“Laura, I have to know the truth.”
“The truth! What the fuck’s the truth? Christ, why do I even try to clue you in?” She pressed her balled-up fists against her head, hunching, making a strange, animal sound of pain. She straightened, leaned close to stare into my face.
Her eyes widened, pupils flaring dark and then shrinking to pinpoints. “That’s it! You know something, don’t you? Something you’re not telling me. Don’t you?” She grabbed my shoulders again, nails digging in. “I can see it all over you. Now listen, bitch.” Her lips pulled back in a snarl. “He’s watching me, watching you, too! You keep poking around and get me killed, I swear I’ll come back and haunt you. I’ll make real sure you know what it’s like to live in hell.”
A dizzying blast of fear and rage hit me, and for a moment I was spinning into darkness, feeling my crimson-tipped fingers flex with Laura’s desperation as they dug into my shoulders. Hot blood flowing over my hands.
I wrenched free.
Laura gave a harsh laugh, snatched up her things, and stalked down the beach to the trail.
“Damn it!” I grabbed my swimming goggles and turned to the cool clarity of the sea.
Splashing through the shallows, I plunged in. Clean blue washed over me. I headed out from shore in a fast crawl to get the heart pumping, skin tingling. Rippled lights flowed by on the sand below as I loosened into rhythm, pulling in deep breaths. Rounding the breakwater, I swam parallel to the rocky shore, waves slapping against my face now. I stroked harder, deepening my kicks until I finally reached that perfectly weightless, flying place where muscles and breathing and air and water are all one seamless whole and time is only the present.
I swam, surrendering myself to the effort and the rhythm, until I was tired—the good, clean tired of physical work. I rolled onto my back and floated. One far, gauzy shred of cloud drifted through hot blue.
Taking my time on the way back, I savored the sliding coolness of the sea, the luminous clarity, the darting shadows of fish below. I’d tasted Laura’s fear, it was genuine. But she was hiding something. And how had she known about my visit to the police? Only the island grapevine? Or was someone pressuring her to keep me quiet, stop me asking inconvenient questions? Why was everyone so insistent I stay away from Manden?
I filled my lungs and pushed toward the bottom, wishing the sea could wash away all the questions. I was sick of the whole mess. Maybe Laura was right, I should drop it.
A gleam of color on the rippled sea-bed caught my eye. Nearly buried, the yellow spiral of thin-walled shell pulled free with a trailing glitter of sand. Holding it, I surfaced and kicked in to the shallows, stood hip-deep to examine my find. The globe of the largest spiral filled my palm almost weightlessly, smaller twists narrowing to a fine point unblunted by the waves.
Sunlight ignited the shell’s golden curves as I held it up. Warm caress of the breeze, whispering, “All right!”
“All right! What took you?” John’s twelve-year-old voice trying for cool but cracking, grin crooked, mud-streaked face pale with pain. “Knew you’d come, Sis,” he whispered.
He was lying in the mud and brush beside his flipped dirt bike, leg broken, partly sheltered from the cold rain by the overhanging cedar tree with the distinctive twisted branch that I’d seen so clearly from miles away in a vivid flash of urgency.
“You know you’re not supposed to be riding these trails by yourself.”
“Yeah.” He snorted, then winced. “Same way you’re not supposed to ride your horse by yourself out here?”
“Little snot!” I eased around his outstretched leg and hugged him.
With a funny little catch in his throat, he hugged me fiercely back. “You’ll always be there, won’t you, Sue?”
I stood in the lapping waves, blinking against the salt sting, breathing in the bright hot air, feeling the silky kiss of the shimmering sea John would never swim again.
The sun-gold shell glowed in my palm. I’d been blessed or cursed with the Link to John ever since I could remember. I was meant to watch out for my brother, it was a sacred trust. And I’d failed. I’d lost him, lost a piece of myself. I owed us both those answers.
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