By Shania Blair

Every year for two to three weeks in the spring, Citico Creek is swarmed with fish, referred to as Buffalo, swimming upstream to mate. This is a time that makes the once-empty creek more public than any shopping mall. All of the people that my entire family grew up around gather just to fish. I still remember this one time long ago when that old holler was crowded as hell. My family had decided to join in on the fun. My sister, Beth, and I had gone off on our own a little ways away from the herd of people over near where the rope swing was. The cool air had blown our long hair all over the place. Clumsy me hadn’t been looking where I was going, and I had tripped travelling over a fallen tree and into the frigid water. Beth had immediately died laughing. However, as she reached down to pull me out I yanked her in with me.
“You ass!” Her deep brown eyes had glared at me as her mane blanketed her shoulders and back.
“Ah, Mamaw! Better get the soap!” I shouted into the air, then whispered, “Besides, you deserved it,” I replied laughing and climbing up the bank. Though the water was freezing it had still felt like silk against my skin. I remember looking around at the dogwood trees blooming and glistening in the sunlight. Looking over at Beth, I realized how badly I would miss her. She was always there for me, and soon she would leave for New York for college to study political science. New York being so far away made it impossible for her to visit due to the cost. Then I would be alone. What if I need her for something? I pushed away the thought and absorbed my surroundings. The grass was a beautiful green, but dead fish plagued the banks where mean, asshole guys around here decided they didn’t need to live and chose their fate. My grandparents were sitting together holding hands instead of their poles. Their eyes were locked and glowing. They had been married fifty years, and I don’t believe that I had ever seen them fight. They were perfect. I want that.
“Damn near got ‘em! You see that, Nic?” Then there was my dad. He always called me Nic or Nic-Nac because he said when I was born I looked like a little knickknack that you would put on your shelf. Trying to get right with God, he quickly closed his eyes and said a small prayer of forgiveness. Opening his eyes, he growled to himself as he looked over at my brother, Tyler, and his now completely tangled fishing wire, currently taking root around the branch of a nearby tree. “Lord! Son, what y’ think you’re a doin’?”
“F…f…fish…fishing! So…so…s…so…s…sorry.” Tyler and his stutter sent me and Beth into a fit of laughter all over again. Soon this wouldn’t be the same. Beth grabbed a nearby towel and started attempting to comb her mane but gave up and wrapped the towel around her head. She sat next to Tyler and started untangling his line without murmuring a single word of judgement to him. She always does that. Anyone else would have made fun of him and teased him about his speech or lack thereof, but not Beth. Then again that could be because she spent the first seven to eight years of her life unable to pronounce her Rs. Plenty of speech classes took her from saying wabbit to rabbit.
“Thirteen days.” I whispered into the wind.
“What?” Dad asked, of course hearing everything.
“Uh, nothing. Nothing. I think you got something there.” His rod went straight as he lets out a holler loud enough to scare a ghost. Beth sat Tyler’s pole aside and stood up before walking over to me. She unwrapped her hair and sat behind me to dry mine. Using her hands she slowly untangled my hair enough to braid it. She never said a word. So, we sat in the sun and enjoyed the sound of the creek streaming by. Beth started to hum and a tear slowly slid from my eye. Her fingers tugged and pulled until a braid extended down my back. Using her only hair bow, she bound my hair at its ends, leaving hers to blow about without a care. When she was done, she patted my back and stood to go back to Tyler.
