Time passed as slowly as it ever does while working a low paying job. But eventually, the sun dropped behind the lush green hills and the pale-white moon took its place. Closing time was near.
“Hey,” Shana said as if just remembering, “Bone Blood?”
Bradley set his phone on the counter and stretched his arms over his head, yawning widely in the process. “You know, I’m pretty bushed, actually. How about we go some other time?”
“Bushed?” Shana laughed, more because of how ridiculous the thought was than because it was actually funny. “You haven’t done anything but play games for the last two hours. How can you be tired?”
Looking slightly hurt, Bradley shook his head side to side. “It’s, you know, with the boredom and all. You kinda, um, you know—”
“You don’t have to go out with me if you don’t really want to. I just thought it would be fun,” she interrupted his rambling.
He stood up and shook out his weary limbs. “It’s just…” He leaned over the counter and looked at Shana. Under the fluorescent lights, her dark red hair took on a unique sheen that made her green eyes look even more vibrant. It was as if he was discovering her beauty for the first time. “I’m just not in the mood to sit in a cold movie theater tonight. But maybe we could do something else?”
This piqued Shana’s curiosity. She hadn’t thought about doing anything other than going to the movies. In fact, with her limited dating experience, she hadn’t thought much about what constitutes a good first date outside of the classic dinner and a movie trope. And if she was honest with herself, the few dates she had been on involved a movie theater, and those dates were quite lackluster.
“What did you have in mind?” she said, trying to sound coy.
“Um, well.” He rubbed his chin. “You ever been to Juniper bridge?”
Confused, Shana answered honestly, “Yeah, a few times when I was a kid.
“Want to go?”
“Tonight?” Without thinking, Shana put a hand on her hip and cocked her head to the side. “You want to take me to a bridge? At night? Alone?” She stretched out the last word comically.
“Well,” he smiled nervously, “I figure we can bring some food and have like, a picnic or something. I mean, it’s pretty warm out. And look how beautiful the moon is tonight.”
Shana glanced out of the big entrance window and saw the full moon bathing the hills and parking lot in luminous white light.
“Is this because you don’t want anyone to see us together in public? I already told you I’m not going to blast you on the internet or whatever dumb shit you’re worried about.”
Bradley laughed and he started to blush. “No, it’s not that. It’s not that at all.”
“Look, I’ll be real with you.” He looked around slowly like he was making sure nobody else was in the store. “I ate an edible like half an hour ago. And I’m pretty sure it’s wayyyy stronger than the guy I bought it off told me it was going to be.”
Shana’s eyes widened. “You’re high right now,” she whispered.
“As a fucking kite.”
“And you want to take me to a bridge?”
Bradley started giggling. “Actually, I was kinda hoping you would take me.” His eyelids were squinted to small slits. “I don’t think I can drive right now.”
“Unbelievable.” She took a deep breath and collected herself. “So let me get this straight. You ate an edible. Didn’t offer me any, by the way,” she scolded. “And now you want me to drive out to the fucking lake, at night, so you can what, trip your balls off while I sit there making sure you don’t swallow your own tongue?”
Shana let out a long, agitated sigh.
“Fine. But you’re buying the food.”
“Deal,” he said matter-of-factly.
They’d closed up ten minutes early and Bradley had bought food and drinks before leaving. The moon hung high above the car and illuminated the normally dark country roads.
While Bradley stared at the sky out of the passenger side window, Shana was focused on the winding roads in front of them. Even though she’d been to Juniper bridge a few times, she’d never driven there before—let alone had driven there at night.
She drove slow and carefully, but she still had to fight her nerves the whole way. These roads were much more precarious than the ones she took on her way home. No wonder he didn’t want to drive while high, she thought to herself.
Shana wasn’t sure why she had accepted Bradley’s date proposal. Since graduating high school a few months prior, she vowed to start getting out of her comfort zone more often. But doing reckless or possibly dangerous things wasn’t what she’d had in mind.
