You kindly reviewed this story and gave me some great feedback; here’s a revision. I’d be delighted if you could have a look and see if you prefer this version or if you think there are improvements; I should add I’ve not given it a thorough sweep for typos yet.
To Brian it seemed like an ordinary lake. More than ordinary. Dull. And it contained water. They all did. That was the problem with them. How could this possibly be the answer to his prayers? He watched as Prettie Carmeron took a small step and let the water seep out of the silt to cover the sole of her feet. ‘Is it cold?’
She grinned at him. ‘That’s not what you really want to know, is it?’
‘Suppose,’ he said morosely. ‘Well, is it?’
She frowned like she was trying to decide. ‘You know. It’s odd but it’s as they said. It’s not cold or hot or… anything.’
Brian wrinkled his nose. ‘That’s daft.’
She didn’t try and hide the sigh in her voice. ‘Yes, it is but it’s true. I can’t feel it, just the ground.’ She hinged forward to peer at her feet. ‘But there it is, water over my feet.’ She looked up at him. ‘Told you, didn’t I?’
She had. She’d latched onto him as soon as he’d arrived at the lodge, the only other guest about his age. In truth he’d only made it as far as the edge of the paving because of her mix of cajoling, bullying, humiliation and flirting. He looked up from her feet – poor tortured things, scarred like his – to her face. She was wonky – that was the word that had come to mind when he’d spoken to his mother. She looked, moved and acted wonky.
She was talking again, something about it being perfect. He cut her off. ‘How far did you go?’ As he spoke he eyed the water suspiciously, as if it might make a dash for him, to try and splash him.
‘Mid-calf. Derek said to take it in stages. I’m going to try my thighs today.’ Her face became serious. ‘You?’
‘I’ll…’ panic almost overwhelmed him. He so wanted to, oh God he so wanted to. ‘I’ll watch. See you scream.’ Why he said that?
She pulled a face. ‘Then you’ll have to rescue me.’
‘Oh sure that’s going to happen.’
‘I’ll splash you!’
Before he could even think why, he took several steps backwards. The horror must have shown on her face as she looked equally horrified. ‘Brian, wait, I‘d never…’
He hung his head, shame burning into his cheeks as tears squeezed out of the corners of his eyes, searing little rivulets on his cheeks. He sniffed and waved her away. ‘I can’t, I just can’t,’ he wailed hating the self-pitying sound more than the idea of a spray of the water.
He brought his gaze back to Prettie, who had stepped out of the shallows and moved to within a couple of feet. ‘I’m not going in unless you do.’
‘That’s daft. It works for you.’
‘And it’ll work for you.’
‘Doesn’t follow. Mine could be different to yours.’
‘Derek says it’s the same.’
‘How does he know?’
‘He does. And I’m scared, Bri, absolutely terrified.’
He felt anger begin to tighten his chest. ‘Oh sure. You’ve done it. I’m the coward.’
‘Rubbish. Only you know what you’ve been through, what’s been done to you. Of course you’re suspicious.’ She turned back to the edge of the lake which had begun to look like some horror movie backdrop to Brian. Bending she dipped her finger into to the water and held it up for him to see. It shone in the low light. ‘You just burnt your face with those tears and you just accepted it. Let me touch your hand. One drip at a time.’
He stared at her finger, pointing up. He looked at her steady gaze. ‘Who are you calling a drip?’
‘You Brian Patterson. Ready?’
‘Oh shit.’ He felt every muscle tense as she approached him. One moment his eyes were wide open and the next squeezed shut. The tension hung in the air as he waited. ‘Get on with it,’ he growled.
He felt sure she was tricking him and blinked open his eyes. Sitting on the back of his hand was a drop. A simple bead of water. He felt… nothing. He couldn’t move, certain if he did whatever sat between him and the ball of acid would shift and he’d be burnt. He felt desperate and looked for Prettie. She’d dropped her skirt and begun to wade into the shallows, her pink lacerated legs mimicking his own. ‘Prettie…’
She looked back at him. ‘It’s not a trick.’
Something in her expression made him relax and the droplet ran across the back of his hand disappearing to the ground.
‘Come on. Try it. You’ll see.’ Prettie reached out a hand to the reluctant teen, whose arms instinctively folded hard across his chest, pressing into the scar tissue.
