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Drama Thriller Contemporary

Trigger Warning: mentions of domestic abuse, alcoholism, drowning.


Ren shielded her eyes against the light glinting off the snow. She swept her gaze over her surroundings, scanning the untouched blanket of white disguising the terrain beneath it.

She hadn’t expected such a loud shattering sound to ring out into the woods when it happened. The ice, hidden under the same layer of powder as the rest of the landscape, couldn’t have been more than a few inches thick. The lake below couldn’t have been less than fifteen feet deep.

He should have noticed that the ground was too bare between where he stood and the trees Ren pointed out. He should have questioned why Ren wasn’t following after him. He should have heard the telltale cracking before the delicate ice gave way and his bulky frame was engulfed by the frigid water.

Ren knew she shouldn’t panic, but that was the next thing she did. In the eerie stillness of the woods, she dropped to her knees, her green eyes doubling in size and her pretty mouth hanging open. She heard her own erratic breathing and nothing else, but she couldn’t seem to attach the sound to herself. All she could do was kneel there and listen to the uneven wheezing.

Her eyes lingered on the condensation pouring from her gaping mouth. As soon as one puff of vapor dissipated into the wintry air, another replaced it. Ren wondered how she could breathe at all while she knew Tavin was suspended somewhere in the lake, sucking up lungfuls of greenish water. She wondered if it was the type of cold that burned.

Even as Ren’s brain lurched back to life, the most she could bring herself to do for the moment was stand back up. Her skinny jeans were soaked through, but she couldn’t feel the dampness on her skin. She couldn’t feel anything, really, but she embraced the numbness. The fewer senses with which she had to concern herself, the better.

She wondered why she could hear no struggling on Tavin’s part. He was not the type to go down—or to do anything else—without a fight. Where was that Tavin now?

Dead. That was Ren’s first thought, but she pushed it into the back of her mind. Her Tavin couldn’t possibly be dead. He was too strong. Too stubborn.

But strong, stubborn Tavin’s head had not yet bobbed back up through the hole into which he’d fallen. Was he down there now, flailing his muscled arms in desperation to break through the ice above him? Was he calmly holding his breath, forcing his eyes open to search for a way to the surface? Was he waiting for someone to rush to his rescue?

Rescue. That was what bounced around in Ren’s head next. Tavin easily had a hundred pounds on Ren’s slight frame. He crashed through the ice like it was a wet tissue, but surely, she could manage to make it the three yards Tavin did. Surely, she could figure out how to free him from the water.

Immediately following the idea to save Tavin was the question. Did she want to? It would be dangerous. Who knew if she could even muster up the strength to drag him from the bone-chilling grip of the lake?

Ren knew those were excuses, though. Even as her spinning mind and shaking body were fighting their way back into working order, she knew why she was hesitating. She knew it as deeply as she knew the one who’d beaten the hesitation into her.

Tavin was a good man. Ren met him in the little white church her parents had taken her to every Sunday morning since they’d had the displeasure of bringing her into the world. He always smiled at her, and he sought her out specifically when the aged Reverend Thomason opened the congregation to a moment of greeting.

And Tavin wanted to save her. It was all she could do not to weep with relief when he offered to let her move in with him. He was protective and powerful; he was safe, and safe was everything.

The promise of no longer bearing the same last name as her parents was enough to convince Ren to marry him. Serenity Amber Truett was wanted, loved, secure. Serenity Amber Michael was none of these.

So, they were married in secret by Reverend Thomason. Initially, Ren was only in it for the protection and shelter. It wasn’t until months later that she finally started to feel something for Tavin.

It turned out, as the months became years, that Tavin felt something for Ren, too. But his feelings were quite different from the ones she had developed for him. Ren had grown to love him for saving her when no one else would, but Tavin had grown to resent Ren.

At first, the mistreatment was barely worth noting. The most he would do was shout at her after downing a few too many drinks; maybe he’d shatter an empty bottle against the wall if he were particularly fired up.

