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The Wading Friends

For the second time in forty-five minutes, I’d had my second hot beverage. This time, I ordered flavored tea; peppermint. On the likely probability that my breath stank.

Purposely sitting in the booth next to Jesse, it was easy to avoid his gaze. I didn’t think I could take it anymore. However, I did leave my hand facing up, claiming the small, empty space between us.

Everybody arrived at the same time, carpooling together, laughing, entering the establishment like they’d just come out of the silver screen.

I observed them, slowly finding my sister. Zoey looked reasonably happy, laughing at something Jett was in the middle of telling. She didn’t even spare me a glance until they all came to our table.

Lu, my best friend, took the other space next to me. His soft eyes connected with mine for a brief second, before realization crossed over his every feature.

I turned away, wavering between everyone else. We were missing a body.

“Where’s Ciara?”

Ambrose pushed his glasses up higher on his nose, and I saw a girl in a white button-up, shaking to her core.

“Probably off tormenting some poor girl. She laughed at the suggestion of coming here.”

While most of us sighed, there was a discernible number of rolled eyes.

Ciara was Ambrose’s sister, in the same year as Zoey. I don’t think any of us considered her a friend, but she tended to come to our annual bonfire. Most times I didn’t bother to ask if she had better things to do.

Half of them ordered drinks or something to peck on, but I continued to look forward, capturing the stare of Fletcher. He ran his tongue along his plump bottom lip.

“So, what’s up? You look rough, hungover?” He joked, Zoey nudged his shoulder.

Shaking my head, I planned on coming out with it. Looking them in the eye and proclaiming that I believed one of them drowned me – but how ridiculous was that? I didn’t want to accuse anyone. I was close to each of these people, had spent most of my life laughing and crying with them… so how could I spit in their faces?

As the orders came, I shifted my attention to Ambrose sitting by the window, one arm under the table as he blew out onto his hot mug. The steam collected on his glasses, clouding it all over.

Ambrose paid no heed, instead exhaling after his sip. Then, above his frames, he fixated on me. And I had to avert.

Where I saw Jett. He was the newest member to our circle, but we’d all known him since he was a middle-schooler. In his teenage years, Jett wasn’t exactly… pleasant, should I say. But, in company of the right people and attending regular therapy sessions, he slowly bettered himself for the sake of the people still wanting to be part of his life.

He was a good person now. Sure, he made crap decisions from time to time, but who didn’t? He’d hung up his bad boy persona for the benefits of being a good citizen.

My sister’s hand lay gently on his shoulder, as she nibbled on her fries, concentration on elsewhere. Zoey was the sole person in my family I loved and hated at the same time. Like most younger siblings, she could be irritating and rebellious, but she always found time to sit down and just watch "Pride and Prejudice" with me.

Just because she was young and impressionable, it didn’t mean she could be easily influenced to do something as crazy as attempted murder.

Besides, she was my sister.

And next to Zoey was Fletcher, son of the well-respected Chief of Police. He was competitive, witty and sometimes, he butt heads with everyone else in the group, mainly Ambrose. I just saw it as them both being stubborn creatures that loved to stir the pot.

And, although he was raised in a rather strict household, Fletcher had never been anything short of kind and gentle. He just liked to press buttons.

Finally, there was Lu. My best friend. My constant. Since we were freshmen in high school. He’d been the only Asian in our year, so everyone else had been hesitant to approach, but not me. I told him I liked his hair and the rest is history.

Lu was cute, supportive and a bit of a geek. We lusted over fictional men and watched period dramas on our sleepovers. He was an amazing boy, who bloomed into an exceptional man.

I have spent years with these people. Every one of them I proudly called family.

So, how could I phrase my fear?

Then, I felt the soft graze of skin, the sweet soak of sweat combining with what I’d already secreted. The squeeze that accompanied it showed me that I would have my own personal tourniquet if I required it.

I laced my fingers through Jesse’s before swiftly looking up at him, greeted with an expression that remained to be my Achille’s heel.

And so, facing my friends, taking turns to penetrate each of their gazes, I told them about my morning.

And the funny thing?

Not a single expression wavered. First, there was initial shock, disbelief and anger, then resolution with assisting me on finding my perpetrator and getting the answers I desperately needed.

I saw only six innocent faces, with eager reactions to help me begin my investigation.

Either all six of these people were loyal, compassionate and supportive friends, who wanted me to succeed.

Or none of them were.

And I think that may possibly be what scared me the most.