Aram Mrjoian

Pike Lake

Earlier in the evening, when the falling sun’s plumes of pink and purple discouraged skinny-dipping, Cole nearly hit two kayakers with his father’s speedboat. As Tig watched, the pair of blurry green avocado slices came into focus, and he could make out a man and woman in orange life vests shouting and waving yellow oars above their heads in an attempt to be seen. They had spent the afternoon drinking and Tig wasn’t sure whether Cole was being reckless or intended to scare them. Tig clawed at the leather seat, anxious, fingers wet with chop. Cole spun the wheel at the last second and cut right. Their wake toppled the kayaks. Tig peeked over his shoulder as the boat zipped away. The couple reemerged, heads above the surface, struggling to right their vessels, until they faded out of view.

Tig wasn’t sure what time it was now, but he had never seen so many stars freckling the sky. The moon was nowhere to be found. Still, light glowed off the water. There were six of them on the boat and they were playing fetch, a game that involved throwing a fresh beer far out into the water whenever someone ran empty. The person in need of a drink had to swim out to the bobbing can and bring it back aboard. The lake was calm and if not for the cover of darkness the speedboat would have looked out of place among the array of spotlighting skiffs that trolled along the drop-off for bass and pike. Tig was grateful Cole was at least smart enough to keep the music down so they wouldn’t attract the DNR. Along the shoreline, a chain of motorcycles rumbled down the coastal highway and pulled one by one into the parking lot of a neon bar and grill, which resembled a gaudy log cabin with high-definition televisions illuminating the patio. Tig had never been to this part of northern Michigan.

“What’s Tig short for?” Courtney asked him. She was the closest to sober, but he wondered if she had been building up the nerve. Tig hadn’t met the girls until yesterday’s car ride. He wound up on the trip because Tyler was his roommate last year, when they entered the dorms at random, but this semester Tyler moved into Sigma Chi in a room neighboring Cole. Tig found a single in the dorms and remained on the same hall as the year before. The girls were from a sorority. He would have forgotten which one if all of their clothes didn’t have Greek letters stitched across the chest. When they met, he had introduced himself as Tig.

“Tigran,” he said, “but just Tig is fine.”

“That’s so pretty,” Courtney said. “What’s the origin of that name?”

“He’s an Arab,” Tyler said.

“It’s Armenian,” Tig said.

“Like Tyler said, A-rab,” Cole smirked. The girls sipped their beers as if trying to stall while they mentally located Tig’s motherland on a classroom globe. The lull in conversation held steady after that. They drank and peered out over the water.

The girls wore zip-up hoodies and damp towels wrapped around their bare legs so that they resembled fuzzy mermaids. Tails of navy blue, lime green, and mustard yellow. The linens were from Cole’s parents’ cottage. Cole said the girls didn’t have to play the game, but they insisted. They wanted to swim. Overflowing with ice and cold beers, their Styrofoam cooler was far from empty, and there was an abundant supply of more beer and liquor back at the cabin to last the rest of the long weekend. Cole had called the place a cottage, a cabin, and a lake house, so Tig wasn’t sure how to talk about where they were staying for the next two nights. In any other context he would’ve referred to it as a mansion. Tig was frustrated by the extra night away because he knew he would miss his morning biology lecture and even a week into the semester the coursework already proved more challenging than he had imagined upon enrolling. He thought they would return on Labor Day, but Cole informed him otherwise on the ride up north while they cruised along windswept highways, an endless blur of apple and cherry orchards. Cole insisted that the holiday traffic would be a full day’s worth of bumper-to-bumper hell.

Tyler passed Cole a cheap cigar. He removed another one from the package, but Tig shook him away. They’d been drinking since lunch, and Tig knew the smoke would nauseate him to the point of no return. Tobacco gave him the spins. The subtle rock of the boat was more than enough for him to feel askew, and Cole’s unpredictable driving hadn’t helped the matter. The boat was sleek and cozy and decked out with a fancy speaker system and (if they weren’t trying to remain inconspicuous) trim lights that cycled through the colors of the rainbow. Cole fiddled with his phone and changed the music to an old T.I. track. While Tig was trying to remember the last time he had heard it, Emily threw an empty beer can into the amassing pile at the boat’s center.

“Oh shit, looks like it’s time to get wet, Em,” Alyssa said. She waddled to the cooler, holding the towel tight around her legs. Ice cubes rattled as she searched for a can. When Alyssa found one, silver and shimmering in her hand like a fishing lure in the starlight, she lobbed it from the back of the boat. It didn’t go far. A bad cast, Tig thought. Emily unzipped her sweatshirt and shook the towel from her legs and walked in her maroon bikini out of the seating area and dove off the platform from the back of the boat with the grace of someone who’d spent countless hours in the pool practicing her form. Tig watched her paddle out until she retrieved the can and made her way back. She looked so natural in the water. Emily was the one he was supposed to be paired up with. Cole and Tyler had it all planned out before the trip. She was single, a junior, and the only one old enough to legally drink, which proved a boon to the rest of them.

She treaded water next to the boat and cracked her beer. Tig thought she must’ve been a swimmer. Without flapping his arms frantically, he couldn’t keep his head above the surface t