But since Ren barely flinched at the behavior, it gradually worsened. Sometimes, he threw bottles at her instead. When the bottles were no longer enough, he started throwing punches.

After her first broken bone (which, when the ER doctor asked, she blamed on tripping over a dog they didn’t even have), Ren finally admitted to herself that she was terrified of Tavin.

She tried swallowing the fear. She stood her ground when he lost his temper and did what she could to stay out of his way otherwise. She tried fighting back once, but he flung her across the room with one swing and she barely left a scratch on him. She even tried calming him down, which only made him angrier.

When all else failed, she tried running away. She gathered only what she knew she’d need, risked taking all the stray cash she found around the house, and stole away one day while Tavin was at work.

It only lasted four hours, until Ren was struck with a panic attack so severe, she was convinced she was having a heart attack. They sent her home from the ER with a long list of therapists to call. She crumpled the list up and threw it away, headed straight back to Tavin’s, and made it back before he was even home from work.

It was Tavin’s idea to take a trip for their anniversary. Ren only agreed because she didn’t want to face his rage if she were to say no; he didn’t appreciate when his kind gestures weren’t met with immediate and fervent thanks.

The only upside was, for reasons beyond her comprehension, Tavin let Ren pick the location. She knew exactly where she wanted to go.

Calvin Lake wasn’t a popular tourist destination. It didn’t have good fishing, or a good view, and you had to hike miles into the unkempt forest to get to it. Ren picked it because it was the only place from which she could conjure a happy memory from her childhood.

Her Aunt Jaclyn had taken her to Calvin Lake for her seventh birthday. Aunt Jaclyn and Uncle Ashton used to own a cabin by the lake, and it was Aunt Jaclyn’s idea of a good place to take a seven-year-old. 

All they did while they were there was throw rocks into the lake, eat dry turkey sandwiches, and Ren climbed trees. But it wasn’t what they did that mattered to Ren, it was that they did it. Her birthday at Calvin Lake with her aunt was the only one she had ever celebrated.

So, when Tavin told her to get in the car and give him directions, she directed him to the lake. He grumbled to himself the whole trek through the snow, but at the time, not even that darkened Ren’s mood.

She adored everything about winter. She loved the cold, and the snow, and the early sunsets. She loved sipping on scalding hot tea and struggling for minutes on end to build a mediocre fire in the fireplace that barely warmed her, let alone the house. She loved the holidays even though she had no family left to spend them with. She even loved having Tavin home from work, which allowed them to make the trip to the lake.

As Tavin and Ren slid and tripped their way to the lake, Ren became ecstatic when she caught sight of the it and the trees surrounding it. She was feeling bubbly and brave. She dared to speak to Tavin.

“Do…do you think you could get me a present? This is our tenth anniversary; that’s got to be a special one.”

“What do you want?” Tavin groaned, but with a little less edge in his voice than usual.

She thought only for a second. “I want a twig from one of those trees,” she pointed to the row of maple trees ahead of them, just on the other side of the lake.

He sighed. “You want a stick?”

She nodded, smiling. “I climbed a few of them once when I was little. I don’t remember which ones, but never mind that, I just want a piece of one. I want a piece of something happy. Is that okay?”

They had just broken the tree line on their side of the lake. The trees were maybe fifty yards in front of them. Tavin looked between Ren and the maples for a moment before shrugging and stomping toward them.

Ten seconds later—Ren counted—Tavin was gone.

Ren didn’t know whether she had meant for this to happen. She was horrified that he could be drowning before her very eyes. She begged herself to react, to go after him. But there was certainly a part of her, however miniscule it may have been, that reveled in the fact that, wherever he was, he was suffering.

How long could he be down there before he would be there for good? What would Ren do if she left him there? She couldn’t even drive, so it would be challenging enough for her to get home, let alone to make a life for herself. And what if people came looking for Tavin, asking after him? Would she be a murderer? An innocent widow?

