We Know How It Ends

Leonie and I were twelve years old when the first girl in our grade had her Adventure. Marina’s sister died from an electrical accident, and her ghost began haunting Marina shortly after. Everyone made a game of spotting the ghost in the locker room, or by the flagpole, or, best, in the art classroom, where the ghost would steal Marina’s paints and scrawl curses on the tables. Marina’s parents didn’t notice until she “tripped” down the bleachers. Some of us accompanied the school nurse when her parents arrived, our phones playing videos of the small, disembodied hands that shoved Marina.

“How cool,” I said at the time. “Marina was boring before the ghost.”

“Marina has stitches and a broken rib now, Kaitlyn,” Leonie said back.

Since then, other girls have had more interesting Adventures. Josephine dated a vampire. She got bitten and became a vampire herself by sophomore year. Annalise saved herself and most of her sweet sixteen party guests from a serial killer. The Copeland twins’ dog came back to life. They prefer cats now.

It’s Marina’s Adventure that comes to mind when I tag along with Leonie to a babysitting gig at a mansion outside town. We see a gardener mowing the lawn after we park in the driveway, and he moves with a lethargy that makes my skin prickle. Leonie’s voice rises a pitch when we meet the two kids, dressed like expensive dolls with perfect posture, and it rises again as she accepts the check from the kids’ uncle before he leaves. I punch her in the arm and wink at her to reassure her. She takes a deep breath, but I listen to her foot tap like a bomb. It’s just nerves, I’m sure. Leonie stays put and I’m relieved.

The kids tell us they’ll bring their toys down to the “parlor,” the elaborate tea party room they’ve left us in, and run off. I take in the oil paintings that cover the floral wallpaper and the brass feet on the furniture. Excitement builds inside me until I feel I’m floating next to the chandelier. I smile to myself and almost miss Leonie sliding the check back across a low marble table. This isn’t what we planned.

“Kaitlyn, we’re getting out of here,” she says.

As soon as she speaks, the parlor starts shaking, rattling paintings off the walls. Deep in the mansion, we hear soft sobbing approach us. It turns into wailing, and we can no longer hear the whir of the gardener’s lawnmower. Leonie pulls her long, wavy hair into a ponytail and slings her backpack on before heading to the front door. I throw my sweater on and follow Leonie, but I grab her arm as she reaches for the doorknob. We’ve been waiting since we were twelve.

“This is it,” I tell her. “Our Adventure.” Leonie’s eyebrows jump.

“Not this one,” she yells over the wails as she wrenches the door open.

The kids appear by our side, eyes wide, faces calm.

“Where are you going, governesses?” they say in unison. Leonie waves at them.

“There’s a ghost in your house,” she says. “It’s too late for you guys. Sorry, but we’re leaving.”

And we’re out the door. As we back out of the driveway and turn onto the road, I notice the gardener has vanished. The kids stare at us from the window as the car peels away. Aside from our fast breathing, it’s as if everything is normal again. I grit my teeth. Leonie’s brown knuckles turn white from her grip on the steering wheel. I didn’t tag along to wimp out.

“Nobody has ‘parlors’ or ‘governesses’ anymore,” Leonie says. “What creepy kids. And did I ever mention babysitting is a Filipina stereotype? That Adventure would’ve been dreadful.”

She always gives excuses like this. I pull my water bottle out of my backpack, wondering what we could have faced. An apparition searching for a lost heart, a basement full of enchanted toys. I sip, and Leonie asks if she can have some as well. I clutch my water bottle until we hit a stoplight, then place it in the cupholder. Leonie seizes it and takes a long draw. She exhales, but I can tell she’s still jittery.

We don’t go home immediately. Instead, as we always do, we drive to the bottomless lake next to our neighborhood. It’s the early, ugly stage of spring when the trees are bare and thin shocks of green shoot up from the muddy grass. Just like when she cries to me about her parents’ expectations, and when she listens to me scream about how the other girls in class call me names for my tomboy interests, it’s here where we wait for each other to calm down. We walk around the lake, tossing stones in to watch them sink slowly forever, waiting for the hawks that sometimes circle above. For fun, we dip our feet into the lake and test the chill of the water, her brown ones next to my pale ones. We see who can stand the cold longer. It gets dark before Leonie apologizes.

