Another back story installment. Enjoy!
Flyn Martin got his nickname the day he saved his cousin DeJohn from drowning. Flyn was fourteen. DeJohn was alright. Ever since Flynâ€™s dad was locked up downstate for something his grandma refused to tell him about, Flyn lived with his cousin and her up in Rogers Park, which was a big improvement over his dadâ€™s idea of digs. When Flyn was with his dad, they moved so much their â€œplaceâ€ got to be a ripped-up nylon duffel and a couple of milk crates. Between sixth and eighth grade alone they moved seventeen times, but whoâ€™s counting. His dadâ€™s dadâ€™s over by Cermak, a stint all the way out in Joliet, another down Back of the Yards with Uncle Riley. Theyâ€™d been all over, and everyplace sucked. Theyâ€™d been in shelters twice. So yeah, Flyn liked living with DeJohn and Gram, his Mamaâ€™s mom, up in the city. Things were good with her. Dinner every night, a real bed all his even though he shared the room with DeJohn.
De was eighteen. They shared a set of bunks; DeJohn had the top. De had a job at the mall and a girlfriend, Erica, who let Flyn tag along with them cause he hadnâ€™t made other friends yet. Flyn liked it, liked her. She was light skinned and had these braids that DeJohn always had his hands in. Flyn tried not to watch but he couldnâ€™t help it. Was he looking at her hair or his cousinâ€™s hands? He didnâ€™t know. Flyn liked to draw sometimes, exaggerated unreal drawings. Out of habit more than anything.
That day Flyn saved his cousin, DeJohn and Erica were running up and down the beach, playing around. Flyn sat on the line between dry sand and water, his jeans rolled up, drawing and watching the waves so his eyes had someplace to go. The water that day has a relentless energy that Flyn found calming. Every time the water receded, it took sand with it.
â€œWhatchu doinâ€™?â€ DeJohn leaned down to see Flynâ€™s paper. â€œMan. Man. Man. Get out. Whatchu doin drawing me? My arms donâ€™t look like that, man.â€
â€œSorry,â€ Flyn mumbled, covering the pregnant bulges with one hand.
â€œItâ€™s alright.â€ De seemed secretly pleased.
Erica, suddenly behind him, ran her fingers over Flynâ€™s head, combing through his hair. A wave crashed on his ankles, sending up a spray that wetted his page.
â€œLook at all his hair, De.â€ Gram had been on his case to get it cut, but seeing how he didnâ€™t have a job and didnâ€™t have a dad â€” not that his dad had ever much shelled out cash or nothing, but still. He didnâ€™t have the money for a haircut and he wasnâ€™t gonna get it. â€œYou know, youâ€™d look great with dreads.â€ Erica knelt down in front of him, her skirt getting soaked in the surf, her braids falling forward, obscuring his feet. He felt the water recede through his toes. He looked up, looked back down as she continued to rub his head, tried to vanish into his drawing. Willed the water to disappear him.
â€œDamn, girl,â€ DeJohn started back to the water. â€œLeave him be. Heâ€™s fourteen.â€
â€œSeriously,â€ she was whispering now. Her hands felt goodâ€”really goodâ€”on his head. Flyn kept his eyes pinned to the growing divot between his feet. â€œYou should grow it out. I can show you how to do the locks.â€ Her attention fed scraps to the beast growing in his heart all the years since Mama left, all the time heâ€™d been on the run with his Dad. He nodded slightly, pulled back an inch. She let his head go, and he felt the disappointment crash over him.
â€œCâ€™mon back here, Erica, baby. Come swim wid me.â€ DeJohn ran into the lake and back. He turned and threw a couple handfuls of sand at them, then ran back into the water. Flyn watched the muscles of his cousinâ€™s bare back ripple into his jeans. Watch out. It was less than a voice but more than a thought. Ericaâ€™s mouth was moving but Flyn couldnâ€™t make out what she was saying. He was staring at DeJohn in the water, waves crashing over his arms as he swam headfirst into the horizon. Watch out echoed again in his head.
DeJohn flipped onto his back and hooted, waved. â€œCâ€™mon baby,â€ emerged among the crashing surf.
Flyn saw the bulge on the horizon and stood up, clutching his notebook.
â€œGoing to swim?â€ asked Erica, smiling. She joined him, but Flyn didnâ€™t look away from the water. The water swelled toward DeJohn like it had something to prove. Flyn cupped his hands around his mouth and hollered.
â€œWatch out, De!â€ The vicious surf scarfed up his warning. DeJohn was pounding the water, heading straight for the bulge. Flyn held still, watching. Go get him. Somehow he knew better than to hesitate. He tossed his pad up on the beach and ran hard toward his cousin, the still freezing early spring water soaking his jeans and t-shirt. Flyn wasnâ€™t much of a swimmer. He gulped water and fought to keep his eyes open in the water. Erica called out from the shore as he struggled to reach DeJohn. From the water, the bulging on the horizon looked even more threatening. Flyn gulped air and pummeled his arms against the water, struggling to stay afloat as he watched the wave congeal above De, a momentarily solid arc, more beautiful than dangerous but unmistakably both. It paused above his cousin as if it could sense him below. Even still, DeJohn didnâ€™t break his stride. Erica screamed from the shore. The wave crashed on his cousinâ€™s now tiny form and he vanished.
Flynâ€™s stroke was groping, but it got him there. When he finally reached his cousin, everything slowed down. De was floating face down, gently bobbing on the surface, the angry wave dispersing in slow motion. A form, a figure, took shape above his cousinâ€™s limp body, an evanescent gloom reflected against the sky. Flyn blinked. When he opened his eyes, the glob had darkened like a gathering raincloud. Quick he closed his hand around his cousinâ€™s arm, cold and heavy as soaked driftwood. Flyn felt the chill as the glob entered his body. Colder even than the water. He started the slow crawl back to shore. â€œDe! DeJohn!â€ he called between gulps of water. Flyn wasnâ€™t the strongest swimmer, and the iciness didnâ€™t help any. Erica joined him halfway back and took DeJohnâ€™s other arm. She was crying. Together they pulled him out of the water and she slapped his cheeks to wake him up and did mouth to mouth on him. Flyn had never seen it done up close before. Now the horizon was nothing but a flatline. Shivering, he held Deâ€™s head until he came to and coughed up the water with a terrified glare.
â€œJesus,â€ Erica cried, laying her head on DeJohnâ€™s chest. DeJohn coughed some more and struggled to sit up. â€œTake it easy, baby,â€ Erica told him, wiping her eyes. She looked at Flyn. â€œHow did you do that?â€
â€œDo what?â€ He wrapped his arms around his dripping wet body but even the hot sun did nothing to calm his shivers.
â€œSave him. You know, you called it, when we were sitting there before. â€˜Watch outâ€™? How did you know?â€
â€œI dunno.â€ Flynn looked at the ground, his teeth chattering. How did he know? Was he losing it?
â€œYou saved him.â€ She smiled at him, hugged DeJohn, wiped more tears. â€œYouâ€™re Fate.â€
Flyn hunched down on the warm sand, smiling and rubbing the water from his shaggy hair. His discarded notebook rustled in the lake breeze.
â€œYou alright?â€ Erica wrapped her arms around him. Soft, easy waves slurped the shore, almost apologetic.
He shrugged. He could feel the glob lurking inside him, and he wondered what it was and how he was going to get it out.
â€œIâ€™m gonna call you that.” She showed her teeth when she smiled. “Fate.”
Flyn smiled into the sand.