THE VOYAGE DOWN THE RIVER
Phoebe appeared from under the bridge and said in a whisper: “You’re still here. Thank you! Let’s go.”
“Abby in the bow, just behind the mast. Phoebe in the middle.” They jumped in, Lluvia pushed off, and the canoe was running with the current. “Take that paddle, nice and easy on the left. Watch carefully.”
A blue sail was wrapped tightly around the mast. The motor was not running. The boat drifted into the fast current in the center of the river. For a while no one spoke. The view of the rushing water, the Winkle Family farm, the hills and the cliffs in the distance… It was all enchanting. The light breeze and the roller coaster feel of the current stirred their blood. The dark water glittered in the setting sun. Abby felt the warm sun on her back. All was calm. Abby and Lluvia didn’t make any great effort, but just kept the canoe straight and clear of other small boats coming upriver near the bank. They had a brief view of the town of Half Moon on the left and the park and docks on the right, passed by a few more farms, and then entered a more suburban landscape.
“Sorry to be late,” said Phoebe. “We had a surprise.”
Abby turned her head to look at Phoebe’s face. She doesn’t seem too worried. “Tell us!”
“Zoe had news. One of the reporters from the River City Post – name of Jerry Norris – is known to moonlight for political campaigns. Its possible he’s employed by Confidential Investigations, a well-known creepy outfit that works for big money. The same people stalking you, Abby. Norris is short, thin-faced, blue eyed, pale, receding hairline, in his thirties. Goes around with a broad-shouldered guy. I remember them from the churchyard gate. We were standing there a long time with nothing to do but look at reporters. According to Zoe, Jerry Norris is the most likely ‘reporter who’s not a reporter’, to quote what Marcus told Nico. We’ll have to watch out for him at the event tomorrow.”
Abby was trying to concentrate on her job, looking for dangerous floating objects in the river. “Tell Sara,” she said.
Phoebe continued her story: “Later on, Sulay came bursting into the toy store. She pulled me into the back room and said Marcus had just come into Phones and More to buy a fancy new smart phone. When her father was occupied with another customer he whispered to Sulay: ‘Change all your passwords. Wipe your phones and start over’. She hung around him and made the sale, but that’s all he said that’s of interest to us.”
“Wow,” Abby exclaimed. “Go, Marcus! What did you do?”
“It was already 4:15. Sulay said she’d do her job for you and then find Nico and make security changes in their phones and computer. I ran down to their store and asked her father to wipe my phone and help me get started again. He thinks my phone is too old to be any good, but said he’d wipe it later today. He recommended a new one but I don’t have the money, and now I have no phone. Thank God I never use my computer. And I barely got to you in time. I was panicked I’d miss out.”
Abby looked at Lluvia. “It’s a good thing we have no phones or computers.”
Lluvia laughed. “How did you know?”
“Oh, Jeremy told me about the Phone Rules, and I just didn’t think you’d go in for all that media. You like to be secret, and aren’t afraid of being alone.”
“That’s me.” Lluvia wore a smile during the whole conversation, with her eyes on the water. “But I do want a taste of all of this new action. I’m really glad to see both of you. We know the big change is coming, and this weekend we’ll see for ourselves.”
“And I’m so relieved to be with you,” Abby said. “I really have no idea what I’m doing. Like, what’s the schedule? Where do we sleep? How do we handle this meeting tonight? Who will even show us where to go?”
Phoebe had been glancing back at Lluvia. “I’ve seen you before,” she said suddenly.
“Oh my God,” exclaimed Abby. “You don’t know each other! Phoebe, this is Lluvia!”
“Watch the water, Abby. Don’t turn around. We can hear you.”
“Oh, I’m such an idiot!” Abby muttered. “I was better at this when I was ten. I can’t even remember which of my friends know each other.”
But Lluvia and Phoebe were not listening. They were studying each other’s faces. Even Lluvia had taken her eyes off the water.
“I know I’ve seen you before…” murmured Phoebe. “Somewhere.”
“Of course you have. Can you remember?”
“In the toy store. You buy paint… and brushes, every once in a while.”
Lluvia laughed. “Oh you do remember! And I remember you, and your mother and father. But I’ve seen them more recently… in Rivergate and the forest.”
“Ah. You probably see my parents more than I do. Maybe you paint like my mother.”
“I’ve seen some of her work. But I’m not that kind of artist. I add detail to boats. Like names, and where they’re from. And sometimes fancy little extras. Some people want a lot of detail. We build boats and I ride them all over, taking people and supplies here and there, and fishing. Or just exploring.”
