It’s a muggy summer day, the sun beating down over Brantford, the humidity pressing in like a physical force.
Martha’s slumped on a lounge chair on her front porch. It’s only 10 AM, but there’s already sweat trickling down her back. She’s got a fan pointed directly at herself, because her parents don’t believe in air conditioning. As far as Martha’s concerned, that’s like not believing in gravity, but her mother has theories about thermal adaptation, which is awfully convenient given that their house is old and nobody’s sure the wiring would support an air conditioner.
Right now, Martha would happily rewire the house herself, but she’s pretty sure her mother has opinions about non-union electrical work, too. Therefore: the fan, blowing over a bucket of ice water. She read about it on the internet. It is so not as good as real AC. Buzzfeed has lied to her.
She’s given up on her flashcards (AP French exam, only 10 months away) when Bethany’s car pulls up.
“Come on,” Bethany yells from the car. “Get your suit.”
“Your bathing suit, dummy.” Bethany gets out of the car and comes bounding up the stairs to drag Martha inside the house. “Ugh, why is it so hot in here?”
“Mom’s morals. Why are you here?”
“I got an organic advertising opportunity. Out Lash mascara is paying me to wear their mascara on camera. If I get enough views, they’ll pay for me to go to the Grand Canyon. Come on.”
“I repeat. Why are you here?”
“I need someone to help me sneak in the GoPro,” Bethany says, like it’s obvious. “And maybe shoot some footage. And maybe —”
“Uuuuugh.” Martha digs down into her dresser and comes up with last year’s bathing suit. “I won’t be on camera, right?”
“Scout’s honor.” Bethany holds up her hand and then gives a Vulcan salute. “Wait, is that it?”
“It isn’t, and I think you know that.” Martha drags out a towel and a bag. “Fine. I’m in.”
Bethany’s changed since getting back from Jumanji. She’s still active on Instagram, but she’s all about doing stuff now — hiking mountains, hunting for ghosts, making crepes. Whatever she thinks might be interesting.
The videos are a new development. Bethany called it “a natural extension of her brand.” Martha’s come along before, to help shoot and also because she’s learned that she really likes hanging out with Bethany, this new Bethany, the one who stands in a creepy old graveyard at 10 PM (not midnight, because of curfew) and yells for ghosts to come attack her. (Results: one creepy moment with an owl; two hundred new followers on Instagram.)
Bethany’s car has AC, and Martha melts down into the seat and lets the cool air blow over her. The drive to the waterpark is too short. When Martha gets out of the car, the heat baking off the pavement a reminder of just how hot it is.
It’s not as bad once they’re in bathing suits. Bethany’s wearing a black one-piece with a cut-out panel over her stomach — “Don’t want to lose my top on a waterslide,” she tells Martha, when she notices Martha looking, and Martha flushes and looks away.
Sneaking in the GoPro is easy, and Bethany’s got her phone, too, in a waterproof case. They shoot some establishing shots — Bethany posing in front of the water slides; Bethany on an inner tube floating past in the lazy river; Bethany on a lounge chair in front of the wave pool — and then head up to the waterslides to figure out how to get Bethany-on-a-waterslide footage.
The lifeguards bust them with the cameras on the third slide, so Martha ends up waiting at the bottom and getting footage of Bethany coming off the slides, hitting the pools.
They go back to the lazy river at the end. “We need to get another set of shots with my hair wet,” Bethany says. “Prove I rode the slides.”
They pay (read: bribe with promises of cotton candy) a couple kids to hide off-screen and pull Bethany’s inner tube closer for the final shot. “Out Lash,” Bethany says, taking off her sunglasses and looking into the camera at full sparkle. “Good for the whole day!”
“Is that their slogan?” Martha asks. “Really?”
“They may have given me a few talking points,” Bethany says, from her tube. “Look, do you want to go to the Grand Canyon or not?”
Martha stops. “You’d take me?”
“Who else?” Bethany gives her a weird look. “I mean, not that you should have noticed, but it’s not like you’re, like, my best friend or anything.”
“Uh.” Martha’s floundering, the way she usually is when dumped into the deep end of the emotional pool. “Really?”
“Yeah.” Bethany says it like it’s nothing, like it’s something Martha should have known. “Lucinda’s my best friend too, but she’s not the Grand Canyon kind of girl. Like, she’s my girl? But when we went to Mount Washington, she wanted to drive to the top.”
