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 Flyn’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 dad’s idea of digs. When Flyn was with his dad, they moved so much their “place” 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 who’s counting. His dad’s dad’s over by Cermak, a stint all the way out in Joliet, another down Back of the Yards with Uncle Riley. They’d been all over, and everyplace sucked. They’d been in shelters twice. So yeah, Flyn liked living with DeJohn and Gram, his Mama’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 hadn’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 couldn’t help it. Was he looking at her hair or his cousin’s hands? He didn’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.
“Whatchu doin’?” DeJohn leaned down to see Flyn’s paper. “Man. Man. Man. Get out. Whatchu doin drawing me? My arms don’t look like that, man.”
“Sorry,” Flyn mumbled, covering the pregnant bulges with one hand.
“It’s alright.” De seemed secretly pleased.
Erica, suddenly behind him, ran her fingers over Flyn’s head, combing through his hair. A wave crashed on his ankles, sending up a spray that wetted his page.
“Look at all his hair, De.” Gram had been on his case to get it cut, but seeing how he didn’t have a job and didn’t have a dad — not that his dad had ever much shelled out cash or nothing, but still. He didn’t have the money for a haircut and he wasn’t gonna get it. “You know, you’d look great with dreads.” 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.
“Damn, girl,” DeJohn started back to the water. “Leave him be. He’s fourteen.”
“Seriously,” she was whispering now. Her hands felt good—really good—on his head. Flyn kept his eyes pinned to the growing divot between his feet. “You should grow it out. I can show you how to do the locks.” Her attention fed scraps to the beast growing in his heart all the years since Mama left, all the time he’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.
“C’mon back here, Erica, baby. Come swim wid me.” 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 cousin’s bare back ripple into his jeans. Watch out. It was less than a voice but more than a thought. Erica’s mouth was moving but Flyn couldn’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. “C’mon baby,” emerged among the crashing surf.
Flyn saw the bulge on the horizon and stood up, clutching his notebook.
“Going to swim?” asked Erica, smiling. She joined him, but Flyn didn’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.
“Watch out, De!” 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 wasn’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 didn’t break his stride. Erica screamed from the shore. The wave crashed on his cousin’s now tiny form and he vanished.
Flyn’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 cousin’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 cousin’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. “De! DeJohn!” he called between gulps of water. Flyn wasn’t the strongest swimmer, and the iciness didn’t help any. Erica joined him halfway back and took DeJohn’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 De’s head until he came to and coughed up the water with a terrified glare.
“Jesus,” Erica cried, laying her head on DeJohn’s chest. DeJohn coughed some more and struggled to sit up. “Take it easy, baby,” Erica told him, wiping her eyes. She looked at Flyn. “How did you do that?”
“Do what?” He wrapped his arms around his dripping wet body but even the hot sun did nothing to calm his shivers.
“Save him. You know, you called it, when we were sitting there before. ‘Watch out’? How did you know?”
“I dunno.” Flynn looked at the ground, his teeth chattering. How did he know? Was he losing it?
“You saved him.” She smiled at him, hugged DeJohn, wiped more tears. “You’re Fate.”
Flyn hunched down on the warm sand, smiling and rubbing the water from his shaggy hair. His discarded notebook rustled in the lake breeze.
“You alright?” 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.
“I’m gonna call you that.” She showed her teeth when she smiled. “Fate.”
Flyn smiled into the sand.