I’ve heard it all before. She does want an Adventure! Of course she does! No, she definitely won’t back out on our promise to have one together! We’ve had better near- Adventures before, what if an even cooler one shows up tomorrow? We want ours to be good, don’t we, Kaitlyn? She’s repeated these for years, but she knows this is one of our last chances.

“Graduation is in two months,” I say. “We won’t be in town for much longer.”

“That’s plenty of time, plus the summer,” Leonie says. “Worse comes to worst, we can come back after freshman year and try then. Adults can have fun Adventures, too. I don’t want to rush this.”

“Today was another wasted opportunity,” I say. My toes break the surface of the water. “What’s so bad about a babysitter Adventure? Tara Liu was perfectly happy with a ninja assassin Adventure. Vittoria Rossi’s Adventure with that murderous pasta chef sounded cool. You always back out without knowing what we could get into. I’m sick of it.”

“Adventures go bad all the time, Kaitlyn,” Leonie says. Both of us have pulled our feet onto the muddy bank. Our voices break against the wind. “They get cliché or underwhelming or desperate or too dangerous. We knew what would happen when Margaret found that spinning wheel in her garage. We knew what would happen when Rileigh got that job at the sketchy theme park. I’m not going to be caught in one of those.”

“You always find a reason,” I say. “You’ll string me along forever. I’m not doing this anymore.”

I walk home, focusing on the eyelash of moon above the trees to keep myself from shaking.

When college acceptance letters rolled in at the beginning of March, I knew Leonie and I wouldn’t get into the same universities. She applied to such top-tier, faraway schools while I had no chance of making it out of the state. We refreshed our emails together in my living room for days, jumping at the ping of any new message in our inboxes.

The only university we both applied to got back to us within minutes of each other, first her, then me. In the space between her acceptance and my rejection, we danced to old pop songs, our socks on the hardwood, hips swaying side to side. We collapsed on the couch hunched over, staring at my laptop screen as I opened my latest email. Leonie’s face twisted. I kept mine blank. We sank from the couch to the floor, our backs against the seat cushions.

“I guess my grades weren’t good enough,” I said. “I could’ve practiced the SAT more.”

Leonie flinched, then nodded. Her parents made her take the SAT first at thirteen to get into a special summer program, then four more times since so she could get into a top school. Their work had paid off.

“Congratulations, though,” I continued. “I’m not surprised. You’re supposed to be good at everything.”

Leonie rolled her eyes. We sang along to the rest of the playlist while she searched for a comedy in my DVD collection to put on. As the movie played, I thought about college and what our friendship would be like without the routine we had fallen into.

Between studying, tutoring, volunteering, and being nagged by her parents to do more of all three, Leonie tricks them into thinking she works with me on school projects when instead we spend weekends baking some new brownie variant we’ve found online or walking aimlessly around the mall. There will be no stories to take with us when we leave town.

Not that I haven’t tried. I visit graveyards, learn to pick locks and decipher ancient codes, find skills that I hope come in handy whenever we have our Adventure. She was the one who refused an invitation from the guy in her bio class to see a reanimated corpse in his basement. She was the one who was interrupted during her shift at the grocery store by ravens with letters in their beaks, none of which she opened.

I catch her on her phone sometimes, scrolling through university websites while we’re in line for the latest blockbuster at the movie theater or reading magazine horoscopes to each other. She stares at photos of cities we’ve never been to, reads about campus events I won’t be attending, skims lists of cultural clubs, wellness groups, and other collegiate organizations where she would meet people whose single personalities could outshine those of our whole drab town.

Leonie uses me as an excuse for not yet having an Adventure. I’m sure of it. She’s been approached countless times, but she’ll put it off, either because I wasn’t there or the Adventure called for only one person. Other times, she’ll say the Adventure wasn’t good enough. I had hoped she would change her mind once college applications were in. Her parents had finally stopped badgering her to have a dull “college essay-appropriate” Adventure like the other smart kids who wrote about creating fundraisers for endangered, benevolent sea monsters or whatever. Instead, she repeats what she’s always told me.

“We know how this one ends,” she says. “We read it in a book. We watched it in a movie. It’s so predictable. We want something special, Kaitlyn. All our own.”

I model my looks on the heroines in those books and movies Leonie brings up. Makeup that emphasizes my green eyes. Vintage thrift shop clothes. I noticed for a period of time that everyone who experienced their Adventure had a streak or two of color in their hair, so I dyed the bottom half of my blonde curls emerald. Nothing happened to me that month, but Leonie dismissed werewolf cults and talking trees, despite the fact that she looked nothing like the girls I try to emulate. There was even a seer at a drive-thru who asked to look at her palms after we ordered milkshakes. When I reached over Leonie in the driver’s seat and thrust my hands out to her, the seer recoiled.

