Living Out Loud: : Snappers and Painters

Me and Conner

I love Bear Lake, even if I get a bloodsucker on my belly when the water's junky. We come here every summer.

This is No. 9 of 10 vacation days, so me and Conner are out playing every last second. God, I'm peeling. Conner's brown and lucky. He never gets sunburned. Oh, and his black curls feel like a knotted ball of fishing line.

I met Conner the summer I was 7 1/2. I was swinging when he came walking down the road holding a dead perch. When I grabbed the fish and bit the tail, Conner said he was my best friend.

Now I'm 9. Conner's a year older, which is 10, in case you can't do math. Conner's sitting on the beach swing, pumping his legs crazy, waiting for me while I grab nets and buckets. When I get back, Conner gives me a high five sort of. He misses.

Our cottage is small; a two-lane road is the only thing you cross to find the beach. Conner's cottage is on the right. We have to go through Grampie's gardens to get there.

One time, we caught a snake in the pea pods. I picked it up behind the neck like my cousin Bryan showed me. Bryan had a boa that got loose once. Later, Aunt Patty found it in the bathroom while she was peeing.

Dad makes me wear a life jacket, but by the time we get to The Cove the jacket's in the boat bottom. Don't tell. Then we search for turtles and peepers, which are baby toads if you don't know.

In the boat, I fix my strapless shirt so Conner can't see my boobs. I don't have boobs like Mom's melons, but I still don't need to show the world.

I wear this one-piece shorts thing even when it's cold, which it's not. Duh, it's summer. Real uniforms stink. They leave red tummy marks, like you're wrapped up in a rubber band. Nuns are in charge where I go to school.

In the water, Conner bobs between lily pads, saying, "Peanut, gimme the net. It's a snapper!" When he climbs back in the boat, let me tell you, P.U.

"I want a painter," I say, swatting a dragonfly. I like painted turtles better. I wonder why snappers snap. All they do is swim. Dad says they could bite off a finger.

"Hand me the net!" Conner looks like his cheeks might explode. Gross.

"All right, here, geez." I put the net right on Conner's head while that snapper slides into the water like they do.

"Maybe I'll catch you!" Conner yells, coming at me.

"No way," I say, tipping the boat, which isn't hard. Dad calls Grampie's Boston Whaler "a one-man ride to Sinkville."

We splash around. Then Conner laughs, diving down.

I follow him. If I don't, he'll kill me.

Conner presses his stomach to the lake bottom like a catfish, waving his arms to stay there. Reminds me of the way Father Bruegger waves his arms at school mass to make everybody stand up. Just when I think I got it, I'm sitting, and everyone else is kneeling. I don't get religion.

On the mushy bottom, we talk underwater, trying to figure out words, which is so funny it makes me choke and go up for air.

I hate when Conner sits on the bottom too long, acting like he's dead, which is what he's doing. When he comes up puffing, Conner steers the boat out of The Cove proud, like he's bringing back a shark.

Conner tells me my face is smooth and white like the morning beach. He knows how to say poetry. Then we tie the boat up and run to my cottage because Mom says Conner can come over to eat for once.

Everybody chews bass. Nobody talks because Grammie's food is too good. Boring.

After dinner, me and Conner sit on the swing. I'm glad it's dark because Conner's ears are usually full of wax.

Then the rusted swing chain breaks, sliding Conner into my lap. Boy, he's heavy.

"We pushed too hard," I say. We touch noses. It tickles.

Conner kisses me sloppy.

It's like we're underwater and he's giving me air. Conner's big lips sure taste better than Grampie's coffee. I might throw up.

"Peanut, I like you more than anything," Conner whispers older-sounding.

"More than snappers and painters?" I ask.

"Yup."

Mom opens the cottage door so fast the hinges might bust. "Peanut!" she yells. Light comes out to get us.

Conner's face is in between caramels and shadows.

"See you," I say, tiptoeing inside because neither one of us knows what we're doing.

That night, I bury my head under the covers. It's hard to breathe. I don't want to breathe anymore, unless I'm breathing with Conner.

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