“Billy-Boy, that you?” Tim asked, when I answered the phone.
“Happy Fourth of July.”
“Happy Fourth of July,” I grumbled.
“What’s the matter? You mad at me?”
“Good, ‘cause I need your help.”
“Yeah, what’s up?”
“It’s time I conquered Mae Beth.”
“Conquered Mae Beth?” I repeated.
“You know, held her hand, kissed her.”
“After you pushed her off her surfboard?”
“Oh, she’s over that,” Tim laughed. “Anyway, I’ve invited her out for the Fourth of July boat parade.”
“Yeah, my dad said I could use his boat and take her out. Want to come along?”
“Sure, why not? After all, I might need you to drive the boat while Mae Beth and I…well, you know.”
“Ah, come on. We’ll have fun. Anyway, if you want to join us, meet me at my house after lunch.”
Even though it was a holiday, I didn’t have any plans. Mom was working at the hospital all day, and my sisters were already off with friends. So after lunch I trudged over to Tim’s house.
Tim’s father had a small run-about. Nothing fancy, just an open shell boat with a windshield and a collapsible canvas top. It didn’t look like much, but it was fast, super fast.
“Where’s the boat parade start?” I asked, as we untied the boat and headed down the canal.
“I don’t know?” Tim replied. “And I really don’t care. Let’s pick up Mae Beth and have some fun.”
When we arrived at the dock behind Sonny’s Surf and Sail, Mae Beth was waiting for us. She was wearing a pair of tight-fitting shorts and a tank top. I waved when I saw her. She waved back. Tim ignored her.
“So, you’ve forgiven me for the other day,” Tim laughed, as Mae Beth stepped into the boat.
“Hi, Mae Beth,” I said, smiling.
“Hi, Billy-Boy,” Mae Beth replied, turning back to Tim. But before she could say another word, Tim gunned the engine and the boat took off.
Mae Beth fell hard into the seat next to Tim.
“Hey, easy!” I yelled.
Tim ignored me and put his arm around Mae Beth and pulled her close. With one hand on the steering wheel and the other around Mae Beth’s waist, we headed to the main channel, but didn’t stay there long. At the first canal, Tim turned off.
“Okay, Billy-Boy, your turn to take the wheel,” Tim said, turning toward me, “Mae Beth and I got some catching up to do.”
Reluctantly, I stood up to take Tim’s place at the wheel, but instantly lost my balance. I lunged forward, catching the side rail with one hand and Mae Beth’s shoulder with the other.
“Whoa, lover boy,” Tim blurted. “I said take the wheel, not my girlfriend.”
Sheepishly, I sat down and took the wheel. Meanwhile, Tim and Mae Beth moved to the cushioned seats at the back of the boat.
As I held the wheel I felt a burning sensation inside of me. My head throbbed. I felt light-headed, almost giddy. Out of the corner of my eye I saw Tim holding Mae Beth with one arm while he whispered something into her ear.
When Mae Beth tried to push Tim away and couldn’t, my head exploded. I jammed the throttle forward. The boat lunged and a fine wake spread out behind us as the boat took off at top speed.
“Slow down, Billy-Boy,” Tim yelled.
But I kept the throttle at full tilt.
“Slow down,” Tim yelled again.
I turned and saw Tim struggling to come forward, but the force of the boat’s speed kept him pinned against the seat.
“Slow down!” Tim yelled.
“Look out!” Mae Beth shouted.
“B-r-i-d-g-e!” they screamed in unison.
I jerked my head around, and sure enough there was a bridge in front of us, a small, low-lying structure, typical of most bridges crisscrossing Florida’s backwaters. A sign dangling from one end of the bridge read:
MAKE NO WAKE
“Slow down!” Tim yelled. “You’re going too fast.”
“Slow down!” Mae Beth shouted, her face drained of color.
But I kept the throttle down.
“Get down!” Tim screamed, pulling Mae Beth to the floor with him.
I knew it was too late to pull up on the throttle. If I did, the bow of the boat would rear up and we’d hit the bridge. I had no choice. I kept the engine at full throttle—and ducked.
There was an awful scraping sound, a shudder, several pops…then silence. Silence, that is, except for the hum of the engine stuck at full speed. Tim crawled to the front of the boat, pushed me aside, and took the wheel, pulling back on the throttle until we slowed to a stop.
“Look what you did!” Tim roared, his eyes flashing with anger.
Mae Beth huddled on the floor of the boat, shaking.
“How am I going to explain this to my dad?” Tim fumed, pointing to the canvas top, which had buckled and torn.
“Geez!” Tim seethed, “Are you crazy?”
“Yeah, well, maybe I am!” I shot back.
As we limped back to Sonny’s Surf and Sail, I sat in the back seat, staring at the wake rippling off the side of the boat.
Tim and Mae Beth sat in the front seats.
No one said a word.