“How are we supposed to get in?”
She continued walking, and left with no choice, I followed. “There’s a stream up ahead. There’s an opening in the hedge we can climb through, and the party’s just on the other side.”
I paled, my nightmares of drowning coming back to me. “I don’t have to swim, do I?”
“No, why?” She must’ve caught something in my voice, because she stopped again to look at me.
“I can’t swim. I never learned how.” It was the truth, but I also didn’t want to tell her about my nightmares. It was bad enough I had to relive them at night; if I told Ava, I was sure she would only use them as ammunition against me.
She laughed lightly, and I could’ve sworn her tone grew more cheerful. “Oh, don’t worry, no swimming required. There are rocks you can step on and stuff that makes it easy to get in.”
I could see the hedge now. My hands were sweaty and my breath was coming in short gasps, and I didn’t think it had anything to do with our brisk pace.
“It’s right up there.” Ava pointed to a spot about twenty feet ahead of us. The sound of rushing water floated in the night air toward us, and it took every bit of willpower I had to keep following her.
When we reached the stream, my mouth dropped open. It wasn’t a stream—it was a damn river. The current didn’t look very powerful, but it was strong enough to carry me away if I fell. And without much light to work with, it was almost impossible to see the stones Ava referred to. She’d been telling the truth about the opening in the hedge though: it was small, as if the river narrowed just enough for the hedge to form over it. We’d have to walk on rocks and duck to get underneath, but it was doable without actually going swimming.
“Follow me,” said Ava in a hushed voice. Holding her hands out for balance, she stepped into the river, searching until she found a wide stone. “Path’s here—are you okay?”
“I’m fine,” I muttered through gritted teeth. I was careful to place my feet exactly where she’d walked and hold my arms out like she did, but every step made me feel as if I were going to fall into the dark water below.
She ducked underneath the hedge, and I could no longer see where she was going. My stomach tightened as panic set in, and I placed a shaking hand against the hedge and bent down, taking each step one at a time.
Miraculously, I arrived on the other side dry. The stones ended immediately, and I had to jump to reach solid land, but I’d done it—I was safe. I let out a sigh of relief. If Ava thought she was getting me through that hole again, she was out of her mind.
Looking up, the first thing I saw was Ava unzipping her skirt, her top already discarded. Underneath she wore a bikini, the colors muted in the dark.
“What’re you doing?”
She ignored me. Instead of pressing the issue, I took a moment to look around. We were in a wooded area, and had I not known any better, I’d have thought we were still on the other side of the hedge. It looked exactly the same.
“Sorry, Kate,” said Ava. She pulled a trash bag out of her pocket and placed her folded clothes inside.
“Sorry? Why are you sorry?”
“For leaving.” She tossed the bag over her shoulder and flashed me a wide smile. “Don’t take it personally. If Dylan didn’t like you so much, we might even be friends. But I’m sure you can understand why this has to happen.”
“Why what has to happen?”
“This.” She stepped into the water and shivered. Apparently it was as cold as it looked. “Consider this a warning, Kate. Don’t touch my boyfriend. Next time it’ll be much, much worse.”
And with that she dove headfirst into the river.
Two things happened at once: first, I realized what was going on. She was leaving me here, knowing full well I was afraid of the water. There was no bonfire—she’d done this on purpose.
The second thing happened when Ava hit the river. Instead of watching her swim away, I heard a sickening crack as she hit her head on a rock, and the next thing I knew, Ava floated limply as she was carried away by the current.
I winced. The water carried her nearly twenty feet as I watched, but Ava didn’t move. The blow must have knocked her senseless.
No, not good, the moral part of my brain insisted. Not good at all. If she was really unconscious and not just dazed, then she would drown if the current didn’t push her onto the bank of the river.
I mentally groaned. Let her suffer—it wasn’t a very wide river. She’d come to her senses and find the edge eventually.
But that do-gooder voice in my head pointed out that if something happened to her, I’d be responsible. And even if she had tried to pull a cruel prank on me, I couldn’t bear the thought of something awful happening to another person in my life. I’d had enough tragedy for one lifetime.
My body moved before my mind was made up. I might not have been very good at swimming, but I could run. Kicking off my heels, I closed half the distance between us before I’d even realized what I was doing. The current was strong, but it wasn’t as fast as I’d first thought. I caught up to Ava quickly, skidding to a stop on the muddy bank, but then I had a whole different problem to deal with—the water.
Images from my nightmares flashed through my mind, but I pushed them aside. Ava was in the center of the river and facedown, which meant I didn’t have time to wait for her to come closer. There were only two options: let her drown or jump into the river after her. Not much of a choice.