Chapter One: The Fall
“Look,” hissed Lila, Ruth’s best friend. “It’s David Lloyd, Ruth! He is so cute!” she clutched at her chest in giddy pleasure.
“Really?” said Ruth, rolling her dark green eyes and blushing. “Gee, him? What happened to Gabe?”
“Gabe? You’re kidding! He picks his nose! Can you imagine anything grosser?” Lila snorted, then went back staring at David.
“How come he’s not with the rest of his snotty friends?” Ruth wondered. “He’s usually surrounded by tons of people.” she thought for a moment. “They probably weren’t invited.” she decided.
They were at a birthday party for someone at school. Everyone from the seventh grade was invited, but since it was after school in the middle of the week there were only about twenty kids there. But their families were also invited, and that definitely counted for more, so it was a good thing that this was an outdoor party at the park.
“Who cares; I’m going to talk to him.” Lila declared, and flounced off toward David, auburn hair swaying as she walked.
Ruth sighed. Slim, blue-eyed Lila had no trouble talking to people at all. She was born to be the center of attention and have a gazillion friends. Ruth, on the other hand, was quiet, and no one seemed to take to her as they did Lila. She had been more social before it had happened. Ruth felt that familiar pang of longing and love and hurt. Now everything was different.
Ruth watched Lila talk with David. David said something funny and Lila laughed. Actually, knowing Lila, it probably wasn’t funny. She would laugh at anything. He leaned in closer to Lila and said something to her, then turned and began to walk over to Ruth. Lila stayed where she was. Ruth could feel her face begin to flame. She closed her eyes and thought, Calm down, dummy! He’s just another human being. A very cute human being... her thoughts teased. She pushed the disgusting voice away. Then she opened her eyes. David was right there in front of her.
“Hi,” David said, brushing the blonde hair out of his face, “I saw you over here and thought you could use something.”
“What? Gee. I-I’m…” his blue eyes laughed at her - but not meanly - and her words stuck into her throat.
“You’re Ruth, I know,” he said laughing. “Here.”
He slipped a small piece of paper into her hand and walked away. Ruth looked down at her hand, and the thick paper in it.
Dear Ruth, It read in swirly writing. I’ve been watching you for a while now and it’s time I told you something. I think you are a very smart, talented, pretty girl. I’ve never known anyone like you. I would like to get to know you better, if you would like to..?
She thought it was probably the dumbest, most ill-written piece of work she had ever seen, but when he looked over at her, she quickly slipped it into the pocket of her overalls and looked around. Wow, she thought, Maybe there are people in the world who can write worse than the triplets. She tucked a strand of her dark wavy hair behind her ear. Maybe he feels the same way about me that I do of him! Except the way he thinks about it is way mushier. By far. Ruth’s thoughts were interrupted by Lila beckoning for her urgently from the bridge.
Ruth turned and sprinted for the bridge, sneakers pounding in the dirt. Ruth reached the bridge and walked to Lila’s side.
“What is it?” she asked, breathing heavily.
But before Lila could say anything, chaos arrived.
“CHARGE!” roared a voice. Three pairs of footsteps stomped behind them.
“CJ, PJ, DJ, no!” Ruth groaned, pushing her three younger siblings away. “Not
CJ, PJ and DJ were nine-year-old triplets, and they wreaked havoc wherever
they went. Ruth pushed and shoved, but they still jumped about her, pulling her hair, grabbing her legs, anything they could to be annoying.
“What were you saying?” she grunted as she pushed the triplets away.
“Oh, nothing.” Lila clearly didn’t want to say anything until CJ, DJ and PJ left.
“Guys,” Ruth said. “I’m serious. Go away. Why would you want to hang around two boring girls who have boring conversations anyway?”
“You’re conversations are only boring if you say they aren’t.” DJ said.
“And whenever you admit that your conversations are boring are the only times they actually aren’t.” CJ told them. “Which means right now you two are having an interesting conversation that you don’t want us to hear.”
“Or maybe it’s not interesting, but it’s actually something embarrassing or private.” PJ said.
“In which case we still want to hear.” CJ decided.
“Or maybe it’s none of those suggestions and they’re trying to trick us with our own logic and make us think we’re about to listen to something interesting but in reality we just sit through fifteen minutes of a conversation on hair.” DJ jumped in.
The other two thought about that for a moment.
“Naw,” they both decided. “They’re not smart enough for that.”
And off they skipped, forgetting all about whatever secret conversation Ruth and
Lila were about to have.
Lila was silent for a moment. But she couldn’t contain her curiosity for long. “Alright, out with it! What did he do?! I watched from behind a picnic table but then he walked right in front of you so I couldn’t see you and I ruined the knees of my jeans for nothing,” she looked disdainfully at the muddy knees of her jeans.
“He just came over and gave me this.” Ruth idly put her hand into her overalls and pulled out the note.
“Oh. My. Gosh.” She exclaimed when she had finished reading it. “That’s got to be—”
“—About the worst love letter anyone’s ever received in the history of love.”
“I was going to say the most romantic, but when you put it your way, it is a pretty horrible letter.” she frowned. “At least the paper looks expensive.” she said optimistically. Then Lila squealed with delight. “Aw, how cute! Ruby brought her puppy! That thing is so adorable! I’m going over to pet it. You coming?”
“No, I’ll stay here. Go ahead.”
“I’ll be back in a few minutes.” Lila shoved the note back into Ruth’s hand and rushed off. Puppies were Lila’s second favorite things. First being boys, which was one of the only things Ruth didn’t like about her.
Ruth looked down at the rushing current of Crawdad Creek, her dad’s favorite fishing spot. He used to take her to the this spot all the time to fish. He would tell her the names of the different birds and show her how to tell if a fish had eggs. He would take her to where all the best fishing holes with the biggest fish were.
Sighing, Ruth pulled a picture from her overalls, creased and worn by loving hands. She unfolded it and stared longingly at the photo. It was a picture of a man in his early thirties. He had dark, thick, wavy hair, green eyes, and freckles dotted across his nose. What happened to Dad? She wondered. He looks so much like me. Same hair, same eyes. And we both have freckles.
Her father had died right here in this creek. How did he die? He died right here in this creek. They say he drowned. But Dad wouldn’t have been foolish enough to fall in, right? And they never found the body, either. But this creek runs into so many other creeks and rivers that it could be anywhere. Her throat closed up and she squeezed her eyes shut. She had to fight the tears. Ruth focused on her blood pumping through her, breathing in time with the steady rhythm.
“What’s that?” came a voice from behind her. Ruth shrieked in surprise and the photo of her father slipped from her grasp.
“Dad!” Ruth gasped and reached for the paper, leaning far over the rails of the bridge. Her head screamed at her, telling her that she couldn’t lose that special photo. Ruth’s groping fingers finally grasped the prized possession. But just as her fingers touched the precious piece of paper, she lost her balance on the edge of the rail and plummeted toward the tumbling waters below. The last thing she heard was Lila’s scream of terror before she hit the water and everything went black.