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The Reservoir

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In senior year, you and Billy cut class and drive your brother's truck to the reservoir when he goes camping with his buddies.

"If you touch it, I'll end you," Andy had said, but hey, he's your brother and brothers always joke around, right? Sometimes they even speak in secret brother code or whatever, and maybe what he actually meant was: it's fine if you use my truck as long as I don't find out about it.

Spring is finally, finally segueing into summer, and the crispness in the air is mellowing to a warm golden glow. You drive with the windows down, and Billy is wearing those stupid aviator glasses that he loves so much, the ones that make him look like a giant dork, but whatever. You've agreed to disagree on those aviators before.

Take a horse to water, they say.

You're eighteen and Oasis is on the radio. You're tapping along to the downbeat on the steering wheel and it's a fucking beautiful day.

+

You're in the middle of parking when Billy finds your brother's hunting cap under the seat and puts it on his head. He grins and asks, "How do I look?" so you say, "Like an ass," because you are an honest sort of person.

Billy takes it off and throws it in your face and, gross, 'cause between that thing having been on the truck floor and on Andy's head, you don't want it anywhere near your face. You throw the hat back at him and Billy lunges, and it turns into a wrestling match of sorts because maybe you're both just looking for an excuse. The hat falls away, but Billy is half on top you and you're grabbing his wrists. You're both giggling and gasping and calling each other names, but he finally pins you down.

And he, inches above you, your eyes mirroring each other, your breath taken, you think that there's going to be follow-through this time, finally, maybe. For a moment, something softens in his expression and you think yes as if in reply, but suddenly he's rubbing Andy's hat in your face and he's laughing and laughing.

"You're a fucking douchebag," you snap as you sit up, and Billy says, "Yeah whatever," and he changes the topic to last night's South Park as you both get out of the car and head for the woods.

+

The last time you and Billy went to the reservoir was in the dead of winter, and it sucked because Andy never got around to fixing the heater. You were wearing so many layers you could barely move, and your ungloved hand was freezing as you passed the joint back and forth, but you and Billy didn't care. You and Billy were relieved. Both your houses were overflowing with relatives and their well-wishes and their stupid questions like "what are you going to major in?" and "are you going to study abroad?" and "what are you going to do with your life?" and fuck if you know.

The future was closing in on you and it's closing on you still, and you remember Billy saying, "After this year, who knows when we'll come here again," and you just shrugged because you didn't want to think about it.

"I'll miss it," he said, and you glanced over just in case you had to reciprocate a smile. Just in case 'it' meant 'you'.

But Billy was just staring quietly ahead, and you couldn't tell if the mist that escaped his mouth was smoke or breath.

+

The Moore-Burnham Reservoir was established in 1968 by aspiring environmentalist Joseph Moore and town councilman Jerome Burnham to ensure the town's steady supply of drinking water. "They were like BFFs," Billy said the first time you came here. "The first time they met was when Moore came to a town meeting and yelled at Burnham for like an hour about cutting down the woods for housing developments or some shit."

"An hour?"

"Okay, maybe fifteen minutes."

And now you're a couple of steps behind Billy as he leads you down your usual path, past familiar rocks and familiar trees, these familiar sights that greet you like old friends. Around you, the trees are coming to life with the summer, their branches reaching towards the sky as if in supplication, wreathed in bright leaves and light blossoms. You find God in places like these, Billy said once, but you had wondered if maybe that was just the weed talking. Either way, the reservoir recalls lazy afternoons spent in circular conversation and comfortable belligerence with your oldest friend, and you're not looking forward to missing it.

Your usual spot is atop a pile of boulders from where you can see the water. It's nowhere near the path, and you only found it because you got lost that one time when Billy upset a wasps' nest and you guys ran for it. You had spent the rest of the afternoon counting the wasp stings on your bodies as you sat on these rocks, and you've been coming back to this spot ever since.

Billy holds out the joint and says, "Go ahead, man."

"I don't have a lighter."

