We go to the river, stand on the bank like true girls of summer, our bare legs exposed in bikinis as red as our mother’s lips, our long hair flowing like gypsies. We’re thirteen-fourteen, brave enough to call to the boys on the other side, “Hey, lover!” like we’ve seen in the movies; stupid enough to dare each other to jump in.
We say we’ll gasp when the cold water courses through us. We’ll splash about, flail our arms, pretend to drown, white flecks of water catching the light while we wait for the boys to rescue us. We’ll float downstream to the low bridge where we can grab onto the pillar, hoist ourselves breathless onto the bank. You’ll shake out your long hair and laugh, your scarlet bikini flashing against pale skin like a warning beacon.
From the water’s edge, it’s only a quarter-mile to the low bridge. We’ve had years of swim lessons; our strong arms have been holding each other steady since we could stand. We check our bikini ties—a ruby red our mothers would kill us for wearing if they knew—and we dare to jump. The cold water cuts our breath, slows our legs, your hand slips out of mine, and we’re begging the boys across the other side to save us.
The river rushes toward the bridge, tumbling our bodies, whipping us against the pillar like rag dolls. I claw my way to the bank. I cough until the blood beats back into my limbs. I scream your name, scream for help, stare into the water and swear I see your gypsy hair wound, weighted down. The day they find you, dusk washes the sky with cloud flecks the same pink as your cheeks.
When we sneak down to the riverbank, it’s early summer, and the water’s coursing cold with late mountain snow melt. We’re brave enough to jump, but we don’t. We don’t. Instead, we lay out in bikinis, kept secret from our mothers, showing off large swaths of sun-blushed skin to the boys on the opposite bank. We’re stupid enough to think we have years left, to dream of futures in the bright white houses across the river, naming our children, two each—girls of summer, like us.
We swear we’ll let them grow their hair long as gypsies and wear whatever they want; we’ll never tell them they’re too young. We’ll cry at their weddings and when we’re old, we’ll sit out on the veranda in the evenings like movie stars, sipping on martinis and laughing, making plans for tomorrow, our lipsticked mouths matched to the crimson colors that bridge across the setting sky.
This story won First Prize in the BRIDGES themed flash competition.
About the author: Sara Hills is a pushcart-nominated writer with stories published at SmokeLong Quarterly, Cheap Pop, and New Flash Fiction Review, among others. Her work has been included in the BIFFY50 and twice shortlisted for the Bath Flash Fiction Award and the Bridport Prize. Originally from America’s Desert Southwest, Sara lives in Warwickshire, England, and tweets from @sarahillswrites.