“This is not for you,” she said, her back turning to us as she waited for the next customer to pull up to the window. Leonie stayed quiet as I thought of ways to explain that I wasn’t planning on having an Adventure alone or stealing one from her that she had cast aside.

“It was an impulse,” I blurted. Leonie shrugged and I hated myself for being jealous. Some quality to Leonie invites mystery and thrill, a quality that I wish I had and worry she’ll find among the friends she’ll make when college starts. I compare the heroines on TV with the girls I find Leonie staring at on her websites. Which are me? Which are better than me? Which ones look more accomplished? Which look more fun? What makes me so different from Leonie?

The day after the babysitting incident, I walk the long way to school, past the bottomless lake, through the fenced lot where the mystical flowers bloom, adjust my top and wave at the eerily beautiful boys who always skip class. They raise their heads to look at me, then go back to whatever beautiful boys do. I stare at my shoes as I make my way through the high school parking lot and think of how to make up with Leonie for what I’ve said.

Just as I hit the sidewalk, the doors of all the school’s exits swing open and students spill out. The alarm’s low drone warns those on the buses and any student drivers to stay inside their vehicles. Teachers pass me and mutter about how reckless teenagers are these days, how Adventures didn’t have to be so monumental when they were our age. They grumble about how there’s no shame in waiting for adulthood like they did when they went to college.

They gossip about the librarian who didn’t have her Adventure until she turned thirty and how extraordinary it actually turned out. I grimace as the school security team pulls on their riot gear and reenters the high school. I can’t imagine being thirty and still waiting for my Adventure.

I head back towards the beautiful boys to wait out the Adventure drill and spot Leonie already among them. I almost wave again to get her attention, then see she’s with Violet, the new girl in Leonie’s AP Physics class who she’s gotten close to. I curse under my breath and try to walk past without them noticing, but Violet calls my name before I get far.

As I approach, I see Leonie and Violet with their textbooks out, doodles on the pages. They’ve added sea lions balancing on balls on the slopes in the illustrations, turned formulae like f=ma into jokes about class. Farrah = miserable x acne. Fear = menstruation x Ariel. Fucked = Ms. Matten x annual review. The two of them look as though they’d braved some fantastic battle together and are recounting war stories.

“It’s zombies again,” Violet says to Leonie and the beautiful boys. “Not a drill. Someone camped out at an old burial ground and brought back some undead finger that went rogue.”

The boys nod and I take a spot across from Leonie. We make eye contact and smile tightly.

“Kaitlyn, have you heard about the diner down the road from school?” Violet asks. “These guys tell me they’ve found scorched pentagrams and porcelain figures behind it. I asked Leonie if she wants to check it out. You should come.”

Leonie bites her lip. There is no way I’d take up an Adventure Violet was involved in, and Leonie knows we have a deal. Besides, Adventures are about testing yourself against unparalleled forces that you were made to believe are out of your control, not something you try to seek out just because it’s something to pass the time like what Violet seems to think.

Adventures give you a way to distinguish yourself from everyone else, a pain and a victory only you and your fellow Adventurers can know. That Leonie would approve so quickly of whatever Violet found rather than the dozens of other Adventures awaiting her was an easy way out of facing her fears and limitations.

“That Vietnamese place? I’m not sure I’m into it,” I say. “Leonie, didn’t they make you wait for hours while they served all the white people first?”

She hasn’t gone to that diner since unless I’m with her. Violet’s eyes widen, and my shoulders relax knowing Leonie hasn’t yet told her.

“It’s that Asian thing that happens sometimes, you know?” Leonie says to Violet.

“Right, an Asian thing,” Violet says. “Where we hate ourselves and end up screwing each other over because we think it’s fine and we can get away with it.”

Leonie laughs and my heart feels like it’s underwater. I remind myself about all the other “Asian things” she’s told me that Violet couldn’t possibly know about. She won’t tell the other Filipino family in town that she’s Filipina American, too, because their son is creepy as hell. She avoids the other Asian American students after report cards come out because she hates competition. She’s tired of them making fun of her for wanting “white” Adventures rather than ones that involve dragons or jade or calligraphy. She made me promise never to mention these things to anyone else.

