The canoe made no sound as it slid through the cloudy water. James looked to his brother,
"Hey," he prodded George's back with his dripping paddle, "We there yet?" George let out a breath. He stopped rowing, paddle halted slightly above the water.
"No," he turned to look at his brother's hopeful eyes. They were dimming with exhaustion.
"Oh," James rubbed at the blister on his palm. "When do you think we'll see it?" George said nothing, dipped his paddle back into the water, pulled. "I don't know, James," he said softly. Not until the storm passes, he thought to himself.
He had heard the yelling before James did. Grabbing his brother's hand and dragging him out the back door, George saw his parents' sillhouettes in the kitchen window, heads shaking, arms waving. James tried to ask where they were going, but George's angry face hardened and he walked faster. They reached the river long after the shouts had faded into the rustle of leaves and the echoing call of birds.
The canoe was old and its paint was chipped, fading letter along the side read Espe, hope.
"Hop in," George had said, "we're going to find the... alligator." James lept into the canoe, smiling like a child.
Looking behind him, George realized, he is just a child.
"So, we're not going to find the alligator?" James's little voice emerged from inside his hood. George blinked, remembering.
"Oh, no, we'll find it," He forced a grin onto his face. How dare they do this. Ruin his life. Break apart what little family he has. Just a child. George rowed harder.
"There isn't an alligator, is there?" George dropped his paddle.
"No." He looked at the water. The canoe slowly drifted to a halt.
"Are Mom and Dad gonna get a divorce?" James's eyes filled with tears. George looked at the water. A fish swam below the surface, flicked droplets off the surface with its tail.
"George. Tell me!" Desperation filled James's voice. He slapped his hand on the side of the little boat. He hit it over and over, anger filling him up, flowing out of his eyes.
"James, stop!" George turned around and crawled towards James. The canoe rocked. George stopped, squatting awkwardly. He reached his hand out. "Come here." James obeyed. Slowly, they moved towards each other. Step, stop, step, stop. Finally George's hand brushed James's cold palm.
"It's gonna be okay," George tugged James towards him. James looked up, eyes big and glassy. He sniffed twice, wiped his nose with his sleeve, and threw his arms around his brother. George staggered and the boat shifted and rocked, but James held on.
"It's gonna be okay," James wispered into George's shirt. Far away from their house on the foggy calm of the river, the two brothers held onto each other, and the water grew calm again. "It's gonna be okay."