The group has gone to the bluff. After leaving, they decided to head over to the lagoon for a swim. These teens are constantly bickering, as you will note when you read this excerpt.
We head out on the trail leading down the side of the mountain, carefully managing the slope. We dip into the ravine, walking cautiously. The sides are slick and steep. Balled roots hang like ornaments. We splash across the stream. Climb the side of a hill. I'm not about to take Reese's shortcut, which slices through the heart of the forest. I watch his legs, moving like a jungle cat and think of what a trap could do to one of his ankles.
Before it's visible, I hear it. A thunderous roar. I breathe deeply. The invigorating scent of fresh water fills my lungs, something like the air and trees after a heavy rain. The forest has a fragrance like no other. Pungent. Sweet. Inviting. Almost like a woman.
They're screaming with excitement, hopping up and down so hard they're raising clouds of dust. I have to laugh. What's second nature to me, is incredible to them. I wonder how I would act in their world.
"The waterfall must be two hundred feet high!" Katrina shrieks. "Imagine going over that in a barrel?"
"Screw the barrel. I'll body surf." Reese is loping through the knee-high brush. He'll be the first to hit the sandy shore.
"You've caused enough trouble for one day." I shoot him an eye to match my scowl, but all he gets is my voice because I'm looking at his back. "A quick swim is all you're getting. So make the most of it," I yell.
"I intend to," he shouts over a shoulder, taking bushes like a runner jumping hurdles.
Gabriella is tugging at my arm, squealing, "Wow. We don't have anything like this in New York! I think I'm on vacation. Can we go in?"
We're standing at the foot of the waterfall that supplies the lagoon, and us, with fresh water. The scene is almost indescribable. Around us. Overhead. There's no sky. Just trees. Branches with massive leaves. Green canopies. Vines dangling like fur. The most beautiful shelter anyone could ask for. Refreshing. Lush. Sunken into the center is the clearest body of water, taking its color from the surrounding vegetation. Not only is there one waterfall, but eye level walls of others. Modest falls, like fountains, cascading over rocks, pouring billions of crystal threads into the sparkling lagoon.
I release the air from my lungs in one noisy groan. "You can go in if you want to, Gabriella." Then my scowling mouth spreads into a grin. The look in her eyes is disabling. The forest has done something to deepen their color. "I'm teasing. Of course we're going in." In one clean sweep, I'm lifting her off the ground like she's weightless, holding her over my head. We're spinning. "Ready?" I'm laughing.
She's screaming, squirming. "No! Not ready! Put me down! I'm dizzy!"
I don't want to, but I set her on her feet and steady her, because she's teetering. We're both still laughing, my arms encircling her waist. Our eyes meet, and suddenly we're locked in a magnetic stare. My lips are ready to drop onto hers. Her eyes are telling me she wants to kiss me as much as I want to kiss her, but can't, because we're not alone. That's when my mind breaks into a trot, conjuring all kinds of excuses to take her out tonight.
"Go, Brook!" Katrina's heckling is distracting.
"Go, Brook!" Katrina's heckling is distracting.
I snap out of Gabriella's eyes and immediately dive into the lagoon, perhaps to escape her. Maybe to recover. I swim to the middle and tread water. I have to admit, it is fantastic. I haven't been here in ages.
Reese finds a vine that will hold his weight. Letting out an idiotic yodel, he sails through the air, landing with a splash beside Albatross, who's flapping like a grounded fish.
"I thought you wanted to swim," I call to Gabriella, who is standing on the shore. She's taking it all in, sucking on a finger. "Come on in." I laugh, because she's got this look of panic on her face. Oh God, is it because of me?
"Are there snakes in there?" she yells. She looks so cute and timid. I can't decide if I like her this way or fiery. Either way, I like her.
"Only in the trees," I reply, and her eyes bulge. I decide to swim to the shore to coax her in. I'm zeroing in on one of her ankles, ready to grab it.
"Yeah. Go for a swim." Katrina comes from up from behind and shoves her full force. Gabriella's face is a mixture of laughter and shock. Then she's screeching, falling into my arms, shouting, "Katrina! What are you doing?"
"It's what you want, isn't it?" Katrina laughs and follows with an awkward dive.
For a delightful moment, Gabriella is floating in my arms. "Are you okay?" I chuckle. Our eyes meet and lock again, but before anything can happen, she's squirming free.
"I'm fine." She breaks the surface with a powerful swan dive, then she's swimming across the lagoon like a pro.
Chapin is still standing on the hill, eyes hard, watching with contempt. Her jaw is set, her hands are on her hips. "And the bitches swim together."
"Come on in, Chapin," Katrina shouts. "Don't be such a crab. It's awesome!"
Chapin swings into the lagoon the same as Reese, on a vine. When I see her target is Gabriella, I hold my breath, waiting for the impact. It happens so quickly, I can only manage to yell, "Gabriella!"
Chapin lands so hard beside her, they both disappear underwater. I make a quick nosedive, then swim like hell. They're struggling, pulling at each other. I'm trying to figure out who's holding whose head down. Then I assume they're both hanging on for dear life.
Gabriella surfaces, with Chapin on her heels, literally. Both girls are gasping for air. Gabriella is screaming, "What the hell is wrong with you? You could have broken my neck, you cow."