None of this adds up to why Leonie and Violet are hanging out. Violet Chen, who I could have sworn Leonie would never spend her time with considering how scared she is of the other Asians in town. Violet Chen, who moved to our school our senior year and inserted herself into our lives. Violet Chen, who could go straight back to where she came from and find her own Adventure without Leonie. Or at least, Leonie and I aren’t sure if she’s had an Adventure yet. I weigh Violet’s fake friendship and figure that I can play at it as well, if only to get Leonie back on my good side. She’s wanted me to get along with Violet since the beginning of the school year.

“We can still hang out after school, though,” I say. “We can scorch our own pentagrams or something, probably.”

Violet giggles and high-fives me while Leonie beams. Once the Adventure is handled and we can enter the school, I notice Leonie clutching a plastic bag as we head to our lockers.

“It’s my cap and gown,” Leonie says. “I picked mine up from the counselor’s office before the alarm. The counselor’s assistant asked if I could speak English, then said there’s no one here with the name ‘Lee Oni.’ She didn’t believe me when I said I’m salutatorian.”

“White people, am I right?” Violet says, and they laugh. “Not you, obviously,” Violet adds, grinning at me.

I ignore her, half because I don’t care, half because a tall shadow lurches behind Leonie’s locker. When she and Violet catch me staring, they turn towards the disheveled man, his fist raised to eye level. He opens his palm to reveal a lump of fur curled around what look to be tiny, fat fingers with gnarled claws.

“Beware the wish you make on this weasel’s paw,” the stranger says. His voice is raspy and weathered. He reaches for Leonie’s hand to press the paw into it, but she swats him away. The paw flies through the air and gets trampled by the lacrosse team walking to class.

“No thanks,” Leonie says to the man. She runs off, calling back to me and Violet to follow her to homeroom.

“I would’ve wished for a big lunch. I’m starving,” Violet says to the man before heading in Leonie’s direction. “Can your paw get me a burger?”

I face the man to apologize for Violet’s rudeness, but he’s gone, searching for his paw.

Leonie comes with me to the counselor’s office before lunch. Once I have my cap and gown, I wait for something to happen. A mythical beast. A priceless gem. A note hidden in the packaging. Instead, Leonie and I pull the caps out of their bags and swing the tassels around our fingers. She tells me how she’s hoping to switch from the business major her parents forced her to enroll under to the classics major she wants once the semester begins, without telling them. I tell her about the movie I want her to watch, a world facing destruction if the chosen one can’t find her missing friend among the portals to a thousand lost civilizations. The chosen one and her brown friend remind me of myself and Leonie.

Plastic bags and silica gel packets cover the cafeteria floor. Everyone is trying on their graduation gowns to check their lengths. We sit at our table, me next to our longtime friends Erica and Amy, and Leonie next to Violet. Like most people I know, Erica and Amy had their Adventure when they were sixteen, after they ended up in an opera house with a masked man.

Violet sits quietly, her greasy fries and sandwich untouched despite her teasing the weasel paw man. As Erica, Amy, and I predict what will happen to the popular kids after graduation—Sophie would never get through law school, Cara could likely become an Olympic swimmer—Violet listens to Leonie talk about the campus towns she can’t wait to explore, the clothes she would finally be able to wear without her mother’s strict rules, the way she’d decorate her dorm room once she’s away from home.

Each time I look at Violet, I can’t help but feel the same unsettling attraction I get whenever I’m near the eerily beautiful boys, something that draws others to her but never too close. It’s a quality that tenses me up whenever I see her with Leonie, as if watching an elegant game of predator and prey. As I look away, I watch the fries and sandwich fall to the ground.

All the trays in the cafeteria, actually, fall to the ground. The fries squirm across the floor and arrange themselves. Some fly to the ceiling like darts, knocking the lights out, while the rest glide past our feet until the linoleum floor runs slick with grease. The fries form a rough face, oblong and horrible. Everyone screams, rushes to the walls, ducks under tables. I watch Leonie run to the exit that leads to the parking lot while Violet and I stand our ground. The Adventure alarm goes off again, but we know it’s too late for the security team to reach us.

