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.

The bow of the boat, where they liked to lay in the sun, was empty. She stepped closer, and in the space between the bow and dock’s edge was the shimmer of gold, soft, silk, unfurling in the water. She could trace the back of Mia’s head, face-down, just below the surface, seeming to turn just slightly from side to side, to show each strand. Her arms and legs pressed between the dock and the boat, her shoulder breaking the surface when small waves came in, everything in soft jostling unison. Mia’s swimsuit and skin ran together under the brown murk of the water.

Josie took a deep breath and held it. By the time Josie had to breathe, Mia would have popped her head up. But Josie couldn’t hold it as long as usual—her stomach gasped in, shoved air from her chest in one rough burst. She knelt on the dock and lifted a section of gold from the water, no longer curly, and tugged a bit, in a way that would say Got you, with it’s sharp prick of pain, which would send Mia turning over, to respond, to laugh or shout. But when Josie dropped the strand, Mia’s head dipped down again.

Josie stood with numb knees. She looked back up at the house. No one was there. No one had seen her.

The darkening sky rose over the roof and stretched, fully empty, forever away from her.

She walked unfeeling back to the stairs and rose up them, nearly dropping the Penguin Classic when she tripped on a stick. A dog barked from somewhere, a few houses away, maybe, but a quietness had made its home inside Josie.

On the deck, the corner of the picnic table pointed toward Josie’s center, and she touched its wooden edge. Water appeared on the wood where she had touched, in dark streaks that ebbed away as soon as she lifted her hand. Shade had cloaked the deck and goosebumps rose on her arms. She opened the kitchen door and stared at the house, which seemed so inflated with emptiness that it pushed Josie away—away from the table, with its peanut butter sandwich crumbs left from a million years earlier, away from the postcards taped to the refrigerator from places that didn’t seem to exist anymore—Los Angeles and Paris. She stood at the kitchen door for long frozen minutes, and the mosquito buzz rose like a tide behind her.

She took her book back to the hammock and sat on its edge, opened the pages, but spots glowed in front of her eyes. The hammock barely moved, but the whole lake seemed to fling around her, again and again, like she was a hinge for the rotating heft of all the water in the world.

When Bryce and Neil’s station wagon crunched down the gravel driveway, Josie realized she had never expected to see the parents again. She was shocked when she opened her eyes to find the hammock still tethered, astounded that the trees had not released her into a black pit. Their parents, hers and Mia’s, climbed out of the car, her mom loudly finishing a story, pointing one arm in the air, while Neil and Bryce lifted grocery bags, though it seemed to Josie that the world had cracked and dinner would never be eaten again by anyone anywhere.

She waited for a while with her book open. Finally she floated off the hammock and across the grass and opened the screen door.

Inside her mom was dancing with Bryce. He swayed her body in a gentle bob, up and down, side to side, from kitchen floor to carpet, barefoot, shoulder and hip fluid and smooth, the salsa moves she’d seen her mother dance only with him. Neil’s hips swayed as he drifted to dance around them, abandoning split tomatoes on the cutting board, seeds spilling out of them like so many tiny green teeth. Half-empty Coronas with lime wedges submerged. Chips. Salsa dripped across the table in neat red circles.

The linoleum pressed against the bottoms of Josie’s feet.

Bryce’s arm skimmed toward Josie. He kissed her cheek fast, a swift scratch of cardboard. Josie moved toward the bathroom, a tiny escape hatch, but her mom tugged her fingers.

“Not so fast, Missy J. What do you have going on with your skin?” she traced a finger across Josie’s cheek.

“The hammock,” Josie said. “I fell asleep.”

“Where’s Mia?” Neil said. Bryce was now unfurling him toward the wall, and he turned his chin to Josie as he neared the refrigerator and then as Bryce pulled him close.

“I’m not sure. I was reading all afternoon.”

Her mom stopped moving. “All afternoon? Since we left?”

Her mom would never have allowed it.

“Reading and napping. Exactly what summer vacation was made for,” Bryce said.

“It could be good to get a little human interaction sprinkled in,” her mom said. “The real world is out there, sometimes you have to shed your bookworm skins to get out! Out!”

“Town was a sauna,” Neil said. He glided back to the cutting board, chopping plump orange peppers.

Josie stared at her mom and at Bryce as they washed back to each other, sliding over the surface of the music, which sounded tinny, garish. When her mom so quickly turned her focus back to Bryce, Josie saw a glow beneath her mom’s skin that she’d never seen before, like shifting colors signaling her moods, her attentions. Did Mia always see people this way, so transparent? Was that why she moved through the world so easily?

