On the fishing trips to Saddle Lake it was sometimes just the three of them -- his parents Bill and Bert and Tom, whose nickname was Twig because he was as skinny as a stick. But more often than not they were accompanied by friends in a second car. The Warren family was originally from Missouri. Doc Warren was an older man with white hair trimmed in the flat-top style of the 1950s. His wife, Sis, was a small woman with strong Indian features. They had two teenage children. Donny was a handsome boy who wore a perpetual grin and liked to play practical jokes. His sister, Alice, was a red-haired beauty with mysterious dark eyes.

Tom looked up to Donny like an older brother and he had a secret crush on Alice. While the other family drove directly to Saddle Lake, his father went to a house on the outskirts of Grand Junction and paid the owner for the lake cabins they would use. The first night the adults sat around a picnic table drinking beer and talking by lantern light while the three kids wandered down to the lake. In the moonlight Saddle Lake looked completely different than it did in the daytime. It seemed as deep and dark as the night sky and the reflected stars twinkled like underwater fireflies.

"Who's gonna catch the most fish?" Donny wondered aloud.

"Not me," his sister said. "I can't stand to handle those slimy worms."

"Tom will bait your hook for you."

"No I won't."

"I bet you will if she asks real nice," Donny teased.

Tom could feel Alice looking at him in the darkness without turning his head. "She don't have to fish at all. Girls don't like fishing anyway."

"Don't let my mom hear you say that," Alice remarked.

"She's not a girl, she's all grown up."

"What's the difference?"

"Grown-up women aren't afraid of worms."

"I'm not afraid of them. I just don't like the slime they have on them."

Some time later they heard a voice through the trees behind them.

"You kids get to bed!" Sis shouted. "It's late and we have to get up early in the mornin'."

His father was passed out on one of the bunks when Tom entered their cabin. He undressed, said good night to his mother and climbed under the blanket on his bunk. He always had trouble falling asleep at night when they were at Saddle Lake. He couldn't stop thinking about the fish he would catch the next day: bluegill and sunfish and if he was lucky maybe a small-mouth bass or a rock bass. And then at night they would try for large bullheads and channel catfish. To him all fish were magical creatures who belonged in fairy tales. He didn't care all that much about eating them since they tasted kind of funny, but he loved to catch them. He had learned how to fish when he was five and he looked forward to every fishing trip as if it were a kind of odyssey.

The next morning Tom went to the outhouse before his parents woke up. He inspected the structure for spiders before he stepped inside. They were the only insects he was afraid of and the thought of one biting him was his worst fear. Once, when he was about five and they were visiting country people who had no indoor plumbing, he had soiled his pants rather than use an outhouse laced with spider webs. His mother was mortified with shame, his father wanted to beat the hell out of him, but the family they were visiting simply thought it was all very funny.

After relieving himself, Tom strolled to the lake and found Alice waiting for him in the row boat.

"Where's Donny?" he asked.

"He's still asleep. I thought we could go out together."

"You mean just you and me?"

"Sure, why not?"

"I'm not gonna bait your hook."

"Okay, I'll watch you fish."

"You'll probably scare the fish away."

"Oh, stop complaining and get in the boat."

Alice seated herself and took the oars.

"What are you doing?"

"I know how to row," she said. "Sit down in the bow."

"You sure are bossy this morning."

She smiled at him. "I use to be your babysitter, remember?"

Tom cringed every time she mentioned that. He wasn't a baby anymore and he wished she would forget the past.

"Row over by those lily pads," he said, pointing with his index finger.

The boat glided across the glassy surface of the water as Alice stroked the oars. The sun was still below the tree line and the morning air was cool on their faces. When the boat reached the lily pads, Alice looked around as if she had lost something.

"Where's the anchor?"

"We don't need that," Tom told her. "It's better to drift."

He retrieved a fat night crawler from a coffee can filled with wet straw and ran the hook through it in several places, hiding the tip in the end of the worm. Then he lifted the cane pole and tossed the lead-weighted line so the bait sank in an open spot between the lily pads. Tom had no patience for most things, but he could wait for the first bite when he was fishing without getting bored. Whether it took a few minutes or a few hours, he felt comfortable waiting for the mysterious tug on his line which came like a telegraphed message between two worlds. His patience was a curious combination of excitement and tranquility. Alice noticed the trance-like look on his face and giggled.

