Last Day of Summer

“I dare you to ask someone for gum.”

My eyes widened and I scanned the trail for any approachable dog-walkers, but saw nobody. “That’s unfair, there’s nobody here!” Ella and Sophia giggled and continued kicking the dirt path, scouring their minds for a better one. The last hours of summer camp were rapidly approaching, so to escape the unpacked suitcases and tearful goodbyes, we had wandered to a nearby river. Despite the overcast sky and murky waters, we were still intent on having a memorable time.

“What about… you guys can jump into the water,” I suggested half-heartedly, expecting overwhelming opposition.

“Ew!” Ella exclaimed. “I’m pretty sure I saw a sewer pipe draining water back there.”

Sophia glanced at Ella, her eyes mischievous. “What if we did it? I mean, it’s not illegal.” Ella stopped walking and looked back at her, laughing. They tiptoed near the edge of the riverbank, looking down into the brown-green water, covered in a film of dust and crushed leaves.

“Wait, are you guys actually considering this?” I watched as they handed me their phones and stuffed their socks in their shoes.

Sophia slowly slid down into the water, grabbing onto jutting roots and fallen branches. Ella, not as lucky, lost her shaky grip and was sent plummeting into the water feet-first. She emerged with her blonde hair stuck to her shirt and dripping mud down her back. “Come in! The water really isn’t that bad.” Hesitantly, I shook my head. “Take some pictures at least!” As I watched them through the camera, I contemplated joining them. I looked down at my pristine shoes doubtfully, wondering if a swim was really worth all the hassle.

With a grumble, my gut warned me that it was dangerous and disgusting in the river. Maybe there was a crab waiting at the bottom, craving my fresh meat. Plus, didn’t Ella say she saw sewer water flowing into the river? I shivered at the thought of the slime and algae coating my body as I stepped into the water. But Ella and Sophia seemed to have no fear, no worries about injuries or bacteria. Why was the idea of jumping into the river so shocking to me? For a moment, the glints of sunlight escaping through the trees shimmered against the ripples, inviting me in.

Just as I sat down to untie my shoelaces, a drop of water hit my forehead. And then another. Before we knew it, the light drizzle quickly turned into heavy rainfall. I gathered our belongings, holding the bags in one arm and our phones in another, while Sophia and Ella splashed to land and stuffed their dripping feet into their shoes.

We rushed back along the trail, towards safety from the rain, followed by the squishing of wet feet in sneakers. We jumped and laughed and yelled across the flooded puddles along the path, not even taking a moment to pause and wipe the dirt from our clothes.

Back at camp, I aggressively scrubbed at the mud entangled with my frayed shoelaces. But as I flipped through the photos of Ella and Sophia, I wished it had been a summer day without hesitation, when I could learn the feeling of not backing out on a dare. And I could only imagine the river water, leaving damp flower buds and tree bark to linger, as the memories of rain and summer were squeezed into my hair towel and left to dry.

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