The wedding was over, so Nick and Stephen decided to stop at the ravine. Nick had heard about it while he was working on a house outside of Waterbury. After all of the drinking from the weekend, they both thought that a cold swim would do them good. They traveled on back roads that Nick knew. It was warm for late September that far north and they kept the windows rolled down. Stephen watched the streams and hills go by. He put on old country music. Nick smoked a cigarette from the pack they had found in the hotel the night before the wedding.
"You're so private," Nick said.
"You've never liked to talk about this stuff."
"She was a nice girl."
"I suppose it's polite. I get it."
"She lives in New York, but I'll never see her again."
"You've always been sort of a gentleman."
"She had a fantastic body."
Nick laughed, took a long pull of his cigarette and nodded. They pulled onto a vaguely residential road with small ranch homes and woodpiles spaced several acres apart. Nick pulled the car over on the side of the road. Stephen could make out a small path amid the brush.
"Has Emily been here with you?"
Stephen wanted to mention how generous it was of Emily to let them go on this excursion while she hitched a ride with the rest of their friends back to her parents' home by the ocean. But he decided that it was better not to bring it up. They both knew that Emily was great.
Stephen and Nick walked down the path through the brush. There was a dirt driveway that led to a home hidden in the woods. A large tree that had been uprooted by the storm lay neatly across the drive. Stephen could hear the water that ran through the ravine below them.
"Look at that," Nick said. "The wind pulled it out clean."
Stephen walked over and stood on the trunk.
"And look at that root structure," Nick said.
"This storm, man. You should have seen some of the damage. I had to help people out of this trailer park community that was just totally destroyed. People's whole lives."
"You helped them?"
"Yeah, we had to."
"That's crazy," Stephen said and jumped off the tree trunk.
They walked further down the path and came to an outcrop of dirt and rock. Below them, the water ran rapid and was very loud until it reached a bend where the water looked deep and smooth but it was clear that the current pulled very strong.
"People die all the time here. They jump off where it's too shallow."
Stephen looked down at the water. He liked the sound of water running over rocks and the idea of the cold mountain stream appealed to him and the hazy feeling that surrounded his head. As he kept looking at the water, his legs felt weak standing on the dirt. His legs felt like they did when he and Nick had climbed to the top of a fire tower in Maine when they were younger.
"They just don't notice, huh?"
"Yeah or its dark or they're drunk."
There were voices further down the water and as the path declined, they saw a group of teenage boys sitting on a landing at the bend of the stream. Nick and Stephen walked briskly down to the water, hopping over tree trunks and brush that had fallen in the storm. At the water's edge, they greeted the group of boys who waved and grunted collectively back to them. They waded through the water next to a small drop. The water was very cold but Stephen liked swimming in cold water. The ocean had gotten too warm for him by the end of the summer. The rocks on the bottom of the stream weren't very slippery, but the current was very strong and Stephen enjoyed the challenge of pumping his legs against the current. It wasn't that difficult and the water quietly dampened the bottom of his shorts.
When they reached the landing, Stephen and Nick sat down on the rocks. Stephen put down his towel and they placed their shoes next to it. The teenage boys left the rock and swam over to the path on the other side of the stream. They climbed up the path and disappeared into the woods.
"This is a nice spot," Stephen said.
"It's a good swimming hole."
They took off their shorts and stood at the edge of the stream in their boxers in the sun. The water running on the rocks had turned to white noise. Stephen imagined sweating and sitting in the subway later that night-it seemed like a separate life. The sun shone down on the water and made it look clear. He wanted to drink it. Across the bend, there was a little cove with branches and logs stacked against a side of the hill. Stephen wondered if it was a dam that beavers had once built.
"The girl was nice," he said. "But she was a little boring."
"You say all the girls you meet are boring."
"I've met some non-boring girls."
"You'll never meet anyone if they are all boring."
"They're not all boring."
"Well she had a nice body anyway," Stephen said. "And I liked her smile."
"It was a great wedding you son of a bitch."
"They did it right."
"I don't know how."
"Yeah, that's not for you and Emily."
"You never know with these girls. I think Emily would like it."
"I could see that. She's elegant in her unique way."
Nick nodded and leaned against the rocks. Up on the hill, the boys appeared on the ledge that stuck out over the water. Stephen could hear them laughing. He saw one of them playfully punching the other on the arm.
"They're going to go for it," Nick said.
"What do you think?"
"They'll probably be fine."
The first boy jumped into the water and emerged right away. He let the current carry him right where Stephen and Nick were sitting. The next two boys jumped in as well. They treaded water and laughed. They shouted up to the last boy still on the ledge. The last boy threw something off the ledge and into the water. Stephen realized it was his bathing suit. The boys in the water laughed and held the bathing suit up. The last boy jumped in. His face was red when he surfaced and Stephen heard him go, "oh, oh, oh," before the other two boys in the water threw his suit at him. They all floated by and climbed onto a large boulder to sit and dry off.
Nick looked at Stephen. "I'm enjoying this youthful machismo."
Nick got up and walked over to a rock at the edge of the landing. He jumped out into the middle of the stream.
"Woo!" he yelled.
Stephen got up and walked over to the rock. He jumped in. Immediately he felt the current underneath him and around him. Then the waves of cold hit his body-the first shocking, the second soothing and then the third familiar. Nick was doing the backstroke against the current. Stephen treaded water for a moment and then dunked himself. He felt the current try to wrap around him under the water and so he kicked back to the surface. He let the current carry him. The feeling of the current taking his body didn't make him feel powerless, it made him feel strong. He could move fast without using his muscles. The current carried him back to the spot where he and Nick had been sitting. He walked up to one of the flat boulders, rocks poking the sensitive bottom of his feet, and lay down in the sun. There was nothing like the feeling of laying on hot stone after a swim.