Though, she knew Bradley fairly well now; he didn’t have a dangerous bone in his body. So it wasn’t like she had to be worried about him hurting her or anything like that. No, it was the dark woods and the image of that eerie lake that bothered her. That same lake where two people drowned within a few months of each other. That same lake that now glimmered in the distance beneath the bright moonlight.
“I think we’re here,” Shana said in a gentle voice.
Bradley looked around with squinted eyes. His head kind of bobbled in place like he was having trouble keeping it from falling forward.
“Yeah. Yeah man, right over there,” he said, pointing to a narrow road on their left.
Shana veered left and the bridge came into view. It was an old stone bridge that stretched over the thinnest part of the lake. And even with the moon so bright and full, a black shadow enveloped it, giving it the appearance of a structure from a gothic nightmare.
She parked the car on a flat grassy patch about ten yards from the bridge.
“Are we going to chill in here or—”
“Naw. We came here for a picnic so we’re going to have us a picnic,” Bradley said with a slight slur of his words.
“Alright,” she said more to herself than to him.
They gathered up the food and drinks, an old blanket Shana had in the back seat, and walked over to the bridge. There, they spread the blanket out over a patch of old stone at the base of the bridge. This gave them a perfect view of the starry sky reflected off the lake.
“Damn. You can’t tell me that isn’t pretty,” Bradley said, gazing up at the stars.
Shana looked up but wasn’t able to appreciate what he was seeing. She was more focused on her surroundings than the sky. With every rustle of a tree branch, every slap of lake water against the stone bridge, she shuddered.
“Look, I don’t want to bitch or anything, but I’m not really comfortable out—”
A sudden screech in the distance stopped her mid-sentence. Even Bradley seemed to sober up at the sound.
“The fuck was that?” he said with wide eyes.
“I…” Shana held her breath and looked around. Everything was calm, yet something didn’t feel right. She exhaled slowly. “I think we should go. This was a bad idea.”
Bradley’s face dropped with disappointment. “Yeah, maybe you’re right.”
She noticed the hurt in his eyes as he started repacking the food in the grocery bags. High or not, he was always nice to her and she didn’t want to upset it. Especially when she was the one who pushed for the date in the first place.
“Wait. It was probably just an owl or something.” Shana nodded reassuringly. “We can at least eat before we go. I’m starving.”
Bradley flashed a genuine smile. “Alright.”
The two fixed a couple of sandwiches with a side of potato chips and split a jug of sweet tea. They ate in silence beneath the luminous moon and watched as the light glimmered off the rippling water.
“You know,” Shana started, breaking the stillness of the night, “this is actually pretty nice.”
“I’m surprised you’ve never come here before. At night, I mean.” He put the last chunk of sandwich in his mouth, chewing and savoring it for a few moments before swallowing. “I mean, you grew up around here, right?”
Shana finished off her sandwich as well and washed it down with a swig of tea.
“I did. But none of my friends live out here. There are only old people, so I could never hang out with anyone unless my mom drove me into town.”
“What about all the lake parties in the Summer?” He pointed to a building near the other end of the lake that was barely visible in the dark. “That’s G. G. Daniels’ dad’s place.” He pointed to another structure even farther away; the only thing Shana could make out was a vague blue light on an unseen dock. “And that’s Kyle Nguen’s cabin, I think.”
“I don’t know those fucking people,” she said with a snicker.
“Well, I’m just saying, there’s a lot of popular spots out here.” He took a drink of tea, dribbling some down his chin. Shana acted like she didn’t notice. “Damn near every place around this lake belongs to someone we went to school with.” He wiped his chin with his sleeve. “You can’t tell me you were never invited to a single party out here?”
Shana chewed her bottom lip. “I have, but I don’t like going to shit like that.” The words came out harsher than she had meant them to. “It’s just not my scene,” she said a bit softer.
“Hey, I get that. It’s not like you missed—”
Another animalistic screech ripped through the calm night air. This time it was followed by a blinding green flash.