“Should we cancel the trip to the river?” Delilah, her substitute mother, asks. “Are you feeling blue?”
Lovey is occasionally morose and Delilah has developed a regimen for it, in which she sets Lovey up with all of the pillows and brings her tea made with fresh mint from the garden. She checks in on her with worried eyes, and treats Lovey as if she is something inordinately delicate. Usually, after beckoning weakly for more tea a couple of times, Lovey feels better.
But this time, Lovey doesn’t want Delilah fawning over her.
“It’s fine,” Lovey says. “Just leave me alone.”
Django, Lovey’s substitute brother who claims he will one day marry her, has his friend Iggy over today. Iggy got a buzzcut since Lovey last visited. And developed a rash of pimples across his forehead.
“Ready to go?” Delilah calls through the house, which means in about twenty minutes she will actually be ready, too.
The kids all head outside to escape having to help her find her keys, her sunglasses, her phone.
Iggy and Django both plant themselves next to the locked passenger side of the car and push each other, arguing over who will get to ride shotgun.
“Lovey gets the front seat,” Delilah mandates, when she finally swings through the screen door, sunglasses crooked on her face.
They strike out.
Delilah takes the kids to their secret spot on the river. A deep channel with a strong current that sucks a body down and spits it out about twenty feet farther on, where the bank widens and the water slows. Django rips off his shirt and leaps in.
Lovey watches as he is pulled downstream.
“It’s freezing!” he screams, when he surfaces.
“Get in!” Django screams at Lovey as he races back by her, whipping his hair like a dog as he goes.
“I don’t feel like it,” Lovey tells him.
She sits and unfolds her legs down a low sloping rock, dipping in just her toes, leaning back onto her elbows.
Django plunges in, splashing her.
“LOVEY! GET IN!” he screams again.
“Django! She said she doesn’t feel like it,” Delilah tells him.
Lovey lies all the way back and covers her face with her hands. Through splayed fingers, she secretly watches the boys. Their naked tops.
Iggy is long, his arms and torso muscular and wiry.
Django has more bulk. He is rougher with his body, more careless. He launches off of rocks without thinking and proudly shows everyone scratches across his back before he goes for it again.
“Make a movie of us!” he directs Delilah, and she happily agrees. The boys show off their biceps, wrestle, and make pratfalls for the camera. Delilah laughs at everything, encouraging them.
And just when Lovey thinks she been been forgotten, Delilah sneaks up and drips tiny droplets of water up Lovey’s long, warm legs. Lovey pretends to be asleep.
“How come she doesn’t want to come in?” she hears Django ask. “She always gets in.”
“I don’t think she got enough sleep last night,” Delilah tells him.
Lovey has noticed that Delilah uses not enough sleep to excuse all sorts of behavior. It is some kind of code she has devised for helping a confused life make sense.
On the way back, the boys run ahead on the trail and Delilah takes up the rear. Lovey knows that Delilah walks slowly on purpose, and likes to, say, “oh, how beautiful…” out loud to no one. Lovey knows that Delilah’s mind is all crowded and that she needs more space than most people. So she waits until they are almost at the car to say, “Hey, Delilah?”
“Could we come back here next week? When I can swim, too?”
And somehow, saying the words hurts, way down in her chest.
“Of course, sweetie,” Delilah consents. “Definitely.”
But somehow it’s not enough.
“Do you promise?” she chokes out.
Delilah throws her a worried glance.
“Nevermind,” Lovey says, and hurries on ahead.
That night, as Lovey descends into sleep, she imagines herself back at the river, sliding into the water right where the strong currents begin. She feels herself getting pulled under. Into darkness.
* * *