Martha wonders if she’s the Grand Canyon kind of girl. Maybe. Maybe she is and she doesn’t realize it.
Bethany grins and reaches up a hand, and Martha takes it without thinking, without wondering — and then she’s falling into the lazy river, pulled by Bethany, the water splashing up around her, going up her nose as she somersaults underwater and pushes back up.
This is how she makes me feel, Martha thinks as she surfaces. Off-balance, falling in too deep. She sputters to a stand, the water chest-high, the GoPro still in hand, and goes to push Bethany off her tube.
They stash the GoPro in a locker and head back into the water park, cameraless, for the rest of the afternoon. Martha makes Bethany pay for their lunch (“I hear real camera operators get a craft services table”) and they eat in the shade. The sun’s beating down, and it’s scorchingly hot. They ride down a few more of the water slides, together this time. Then the tide pool, but Martha’s not a fan, so they end up at the lazy river, floating along on their tubes, holding hands to stay together.
“Do you ever think about it?” Bethany asks, that evening.
They’re in Bethany’s room. She’s reviewing footage, taking clips and assembling it into a video, while Martha sprawls across her bed. Martha’s been thinking about what could go wrong if she were to try kissing Bethany (her brain’s answer: everything, up to and possibly including the collapse of the Earth as a viable biosphere; this seems slightly extreme to Martha but she’s working on figuring out why).
Martha rolls over onto her side. “Think about what?”
“Jumanji.” Bethany doesn’t look up from the laptop, but the way she bites her lip tells Martha the question is a serious one.
“Yeah,” Martha says. “A lot, actually.”
Martha still has the dreams. They started out as nightmares — Martha waking up in the middle of the night, cold with sweat, covers on the floor. But over time, the dreams have become more nuanced. She’s found herself wandering through the good parts of Jumanji. The team having her back. The animals. The market. Even when the dreams twist back into memories of snake bites and falls from unexpected places, the views are amazing. So stupid-beautiful, as Bethany likes to say.
Martha finds herself thinking about Jumanji, when she’s driving or sitting in study hall. Everything she’s learning in physics says it’s impossible.
And yet somehow, Martha’s never doubted her memories of Jumanji. Not for a second.
“That’s why I’m doing the videos,” Bethany says, watching another slow-motion shot of herself hitting the water at the base of the waterslide. “I want to do a documentary. I want to find out if anyone else has been there.”
Martha sits up. “You think?”
“How would we know?” Bethany shrugs. “Alex didn’t know where the game came from, but it must have come from somewhere. And that Alan Parrish guy, the one who made Alex’s camp — maybe he’s a place to start. Maybe he was from outside the game, too.”
“I want in.” Martha scoots to the edge of the bed. “If you do this.”
“Of course you’re in.” Bethany looks over at Martha, side-long, an expression of relief on her face, and Martha realizes that Bethany was nervous about this. About telling Martha.
Martha’s spent years assuming she understands the unspoken dynamic between them. Popular girl, nerd. Even after Jumanji, even after they became friends — until this moment, Martha hadn’t realized the dynamic had shifted. Hadn’t even realized it could shift.
I said I was going to be brave, she thinks.
Bethany’s still looking at her, the moment drawing out awkwardly long, and Martha leans in before she can decide not to, before she can tell herself all the reasons why not. She cups her hand around the back of Bethany’s neck, Bethany’s hair still damp from the waterpark, and kisses her. Just the barest brush of her lips against Bethany’s.
She pulls back almost immediately, heart beating wildly in her chest. “Was that —”
“I don’t know.” Bethany’s looking at Martha’s lips. She’s not sparkling. Not nibbling her lips, not touching her hair. None of the tactics she taught Martha, back in the game. Instead, she just looks — intense. “You should try again,” she says.
Martha leans back in. The kiss is longer this time. Bethany starts moving her lips, opening them, her tongue along the edge of Martha’s lower lip. Martha’s lips smiling against Bethany’s. Their foreheads together, eyes still closed.
“I do know,” Bethany says. “I want to do that again. And then again. And then maybe at the Grand Canyon.”
Martha laughs, mingled relief and excitement and something else, something she’s not sure she wants to name yet. She leans back in and kisses Bethany, like a promise.