A tiny rivulet of rainwater trickled under the corner of the school house, pooling in a little patch of mud. Evan slipped off his sneakers and dug his toes into the cooling ooze while he waited for Sissy, wiping sweat from his face with the tail end of his t-shirt. Frowning he watched Ellen Anne skip along the path to the road alongside Davie Forsythe.
“Oh, hurray!” shouted Sissy, emerging into the steaming sunlight. “It finally stopped raining.” She twirled a few steps with her hands in the air, her face tipped up to the warming rays.
“Yeah, now we kin roast like a coupl’a chickens,” muttered Evan, picking up his sneakers and swinging his book bag over his shoulder.
“Hey, sad sack, don’t rain on my party, ok,” Sissy punched him affectionately as they started home. “Sorry I ran late. We were planning the May Pole dance and while Shirley and I were discussing the decorations, Bobby walked up and of course...”
Evan could care less about planning for a dance or her crush on the high school quarterback. He just let her prattle on while the luscious Ellen Anne filled his thoughts.
When they reached the road that edged the river, he glanced over at the riverbed far below. The spring rains, roaring down from the surrounding hillsides were raucous Valkyries pushing the slain carcasses of warriors along their path to Valhalla, the thunder of their passing echoing up the gorge gauged for centuries by the waters. Evan had been studying mythology in English class.
“...and I get to be the May Pole Queen this year, and Bobby is going to be the King!” she finally stopped for a breath, still twirling.
Evan glanced over, working on a sarcastic response. Instead, “Sissy, watch it!”
Before the words left his mouth her foot slipped on the muddy bank. In an instant she disappeared over the edge, screaming.
Dropping everything Evan fell on his stomach and edged toward the embankment, his skin prickling, terrified to look over. There was Sissy just a few feet below, hanging onto the protruding root of an oak tree nearby. “Evan, help,” she gasped, her face blanched pale.
Drenched with sweat and feeling his heart pumping the boy leaned as far as he dared and tried to touch her fingers. “Hold on, Sissy, just hold on,” he cried.
Swallowing hard, he prayed, “Lord, help me please and help Sissy too.”
“A vine, a branch, anything,” hastily scanning for anything he might be able to use he noticed the tree on the far embankment.
It was just a little tree, really not more than a sapling. Yet it clung tenaciously and precariously as it leaned out over the river, it’s only two branches, about halfway between roots and crown, spread perpendicular to the trunk.
Evan’s digging toes found a root. “Hang on Sissy, hang on,” he said over and over.
Stretching every sinew as he locked his toes beneath the root he reached down, willing it to be far enough if Sissy could just let go and reach up to him. Her eyes were closed and he could see the beads of sweat on her forehead as she strained to cling to the root.
“Sissy,” his mouth was dry. “Sissy, reach; reach up and take my hand.”
For an instant, he didn’t think she’d heard. Her eyes remained shut.
Then one hand moved slightly, and inched slowly up the rocky wall until Evan could finally grasp it.
“Strength, Lord,” the boy gasped, “Give me strength, please.”
Every muscle bulging and lungs about to burst, he drew her up slowly with strength beyond his own, praying continually: “Don’t let me lose her Lord.”
Finally his sister was back on firm ground. They sprawled gasping on the mud and grass for a while catching their breath.
Sissy laughed first then Evan chuckled. Simultaneously, they broke out into whoops and gales of laughter.
“Wow! Look!” shouted Sissy pointing and still a little breathless.
Above the far bank hung the crisp bold colors of a rainbow. Hovering just beneath was its twin with more demure hues.
“It’s a double rainbow! Make a wish, quick!” she closed her eyes. “You know what Gram says, ‘make a wish on a double rainbow and it’ll come true’.”
An image of Ellen Anne flickered across his mind, but “I did better than that,” smiled Evan, gazing across the river at the cross, clinging to the rocks on the other side.
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