“Mary, Mary, come out! Please!” Panting after her run to the house, Evie bangs against the front door with the side of her fist. She hears shifting footsteps inside, hears Mary’s voice shouting to someone, probably her mother. The door opens, and Mary leans against the doorframe. Her short hair is coming out of the small ponytail at the base of her neck. When she sees Evie, something flickers in her eyes, but she quickly hides it behind a smirk. “Yes? Why are you here?”
Swaying slightly on her feet, Evie wrings her hands. “Imogen fell down the well. You have to help me get her out. Please. I promise I’ll leave you alone after, but you’re the only person I knew I could come to.”
“Okay.” At Mary’s unquestioning and immediate agreement, Evie’s heart throbs. It reminds her of simpler times, when it was just the two of them, before Imogen, before everything. “I’m going to get a rope, and then we’ll go get her. Okay?” Mary doesn’t wait for Evie to answer, already slipping back into the house. She leaves the door open, and Evie peers through it, shifting her weight from foot to foot, waiting for Mary to reappear out of the shadowy hallway.
There is a thick rope looped over Mary’s shoulder when she returns. She shouts into the empty entryway that she’ll be back, before slamming the door and jumping down the steps. Mind going blank, Evie follows, and they run side by side down the road. At the end of the street, they jump over the rusty old gate without breaking their strides.
The well waits in the center of the field, beside the skeleton of an old cabin, long burnt down. Littered among the ashes are broken beer bottles and soda cans, cigarette butts, an old bra, the white fabric gone spotty and rough with age. Mary unloops the rope from around her shoulder and begins tying it to one of the posts that supports the roof of the well.
Her hands shaking as she holds them out, Evie offers to help, but Mary shakes her head. “No,” she says, “Just sit. I’ll tell you if I need you.” Obliging, Evie curls up in the grass a few feet away. Finally, everything is setting in. The adrenaline that carried her through the run to and from Mary’s house, that kept her mind blissfully empty of anything other than the ground beneath her feet and the task at hand, is gone. A floodgate has opened, and now every thought is pouring into her mind.
“Can you hear me?” Mary, leaning down over the well, shouts into the darkness. “Imogen, are you down there?” Holding her breath and leaning forward over her knees, Evie listens for a response. When she doesn’t hear one, she drops her head into her hands, starting to sob too quickly for tears to fall, so that her chest heaves but her cheeks stay dry.
Mary’s voice startles her. “Get up, I need your help.” She tugs Evie over to the well, swings one leg over the side and wraps her hands around the rope. “This is tied to the post,” She shakes the rope in Evie’s direction, “But I don’t know if it’ll hold. I need you to keep your grip on it tight, okay?” Evie nods, but she only stares at the rope when Mary holds it out to her. When she doesn’t take it, Mary takes a deep breath. “You need to get your act together,” she snaps, “Imogen is going to be fine, but only if you can figure yourself out and hold onto the rope.” Her voice echoes back up at them from inside the well.
Setting her shoulders and swallowing her tears, Evie grips the rope with both hands as Mary begins to slide down it. The adrenaline begins to wash away her thoughts again, and as she watches Mary descend into darkness, Evie can only focus on the sliver of light reflecting off her friend’s hair and her fingers wrapped around the thick rope.
Several seconds pass.
Then Mary’s voice echoes up from deep below. “Imogen, how much strength do you have? Can you grab onto my hand?” Evie twists her fingers around the rope.
Much softer, Imogen’s voice bounces back up from the bottom of the well. “Yes.” Little splashes sound as Mary quietly directs Imogen up onto the rope. Ever so slowly, two heads emerge from the darkness, one sopping wet and blonde, the other a pale face, turned up to Evie.
“Do you think you can pull a bit, Evie?” Mary asks. Though it strains the muscles in her arms after barely thirty seconds, Evie begins to pull the rope up bit by bit.
After several minutes of pulling, filled only by the sound of heavy breathing echoing up and down through the well, Mary and Imogen pull themselves up and over the edge onto the grass. There, they collapse, chests heaving, Imogen shivering and soaked to the bone. Sitting beside them, Evie, too, breathes hard.
“We have to get Imogen to the hospital.” Mary says, standing and brushing herself off. She is drenched up to her chest.
Imogen shivers. Evie glances at Mary, and they each grab one of Imogen’s arms to haul her up. They have always been like this, Evie remembers. Always thinking the same thing. Now, remembering this, she realizes how much she has missed it. “I’m so tired,” Imogen mumbles, her chin dropping to her chest.
She leaves a trail of water on the ground as they cross the field to the gate, which she cannot get over by herself. She has become only the shell of a person, filled with water rather than energy.
Evie thinks for a second that she hopes she will not lose anyone today, but then she reminds herself not to think like that. Hope is not necessary. Imogen will be fine.
When they reach the road, two girls supporting another one, a man standing out in his yard notices them, and Evie sees the moment the shock strikes him. “Hey!” He calls out, waving his hands in the air, as though they would not be sure he was talking to them. “Do you girls need help?”
Without hesitation, Mary answers. “Yes,” she says, “She needs to go to the hospital.”
The man looks surprised--Evie doesn’t know why--but hurries inside. They wait. He emerges, a phone clutched in his hand. “The ambulance is coming,” He says. Evie sees him looking at Imogen from the corners of his eyes.
When the ambulance arrives, lights flashing, they leave him standing in his yard, phone still held in his no doubt sweaty palm. Evie is sure he will boast to his neighbors later about his part in all this. Sitting in the back of the ambulance beside Mary, Imogen spread out under a blanket before them, Evie knows she should be grateful for the man’s help, but she can’t quite bring herself to be.
“Wasn’t that the guy who always rats people out when they party on the field?” Mary says, tilting her head close to Evie’s.
There it is again: Mary and Evie thinking the same, even after so long apart. Evie smiles. “I knew I recognized the way he was holding his phone. The guy probably has 911 on speed dial at this point.” At that, Mary huffs a laugh, flicking her eyes around the cramped interior of the ambulance. Her gaze lands on the EMT’s in the back. They sit with their arms crossed, one staring at the floor, the other at Imogen, who has passed out.
Sensing Mary’s attention on her, one of them gestures at Imogen, “She’s going to be fine, we think. They’ll check her out at the hospital, of course, just to be sure, but she’ll be fine.”
Evie feels herself sigh with relief. Though she supposes she has no reason to be, she is surprised to notice Mary sigh in relief too.
In silent, unacknowledged agreement, Evie and Mary sit side-by-side in the waiting area while the nurses move Imogen into a room. Instead of each other, they stare at their laps, the floor, the vending machine across the room, the dull walls. Words pool on Evie’s tongue, everything from accusations to apologies, but she doesn’t say anything. She knows that if she’s going to start a conversation, she’ll have to do it right.
“Thank you for helping me,” she picks at her cuticles, “I’m sorry I even had to come to you in the first place, but you were the only person I could think of. A lot of people wouldn't have helped at all, but you literally saved Imogen’s life.”
Beside her, Mary looks up in surprise, then turns her head back down. “It’s fine. If you need help, I’ll be there for you. We’ve gone through enough together for that to be true.” She cracks a smile in the corner of Evie’s vision. “It’s even true when it comes to saving my replacement friend from drowning.” A pause. “I just hope the courtesy goes the other way?”
“Always does and always will. I think that’s just the way these things work.” Evie looks up and meets Mary’s eyes, which appear to be both happy and sad. Sure the same mixture of emotions is showing on her own face, Evie sticks out her hand. “Deal?”
Mary doesn’t even look down, giving Evie’s hand one firm shake without breaking eye contact. “Deal.”