“What are you kids doing over there?” their mom yelled, trying to be heard above the rushing water.
Annie turned her head to look at her mother but remained crouched over her project. She pushed her glasses tight against the bridge of her nose, and refocused on the task at hand. She paused a moment to study her brothers — lips, eyes, tone of voice — to see if this sudden interest in helping her was a joke, or a set-up. But they appeared to be excited and involved.
Their mom had already lost interest. She moved to her husband’s side as he readied the bright blue Hyside. The cove along the upper Gauley River wasn’t crowded yet, but there were several kayakers and two guided whitewater parties just climbing into a couple of silver and black Class VI rafts.
“You kids, get over here!” Dad bellowed at them as they huddled in the distance at the edge of the woods. “Ryan, you’re steering, come on!” He hauled the raft into position and began to sing, “Away, away, come away with me….”
“Shut the fuck up with that,” Mom said instantly. “We’re not in a goddamned movie.” She slipped on her purple PFD. She was a branch-bank manager, a whitewater fanatic, and not in the least bit romantic.
“Heading for the promised land….” He said just to annoy her, but then glanced up and stared at his four children. They appeared to be moving towards the river bank a hundred yards downstream. “Where in the hell are they going? What are they up to?”
Mom spun around, instantly sensing disobedience, trouble. Her sunglasses glinted. She stomped one shoe on the rocks. “Get over here, now!” she nearly screamed.
The other visitors slipped her little peeks and blinks, pretending the constant rumble of the river had muffled the woman’s voice.
Annie, Ryan the eldest, Jeremy older by a year, and her younger brother Loren, carefully made their way to the top of some grey boulders that boiled out of the bounding, blue-green water. Ryan carried the infant-sized inflatable boat — yellow and orange — now converted into a Barbie-sized whitewater craft. Carefully and securely strapped inside were Annie’s Barbie Basics #4, the redhead she called Christina, and handsome Ken #15 with the long, dark hair who Annie had named Justin.
“Hurry,” she said, “Mom’s almost here.” And she watched as Ryan stretched flat on the rock, and held the boat out over the river, then gently let it drop. “Oh!” she said with an intake of air as her brothers exhaled in awe.
“What in the hell are you doing?” Mom said, and grabbed Annie by one shoulder, shook her. “Are those the dolls I bought you for Christmas? The ones from Collection 2 that I paid a hundred dollars for?” She shook Annie again.
Ryan drew himself upright in one smooth, athletic motion. He loped to his mother’s side and patted her on the back. He was her favorite. He was sixteen. “Aw come on, Mommy. It’s so shit. Annie wanted them to ride the rapids! You wouldn’t let her bring them with us.”
Little Loren pointed and jumped several times. “Look at ‘em go, look at that.”
They all turned and gazed off to the right, peering into the mists of the tumbling, foamy water as the now distant dolls shot forward, bobbled and teetered for a moment, then dropped out of sight below the falls of the Little Z.
Annie scrunched up her face. “Tina, Justin,” she murmured. She wondered why her brothers had been so happy to help her.
“Aw, it’s cool, Annie,” Ryan said, shoving her as he ignored his mother, herded his siblings back towards their own raft.
In a short while, the entire family also dropped over the Little Z, Ryan at the rear, dad and Annie on one side, mom and the two younger boys on the other. Annie’s lenses quickly become smudged, obscured with spray. She was well protected with her pink PDF and helmet, but she shivered and her pink shorts now stuck to her like paint. She stopped paddling suddenly as they moved toward the next major hurdle Insignificant. She tore off her glasses, tossed them somewhere beside her. She leaned out and searched the bank on the left, looking for her dolls. She was abruptly jostled and tilted as the water became choppy, then a roiling whirl of currents.
“Annie!” Mom shouted. “What?!?” They spun, raised high prow-first then dropped; Ryan tried to keep his balance as his end rose in the air. “You’re going to be sorry, young lady!” Mom called, but was forced to wield her paddle.
“Annie, paddle, NOW!” Dad commanded from his position in front of her.
And she did. “Tina, Justin,” she said again, softly, her plea lost to the spumes of water and the roar.