If Billy is for some reason standing real close when he lights the joint in your mouth, you don't mention it, and you don't step away. When he cups his hand around the flame to cover it from the wind, his fingers touch the corner of your lips and don't break contact until the first puff of smoke. You close your eyes and count to three.

Two.

One.

When you open your eyes, Billy is still there with a look on his face like he's waiting for answers, still close enough for you to reach out and touch him, for now. He is all these things for now, but maybe not for long. You wonder if aspiring environmentalist Joseph Moore ever missed town councilman Jerome Burnham when he was off surveying the marshes or whatever. You wonder how many times best friends have to say goodbye.

"Here's to summer," Billy says, lifting the joint in salute, and puts it to his lips.

+

You met Billy for the first time in Mrs. Fernando's class when you refused to share the building blocks with him. In the end, the two of you caused such a ruckus that Mrs. Fernando put you both in time-out. Your mutual enmity was quickly redirected at Mrs. Fernando, and by the end of the week, you were playing with the blocks together.

Since then, you have yelled at each other and shoved each other and loved each other and hurt each other - all the pains of growing up and discovering what you're not. When you think of it now you tend to focus on a phone call from your freshman year the night after one of your fights. You made a pact then never to lie to each other again, with all the fresh-faced sincerity of someone who has never had their heart broken, and it's funny. It's really funny, because you thought that if heartbreak were to come at all, it would come from lies, not from the truth and the silences that lurk in its cracks.

+

"No no," you sputter, "no way."

But you might as well have not said anything because you recognize the look in Billy's eyes as soon as the conversation turns to the subject. There is a determination to his expression that feels like the culmination of restive movement, as if his agitation only needed something to latch onto.

In the distance, the water glitters invitingly.

You say, "There's gotta be cameras around here or something!"

"There are no cameras," Billy snorts, and shrugs off his jacket.

"Well, I sure as hell don't want your groaty ass swimming around in my drinking water!"

"They filter it," he says simply, and takes off his shirt.

He climbs down the rocks.

"You don't have swimming trunks!" you protest.

Billy grins and does his best Doc Brown impression, saying, "Trunks? Where we're going, we don't need… trunks."

And he runs.

You climb down the rocks and run after him. You've always been running after him, except for the times when he runs after you.

+

Winter fucking sucks, but you always thought to yourself that if winter were warmer, you'd love it. You like snowball fights and snow days and sledding, and it's just the cold that puts you off, like maybe you're secretly from Florida but were switched at birth so now you have to live somewhere that is pretty much Siberia for half the year.

Winter at the reservoir reminds you of the beginnings of fairy tales. You are Lucy Pevensie before you had a country to reclaim, and Gerda before the queen stole your love away. Everything is white like blank paper, and everything is quiet: nothing has been written and nothing has been sung.

When you said, "Let's go for a walk," Billy said, "What, are you crazy? It's freezing outside." But it was freezing in the car too, and for once you didn't care what he wanted, and for once you had had enough. You could sit in the truck and submit yourself to the weight of unspoken things between you, or you could go outside and let the silence spread out in all directions, swallowed by the landscape and dissipating into the sky.

You climbed out of the car and Billy yelled after you, but you acted like you didn't hear him. You trudged onwards, making footprints in the snow, and when you heard the door open and slam shut behind you, you didn't stop.

"It's fucking freezing," Billy muttered when he caught up, because it is the prerogative of the nervous to state the obvious.

The moon was full that night, and it lit up the path before you and darkened the shadows that fell across it. The winter holds no ambiguity of color; everything is either light or dark.

"So where are we going?" Billy asked.

"Wherever."

"This is stupid. We should go back."

"Maybe." But you didn't, so he didn't, and together you trudged deeper into the woods.

+

The death of spring and the birth of summer: you sit on the banks of the reservoir and smoke a cigarette as you watch Billy float on his back, his eyes closed and arms outstretched. He keeps saying, "You should come swim," and you keep saying, "No thanks." You say that if a ranger comes, you're out of there and he's on his own.

"Lame," he declares.

The worst of it comes after the swimming, after he decides he's had enough of splashing around for now. You keep your gaze focused on the trees of the distant shore so you're not staring when he comes out of the water.