Nick walked up next to him. "Nice, getting your reptile on."
"Bro, I am the king of lizards."
Nick lay on the rock. They were quiet for a while. Stephen closed his eyes and listened to the stream. He could hear the boys laughing from their spot on the boulder. He wondered if they were talking about girls from their school. Those girls that remained impossibly young. The ones you always said dirty things about until you realized they were real people and that you loved them for some reason you never completely understood.
Nick sat up. "I've got to ask Emily to marry me soon."
"I mean I need to."
"That's great, man."
"Or what I mean is that I'm going to marry her, you know."
"I think that's great. But, what, are her parents pressing you or something?"
"No," Nick said. He grabbed a stone and threw it into the stream. "I think she wants it to happen. And I can't lose her."
"That's a good thing to hear."
"It's good that we all got to see each other."
"I know. It was a perfect wedding."
"It was great."
"Peter that bastard."
"You'll let a girl not be boring someday."
"Shut the fuck up."
"Get your lizard on."
They lay without speaking for a while. The stream continued to rush steadily over the rocks and the teenage boys chatted idly. Stephen thought of the wedding; the rapid progression from his arrival at the hotel to the bright, windy wedding morning, to the ceremony by the lake with perfect filtered sunlight and the white wedding dress and the blue shoulder wraps, to the swirl of gold tablecloths and plates of steak, to the maple cake and chocolate cake and the cigars, smoke and dancing in the courtyard. All of his friends had been there, some with girlfriends and fiancées and some alone. The girl had lain in his bed, her soft, clear, tan skin wrapped in the clean white hotel sheets. He had felt some thrill at the site of her, but he knew it would fade. And then he thought of Emily sitting next to Nick at the wedding, her shoulders wrapped in dark green, occasionally smiling her slow, deep smile from across the room; looking at him.
The boys splashed through the stream, talking and laughing. Stephen sat up. He watched them climbing the hill. The sun was starting to disappear behind the trees. The days were getting shorter.
"You hungry?" Stephen asked.
Nick smiled with his eyes closed. "I never eat human food."
The boys appeared back on the ledge. Their forms were marked boldly against the falling sun. The first boy stepped to the ledge and jumped. The splash didn't sound right-it was hollow instead of crisp. Nick sat up. There was a tint of red in the water. The boys on the ledge didn't jump, they swayed side to side. Nick jumped in the water. Stephen stood by the edge. Nick emerged right before the small drop. As he dropped, he turned sideways to brace himself. Stephen saw the boy's body. They dropped and went around the bend. Stephen ran along the rocks and they dug into his feet. Around the bend, Nick had stopped he and the boy from moving by wedging his back against two of the rocks in the stream. Water shot around the sides of his body. Stephen stepped down to the water.
"Shit. Give me his arms."
Nick grimaced and pushed the boy's body towards Stephen. The boy was bleeding from his head. Stephen grabbed his arms and started pulling the boy towards the stream's edge. He was slippery and heavy. Nick unwedged himself, groaning slightly. He kept pushing the boy until Stephen fell back out to the side of the stream. Stephen moved the boy aside and stepped back over to grab Nick's hand, which was covered in blood. Nick pushed himself forward and Stephen helped him out of the stream. The water continued to tumble forward, splashing white foam.
"Get the towel," Nick said. "I have a knife in my shorts."
Stephen hopped along the rocks. He almost twisted his ankle and fell. He grabbed the towel off the rock they had been laying on. He reached into Nick's shorts and found the pocketknife. The rest of the boys were splashing across the stream. They shouted at Stephen.
"He's over here," Stephen said.
Stephen hopped back to Nick who had pulled the boy further up the side of the stream. Nick's back was cut and bleeding.
"Here," Stephen said.
Nick took the towel and stretched it tight. The boy was laying face up now. His head was tilted to the side awkwardly and blood was streaming down his forehead. Nick took the knife and slashed with great effort across the towel. It ripped in a long jagged piece. He did it two more times. Stephen heard the boys behind them.
"What the fuck?" one said.
Nick wrapped the towel strips around the boy's head. He pulled them tight around the back. Then he pulled the edges, lifting the boy's head up, and tied each one. Nick's back strained with blood on it. He used the remaining part of the towel to prop the boy's neck. He panted when he was done.
"Shit," Stephen said.
"His neck might be broken. "Nick turned around and saw the rest of the boys. "Where's your cell phones?"
"In his pickup," one said.
Two of the boys scrambled back across the stream. The remaining one sat on a rock near Stephen and Nick and looked at the injured boy's body. Nick pushed down on the towels wrapped around the boy's head.
"I don't know."
"What can we do?" Stephen said.
"This might not be enough pressure."
No blood had shown on the towels yet.
"Apply pressure," Nick said.
Stephen pushed down on the towels. It felt strange to exert his power on the boy's head. Nick started giving the boy CPR. Stephen could hear the other boy crying behind them.
"It'll be OK, man."
The boy continued to cry and Stephen regretted saying anything. He watched Nick giving CPR. It was as if Nick were someone else, some stranger he had just met and that he, Stephen, weren't actually here at all. He watched Nick giving CPR, moving from the boy's mouth to his chest. Stephen's mind wandered briefly to Emily with the green wrap on her shoulders and the smile on her face while the wedding reception moved around them all. Stephen's hair was wet on his forehead and his arms were getting cold without the sun. The boy continued crying and, with the image of Emily at the wedding in his mind, Stephen felt foolish for ever saying anything at all.