“Foolish, weakly lifeforms,” the fries face rumbles. Teachers burst into the room to see what’s going on, only to back themselves into the safety of the hallway. “For too long, our spuds have been ignored. Abused. Destroyed. Even, most repulsively, consumed. Now you shall witness the ultimate pow—”

The face gasps as the sprinkler system washes over it, and I notice that Violet isn’t across the table from me anymore but on the other side of the room, having set the fire alarm off and triggering the sprinklers. The face melts, individual fries rolling off like tears. After a final wheeze, the face dissolves into an oily mess on the floor. Everyone is silent until the principal walks through the cafeteria doors, inspects the sloppy chaos, and says we can leave school early. The room cheers. Leonie, back in the cafeteria, grabs my hand.

“That was Violet’s Adventure,” she says. Everyone in the room thanks her as Violet makes her way back to us. I can’t read her expression too well from so far away, but Violet looks just as disappointed as she does victorious.

“I had something all planned out,” Violet says from the backseat. “I didn’t have to do anything. What a terrible Adventure.”

Her eyes and nose are raw and puffy. Violet doesn’t want to be taken home yet, so Leonie weaves us through the backroads of our town. Leonie tells her that she saved the day and it wasn’t that bad, but she covers up the fact that it’s the worst possible outcome except for maiming or death.

Many people have had ridiculous Adventures. Giant mantises. Feral cars. And now, animate food. At that point, it might even be better to wait for an Adventure and live out some weird, slow-building adult drama like some of the timid, prudish girls we know pine for. One of Leonie’s problems with Adventures we run into is that most of them are predictable, but Violet’s doesn’t even measure up to that. She pulled a lever instead of wielding a sword. It’s less embarrassing to be cliché than to have an Adventure so lacking in the grand. She could’ve avoided the situation entirely by not mocking the weasel paw guy, as far as I can tell. If she had known better, Violet would’ve waited until the monster hurled someone across the room or eaten a few teachers before saving us all. It would’ve looked more heroic.

“What legacy does ‘the potato slayer’ leave?” Violet says, and the tears come. Leonie tells me to take the scarf from the glove compartment and cover Violet with it, like a blanket over a traumatized survivor. I pass her my water bottle, and she takes small sips. Her breathing evens out. So does mine—my Adventure with Leonie is finally safe from her. The story we’ll have when we leave for college will include each other, as it was always meant to.

Leonie reminds us that I suggested we hang out after school, and she doesn’t want to leave Violet alone until she’s cheered up. We decide to have a sleepover at Leonie’s place for what she tells her parents is a “study session.” When we drop by Violet’s house, she sneaks out a bottle of peach schnapps. I hide the vanilla extract in Leonie’s pantry up my sweater sleeve while Leonie’s mother reprimands her for quitting piano lessons last month without asking her first.

Before we head to her room, Leonie yanks a two-liter of Dr. Pepper from the fridge and smirks.

“I hate the piano,” Leonie tells us. “I’ve hated it for ten years. My mom knows it. But at least it took her mind off the young entrepreneurs scholarship deadline I missed.”

Violet and I high-five her. Once it’s late, we sit in a circle in Leonie’s bedroom and play truth or dare, passing the schnapps and vanilla extract around to mix with our glasses of soda.

Leonie lines up tubes of foundation and a handheld mirror if our blushing becomes embarrassingly obvious, but the swallows of alcohol only make our laughter harder, our smiles stretch farther. Violet is the first to get drunk as if it’s her mission to. I wonder if she does so to forget about Fries Face or maybe it’s because she has nothing left to lose now that her Adventure is over.

I had hoped that Violet would look uglier as we drank, but she only becomes more alluring. Her small, round face ends sharply at a delicate chin. A spray of faint freckles washes across her dainty nose. Even when sober, her eyes always look bigger than the rest of her.

“Dare,” she starts. And then another dare, and another, and another. Violet leans in closer to us each time, giggling as she says it.

Leonie and I aren’t so bold. Each time we say “truth,” we let a little more about ourselves slip. How Leonie’s parents don’t just watch her grades, but also how she walks, how she dresses, how she slouches, how she talks, how she eats. How I got my period at nine, before our school implemented health class, and how I was made fun of in the girls’ bathroom for needing “diapers” when everyone found out I was wearing pads. How Leonie gets stared at and asked where she’s from all the time, even though she was born here. How I sat alone at lunch in middle school until the cafeteria supervisor forced other girls to include me at their table, only to be mocked by them all when I talked about the science fiction trilogy I was reading instead of the reality dating shows they binged. How we became inseparable and made a pact on the first day of high school to experience our Adventure together. Violet claps and hugs us at this last one.