"Where are my clothes?" he asks.

"Back at the rocks. Where else?"

"You didn't bring them?"

"Um. No."

"What if someone's taken them?"

"Who? Who would take your clothes, Billy? A raccoon?"

"Shut up," he says, and pushes your shoulder but you step away because he's wet, and that's when he gets that glint in his eye again. He reaches for you and your dodge is ill-timed: you find yourself engulfed in a soggy hug.

"Fuck off!" you say, but he's laughing and you're trying not to smile. "You're getting water all over me!"

He says, "Come on, let's hug it out."

"I'm not hugging anything out."

"Okay," Billy murmurs, and his mouth brushes against your cheek, probably accidentally. "Fine."

+

The last time you and Billy were at the reservoir, you kissed him, and for a few seconds, he kissed you back.

+

You reply, "Fine what?"

"Fine, no hugging things out."

Billy steps back, that stupid grin still on his face, and when he reaches over to tousle your hair, you slap his hand away.

+

When you kissed him that winter night, you became increasingly apprehensive that he wasn't stopping you, that you weren't stopping yourself, like maybe this was all some kind of trick. His lips were softer than you imagined, and you felt your stomach drop when you tasted his tongue. You felt giddy like you had never kissed anyone before. You had never kissed Billy before. When he leaned forward and applied pressure, you had thought with some relief, It's not just all in my head.

It was never mentioned again though, so now you're not sure.

+

You make your way back to the boulders, and Billy's clothes are where he left them.

"Does your brother have a towel in his truck or something?" he asks.

"If there is a towel in Andy's truck, you don't want to be rubbing it all over your body."

You smoke another cigarette as he dresses himself, and you wonder if aspiring environmentalist Joseph Moore ever had to put up with this kind of shit from town councilman Jerome Burnham. You can count the number of months you have left with Billy on one hand, and you wish you can just deal with one change at a time, but things don't really work that way. You have to deal with the changes as they come before things change again. You can drag it out into the open, or you can ignore it until the fall.

"So what now?" Billy asks, fully dressed, if a little damp.

"I don't know."

"You wanna stay here or you wanna go somewhere?"

"I don't know."

You can drag it out or you can ignore it.

+

The drive back into town is quiet except for Liam Gallagher whining about gin and tonics on the radio. Andy loves his nineties, and you do too, even if you're always giving him shit about it. He makes fun of you for your music all the time, so you don't see why he has to get off easy.

"I love this song," you say, and Billy nods and says he does too.

Billy lives with his dad, who works late, so the house is empty when you pull up to the driveway. Billy thunders up the stairs to his room and you follow at a leisurely pace, your head full of hypotheticals. When you reach Billy's room, he already has his shirt off and is looking through his drawer for another. You can see the scars on his shoulder from the wasp stings, and you know that there is a scar on his hip from that time he tried to do a wheelie on your bike. There is one along his collarbone from basketball in gym class. You know the marks on his body, as you know him.

You meet his eyes in the mirror, and he pauses.

You lean against the doorway and say, "Hey."

"Hey."

People always say that Billy's the kind of person who wears his heart on his sleeve, but you call bullshit on that. People think that just because someone is generally cheerful and the first to volunteer for a good time, it must mean they're simple, but you have heard Billy's lies and secrets and all the usual lines he gives to people when he's keeping them at arm's length. You recognize the signs because you are usually backstage for his pantomimes. You know when Billy is holding you close and but keeping your heart at arm's length, and you're not sure what this means in the face of impending separation.

"Look," you say. "What are we gonna do?"

"I've been asking you that since the reservoir."

"No, ass, not that."

Billy wets his lips and says, quietly, "Yeah. I know."

+

And when you drew back after that first breathless kiss last year, Billy was smiling a little. His exhales came out in little clouds and he looked a little dazed, not unlike how you were feeling.

"Shit," he says.

"Yeah."

"I thought…"

"You thought what?"

"I don't know. I always thought that…" He shook his head. "Never mind."

"What?"

"Never mind."

+

This time, he kisses you first.