Her hand freed, Josie escaped across the living room and into the bathroom and shut the door. She leaned over the sink. Stared at her face in the mirror. It was wrong. Wrong the pink imprints from the hammock, wrong the distorted angle of her eyebrow pushed up. Wrong the flush of her left cheek, darker than her right. Looking normal was important. She pulled out the make-up bag that her mom had stored behind the toilet, on built-in shelving. Unsnapped it. Pulled out a green case of blush. Her fingers felt like oven mitts and it took two tries to press in the little gray button that popped the blush open, so she could wave the brush across her right cheek. She had to match pink with pink—to fix her face. But, wrong. The left side was already lightening, and the pink was too rosy. She blushed the other cheek as well and dropped the brush into the sink, ringing the white bowl in powder that darkened where it caught on water droplets. Now both cheeks burned crimson, like Mia’s did when she forgot to reapply sunscreen. She rubbed her face on a white hand towel, on a rack next to the mirror, streaking pink across this fuzz that did not belong to her, that was Mia’s. This house belonged to Mia’s family, including the towels. She took the towel from the rack and refolded it, making it sloppy with her slow hands but hiding the pink on the back.

She took her Penguin Classic to the couch in the living room and opened it. They were still dancing. Neil was still chopping.

“Reading again? Dance with us,” her mom said. “It’s summer. Summer.”

“Let the girl read. She’s going to be supporting you someday, the brainiac,” Neil said.

“What the fuck is that supposed to mean?” her mom said.

Bryce took her mother’s hands and twirled them. “It means you have a smart kid, that you’ve done beautifully, be proud,” Bryce said.

“Josie, can you go find Mia? Dinner’s almost ready,” Neil said. “See if she’s in the tent.”

“She’s not,” Josie said. “I already looked.”

Bryce tipped Josie’s mom back and then righted her. “Let the lady relax. I’ll find her,” he said. “I’ll summon her with the promise of guacamole.”

Bryce left the house, called “Mia! Mia!” to no one, to squirrels.

He would check the tent, see the coil of Cat’s Cradle. He would hum his salsa music and trek down the way, to the neighbors’, to see if Mia was there.

Josie rose, like she could go and scream Mia, Mia, too, and it would call her back. And maybe Mia would walk into the kitchen, shake water away like a dog and say Got ya, at Josie. Tell the parents about her trick, about how Josie wouldn’t stop reading, and Josie wouldn’t even be mad for being teased, and their parents wouldn’t be mad that Mia had broken the rule. They would sit around the table together and eat. The sight of the table made Josie sick. She sat back down and read one page over and over, the words carving long grooves in her mind, dry riverbeds of someone’s old thoughts.

Neil was checking closets and under comforters in case Mia was hiding, singing a quick nervous tune: doop doop doop. Bryce was back, reporting: not at the neighbor’s. Not on the point. Not in the hammock. Josie was reading the same pages with a sensation like ice down her back.

“I’m stumped,” Bryce said.

“Want me to look anywhere?” Josie started to say, the words crunching in her mouth. Their faces turned toward her like suns.

“Josie, where exactly was she the last time you saw her?” Neil asked.

“She was on the point. Trying to get me to go swimming.”

Josie’s mom bit her lip. They all started out toward the deck in a mass, and Josie did, too. She didn’t follow when Neil said, “Whelp,” and started down the stairs, or when Bryce and her mom trailed behind him. She put the book on her knees and wanted to sink back into the story. All the parents walked out to the end of the dock and she watched them from the top, as they must have watched her and Mia so many times, checking on them, seeing them swim together. The boat bobbed up and down as they grew closer to it, but Josie couldn’t see much. She moved to the other side of the picnic table where she couldn’t see anything.

The sky was bigger than ever, penning her between the hills like a tent she’d never escape. When her mom screamed, it seemed spread outward over the lake to some unreachable place. And every sound was that way, wasn’t it? Something you could never get back? She had never thought of it, the sounds from the lips of people around her, so brief. And so was summer. But inside the house played the crass music, and there were the mosquitos, and, it seemed, something else: a low note carrying in the air that only Josie would hear, and that would never go away like the other sounds—a sound coming from somewhere quite different.

And then it was her mom at the top of the stairs, panting, red, sweating, reaching for the phone she’d left on the kitchen table. Her mom dialing and holding the phone to her ear, and looking at Josie there on the bench. In her mother’s eyes, she saw hard lake stones that had always been there, but that she had never recognized. She knew her mom was also seeing something old for the first time, and that she’d never look for it again. Her mother’s mouth opened slightly, as if Josie were a marvel.

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