“You two are so cute,” she says. She holds our hands and squeezes. I can’t tell if the giddiness is genuine or if it’s from downing the rest of the schnapps on our last dare.

Leonie closes her eyes and throws her head back laughing whenever Violet says “dare.” I imagine the excitement curling through her body, climbing up her throat, tempting her to take a chance and say “dare” as well.

“We’re out of Dr. Pepper,” I say. The two of them look at me, laughter calming. “Violet, I have a question.”

“Truth,” Violet says, raising her empty glass. “The final round.”

“In the car,” I say. “You said you had something planned for your Adventure. What was it?”

Leonie’s brow furrows. I sit back and smile at Violet, who leans in closer than ever.

“It was a story that I heard when I moved here,” Violet says. “I’d love to check it out, even if it’s not mine. Tonight’s the first new moon after the first day of spring. If you take a rowboat out to the middle of the bottomless lake and wait, the water clears up.”

Leonie’s gaze zips to meet mine, and we mirror each other’s baffled stare. We’ve lived in this town all our lives and walked around the lake countless times. Outside of the messy breakups where gifts were tossed into it or daredevils swam as far down as they could, no one has ever mentioned anything interesting about the lake.

“And then what?” I ask.

“And then you see the bottom,” Violet says. A giggle escapes as she looks to Leonie and then back to me. “You see the bottom of the bottomless lake.”

We watch Leonie fiddle with her hands and play with a braid in her hair. “Truth,” she says, like she had waited for her lungs to fill with enough air for a plea.

“What are you scared of?” I demand. “Don’t you want an Adventure?” Leonie takes another pause to shift her position and face me.

“I’ve told you,” she says. “I do want one. But I don’t need an Adventure to teach me fear or pain. I have enough of that here.”

“If you don’t think you need one,” I say. “Then why not this one? You shouldn’t let these opportunities go to waste. Every single day you have a chance to make our lives so much more interesting, to show everyone what our friendship means and how powerful we really are. This Adventure was meant for us, and you can’t say that you know how this one will turn out.”

“If this is what you want, that’s fine,” she says. “But I want to be clear that I never felt like I had to prove anything to anyone. Not friendship, not power. There are other ways to show what matters most to you.”

“You know what’s always mattered to me, Leonie,” I say. “Stop holding us back.”

When I glare at her, Leonie opens her mouth like she wants to keep arguing, but then she clamps it shut. She turns her body away from me and towards Violet. Violet’s eyes are wider than they’ve ever been, and my stomach feels weightless.

“Dare,” I say, and Violet cheers.

The bottomless lake is so close to our neighborhood that Leonie doesn’t bother locking the back door as we sneak out of her house. She doesn’t bother looking at me or Violet, either, and keeps her head down on our walk over as we take in the scent of the damp logs in the deep night. My fists stay clamped until we reach the lake, when I’m sure the three of us have made it without any of us backing out. Violet is the only one who isn’t wound up, playing the role of the observer in this Adventure, and she seems to float with each step, despite the unseasonably muggy air. We climb into a boat we find at the same bank that Leonie and I were at yesterday and paddle to the center.

The mist over the lake clears up even before the boat slides off shore. The lake is black under the new moon, so we take our cellphones out for light. Wherever we look, we see nothing but water and the faint lip of the shore. Minutes go by, and the warm wind pushes us through the lake until we can’t see anything at all. We put the paddles back in the boat and turn our phones off, huddling against each other so tightly we can feel each other’s pulses. Once the boat stops moving, we look over its sides.

A green glow emanates beneath the boat, one that looks as if it’s traveled through the entire depth of the lake and could shine like a star once the water clears. I think that maybe it’s my eyes, reflecting into the water, the bottom of the lake just a very deep mirror. But then, my eyes in the lake grow bigger and brighter and don’t become my eyes at all. The glow swallows me whole, and I hear the splash before I realize I’ve fallen in. I’m sinking to the bottom, wherever the bottom is.

Leonie and Violet have fallen in as well, mouths open in voiceless screams. We’re pulled down by some invisible force, the boat a speck I can barely discern as I struggle against this mysterious current. When it stops, I feel like I’ve been dragged for miles, yet I feel fine.

I take big, gulping breaths as if I were on land. I keep my eyes open, and the green light lets me see every ripple the water makes in our clothing, every shiver in the cold. The three of us look down.

