Josie lazed in the hammock’s soft arc between tree trunks, her bare toes pointing south. Whenever she looked up from her book, she saw three cottony wisps curling into blue sky, boats flinging skiers across Lake Coeur d’Alene’s sharpest elbow, and a red smear on the hill across the lake—a house with a tin roof that would shine back at her until the sun dipped behind pines. She had swayed for hours, unbothered and unseen, tucked into the frap-frap-frap of breeze-tousled branches, when she felt a hard jerk on the hammock. Mia.

“Swimming time,” Mia said. Her jelly sandals crunched fern fronds to dust.

“Not in the mood.” Josie turned a page. “Maybe later.”

“Later will be too late,” Mia said. She gave the hammock another yank, and Josie gripped her book as if steadying a piece of herself. She had not promised Mia anything.

Being eleven in the heat of summer meant something different to Mia. Mia never read anything. Mia watched The Bachelor and flopped around with green foam noodles in the lake, and flitted between her dads, leaning against a railing beside Bryce, her leg up, bent in practiced repose, or sipping sparkling water from a wine glass as Neil grilled. Telling a story in her quick way, the punchline nearing as the adults leaned in, her arms spread like she knew this whole world was for her. Now Mia’s dads and Josie’s mom had set off for Coeur D’Alene for groceries and margaritas, leaving the girls to watch one another. Before they returned, the swimming hours would be over, but there was still time—plenty.

Josie was just over halfway through the Penguin Classic her fifth grade teacher had given her, and she planned to go back at the beginning of sixth grade and report honestly that she’d loved it so much, she read the whole book in one day. Every so often, she tipped the spine to see the shifting heft of the pages, thickening under her left thumb. When her mom returned, she would lift the book from Josie’s hands with an invisible jarring yank that Josie would feel in her spine and sing, syrupy: It’s time to be so-cial!

Before a backdrop of blackberry brambles, Mia’s broad cheeks burned bright pink, her thin brows pulled in to form a teensy dimple above her nose. She used the drippy tone that seemed to get her whatever she wanted when she used it with Bryce, or with Josie’s mom.

“There is no later,” Mia said. “Just read on the dock.”

“I’m relaxed up here,” Josie said.

“You are astoundingly lame, Josie.”

“Why are you trying to make me follow you around? No one is restraining you. I’m not telling you what to do.”

“You are, actually. I can’t go swimming alone, so you are, by default, saying what I can and cannot do.”

By default was a thing Neil always said. Josie let her chin tip up as she rolled her eyes. “Because swimming is the only single thing you can think of to do? On a beautiful day? On summer vacation?”

“It’s the ideal thing. It’s what a normal, fun person would want to do.” Mia bent closer and spoke more gently, rounding the corners of her words in her light breathy way. “You can read any time of your life. This is the only time I can go swimming.”

Both girls had plastic neon bracelets fastened around their wrists, proving they’d passed the swim tests at their neighborhood pools, but they weren’t allowed on the dock alone. Neil had made them chant the rule back before leaving for Coeur D’Alene, and Josie had seen the gray hairs pine-needling out of his rectangle nose. Now Mia’s green bracelet shook as she clutched the hammock’s white edge. Josie couldn’t track the words, but she continued staring at them and even turned a page to emphasize her commitment.

“Pop said he thought you had finally started to grow up. Clearly he was wrong,” Mia said. Josie turned another page she hadn’t yet read. She loved Mia’s smart, funny pop, Bryce—her mom’s best friend. His thick black glasses frames. His collection of fat novels, each with a distinctive lettering on the spines—reedy and unadorned, bubbly and graphic. His effusive descriptions of Josie’s cloud of hair—like Cher meets Patti Smith in Baja. Every summer, Bryce and Neil and Josie’s mom would sit at the picnic table outside Mia’s lake house. Mia would tease Josie, and Josie’s mom would say, It’s good for them to get a little roughed up.

During the school year, Josie sometimes closed her eyes when she was bored at home and imagined herself at this place. Here she sat in the one-story cabin with its wide deck atop a hill. Walked the property out to a vacant point of land, strung up her hammock. Here she strolled, welcome, to neighbors’ houses, dotting the woods along the lake. Followed Mia down stairs that started at the deck and reached down to the water, where they leapt, two steps at a time, until they reached the dock with its L-shape and boat slip, the neighbors’ docks teething the water beyond. Here she jumped into the deep blue lake that yawned huge in both directions, twisting between hills. But not right now.

Now Josie glanced down at Mia’s feet. Six toes on each foot splayed, liberated, in opening of the jelly straps, just beyond the edges of the soles. All twelve nails were painted crimson, the ones on the second and third toe so close they were almost one nail, the toes fused together—webbed—like two people wrapped in one sleeping bag. Josie thought that her own feet, bare-nailed, folded over each other on the end of the hammock, looked nonchalant, poised, adult.

