|Yes, I know, you've seen this image before... |
I switched it here from the original post
because I found another much better...
Port O'Connor was your typical beach town: mostly shops with handmade trinkets and baubles, stores selling beach equipment, small cafès and diners, and a few bookstores. I stopped in and got a coffee at one of those cafès. It was crowded in that little space, and I almost spilled my coffee in an effort to avoid stepping on someone's toes when an elbow unexpectedly shifted in my direction.
"Careful now," said a voice behind me, as a hand caught my elbow to steady me. I looked up.
The man who saved my balance looked like your typical beachcomber—if said beachcomber was in a Hollister ad. He was wearing a sleeveless button-down (with none of the buttons fastened) fully displaying the extent of his spray-on tan and sculpted abs. His Ray Ban aviators balanced over bottle-bleached spikes atop his head—and clear-blue eyes winked at me.
"Thank you," I muttered, recovering my senses and scurrying out of there before my hero did the obvious and asked for my name in front of all those people.
I got back to the cottage. Cassie sprawled in the recliner with a cold pack on her face—another migraine. Helena and Lily were both curled up at either end of the large sofa, both reading. Helena had her nose buried in a paperback novel, while Lily was practically drooling over a Vogue magazine. Neither of them gave me more than a glance when I walked in. I figured no one would miss me if I went upstairs to my room for some peaceful contemplation.
I had only just settled down to read one of my novels I kept on the shelf up there, when I heard Lily and Helena charging upstairs.
"Mer!" Lily cried. "We're going walking on the beach with the guys! Wanna come?"
I could only assume "the guys" meant Fred and his buddies. I figured there would be plenty of beach to put distance between us if need be.
"Coming!" I hollered, hurling myself out of the sinking love sack. I slipped on a pair of sandshoes and bounced down the stairs.
The gusting winds of the morning had diminished somewhat, leaving a pleasant warmth and a steady string of light breezes to temper the brilliant sun. We met the guys in the parking lot of the public beach access and took the footpath along the jetty. I noticed that Ben came along, but stayed far enough from the edge he couldn't see the water. This put him some distance from the others, but I found that—as with the night before—by chatting with him, I distracted him from his fears and grief, and coaxed him a bit closer to everyone else. Then, too, our conversation kept me from minding that Lily was carrying on with Fred just like a little child.
Lily scrambled over the craggy wall of the jetty with abandon, pulling herself along as high as she felt like, and then screaming "Catch me!" before letting go and tumbling into Fred's arms. A severe tongue-lashing from Cass put an end to that, but Lily showed my sister exactly what she thought of her caution by walking on top of the narrow stone buffer on the outer edge of the jetty. She stepped steadily enough, so no one except Cass bothered with her till we came to a part of the jetty that expanded into a wide, uneven rock wholly exposed to the ocean. The rest of us were content to watch the crashing surf from the paved asphalt of the footpath, but Lily crossed the cement buffer and walked out on the rock. The winds were stronger out there, as we could see from the way Lily's shirt flapped like a flag against her body.
"Lily! Get back here!" Cass called, but the exuberant redhead spread her arms and laughed.
"Come on, Fred!" she called, dancing a jig from foot to foot as the surf splashed over her legs. Lily giggled.
"Wanna go ahead?" a voice asked behind me.
I turned and nodded to Ben Wyck. "Sure," I said.
We worked our way over to the staircase that led down to the beach. Behind me, I heard Fred call, "On second thought, Lily, why don't you come back a ways?"
The young woman laughed and danced around the edge. "There's no danger, silly! The beach is right there," she pointed over the far edge of the jetty. "It's just a short drop. Watch!"
The next moment happened in slow motion. We all heard the terrific roar of a huge wave at the same instant Lily jumped into the air—right into the cap of a huge wave. The shock of the water threw her off-balance and she vanished over the edge with a short scream. A tall dune obscured my view, but I could have sworn we heard her hit the beach.
"LILY!" Helena screamed, and ran toward the edge. The others followed—except Cass, who had fainted on the spot, and Charlie, who was busy trying to revive her.
I glanced at Ben. He was moon-white, and I could guess what was going through his head just then.
"Ben?" I prodded him. "Ben!"
He blinked slowly. "What?" he whimpered faintly.
"Call an ambulance!" I didn't wait for him to respond before I thundered down the stairs and onto the beach, but when I hit the sand, I looked back and saw him raise his cell phone to his ear.
I reached the top of the dune and saw that it wasn't all beach there like she said. The wave had carried a sizeable amount of water into the area with it, and Lily was nowhere in sight.
"There!" John cried, and I saw two arms break the surface before Lily emerged, flailing and spluttering.
"Help!" she cried, "Help me!"
"Oh, somebody do something!" Helena wailed, standing on top of the rock and watching her sister flounder below. Fred was still fumbling around, trying to get off the rock and directly down to Lily without meeting her same fate. John was at the top of the steps now, but he wouldn't get there in time.
I whipped off my shoes and took off down the dune and into the rising tide.
"I'm coming, Lily!" I called.
Even from that distance I heard a thin wail, "Ooh! They're going to die!" Cass had regained consciousness. "Hurry! Oh, somebody save my sister!"
I could feel the undertow tugging at my legs as I waded toward her. Thin streams of red tinted the water around her.
"Mer!" Lily gasped, and lunged for me. "My leg! I think it's broken! I can't feel it!" She wrapped her arms around my neck, and I swallowed water as my face dipped below the surface.
"Lily! It's okay!" I spluttered, my lifeguard coaching coming into play as I tried to calm her down or we both would sink. "You're going to be fine. Just relax."
"Meredith!" she squealed. "I'm sinking!" Her arms pulled tighter at my shoulders. It was deeper here than either of us could reach. If I could just make it back to the beach—
"Mer—" A wave caught Lily unawares and I felt her hold loosen as she choked on the lung-full of water. The swell carried us slightly apart, and she freaked.
"Meredith!" Her hands grabbed for me again, pulling me under. I fought my way back to the surface, but when I emerged, I'd lost Lily again. I dove toward the place I'd last seen her, and nearly head-butted her. She was unconscious and sinking. I wrapped my arms around her and kicked us toward the beach. Finally, I scraped sand with my toes, and I felt several pairs of hands pulling her away from me.
"Lily! Oh gosh, Lily!"
That was Fred calling to her through the fog. I felt like I was still submerged—till I sat up and hacked all the water I'd swallowed. Everyone was gathered around Lily. Her leg was bleeding pretty badly, and Fred was hunched over her, pumping her chest and blowing into her mouth. I saw her leg kick, and Fred backed away as Lily craned her neck and coughed the water from her lungs. She gave a shudder and went limp.
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