But how could she save him? Physically, it would be nearly impossible. He was six feet, five inches of pure muscle. Ren was strong, but she was too small compared to him. There was no way she’d stand a chance. On top of that, how could she face him once he came to? How could she face herself if he didn’t?

Ren’s head ached as these pressing questions packed themselves into her sluggish brain. She was shaking too hard to remain on her feet, so she collapsed back into the snow. She fell to her side and hugged her knees to her body, her entire left side enveloped in snow. As the exposed skin of her face and hands began to sting at the bite of the powder, the pain helped to bring her wits about her.

She couldn’t yet convince herself to get up, but she could force herself to decide.

If Ren refused to intervene, Tavin would drown, or freeze to death. Maybe even both if that were possible. His body would drift in the freezing depths of Calvin Lake until spring brought enough heat to melt away all the ice and snow.

Even if no one searched for Tavin or noticed he was missing, someone would one day happen about a corpse—perhaps unrecognizably deteriorated by this time—floating to and fro. That someone would be horrified. They would make the trip back to the road, where there was cell service, however spotty. They would call the police, and then Tavin’s body would be unceremoniously removed from the lake.

It would take a while for anyone to figure out who he was. Before then would be the news reports and articles about the body found in Calvin Lake, a victim of stupidly wandering into the woods alone. Maybe no one would ever know Tavin was not stupid, nor had he been alone.

Ren would have to move on. Maybe she would find her brother—he had been released from prison a few years prior. Or maybe she’d go to prison, if anyone ever found out she was with Tavin the day he died. Should her secret remain a secret, she could go crawling back to her parents. The one refuge she had ever had from them turned out to be just like them, so what was the point of staying away? She would have no way to help herself.

Then again, she could go back to the little white church and see if Reverend Thomason was still there. He had never known Ren very well, but he was a good man; he could take her in, or help her find a women’s shelter, or a job and an apartment. She could go back to the ER and see about that list of therapists. She could try to salvage what was left of her life and make something good out of it. She had always wanted to be a teacher growing up. Or maybe a missionary.

But who would be there for her in the middle of the night, when nightmares wrenched her out of sleep and kept her up for days, or even weeks? Who would help her sort through her scattered thoughts, like whether she really was a murderer? Even before Tavin, when no one wanted her, Ren had not been on her own. She wasn’t sure she could bear it.

Which brought her to her second option. She could try to save Tavin. She could march—or, more accurately, tiptoe—right over there and search for him. She’d sweep the snow aside and hunt for Tavin’s silhouette. She could grab a stick if there were any in the vicinity, or even use her bare fists to pound through the ice. She’d grab Tavin by whatever part of him was within reach and try frantically to haul his gargantuan frame from the water.

If she managed to get him up, she’d have to drag him across the ice so his weight would be evenly distributed. If they could make it to the shore, she could try to wake him. She’d have to get the wet clothes off him, maybe she’d have to attempt CPR. He would probably be too weak to make it to the car, but if she put him somewhere safe and ran to the road to call 911, help may arrive in time.

However, there was another possible course of action that seemed inexplicably preferable to her. Her mind was suddenly positively buzzing, moving a mile a minute. She sat bolt upright and scrambled to her feet.

It wasn’t until she was on her last step of solid ground that she hesitated again. So much could go so very wrong. Ren didn’t think anyone would blame her for turning around. For retuning calmly to the car, where she may call an ambulance or the police, or where she may simply call a tow truck. Either way, she could have a ride back to town within two hours. She could be warm and safe, and it would ultimately be her decision whether Tavin was granted the same courtesy.

It was that thought, about Tavin and her facing the same fate, that solidified her decision. She took a deep breath, stretched out a stiff leg, and cautiously planted a boot on the frozen surface of the lake.  

January 21, 2021 01:42

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1 comment

Wow, such a beautiful descriptive story Kanden! Great work, I loved all the backstory and the words you chose! Keep it up:D

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