New student recounts visit with long-lost friend

“I’ve missed you,” Rebecca beams brilliantly when we link hands, our fingers clasping and bracelets clanking together. It’s been a year since I’ve moved back to Austin, and my best friend has finally found the time to visit over the summer to see both me and her older brother.

I rest my head against her shoulder. “I’ve missed you more, probably,” I smile back into the sky, a hazy, sweet pink dipping into soft clouds with streaks of occasional ink-black bats rushing out to escape the crowd. The Bat Bridge rests heavy and humid at sunset with packs of people clustered together, waving angry fingers and taking flashing pictures of nothing.

“Impossible,” Rebecca mumbles and bites into a pistachio gelato, eyeing a family sitting on a blue-and-white towel with binoculars and a picnic basket.

“I don’t get what the big deal is,” I roll my eyes at an over-enthusiastic mother with her grumbling children’s hands tucked carefully into hers.

Rebecca snorts. “You live in Austin, you tell me.”

“The bats are hardly the best part of Austin,” I sigh as a tumbling toddler falls to her knees and wails a piercing cry. Somewhere to my left, a very clearly intoxicated man trips and immediately starts humming an off-tune rendition of Queen’s “Under Pressure.”

“Oh?” Rebecca grins. “And what is?”

I turn over and glance back at a lone bat in the sky, circling around in sheer panic before gliding quickly back to the belly of the bridge – moist, cool, and safe. The crowds screech in excitement, and shutters go off one after the other. “I couldn’t tell you, honestly,” I say, and Rebecca laughs, her gelato dribbling off her chin.

“Donuts, then?” she asks when she throws her cone away.

I look back toward the bats that flutter their wings in anxiety and the people that sit on blankets or trip through streets. “Sure,” I nearly shout in my desperation to leave, and Rebecca just smiles, eyes crinkling.

We stumble for ages until we find a Voodoo Doughnuts with an electronic American flag blaring in the center. Elaborate chandeliers and poorly-cleaned tables greet us impatiently. Rebecca picks a donut decorated with a large chocolate mouth and eerie frosting eyes, grin permanently stuck to her face. She immediately trades bits of it for my apple fritter, and we hop along until we can find a convenience store to squat down near. The lasting rays of the sun burn through our skin until we are as red as fire itself. 

We amble downtown, the city lights shrouding our faces in neon green and fading yellow. Fifth Street is as loud as ever, filled with chanting drunks and hyper tourists. Streets, stores, and signs fly by as we walk on and on, searching for something, anything.“You know, the Capitol is not that great,” Rebecca remarks dryly when we reach the lit-up building, shining proudly in front of us.

I squint up toward the Texas flag shyly waving in the wind, hanging on by a thread, and the grand ol’ white building unveiled before us, not a shame in the world. “It’s not,” I agree and throw my head back to laugh. “But you know what is?”

Rebecca quirks up an eyebrow. “What?”

That evening, our hips clash against each other in our excitement, bright purple flip-flops smacking against the ground, and the night sky is perched above our heads, casting a soft shimmery gray light on the still, blue water below. 

It’s quiet at nighttime in Barton Creek, but not as quiet as I want it to be. There’s a tall teenage girl and her brother sitting loudly to the side, splashing water at each other. A father rests his head against his hand and taps his feet impatiently, watching his family dry off. Small groups of people are diving, flipping, jumping, wading, and crashing through the waters below.

I take off my flip-flops slowly and fling my shirt away. Rebecca follows suit, her hair slightly mussed and her eyes still wide as the sky, peering into the creek that stretches on forever. We gather at the cliff, hands linked, fingers clasped, and bracelets clanking together.

The water is far more calm and beautiful from the cliff. Rocks splay harshly against my feet, and the moon curves a shiny streak into my hair. I can feel Rebecca shaking softly, glaring down below at the height. Everything is way too far away up here.

“Ready?” My smile is so big I can hardly contain it.

Rebecca nods nervously, her eyes trained on the many feet below us. “On count of three,” she says mutely.

“One, two – ”