“Can I tell you a secret?”, he says. He looks me in the eye and dips his hand over the side of the boat, rippling the surface of the lake with his fingers. It is early morning. Not yet truly light, not quite five o’clock. We are surrounded by grey shadows. I am at one end of the rowboat, he is at the other. It is so quiet here, we could be the last human beings in the world.
“Can I tell you a secret?”, he repeats. He takes his hand out of the water, leans forward and takes hold of my hand. A shiver runs through me, it is not because his hand is cold from the lake.
“The problems with secrets”, I say, squeezing his hand. “Is once you share them they are no longer secret”. I am thinking about the secret I shared with him. Although, as it turned out it wasn’t much of a secret: he knew I was in love with him. But he told the others what I had said, word for word. For two years afterwards, my life was hell. It wasn’t the taunts, the name calling, or the occasional beating. He no longer talked to me.
“I know you can keep a secret.”, he is looking at me intently, now. “You are a good friend. Better than I deserve”. I shake my head. He looks away, his hand still holds mine.
It is true: I already keep a secret for him. He told me he had just been experimenting. It was normal, he said, everyone does it. I’m not like you, he said, I’m not like that. He would kill me if I told, he said. But it is an easy secret for me to keep. It is our secret, not one to share with others.
The sky is lightening, and the shadows are retreating. I think there may be tears in his eyes. I place my other hand over the top of his. I hope the sun does not come too quickly: it might destroy the magic of this moment.
“Do you remember Amy Twyford?”, he looks me in the eye again, and I nod. Everyone in this town remembers Amy Twyford. “Did you know I was seeing her?” I nod again, although I didn’t know. He blinks twice and I am now certain: I can see tears in his eyes. I am jealous, I suddenly realise, of a girl who has been missing for over a year. He wipes his eyes with his free hand and breaks my gaze to look out over the lake towards the dock, now visible in the weak light.
“That night, we met here. I wanted it to be special, romantic. So I placed candles around the edge of the dock. You could see the flames reflected in the water. ‘Like ghosts dancing on the bottom of the lake’, she said”, he returns to look at me, and I can see the blue of his eyes. “Everything was going so well. We talked, we drank, we kissed” – it is my turn to break eye-contact – “and then suddenly- I can’t even remember how it started – we were arguing. We were on our feet yelling at each other. The next thing I know she was in the lake. She must have slipped. I didn’t push her. I swear, I didn’t punch her.”
I look back at him, but he is staring at the dock, eyes-wide. “I tried to pull her in, I grabbed at her clothing, at her hair. There was blood. Quite a lot of blood. She must have hit her head on something as she fell. I panicked, I let go of her and she lay there, floating, drifting. After a while I got my head together. I went back to the boat house and grabbed the old anchor and some rope. I tied one end to her legs, the other end to the boat. I put the anchor in the boat and I rowed out to the middle of the lake. I untied the rope from the boat and retied it to the anchor and then I heaved it over the side. And Amy followed it down.”
He is sobbing now. I move carefully, so as not to upset the boat. I take him in my arms and I hold him. I watch the sun rise through the trees, it makes shimmering patterns on the lake’s surface. I think about what lurks beneath the surface, beneath where we sit. I wonder what she looks like now, the girl at the bottom of the lake.
The sun is above the trees and I row him back to the dock. He has come back to me and I am happy. Now I share his secret, it will bind him to me.
Written by Bruce Arbuckle (November 2012)
This story was entered into the Weekly Short Story Contest on http://www.writingforums.org/ (29th November 2012)
Theme: The Secret
All characters appearing in this work are fictitious. Any resemblance to real persons, living or dead, is purely coincidental.