking at his phone, Tyler saw that they were a couple miles out from the rental shack. He told Lee.
“We’ll probably get caught in the storm before we even reach it. We shouldn’t have done this,” Lee rubbed his temples again.
Tyler looked in front of him and an island stood about three hundred feet away . “We could go there,” Tyler pointed.
Lee turned to face where Tyler was pointing, “We should just go on back. There’s no shelter there.”
“Leaves,” Tyler raised an eyebrow suggesting that it was their best option since they the shore was dotted with rich houses more than likely packing security systems and lawyers ready to sue them if they dared set foot on the properties.
“Fine,” Lee turned his kayak around. The friends raced towards the island, but before they were half-way there a rain curtain swept over the lake. Its thunderous sound seemed like a mountain waterfall had opened from the sky.
They were soaked by the downpour before they reached the island. Pulling their kayaks safely on land they found a fallen tree leaning against a sturdy oak. Tyler sat under the narrow shelter, followed by Lee. The rain hit them on their flanks, but at least they had some shelter.
Lee started to say something but a clap of thunder cut him off. He stared at his phone that he had pulled out of a plastic bag attached to his swim trunk’s pocket. Speaking up again once the thunder clap cleared he sighed, “It looks like this storm is just beginning. A squall line is headed this way.”
Tyler remained quiet, the rain drops that still fell on him soaking his cloths weighed him down. If he hadn’t tried to convince Lee to come with him they would be back home hanging out. Lee tried to speak again when Tyler remained silent, but Tyler spoke up first before Lee could complain. “I’m so sorry for causing all this. I can’t control the weather. You could be studying, but no, I had to get us out in this crap-fest and try to fix you.”
“Don’t beat yourself up. This is my fault. I shouldn’t have complained so much and closed myself off,” Lee curled up into a ball where he sat, his legs covered in mud and wet leaves. “
No, he couldn’t mean that, could he. No, that wasn’t like Lee. Tyler leaned his head back against the tree.
“I’m being serious,” Lee said at length. Tyler lifted his head back up and looked at Lee. “This was a good adventure, and I was wrong to have been a jerk about it. You forgive me?”
Tyler sighed, “Yeah, what the heck.” They dapped. “Honestly, I had no idea it would rain today.”
“That’s why you check the weather,” Lee waved his phone.
“Shut up,” Tyler playfully punched his friend in the arm. “I normally do, I just forgot. This was all kind of a spur of the moment decision. How long did you say this storm would last?”
“It looks like well into the evening,” Lee scrolled through his phone, probably looking at the hour-by-hour forecast.
“Well we’re screwed,” Tyler threw his head back against living tree. Lee thought for a moment tapping a finger to his chin and staring directly ahead. “What are you thinking . . .?”
“What if we tried to make it back to the rental shack?” Lee said.
The notion of going back out there in the middle of a storm seemed stupid, almost idiotic. “You can’t be serious,” Tyler said.
“No, I am,” Lee glanced back at his phone. “The map says the current storm is just about to move on and there’s at least another couple miles between this one and the next one.”
“So, we wait a few minutes and then set out again?” Tyler said trying to follow how this was a good idea.
“Precisely, however, we’ll be headed in the direction the storms are coming from, so we’ll get hit by it either way. But at least we’ll be closer to shore.” Lee said.
“I’m not sure,” Tyler hesitated.
“I thought you were the adventurous one,” Lee mocked. Tyler knew that Lee was trying to challenge his pride. It always worked, mocking him always made Tyler do something he knew was stupid.
“Okay, let’s go,” Tyler rose from under the tree.
They waited until the rain died down a little, and then set out. Speeding forward as if they had motors attached to their boats, they made their way through the rough waters. Wakes from distant boats made things more difficult. They struggled to keep close to each other with the rain still beating down on them despite the first storm having passed, making it difficult to see.
Tyler’s arms and back ached from the exertion of fighting the water and weather. Next to him Lee struggled to keep balanced in the water.
They pressed onwards knowing that the rental shack was easily less than a mile away. With the slower rains and the knowledge, they were so close, the last drops of Tyler’s endurance returned with a fresh shot of adrenaline pumping through his veins. Lee passed him now and was bobbing in the waves like he was attached to a fishing line.
Thunder clapped and rain beat down on them again. A motor’s hums came from behind and grew in intensity. Tyler glanced behind to see a motor boat speeding towards them. It was offset enough for it avoid a collision, but the wake would pose an issue.
“Lee,” Tyler called out, “Lee!” He didn’t respond. The engine grew loader to drown out the rain..
The boat rushed past them, missing by fifteen yards at the most. The wake seemed abnormally large. Tyler repositioned himself to try to take the wave head on to avoid being knocked over. Before Tyler could give any warning, the wake caught up to Lee’s kayak, capsizing it.
Once the wake passed Tyler paddled over to the capsized kayak. Lee’s head and arms barely remained over the surface. He looked like a floating log with his arms like dead branches waving in the wind. Tyler reached for his friend and allowed him to hold himself on the edge of his kayak. They struggled towards the other, combating the wind, water, and rain. “Lee, you’re going to have to help me flip this,” Tyler yelled over the rain.
Lee nodded and attempted to tighten his vest before pulling himself around Tyler’s kayak. He reached for his own and managed to grab the back tip. Tyler maneuvered to the opposite end and they struggled to even get the thing to budge. Instead it moved more like a finger waving “no, no, child.” By this point the kayak partially sat below the surface from the water that now filled its main cavity. “Lee,” Tyler yelled, “climb on and use your body weight to flip the thing.”
Lee tried to climb on but slipped off back into the lake waters that wanted to pull him under. It took several attempts to escape the water’s jaws and climb over the kayak before he could get a good grip on its edge. Shifting all his weight backwards he flipped it. Lee pulled himself back onto the kayak and situated himself. He looked exhausted, but grinned over the feat.
They carried on slower now that Lee had to fight both the water and a waterlogged kayak. They rounded the corner of a small peninsula and the shallows where they started their journey sat being bombarded with dissipating waves.
Tyler made it to the shore first and helped pull Lee and his kayak back on shore. When Lee leapt out they both flipped his kayak and drained all the water. They dragged their kayaks back to the racks and replaced them, along with the life vests.
They trudged inside the dry wooden shack where the same clerk stood board out of his mind watching the storm. He pulled his glance towards Tyler and Lee, “Looks like you two had fun out there.”
Tyler pulled out a plastic bag from his pocket and slipped out his wallet . “Just take whatever we owe you,” he panted out handing the clerk his card.
“All right,” the clerk said and took Tyler’s debit card, swiping it and handing it back. “Hope you two have a nice rest of your day and stay dry.”
Lee dismissed the clerk by waving his hand towards him like he was throwing something away. They both trudged to Tyler’s car, no longer caring they were soaked.
“Food?” Tyler asked when he closed his door.
“Yeah,” Lee tossed his textbook into the back seat.