Skipping Stones

by Rachel Ottenbreit

The salty ocean breeze wafted through the air, toyed briefly with my hair, and then passed. Rhythmic waves slapped the sandy shores, one after the other, slap after gentle slap. The sun shimmered on the waves, broken like a thousand silver stars. It was, in short, a perfect day, the most perfect day I'd ever had in all my life.

I didn't know, couldn't know, that my happiness was thin and short-lived, that in only a matter of moments, it would be gone, as far away and distant as the moon. As far away as China, Michael and I used to say. And then we'd fall silent for a minute or so, contemplating China, and distances, and our lives in general.

A loud splash interrupted my dreamy thoughts, and I glanced up sharply. There was another splash, and then an annoyed growl from my brother. "How do you skip rocks? I keep trying, but I can't get it." Another splash.

"You've got to flick your wrist, and keep it even," I explained, standing and demonstrating. Michael watched in awe as it danced away, and, frowning studiously, he picked up yet another stone and threw it the way I'd shown him.

I clapped, grinning, and Michael smiled sheepishly. "Can I go get it? I want to keep it in my room. Please?"

I hesitated, then nodded, and he rolled up his pants and waded in, wincing as the cold water hit his skin. Soon he had gone so far out that all I could see was a tiny dot on the surface of the water: Michael's head. "Come back," I called, but he didn't hear me.

So I did what any good sister would do in my situation: I panicked. What if he drowned? What if the ocean carried him away, far away, and we never found him again? What if he swam so far out that a shark could get him? Images flashed through my head, ugly pictures of my brother in a crumpled, coughing heap. I screamed.

By now I could just barely see him, but for a moment I thought he turned. It must have been my imagination grasping for hope. Michael was too far in to just turn around and walk back: he'd gone too far and couldn't touch the bottom any more. And he wasn't strong enough to swim all the way back to shore.

I ran into the water. Icy waves hit me, one after another, but I barely noticed them. Sharp stones bit at my feet, but I didn't stop. Nothing mattered, nothing, except for Michael.

It seemed like an eternity before I reached Michael, bobbing up and down, choking on salty water every time his head disappeared below the surface. I grabbed Michael's hand and pulled him back toward the shore, my whole body aching painfully. When we reached the shore, I collapsed on the sand, still holding my brother's hand.

Half an hour later I woke up and glanced around frantically.  "Michael!" I yelled, or rather, I tried to yell. My throat was too dry and sore to make any sound other than a feeble croak.

"You sure slept for a long time," Michael observed, grinning boyishly. "Now look at this." He pulled a smooth stone from his back pocket and skipped it effortlessly across the water. It jumped once, twice, three times, four... I stopped counting.

"Michael," I said sternly, preparing to lecture my brother on general rules of safety in the ocean.

"Oh, yeah, uh, thanks for, uh..." Michael started, shuffling his feet and looking embarrassed.

"For saving your life," I prompted.

He shot me an incredulous look. "Are you kidding? I had that whole thing under control. You didn't need to come and get me. I just wanted to say thanks for showing me how to skip rocks."

And then he skipped another one, and it danced over the water and kept on dancing for farther than we could see. It probably jumped as far away as China.

It didn't matter, though. I've learnt from experience that even things that travel as far away as China can come back.

Take happiness, for example.

BIO: This is Rachel's first (published) short story. She lives in Calgary with her seven very inspiring younger sisters and two very fantastic parents. Rachel is fourteen years old and she has never been very good at skipping stones, despite her great-uncle's patient, repeated lessons on the matter. Someday she hopes this will change. Until then she sticks to writing and thinking wishfully.