"Cow?" Chapin draws back a long arm. Gabriella dodges the blow by diving.
Next thing I know, she's propelled her body up and out of the water, coming down on Chapin like a flying fish. The lagoon is erupting. Gabriella pushes Chapin under and holds her head down. Chapin is kicking herself free. Gabriella is still screaming, even though Chapin can't possibly hear her, because she's submerged.
Reese is shouting, "I'm on my way to save the day."
"I'll break it up." Albatross spits an arc of water and air. With furious strokes, he beats the lagoon, attempting to reach them before Reese. Before me.
"Let her go," I'm screaming to Gabriella. "You'll drown her." My eyes are about to roll back in my head. I'm a caretaker, not a referee.
Chapin comes up sputtering, cursing like a sailor. She's threatening to slit Gabriella's throat. I'm between them, taking punches. Zac appears and grabs Chapin. She's still flailing, so now he's taking punches as well.
"Do I have to tie both of you up?" My voice drops an octave, but I'm thinking, holy shit, I admire these girls. They can take care of themselves, which is good when you're stuck on an island. Maybe more so, in the world they'll be returning to. I've been screaming so loud my throat burns. I'm coughing. "Let's go. Out of the water. Back to the lodge. You're both about to be locked in for the rest of your stay."
"Time out." Reese is beside me. "Let me help." He shoots a stream of water at Chapin with cupped hands.
"I'm gonna kill you!" she screams. I'm not sure if she's yelling at Gabriella or Reese.
"She attacked me!" Gabriella's wiggling from my grasp. "You almost drowned me, psycho." Better to throw words than fists, I'm thinking, finding it difficult to restrain Gabriella. She's got her hands on my head, pulling herself up, and I'm drinking the lagoon.
"You're both about to kill me!" I'm now at their level. I've lost every ounce of dignity. "I'm about to drown both of you myself!"
Albatross is laughing hysterically, shooting water from his mouth like a fountain.
"C'mon, babe. Cut the shit." Zac is finished coddling Chapin. Arm under chin, he tows her to shore.
They're on the grass, locked in each other's arms. No physical contact, runs through my mind, but when I look at wet and glistening Gabriella, I know how Zac must feel. She has a hell of an effect on me. Submerged in cold water, my body is still swelling.
While the others are doing laps, I head directly for the falls, hoping the force will pound some sense into my head. I dive and surface again and again until the only urge I have is to go home.
From the corner of my eye, I catch Gabriella. She must think she's sneaking up on me. Her smile is crooked. "Are you still mad at me?" She pouts, then I'm feeling the impact of the water she's splashing at me.
"You want to play, huh?" I laugh and cup my palm, cutting across the surface, sending streams into her face which already glistens with fresh water. Her hair is glued to her head, streaming down her shoulders, covering her chest. Thank goodness, I groan inwardly, because if I had to see the contours of her body this close, I might snap. Worse yet, turn into Reese.
She screeches and dives, circling my legs. She's tickling me, and I am laughing so hard I can barely breathe. I'm spinning, trying to grab her, but she's slippery as a fish.
The next thing I know, her fingers are pinching my toes like a crab and she's tugging me under. I pull myself free, take a deep breath, and I dive. Our faces are inches apart. Her eyes are open and her lips are sealed, but still look inviting. Her hair, taken up by the water, fans out, swirling around her head like liquid gold. I can't help but notice her shirt has also risen and is caught beneath her arms. It wants to break free and float away as much as I want it to. I struggle to focus on her face, but it's impossible. I doubt a male in the entire world could witness such a sight without losing his mind. I've never seen anything so beautiful, so tempting. Blood is coursing through my body. My desire for this girl is sure to be the death of me.
Mindlessly, I close the gap between us. Blood is pounding in my ears, while my arms are reaching out, about to pull her against me. My body begins to throb, and my heart is pounding so hard, I feel it's ready to burst, along with another part of me.
I'm losing my breath, but I don't want to surface ... ever. I never want this moment to end. I remember our discussion about eternity. Forever, is looping through my head.
I'm certain she's feeling the same, because she has this dreamy look in her eyes. Then she must feel her bare chest. Or does she realize she's half naked because I can't stop staring at the most beautiful breasts I've ever seen? She tugs at her shirt, attempting to cover herself, but the fabric continues to float. Slivers of air escape from her nose, while her body hooks into a graceful somersault. I feel like I have just glimpsed a mermaid. Then she's gone. I have to shake myself back to consciousness.
When I come up for air, her eyes barely meet mine. I can imagine how she must feel. I sure as hell know how I feel. To give her space, I swim to the other side where I can be alone. Try to recover from what she's just done to me. To my body. You were that close, my mind taunts. She'll never be yours, so forget it.
When I surface, I zero in on her, but her back is to me. She's with Katrina in serious conversation. The others are splashing and playing as though it's their first encounter with water.
I pull myself from the lagoon. Drop onto the padding of grass. Let the air dry my clothing, because there's no sun. I'm still struggling to extinguish the fire she has ignited. But it's only growing. I know in my heart — after today — I'll never be the same. In a matter of days, I've grown from boy to man.