The sickly sweet smell of carnations hung heavily in the air, mingled with the sound of the death wheeze of an ancient organ. The river had swelled without warning, catching the group of teenagers off guard. The favorite local swimming hole had become a death trap for one young person.
The funeral was hard—for everyone. Tibby took it harder than anyone else. She had been elected the watcher for the day. Dark clouds in the west; with a hint of rain on the air that humid July day was the only hint that something could go wrong.
The church was stifling and Tibby couldn’t handle it anymore. She had to get out. She slipped out of the small building and sank onto the steps outside. Hot tears finally broke loose, choking her.
Tibby jumped when a gentle hand rested on her shoulder. Then without warning the person drew the slim teenager into an embrace.
“It ain’t yer fault, dearie,” Aunt Beth murmured.
“Then, why do I feel like it is?” Tibby whimpered. “I was ‘pose ta watch ‘n make sure tha’ everyone was safe...”
“Oh Tabitha.” The use of her real name startled Tibby. “Don’tcha see, dearie? You rescued two other people. We could be having three funerals instead of just one.”
“But I couldn’t save my best friend...”
Beth’s arms tightened around Tibby. “But you saved her little sister ‘n brother. You said tha’ Annie told ya to rescue them first.”
Tibby numbly nodded. That was true. But it still hurt. If only she was a little faster, if only the branch had been stronger. If only...
“Life is full of regrets, dearie...but you can’t let it git cha down.” Beth was now stroking Tibby’s rapidly frizzing hair.
“Tibby...” Benny’s voice broke through the comfort that Beth was trying to give her. “Thank you fer helpin’ me ‘n Emma.”
Tibby offered him a wane smile. “Its wha’ Annie wanted me to do…She loved both of ya...”
“’N she loved ya too, Tibby.” Another voice spoke up.
Other voices were muttering their agreements. Tibby turned and stared at the large crowd of people that gathered outside of the small church. No one was blaming her.
Emma spoke up, climbing into Tibby’s empty lap. “You’s gonna be watcher next time we go swimmin’, right?”
Tears flooded Tibby’s eyes again. “If yer momma says dat I can be...”
---A few hours later---
It rained again. The clean smell of rain still lingered in the air as Tibby began to hike up the familiar path once again. She had to do this. She had to say good-bye in her own way. With flowers in one hand, a hand-carved plaque in the other, and a towel draped over her shoulders, Tibby continued to hike.
Her dark eyes were focused on the winding creek that was slowly coming into view. She had a job to do. Emma’s momma had given her permission to continue to be the creek watcher; and she was determined to do that job.
“But it ain’t really a good-bye is it, Tibby?” Annie’s voice whispered in the back of Tibby’s mind. “You ain’t gonna forgit me, are ya?”
“How can I forgit my best friend?” Tibby found herself answering as she neared the swimming hole. The water was dirty brown in color—but appeared to be going back down. Tibby sat down, taking in her surroundings once again, and found herself laughing hysterically for a few moments.
It was so peaceful out here—a complete opposite of that day. The once swirling waters were now lazily creeping by. Her watching rock was still in the middle of the creek—where it was suppose to be. But she couldn’t go out there, not yet at least.
“I ain’t ever gonna forgit ya, Annie...no one is if I can help it.” Tibby whispered, getting back onto her feet and purposefully moving towards a large oak tree. On one of its lower branches, she hung the sign and placed the flowers next to the tree.
Now, I hafta figure out if the swimming hole has changed... Tibby thought as she kicked off her shoes and slowly walked into the water.
Greater love has no one than this: that he lay down his life for his friends. John 15:13 (NIV)
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