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by Sydney Lee Jones 10 months ago in Mystery
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The Last Summer

Stiffly, we sat on the blue-gone-grey wood floating questionably across the gravel pit pond. Only four at a time could fit but others clung to the edges, desperate for a turn to relieve their pruned feet from the collection of storm water we called a summer escape. Avoiding the rusted nails of gatherers past, we jumped in head first diving deep into our daydreams, never quite enough to reach the bottom. Propelling ourselves downward, we tried to go the deepest yet. But the further we went the colder it got, aching our heads in places we never expected, down to the roots of our teeth. On that makeshift pond, aboard a makeshift raft, we procured makeshift dreams of where our lives would go.

In the midst of The Last Summer, that’s what I refer to it as anyways, I learned Lee Westin’s name was actually Leonard Oswald Westin. They plastered his full name alongside a picture of his face on missing person posters across town. His mouth, a grin that seemed to shrink with each door it stuck to. I always thought of him as just Lee, but learning it was more than that opened my 8th grade eyes to the fact that I didn’t know quite enough about him. He stood taller than I, and lankier. Even though I met his parents only a handful of times, and went to his house even less, I confidently called him my friend. We mainly just laughed over foolish jokes and shared hot tamales. The announcement of Lee's disappearance confused me, but I shrugged it off with an image of him recklessly running through the woods, it wouldn’t be the first time one of us ventured out on our own.

After a week with no sign of Lee, my friends and I felt worry floating in between the words we shared out on the raft. Conversations sunk to the bottom of the pond without any sign of a struggle. There proved nothing much to talk about other than Lee. Some days we didn't go to the water, instead we wandered around in the shadows of the woods listening for the echo of a laugh like it was one prolonged game of hide-and-seek. But, staying out until dusk scared us to our core. The shadows began their nighttime ritual, surrounding us and threatening to rid the earth of our existence before we even had a chance to make it our own. We never felt this way before, but our imaginations took Lee’s disappearance and ran with it. I pictured Lee walking up to my door knocking on it, the grin on his face matching the photos across town, mainly because what he looked like already began to blur in my mind. He would tell me about where he had been, the amazing time he had. I did more than imagine this scenario, I dreamt it, I attempted to will it into existence.

A month went by, no sign of Lee turned up. As kids, we didn't know the gritty details, where he was last seen or by who. We just knew that he was gone. We all knew it, but we didn't dare speak it out of fear of jinxing it. Children, although young, understand the fragility of those around them and wouldn’t dare break it, their own shattering still fresh in their memories. When they questioned us about the last time we hung out with him I recalled it simply. We went swimming at the pits, walking to my house once the sun began to sink behind the highest pile. From there, he headed home. They told me he never made it that night, even though we waved and made funny faces until it was time for him to turn left. From there, his house sat one block down, the gravel pit sitting snugly in between. Fearing a predator, our parents wrapped us up tightly in bundles of one another, sending us on our way in groups of 2 or 3 with warning labels of not to separate one from the other.

At the end of The Last Summer, Lee’s body floated to the top of the gravel pits. At that point, his skin resembled the faded color of the raft. While none of us swam that day, the thought of him being stuck down there while we splashed above sent chills through my veins. I imagined the kicking of my feet swirling his long blonde hair into a twirl at the top of his head as the tadpoles made a home out of the hollowed out spaces that were once his blue eyes. Turns out, he might've left his socks along the shore and fearing his mother’s anger, snuck down quickly to get them. No one really knows what happened after that, but he got stuck down there at the bottom swimming beneath our bare feet.

My mother and father hardly met Lee Westin, never had him over for dinner or picked him up from school on a cold day. For all they knew he was a boy parallel to me, our lives never crossing. While they spoke to me about death, they didn't realize the extent to which Lee impacted my short life. Because I didn't mention him everyday, or have him stay the night, they assumed I would heal quickly. Now that he turned up this way it felt unsettling to tell them the truth. Lee Oswald Westin had always been a good friend, even if not in the way they understood.

We never went back to the pit after that day. Acting as though we grew out of it was easier than admitting we feared what happened down there. I waited patiently for the edges of the water to recede, to slowly crisp and work their way towards the center. To freeze over and hold all my fears beneath its icy surface. I begged for fall to emerge quickly and mask the obvious way we pretended as though we didn't each spend an exceedingly large amount of time recalling every hair or unidentified object that stuck to our skin while swimming that summer. It was bone chilling to imagine him down there, in the ice cold dark. I can’t swim without thinking of a boy floating beneath my feet, each kick of the legs shifting their corpse across the sandy bottom. And everytime I see a body of water, or dream of summer, I can't help but think that if I had just dove down a little deeper, held my breath a little longer, I would've found his fingertips and pulled him to the surface.


About the author

Sydney Lee Jones

I have a bachelors degree in Criminology with a minor in English Literature. I am applying to medical school and hope to study forensic medicine. I have been writing my whole life, filling up notebooks with ideas that touched my soul.

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