My eyes open, and I cough up water. I'm lying on the grass with a blanket around my shoulders, and there are people standing around me. One is Liam, two of them have RCMP badges, and a fourth I don't know. I feel chills run through my body. My head and stomach hurt. I feel Liam's hand on my shoulder, and the others are looking at me and talking, but I can't understand what they're saying. I sit up quickly and cough up more water, but that was a bad idea, so I lay back down. "What happened?" I hear myself say.
One of the Mounties speaks, and I can hear him now. "You hit your head on a rock after you slipped into the water. Luckily your friend called for help, and Mr. Buckner pulled you out of the water."
I look over at Liam and then at the man who saved my life. Liam looks terrible, and I think he might cry, but he doesn't. I do, though.
"Thank you," I say to the man, barely able to get the words out. I know it's not enough for what he's done for me, but it's all I have.
"You're very welcome," he says. "You're lucky your friend can scream louder than anyone I've ever known."
I suppose I can thank all the hours he spends singing along to screamo. Liam doesn't smile. He just remains silent and holds my shoulder. I sit up slowly.
Mr. Buckner continues, "I was fishing just a little ways down when I heard him and started running towards you guys. I saw you floating in the water and quickly pulled you out. Your friend was about to jump in after you, and I had to stop him."
I look at him in shock. "I don't know what to say. You saved my life." I start crying harder when I try to replay the events in my head. "Thank you so much."
"Don't worry about it, kid. I'm just glad I got to you in time." He looks at me for a while with sad eyes. "Just be careful next time."
I nod at him. I'm too choked up to say anything. Liam is still silently kneeling beside me.
The other Mountie speaks now. "We'd better get you kids home. Where do you live?"
I tell him where we're staying, and then we walk down a trail and out to a police car. Before I get in, I look over at Mr. Buckner for a beat. I can't say anything, but he nods as if he understands how much I appreciate what he's done.
When he walks away, I get into the back of the police car with Liam. When we start to drive away, Liam takes my hand in his and I cry on his shoulder.
Mom gasps in horror when she sees me soaking wet standing with Liam and the Mounties on the front porch. Everything happens so fast I don't even know whether words are exchanged. She pulls me towards her and then rushes me inside to our room. Dad stays behind and talks to the RCMP.
Liam and I stand in our room as Mom runs the bathtub. I toss the blanket onto the bed, take off my soaked shirt, and throw it on the floor. I look at him. "Liam," I say.
As soon as I say his name, he breaks down, wraps his arms around me, and cries. He's so warm, and he's exactly what I need. "I was so scared, Parker," he says through his crying. I hug him tight. "I thought …" he starts. "I …" I hug him even tighter, and he knows I know what he's thinking. I'm thinking it too.
Mom opens the door, and we slowly break apart. "Your bath is ready, baby," she says. She looks at me so sadly. There are tears in her eyes as she walks over and hugs us both.
In the bathroom, I lean against the counter and wrap my arms around myself. I'm still trying to figure out how this all happened. When I was in the water, I didn't know whether I would make it back out. I was terrified. I could hear Liam's voice for a while, but I couldn't see him, and then I couldn't hear him anymore. The Mounties checked for bleeding at the back of my head, but they only found a small scratch and said that I should be fine. They think I must've hit my head on a rock underwater and lost consciousness. I look at myself in the mirror. I'm soaking wet. I peel off the rest of my clothes, and they fall with a thump to the floor.
"What does your future look like, Parker?" the psychologist asked me.
I was examining the painting on the wall, trying to figure out what was under all those layers of colours. I turned to him. "I don't know."
"What would you like it to look like?"
"I don't know," I said a little sadly.
"You've never thought about what you would do in the future? Five years from now? Ten years from now?"
He studied me for a while. "Why is that?"
I thought about it for a while. "I think …" I started to say as my gaze slowly moved across the room and back to the painting. "Sometimes I can't even think to the end of the day … The future just seems too far away to think about."
In the morning, local news reporters come to the house asking to speak with me, but Grandpa tells them that I'm too weak and exhausted with everything that's happened to answer any questions. He did let them know that I was doing okay, though.
Mr. Buckner got his photo in the paper, with the title Local Hero. Grandma cut it out and pasted it to the fridge after she baked him some of her awesome peanut butter cookies.
I'm too worn out to get out of bed for most of the day, so Liam and I listen to records we found in our room and play card games. Occasionally my parents or my grandparents come and play a round of Go Fish with us. My grandparents had been scared too. I'm not their only grandchild, but I am the only boy, so in a way I think that makes me a little special to them.
I can't believe how fast time has flown by when the next day my parents are starting to pack. It seems like we've just gotten here and I don't want to leave yet. On our last night, we all sit around the fire pit in the backyard and make s'mores. Dad had picked up a bag of vegan marshmallows back in Vancouver just for the occasion.
"Are you ready to go?" Dad asks from the doorframe on our final morning.
I'm finishing the last of my packing on the bed. "Yeah," I tell him.
He walks over to me and sits on the bed. "How's your head?"
"It feels okay."
"Good." I stuff a shirt into my bag. "Are you excited to get back home?"
I look up at him. "No."
He looks at me with sympathy. I get that a lot. "I know times are tough right now, Park, but they'll get better."
I nod and zip up my bag. "Okay, I'm ready."
Liam's already outside hugging my grandparents goodbye. Mom takes my bag when I get near the trunk and I hug them goodbye too. Another visit has come and gone without me telling them. I don't know when I'll do it. Someday, I guess. We wave to them as we pull out of the driveway and head home.
The drive home always seems to go by faster than the journey there. After five stops for Liam and a few more for pictures of mountain goats, we're back in our driveway where it all began, and I'm so tired. We dropped off Liam before going home, and I told him I'll see him on Monday. I need a day to myself to sleep and think about nothing and everything. As soon as I shut my bedroom door, I'm face first onto my bed and then fast asleep.