CHOOSE YOUR OWN ADVENTURE BY COMMITTEE (7)

You try to explain to Joan the truth of what happened—that you do not know Mrs. Shorter at all, that you spoke with her only momentarily and then when you’d left to see the dolphins with everyone else, you saw her floating in the wake of the boat. That it was you that called for help.

Joan interrupts you. ‘You’re not listening,’ she says. ‘I get it, you’re young. You could never possibly be in real trouble.’ She makes a clucking noise with her tongue. ‘That woman is dead on my boat. Someone did that. Someone is responsible. You can’t explain that away. And I think it’s you.’

You look around and see the faces of teenagers and adults and children all watching you. You realize that your hands are clenched, the nails of your fingers digging little moon shapes into your palms. For a moment you lock eyes with one high school boy with a shaved head and an ugly band teeshirt who smirks back at you.

‘I didn’t—’

‘Stop it,’ Joan says. ‘Just stop it. It’s disgusting. Someone did that. Someone did that. Look, I’m not the police. I don’t know. But if I’m going to call the Coast Guard I need you to tell the truth to them.’

There is no getting through to her. You step back and look up toward the ladder to the open-air deck. The boat seems suddenly too small. There are not enough places to be, here. Maybe you will lock yourself in the bathroom. You’ll have to go past Mrs. Shorter’s daughter again to get there. You move toward the ladder, unsure of what to do.

‘Sure, take your time,’ Joan says from behind you. ‘We’ll all just be sitting here until then.’

This is crazy. You turn around to say something but she is already gone, striding easily back into the passenger cabin, possibly to speak to her crew, maybe to make an announcement about you.

So, now what. You form an image in your head of the Islander Express pulling into Two Harbors, a line of black-uniformed policemen standing like a wall along the dock, nightsticks ready for you. Eric and Lavinia down waiting for you, watching the boat glide in several hours too late, watching you ushered through the boarding door and into the back of a police car. And maybe they will nod knowingly.

You climb up the ladder to the open-air deck and look around. Gavin isn’t there and you are pretty sure that you remember seeing him head up here just a minute ago. The teenage couple is still sitting and leaning against the back bulwark and now they are watching you.

‘Is it you?’ the girl says to you after a moment.

‘No,’ you say.

The cheap rubber of your flip-flops is beginning to rub raw the spaces between your toes. You’ve brought very little with you on this trip—it was only supposed to be a few drinks with your friend Lavinia and her husband, maybe dinner, a stroll along the beach, watching the stars blink on one by one, the malevolent orange glow of Los Angeles diffused along the horizon. There was a time when any other person in a trio that included yourself and Lavinia would be the third wheel, nodding with a mixture of aspirational understanding and hopeless confusion at the stories the two of you fought over one another to tell him each about the other. You have gotten older, now, all of you, and your stories have stayed stuck in high school, imprisoned in amber, ossifying into the past. Now, you know, you are the interloper, the one who will feign patience as she and Eric reference recent events and requote one another and direct half-hearted explanations to you. And you will respond by reciting whichever of your high school experiences it is most alike.

You pull the high school class ring out of your pocket and look at it again. Diamond Ranch High School. You wonder where that is.

‘What’s that?’ the high school girl says. She is looking at the ring in your hands intently from where she is sitting. The boy next to her has his head forward in his hands, the palms cupped over his eyes like a joke.

‘A ring,’ you say.

‘Is it yours?’ she asks you.

You shake your head. ‘I found it here.’

The sun is getting hotter by the minute. A thin breeze ripples across the ocean and cools the undersides of your arms briefly.

‘Is it hers? That woman’s? The one who fell out?’

You shake your head again. You look at the ring, at the little squashed football. ‘I don’t know whose it is,’ you say.

The boy raises his head and looks at the girl. ‘It’s, like, a clue,’ he says. His voice sounds strained; his eyes are faintly red and his nose is running.

The girl purses her lips and nods slightly and looks back at you. ‘You’re a detective,’ she says.

You look out at the flat blue expanse of the ocean, at Catalina Island in the distance. It’s in a slightly different place now and you realize that the boat must be moving with the tide. The image of Eric and Lavinia watching you led off in handcuffs shifts in your head into something else. You look more closely at the ring.

WHAT DO YOU DO:
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