Lluvia glanced at Phoebe’s face again. “You play soccer. I’ve seen you in uniform, working in your store. And we read about your high school team.”
“I destroyed my knee in college this year. But now I coach.” Phoebe’s voice was not full of despair. She seemed to have accepted the fact.
Abby was listening, and trying to maintain her concentration on the water. But she wanted to watch the faces of her friends. Boats passed them going upstream, always close to the bank, and power boats passed them from behind. Lluvia’s canoe held the center of the river. Along the way various streams flowed into the Half Moon, and the river grew wider, and the number of boats increased.
“Are we going to sail?” asked Phoebe. “I’d love to try it.”
“Not today. We don’t need any help going with the current. I use the sail going upriver, and in the open water in the wetland. A few times we’ve gone all the way to the bay and the ocean.”
“I’m envious,” Phoebe said. “It’s different seeing things from the river.”
“Is it ever! I’m kind of addicted to seeing things from the river. But I’m not going to miss out on these new events. I have the feeling I’ll be involved somehow. Chi Chi told me about the meeting tonight, and some kind of event tomorrow.”
“And who’s going to meet us?” asked Abby. “Who will show us around? Where do we sleep?”
“Sara’s supposed to meet us at the dock,” answered Phoebe. “But I was going to text her when we got close, and now I can’t. I hope she shows up anyway.”
“I know my way around a little bit,” Lluvia told them. “I’ve delivered vegetables and biogas to Evansville more times than I can count. And I have a friend there. We’ll stay at his house tonight.”
“So who is it?” Abby almost turned around to see Lluvia’s face. “We’re curious!”
“I was going to surprise you, but I should tell you now. It’s Alex Johnson.”
“Alex… Alex Johnson… Alex and Lexa? You’re kidding me!”
“No, you’re just out of touch.” Lluvia spoke with a wide smile, her eyes on the water.
“Well, how did this happen? I was just thinking about them. About all of us in the Young Warriors’ Club.”
“The Young Warriors’ Club?” asked Phoebe.
“It was our Sunday school when we were children,” Abby explained. “I lost all my friends when I was ten and my family moved.”
You’ll be surprise to hear this,” Luvia said. “Not long after you left Rivergate, Lexa and Alex left too. Their parents had long been separated, and their mother died. Their father took them to River City where he lived. None of us had ever met him, and he had no interest in us. He just took Lexa and Alex and never came back. But then a year ago they showed up out of the blue! Well, Lexa and Alex did. Not the father. It turned out their father had died.”
“My head is spinning,” Abby said. If only I could see Lluvia’s face! she thought.
“Yeah, I’ve got a lot of news.” Lluvia obviously enjoyed surprising Abby. “We didn’t know it, but their father had been a part of some big real estate family, owning tons of property in River City and even in Evansville. Alex’s father left him a little house near the Evansville College campus, and money for his tuition, but otherwise Alex is broke, barely getting by. His father didn’t trust him or something. It’s complicated, and he doesn’t like talking about it. But we’re friends now and we’ll stay with him.”
“So how does he survive?” Phoebe was clearly interested, risking quick glances at Lluvia behind her.
“He’s an artist, and sells woodcut prints. You’ll see at least one of them. The students have adopted the image of Noah’s ark as a kind of insignia, like a badge of identity. I’ve brought some prints to Rivergate, and even up to students at Northern State, where Students Against Fossil Fuels is organizing.”
“I think I did see it from a distance at the churchyard festival. It was big like a flag.” Abby’s mind was racing, but her eyes still looked for obstacles in the water. “Hey! Something floating up ahead! Look. It’s… yes, a loose boat!”
A small dinghy was floating free on the current with no passengers. Lluvia and Abby maneuvered the canoe alongside. Phoebe managed to tie a line to the metal ring on the bow of the little white rowboat, and they began towing it along behind them.
“We’ll leave it at the college dock and see if they can find the owner. Otherwise it’s ours. Who needs a boat? You’d be surprised how often this happens.”
She’s so happy, Abby thought enviously. I wish I felt that way. Is happiness something you can learn?
I’d like a boat!” Phoebe exclaimed. “Can I have it? It almost like your boat, Abby.”
“I wish I had a chance to use mine. You take it, Phoebe. I’m jealous of the boat we’re in. I’d like to get a sail and a little motor like Lluvia’s got.”
“It’s yours, Phoebe, unless someone at the dock locates the owner. It’s good luck to find a boat. And Abby, I’ve got a special present for you, back on the West Isle. We’re going to get you fixed up good.”
“I can’t wait!... Hey, look, there’s Evansville. A few tall buildings and the bridge.”