Mia’s curls tremored in the corner of Josie’s eye. That morning, Josie had read on the loveseat while her mother curled Mia’s hair—her mom, who was always so fun, and much prettier than Josie would ever be—crooning over the steaming coils. So glam, so shiny, such perfection. Her mom, who ironed her own hair into a bone-straight, banged bob, handled Mia’s soft strands with wonder, their shimmer and silk. Josie saw the lights in her mom’s eyes as she turned Mia around in front of her, to be sure she touched each strand, saw each part of the girl, and Josie saw her mom’s mouth open at Mia’s marvelousness.

You sure you don’t want ringlets, Josie? We could straighten you first.

She’d already switched off the curler, but it didn’t matter. Josie never let anyone touch her hair; she wore it in a high bun and slathered gel to stifle the frizz. She trimmed it herself to avoid the humiliating attention of the salon chair, mopping up stray strands with a wet towel.

When Bryce said to Mia and Josie’s mom, You ladies getting all dolled up for the squirrels and the fishes? Josie warmed with smug validation.

Now Josie dug her heels into the hammock’s ropes while Mia’s curls bounced to the slow rhythm of her demands.

“You’re being such a stupid bitch, Josie.”

I’m stupid?”

Mia’s eyebrows arched, smoothing flat surprise above each lid, and she dropped the hammock. She whirled around and scraped through yellow grass back toward the cabin, wearing only her orange bikini, the same color as the logo. When Mia slipped inside, the whole point of land—the entire lake, even—became Josie’s again, and the bird sounds and whirring motorboats swept over her. She turned the pages she had skipped and sank back into the story, about a young woman with no family. The lake disappeared. Mia and her dads disappeared, and Josie’s mom floated far, far away.

Josie was two-thirds through the book before she grew uncomfortable, the ropes pressing too hard into her shoulders and elbows when she shifted. The sky held its deep blue, but shadow had fallen across the hill, daubing away some of the day’s shine and leaving Josie with a slick dissatisfaction. When she dipped an edge of the hammock to drop among the ferns, she had to peel rope away from her legs, leaving precise imprints of threads on her skin.

A warm daze ferried her toward the cabin. She passed the little yellow tent that she and Mia pitched each summer and paused, unzipping the door to see if Mia was inside. But no, it was just the red vinyl sleeping bags they’d used since they were much smaller, both open and stacked one over the other. This year Josie and Mia were both too tall to fit, especially Mia, so they used one as a mattress and one as a blanket, and sometimes Josie woke at night to find Mia’s arm curled over her. In the mornings, when the sun warmed them sweaty, they threw back the edges and exposed their legs to air. On Mia’s side of the tent lay an orange and pink loop of string for Cat’s Cradle, and a silver bejeweled hand mirror Mia used to check her face. On Josie’s side lay the bendy reed of her book light, which she clipped onto book covers in the dark.

Grass scratched Josie’s calves as she approached the cabin, and wheaty flecks stuck to the sweat on the back of her knees, which she tried to flick away. A blue pickup truck passed on the gravel road that ran past their driveway, swirling up dust. A swim didn’t seem so bad anymore.

She crossed the deck and opened the kitchen’s screen door and called for Mia but heard only the buzzing refrigerator. She peeked at the patch of grass behind the house, where they sometimes sunned, but it was shadowed, empty. She stepped out onto the deck, faced the point where she had come from, called “Mia, Mia, Mia!” so the sound echoed out toward the water. She leaned her arms against the splintery railing and gazed at the lake, choppy from boats carrying skiers and tubers and partiers. The hill across the lake took on the bronzed glow of afternoon skin.

Below her, the end of the dock stretched sunny, though the ski boat bobbed in partial shade in the boat slip. Josie couldn’t see Mia down there, but Mia might have hidden in the boat. She might have swum along the dock’s far edge and ignored Josie’s calls out of spite. Sometimes they leapt off the dock, holding hands, and raced, splashing freely, to the end of the neighbor’s dock.

“Mia, let’s swim!” she called.

Josie started down the staircase down to the water. She looked up every few seconds to the deck, to make sure Mia hadn’t appeared, or her parents. At the bottom of the stairs, Josie stepped onto the dock. “Mia.”

If her parents came back, she would rush back to the stairs unnoticed, unheard. She walked toward the end of the dock, past the slimy green cords floating on the surface, which slithered against your legs if you jumped too close to shore. She passed the ladder she often climbed down while Mia cannonballed in. No Mia. She glanced at the boat again and again. Mia might pop out and try to scare her, but Josie would not startle. She walked out to the very end of the dock and scanned its edges. No Mia. She turned to look back up at the house, the deck stretching vacant, silent.

She turned back but paused at the ski boat, tied up where the dock formed its L shape. She thought she saw a flutter near the back of the boat, where a tarp had been stuffed over the life jackets, and she flinched, ready for Mia to yell. But the movement had just been the small neon flag they lifted when a skier went down.

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