4th of July picnic
Rain Jessup screamed her son's name, "Eli!" as she jumped up from the picnic table and rushed for the lake. She kept yelling while she ran and dived into the lake, swimming furiously--vaguely aware that Mason Aldrich had dived off the dock and outswam her brothers, both Beau and Jake, to reach the overturned boat. Eli hadn't surfaced yet!
"Eee-li!" Rain's screams echoed around the trees and hanging vines.
Beau and Jake were yelling. Suddenly, Jake had Rain around the chest. She was floundering in her panic, but she had to reach her son.
The boat flipped. Mason broke the surface holding Elijah. What seemed like moments later, Mason heaved himself and the husky boy out of the water, and immediately began C.P.R.
Everyone was out of the lake, breathing harsh, coughing, gasping with their stares glued to Elijah as he finally spewed out water and opened his eyes.
Mason grabbed Eli up off the dock and held him to his chest. He looked at Rain, who was sobbing in Jake's arms. With a raw look in his eyes, he rasped, "It's over. Do you hear me, Rain? I can't do this anymore, dammit." He swallowed with his hand cupping the boy's head and his arm protectively around the shivering child. He got up and carried Eli over to the fire pit to get warm.
Charlie, Beau's girlfriend, and Dana, her cousin, led Rain to the bench and wrapped towels around her. They sat on either side of her, rubbing her back and comforting her, while she cried and looked at the ground, shaking her head over and over.
"Don't cry, Mommy."
Rain lifted her head, looked at her son. then hugged him tight. "You scared me."
"I was watching a fish and flipped over; I got my shoe hung on something. I'm sorry."
She held him back from her and said raggedly, "You're wearing that life jacket from now on. I don't care how good you swim--or how much you fuss."
"I will." He hugged her again. When her crying turned to sniffles, he said, "You okay now? I gotta go pee."
She laughed helplessly and nodded. "Me too. Thanks to you." Rain stood, her clothing stuck to her and shivering too. Then she glanced at Dana. "You want to drive back to the house with me to get some dry clothing?"
"Sure." Dana nodded. They walked off after Rain kissed her son again.
When Rain and Dana returned, Rain's hair was down, flowing over her back. She wore a plain straight sundress split on the sides, with flowered shorts beneath. She had a change of shorts for Eli and thermoses of coffee and some wine coolers Dana joked about. She went down and talked to Gunner awhile, then sat on the edge of the table, looking in the direction the men had walked.
Charlie Aldrich Van Diver leaned against the table beside Rain, their arms touching. "You know what they're talking about?"
Rain nodded, her brown eyes shifting to Charlie, then away. "Here they come," she breathed, shaky.
The men entered the clearing. They glanced where Elijah was sitting on the bank fishing, with a towel around his shoulders. Then they all looked at Rain.
Tension built in her, but Rain said with false calm to her brothers, "It's none of your business."
It was Mason who glared at her unblinking, and murmured, "I made it their business." His jaw tightened as he pointed at the river. "He could have drowned out there, Rain! My son. Mine. I don't give a shit what you want anymore. I'm not asking, I'm telling you right now, I've got a right to be in his life. He needs me there."
"No." Rain shook her head. "We've done j--"
"Don't you dare," he snarled. "Don't you dare insinuate I didn't claim him by choice. I came back a dozen times and you wouldn't let me near him."
Rain grit out, "He doesn't need you. He's fine. He has men in his life."
"Not a father, Rain!" Mason nearly shouted, then lowered his voice. "Knowing how mine was ... oh, no, that's right, you don't know. Because you don't give a shit, Rain. You think because you don't need anyone, he doesn't either. He's a kid. A boy. And I'm not letting him grow up not knowing who his father is, or thinking I don't want him." His eyes turned a stormy green. "It's over, Rain. I'm not playing by your rules anymore."
"If you tell him now," Rain said quietly, "it will make things worse."
"I already know."
The men stepped aside in surprise, parting to reveal the boy who stood with his pole and towel, just looking at them calmly.
Rain groaned and closed her eyes.
Beau said, "Know what, son?"