The bottom of the lake is just that. Silty, seaweed-covered. No treasure chest full of jewels, no shipwreck full of secrets, no mermaids or monsters. Violet jerks her head in every direction, as if something could appear just past her shoulder at any second, but the bottom of the lake hides no surprises. Leonie keeps her gaze downward, then kneels to scoop up a handful of sand. She releases it, and it blossoms out to the water around us. We stay there, taking in the empty lake, before the current pushes us back towards the surface.

We let the current tug us upwards, but the higher we go, the more pressure we feel in our lungs, the more goosebumps we sprout from the icy water. The green light suddenly gets brighter, however, and overtakes my vision. The light changes hues, sparkles in my eyes like static on a screen, and then I feel rage and fear and hope, but not my own. I feel Leonie, her emotions, her life, coursing through me.

I see her graduation speech, the one she practices for a week and delivers perfectly. I see her cozy dorm and her roommates with all their quirks. I see the boys she dates and the starstruck looks they give her. I see her present papers in classics conferences and win prizes for her research projects. I see the summer she spends abroad, her first internships and bosses, her first apartment, her pet dog. I see the cafes and bookstores she becomes a regular at, the nonprofit committees she’s invited to join, the museums she visits and the festivals she attends. I see the unfamiliar city she begins to call home.

I don’t see me. I wait for myself to appear in her apartment, at the airport with her, at parties as her plus one. I never show up. I wonder when the green visions will give me my future instead and explain how this Adventure changes me, but I find myself stuck in Leonie’s future.

A room with more cushions than the sofa she’s on can handle. Sandalwood incense in the corner, a tissue box in the center. Her back is to me, and across from her sits a man with a notepad who asks her what brings her to therapy.

“I was made to feel like I was wasting so much of myself,” she says.

The room tilts and the details wash out of it, like water washing sand over shells, and I become unstuck from Leonie’s future only for time to work backwards. I see her sleepless nights. I see her parent’s anger and pride, how she escapes them and learns to call her victories her own. I see the unending phone calls her parents make to scream about how she chose the wrong career, the wrong major, the wrong university. I see the coworkers and classmates who make her feel like her successes come from luck rather than skill and wait for her to mess up. People who tell her that she’s supposed to be good at everything. I see the year she loses her appetite and the year she learns to gain it back. And then I see the three of us back in her bedroom, the empty bottles of schnapps and vanilla extract. I hear what Leonie wished she had said to me but didn’t.

“You shouldn’t let these opportunities go to waste,” I hear myself say. “Stop holding us back.”

“How could you call those opportunities wasted?” she asks me. The lights in her bedroom wobble, and the green vision begins to fade. “None of those Adventures promised me that I would someday end up happier. It’s everyone else who’s never realized how much they were holding me back.”

She never wanted an Adventure that involves saving the world with me. She’s only ever wanted one so that maybe she could save herself.

I blink and find myself still underwater, rising from the dark depths to an equally dark night. I wonder when the two of us started falling apart. What had I done that made her want to leave me? What had I not done, and would she forget me? How much do I mean to Leonie? The weight of my questions is a greater threat to me than drowning, and I beg the lake for answers more than I beg for air. Leonie and I feel each other’s ripples as we approach the boat, and it makes me conscious of my heavy limbs and tired chest. Even so, I feel like a ghost.

Violet pulls on our sleeves. Leonie brushes her hand off and signals that she can return to the boat without us. Violet nods and flits out of sight.

Right before we break the surface, I look at the Leonie I have now. She looks back at me. I can’t read her face, so I project what I wish for her to feel. Pity. Guilt. Shock. Betrayal. Love, or something close to it. I lie to myself because I know it’s none of those things. When we pull ourselves into the rowboat, Leonie and I keep our feet dangling in the water, afraid of breaking the silence between us, afraid of what comes next.

“What did you see?” I ask.

I know the answer. I know she’s seen what I’ve seen. We did it. We had our Adventure together. The thought makes me nauseous. Leonie watches my face turn white, then pulls her feet in and wraps her arms around her knees.

“I saw us,” she says. I lie to myself a second time. I force myself to believe she’s telling me the truth.

Xiaogui / 小鬼

This is a different kind of dark than the one beneath a bedcover, more like the one inside a fist, a dark where we can’t see our own arms and can pretend for a while that we haven’t yet been booted from our mothers by that god who gets paid to kick girls out of the womb...

A Girl Turns To Stone

Once, she turned to stone mid-stroke and suddenly sank to the bottom of the lake, where whitefish darted between her arms like children running an obstacle course.