‘Sure it won’t hurt?’
‘Come on.’ She indicated her legs. ‘See, I’m fine.’ She held his terrified gaze. He knew she was as desperate as him that he walked towards her.
‘Why do you care?’
‘Don’t know. I’m kind to dumb animals, I suppose.’
‘Hey!’ The tension began to ease and he shuddered. ‘Oh crap.’ He took two steps forward to the edge of the paving. In front of him was a small step down and the soft earth that led to the edge of the lake. ‘Why does this work? It makes no sense.’
‘No one knows. That’s what they say. They’ve done loads of tests. Radiation, salts, some weird magnetic field, asteroid hit…’ She shrugged. ‘As my dad says, if it works don’t fix it. And it works. It eases pain. That’s why you have to be special to be allowed to use it.’ Shen turned to fully face him. ‘Do you want me to walk in with you?’
He looked at her still calm face. ‘You okay? No pain?’
‘Nothing. Sort of tingle but I think that’s either adrenaline or I may need a pee.’
He couldn’t help it; he snorted out a laugh. ‘If you pee in the lake…’
‘I expect I’ll be banned.’
He bent forward and tugged at the lace in his right trainer. He could feel his heart smashing into his ribcage. ‘I may have to hate you for ever.’
‘It’s a risk I’m prepared to take.’
He heard the slight break in her voice and looked up. She was crying and wincing as the salty liquid ran down her cheek. ‘Wipe your face.’
She frowned like he was mad and then understood. She wet her fingertips and wiped her cheeks. It took a moment and then she screamed and laughed. ‘Oh god, I can cry without it hurting.’ She grinned at him through ore tears and splashed her face.
One minute he was smiling the next horror enveloped him as some of the water she had splashed hit his face and then his arms. He froze bracing himself for the stippled agony. Nothing. Nervously, anxiously he touched his face, felt the sensation of wetness and realised there was no pain, nothing. ‘Prettie….’ He looked at her, amazement on her face replacing the anxiety of a moment before.
He could barely breathe as he fumbled at his other laces. Every medic had said his ultra-fine dermis couldn’t be treated and the best hope was in the oils he lathered on himself. He prised off one then the second trainer and his socks. He took a moment and pushed his trackie bottoms over his feet. Normally he was mortified if anyone saw the damage, but not Prettie. She held out a hand.
‘One small step…’
He pressed his toes into the damp soil. Nothing. ‘Not too hot and not too cold?’ He asked.
She nodded. ‘Yeah. Just right. Like Goldilocks made it.’
Brian felt a tsunami of experiences begin to form in his head, blocking out the next step, telling him he couldn’t trust her, go back to his room. Rely on the oils. No, he wasn’t going to be that boy.
The terrified youngster, with the damaged body and tortured mind stepped uneasily forward, one step, then another, all the while not looking at his feet but at Prettie who held his gaze unblinking. He kept moving, feeling the drag of the water but nothing else. He kept going, walking away from pain and into…
Prettie Carmeron and Brian Patterson stood facing each other. Water, that awful caustic destructive life giving substance lapped around their knees.
‘Brian…’ She didn’t blink.
‘Prettie…’ He didn’t know what to do, amazed that he was upright and not screaming in agony.
He began to bend his head to look at how deep into the water his legs were, but stopped when he felt her finger on his chin. He looked back at her.
‘This would be a good time to kiss me.’
Surprised his began to sway back but she had a hand round his neck and pulled him to her. He couldn’t help wincing, feeling sure the dampness of her lips would burn, but she brought her free hand to her mouth and wiped it with lake water. The kiss was both sensational and without any sensation at all.
They broke apart, both laughing. ‘I hope you didn’t pee,’ he chided.
She licked her lips. ‘Now you mention it…’
He wrinkled his nose and then smiled. ‘Can we do that again?’
She cupped a hand and splashed her mouth. ‘Why not?’
She began to lean towards him but he stopped her, surprising her. ‘You’re wrong about the lake, you know?’
‘Oh yeah, how so?’
‘It may not be hot or cold but this is sooo cool.’
She pulled a face. ‘Shut up.’ And to make sure he did she locked her mouth onto his.