Seven years had passed. Could it really have been that long? Peyton shook her head in disbelief. Each day had felt like an eternity taken on its own, but now that she was heading to their special place, it felt as if it was just yesterday.
After the accident, Peyton couldn’t bring herself to return. So many memories were made out here. So many secrets had been shared.
Peyton took a deep breath of the humid air. The rain hadn’t yet fallen. She didn’t want to be caught out here when it did. Her pace quickened without her making the conscious decision. Every step felt heavier than the previous one as deeply buried memories began to resurface.
Peyton’s heart felt like it was made of pure lead as she willed the tears not to come. That summer was supposed to be the best of their lives. Peyton remembered everything so clearly now that the moist forest air filled her lungs.
Junior year had just let out, when school started back up they would be seniors. It would be time to figure out their futures, begin their lives… But they still had one summer left of freedom. They had intended to take advantage of every last moment.
The morning had been bright. The sun was almost blinding in its brilliance. It didn’t take long for the temperature to creep into the upper 90s. It had been Amanda’s idea to go down to the river. Last year, they had put up a rope swing and Amanda had insisted they make full use of it before their adult lives beckoned them away.
It had been a dry spring. Neither of them had taken that into consideration as they made their way across the dense brush. Amanda was the first one to arrive at the tree the rope dangled from. Peyton didn’t mind letting her be the first to climb the heavily braided rope.
Amanda had a strong upper body, so it was an easy task for her. Peyton had always struggled with it. In fact, she’d always hated the thing. She was never quite as adventurous as Amanda had been. She had a spirit more free than anyone Peyton had ever before or since encountered.
The rope had been cut down years ago. Amanda’s older brother had come out and done it himself after the funeral. She could see where the rope was fraying, too high for anyone to swing from it again.
Everything else looked so similar, it was was easy for Peyton to imagine how it had been that day. She closed her eyes and let the memories consume her.
Amanda was on the rope. Her golden hair shimmered in the sunlight. She flashed Peyton one of her award-winning smiles as she used her legs to push herself, putting the swing in motion. She let go of the rope and let herself fall into what should have been the deepest part of the water.
Peyton watched for her to emerge before climbing onto the rope herself. Seconds passed, but Amanda didn’t resurface. Panic rose in Peyton’s chest. “Amanda!” she cried, “This isn’t funny!” But her friend didn’t respond.
She bypassed the rope and began walking into the water. Within the first few steps, she knew the water was too low. She called her friend’s name again, frantic now.
What she saw when she ventured out further haunted her memories even now. The water hadn’t been deep enough for Amanda to avoid the rocks that littered the riverbed. She was face down in the water, a crimson liquid polluting the otherwise clear water.
Peyton gathered her friend in her arms and drug her to shore. The tears had started coming, then. Peyton had done done what little CPR she had known then without success. If she had been honest with herself she’d known it was too late the moment she found her floating in the water. She had gone for help, but it was useless. Her friend was gone and she was alone.
Peyton took a deep breath, banishing the dark memories. She had come here for a purpose; to do what she couldn’t do all those years ago.
She tossed the bouquet of pink carnations into the river that was flowing fiercely as she whispered a prayer. It was time to say good-bye, time to let go. She would let her friend rest in peace, as she set off to find her own.