"What's the matter?"

"You look so funny when you're fishing," she said.

"You're crazy."

"I wish I had a camera."

"If you keep it up, I'll make you swim back to shore."

"Don't get mad, Twig."

Girls were a pain in the butt, he thought. All at once he felt a sharp pull on his fishing line. He jerked the cane pole to set the hook and stood up, causing the boat to rock. With a swing of his arm he brought up a five-inch sunfish that flopped around on the wooden floor. He lifted the fish, carefully avoiding sharp fins, and removed the hook from its tiny mouth.

"Isn't he beautiful?" Tom said, thrusting the sunfish close to Alice's face.

She backed away. "He's very nice, but please don't let go of him."

Smirking at her reaction, he slid the fish onto a stringer line and dropped it overboard, tying the end to the anchor hitch. Then he re-baited his hook and let the line sink until the lead weights settled on the lake bed. Within an hour, he caught three more sunfish and a bluegill. Alice seemed impressed and clapped each time he landed a fish, which made him feel proud. He rowed the boat to a particular spot and leaned over the side, motioning to her.

"Come here, I wanna show you something."

Alice crawled to a position beside him, taking care not to rock the boat, and looked over the side into the crystal clear water. A school of minnows clustered along the sandy bottom and moved in unison with the current.

"Look at all those baby fish," Tom said. "Some day they'll grow up and be big enough to catch."

Alice smiled warmly at him. "You get a real kick out of this, don't you? I never saw anyone who likes fishing as much as you do."

"It's more fun than Christmas," Tom said. "I guess it's hard for women to understand what fishing means to guys."

"I wish you could explain it to me."

Tom turned his head to look at her. "Why?"

"Some day I'd like to feel the same way about something."

He thought about it for a moment. "When you look down in the water, you see the sky reflected. And the water sort of becomes another sky with fish flying around in it."

"You mean like birds?"

"Yeah, like birds. And your fishing line is a kite with a hook on the end to catch the birds."

Alice leaned over and kissed him on the cheek. "That's really beautiful, Twig. You have the imagination of a poet."

Tom could feel his face turning scarlet. "Let's go back. I'm getting hungry."

Alice stared at him while he rowed, which made him nervous. He glanced sideways so he wouldn't have to look into her pretty brown eyes.

The adults were sitting on the dock when the boat pulled in. "Look what Tom caught," Alice said, holding the stringer of fish at arm's length.

"Panfish," Bill said disgustedly. "Nothing but tiny bones to choke on."

Doc laughed. "You're just hung over. You'd brag if you caught 'em."

"Like hell I would."

"Don't be so onery," Bert scolded her husband.

"Where's Donny?" Tom asked.

"He's wanderin' around the woods somewhere," Doc said.

Bill gave his son a sour look. "I suppose you wanna show him your big catch."

Sis shook one leg impatiently. "You gonna argue all day? I thought we came here to fish."

"They had the boat the whole damn morning," Bill said. "They must have been playing doctor or something."

"For Chrissakes, Bill," Doc objected.

Tom grabbed the stringer of fish and left the dock with Alice following him. They walked for a long time without looking at each other.

"Where are we going?" she asked at last.

"To find Donny."

"You shouldn't let your dad upset you so much."

"Sometimes I hate him."

"You don't mean that."

"Yes, I do. I wish Doc was my father."

"He can be pretty strict, too."

"At least he loves you and Donny."

"I'm sure your dad loves you, Twig."

"He has a funny way of showing it."

They found Donny at the far end of the lake, sitting on a log drinking a beer.

"Where did you get that?" his sister demanded.

"From the ice chest," Donny grinned. "Nobody's countin' beers."

Tom held up the stringer of fish. "See what I caught?"

"Nice goin', Twig. You want me to clean 'em?"

"No, I'll do it."

"Let's have fried fish and scrambled eggs for breakfast," Alice suggested.

"Sounds good to me," her brother agreed.

They strolled through the trees, talking and joking with each other. When they arrived at the cabin, they were relieved to find it empty. By the time Tom finished eating breakfast, he had forgotten about hating his father. He was thinking instead of the large whiskered catfish that prowled the bottom of the lake after dark like bats searching for prey in the night sky.