I looked around and noticed the old tree the three of us used to jump off of. We always pretended it was twelve feet high when really it was maybe three. About thirty yards up from there was the ‘diving board’ as we called it. Really it was just a dock built off the side of the embankment. While sitting there, I remembered a time when I was still much too small to jump off. Tyler and Beth were allowed to as long as my dad was watching. However, that one day in particular they begged my dad to throw them so they could go out farther. He agreed and over and over again he threw them with everything he had. I got jealous and went and stood behind Tyler. My dad, mistaking me for Beth, grabbed me and tossed me in. The water beneath the dock was over twelve feet; I was pushing four. It took my dad about a quarter of a second to realize it was me, and he freaked out and dove in after me. By the time he came back up to look I was already laughing while climbing the ladder. We all ended up laughing. That day was great. Times like that were great, but soon it would not be the four of us. Just three. Well, basically. Dad had just got remarried to an amazing woman, and now with two more new sisters we were the Darlins. They had even gotten all cute and started calling each other their Darlin Person. Him being Dud and her being Charlene. Tyler would be married and moving away soon. It’s not that I didn’t love my new family, but Beth was the glue that held me together. Where everyone else thought I was happy all the time, Beth saw the real me and helped me through my hidden depression. We spent every day together from going between mom’s and dad’s houses to going to school. We were in the same clubs and sports, and spent every morning singing to the music blaring from the windows. She was my best friend.  And Beth…Beth would be hours away. I, being just a loner, would make it practically just me.
Back on the bank, I looked over at Beth sitting next to Tyler. She glanced back at me and smiled as a tear fell from her cheek. That’s when I knew. Beth would be the one all alone. I had family all around me, but she wouldn’t. I was being selfish! I couldn’t imagine being states away, in a big city, surrounded by complete strangers. I wouldn’t last long. Somehow though, I didn’t think Beth would react the same way. She would be strong. She would make a mark in that giant city without even trying, and everyone would want to be her friend. It’s always been that way. She was and is still perfect in the best way, and everyone wants to be around her in hopes that she might smile their way, share a joke that leaves them all in tears, or rub some of her perfection off on them. She is always strong, always smiling, always anything you need her to be. Always.
However, about two months before that sunny day at the creek, Beth and I were laying in our room watching George of the Jungle when she whispered something I never thought I would ever hear come from her lips.
“I’m scared, Nia.” Beth’s voice trembled with each syllable. She had decided to start calling me Nia since everyone else had their own nicknames for me. Little did she know that everyone would catch on, other than dad, and continue to call me that to this day.
“What?” I asked as I looked over the edge of our bunk beds, and I peered down to see her hugging her pillow and staring at the TV screen.
With words so lowly spoken I had to strain to hear, she said, “In a few months I will be gone, and I will miss everything that happens here. I have spent every day of my life surrounded by family. This family… and you… Now what?” She got quiet for a second then shut her eyes tight. After one deep breathe, her smile returned with her eyes open again. “Forget it. I’m fine… Now, how ‘bout we go give Dolly a bath out with the water hose? Come on, it will give us an excuse to get “accidentaly” wet. Besides, her puppies are probably in a playful mood, and we can bathe them too. We are bound to get wet then. Now, get your big butt up, and let’s go before dad notices.”
Just like always, she closed off her fears and blinked into perfection. Her smile had grown brighter every day since then, but I saw her when she didn’t think anyone noticed. She didn’t smile because she was happy. She smiled to make everyone else believe she was happy.   Be strong. Don’t let her regret leaving. She needs me just as much as I need her. So smile! My cheeks pulled tight as I went to stand. I heard Beth and Tyler in the living room singing some Elvis song that dad always played on the radio in the car, and I stopped to just listen. “Wise men say… only fools rush in… But I… can’t… help… falling in love… with you…” Tyler bellowed out a laugh and started beat boxing. Funny how he stuttered more than Porky the Pig, but when he would sing, he would be clear as day. Of course, he and Beth were always singing something, so, this moment really made me shudder with appreciation for the time we had together.
Suddenly a group of Buffalo splashed around in the water jerking me back to the creek bank. I had bent over to pick up the towel Beth used to dry my hair then quickly stood back up. A wave of dizziness caught hold of my skull and everything spun. All of a sudden my legs gave out, and the next thing I knew, SPLASH! I came up gasping for air, hearing my families’ laughter, along with a few neighbor’s giggles, and I slowly turned back toward the edge.
“Damn heat,” I murmured underneath my breath. I went to climb up when Beth’s hand came into view.
“I wouldn’t let Mamaw hear you say that. She’ll bring out the soap.”  Beth’s laughter rang out into the air as I grasped her extended hand. “I got you, baby girl.” Beth… Always there to pick me back up. Yeah, you do. Always.