Authors: Tanya Anne Crosby
He had shown a bit of anger when he thought she might be in danger.
But then he’d put up an immediate barrier when she’d reached out to him.
Maybe he wasn’t as OK with his own emotions as he seemed to think he was. In fact, she wondered if he really understood why he seemed to need to surf the Washout.
So how did a man like Jamie Heywood deal with a storm of overpowering emotions?
As she sat there, the wind whipped sand around, sweeping in a ceiling of gray that turned the water the color of mercury and drained the color from the beach.
A grim thought bore its way into Annie’s brain.
She glanced down at her watch. It was 1 p.m. If he wasn’t here, where could he be? He didn’t strike her as a man who’d go have lunch then surf on a belly full of crab legs.
She stared at Lady, who seemed to sense her unease.
There’s a fine line between life and death … I think there’s a part of every surfer who wants to own it.
Annie bolted to her feet, her heart lurching into her throat.
Without stopping to think about why, she ran toward the east end of the beach, dropping Lady’s leash as she ran. She ran as fast as she could, tripping through the sand, up through the street and past the coast guard station, her chest aching from the effort.
With her leash dragging behind her, Lady kept pace at her side.
A tremendous sense of urgency nearly overwhelmed Annie suddenly. Going on instinct, she shouted at Lady, “Go get Jamie!” She pointed to the beach beyond the dunes. “Get Jamie!”
It seemed somehow Lady understood and doubled her pace. She passed Annie, loping through the sand toward the surf. Annie had left her sandals at the Washout but didn’t flinch when she stepped on burrs. She kept running, something deep down pressing her forward—all the while, a horrible sense of impending doom followed her like the incoming black clouds.
Annie stumbled past the dunes in time to see her worst fears realized and she froze.
Lady didn’t stop. She sprinted across the sand into the water.
Jamie was on his surfboard. And he wasn’t alone on the waves. A monster wave rolled in, lifting him up high on his board. He road it about three seconds on his haunches before another surfer appeared on the crest. Suddenly, the surfer next to him fell, launching his bright yellow board into the air toward Jamie. Even from this distance, Annie could see that it smacked Jamie upside his head. He wavered and for a dizzying moment, she thought he might stay up. But he didn’t. He tumbled headlong into the water, flipping his board up behind him, leaving it floating ominously amidst the whitecaps.
“Jamie!” she shouted.
Lady was already swimming toward him.
Annie knew it was stupid but she didn’t care. Fully dressed, she ran in after her dog, after Jamie, her heart pounding furiously. The shoreline fell away immediately and she stumbled into deep water, swimming with all her might, sensing the currents swirling dangerously around her legs.
Her heart hammered in fear as the water took on a life of its own and for a terrible, awful moment, she didn’t see either Lady or Jamie and she realized there was a distinct possibility they would all drown right here and now. The waves were rougher than they appeared from shore.
And then she spotted Lady’s head bobbing furiously toward a black spot in the water near Jamie’s orange surfboard.
Was it Jamie? She couldn’t tell!
He wasn’t moving. His hair was too dark.
Oh God, it wasn’t Jamie!
Lady reached him and kept going, dragging a body in the direction of the lighthouse.
“Jamie!” Annie shouted, gulping in water. She tried to follow, until a fearsome current threatened to suck her under and she instinctively turned and swam back toward the shore, realizing she wasn’t strong enough to make it. She reached the beach, sputtering salt water from her mouth, gagging on emotion.
People came running out of nowhere, helping her the rest of the way out.
Someone had already called EMS.
Annie was too scared to sob.
From the shore, they watched as Lady swam toward the lighthouse, holding fast to her burden. Emotion welled up like a tidal surge from the bottom of Annie’s gut. Her eyes burned with unshed tears as she watched her dog reach a sliver of shore behind the lighthouse, dragging a limp, dark haired body up the beach with her.
People around her were chattering feverishly, but Annie didn’t understand anything they were saying.
Someone nudged her. “Who is that?”
“My dog … and my … boyfriend,” Annie said, choking on another wave of emotion. She added quietly, “I think.”
There was no sign of the other surfer anywhere on the horizon. Whitecaps stippled the channel.
“Lucky son of a bitch!” someone declared.
Someone else mirrored the exclamation. “Lucky bastard … his guardian angel earned her wings today!”
“Angel, hell! Did you see that dog?”
Already, Annie could hear choppers in the air.
She waited, standing ankle deep in the surf, watching Lady hover over the body on the distant shore and the moments while she stood there were the longest moments of her life.
News of a dead surfer made the six o’clock news. The body of a twenty-year-old College of Charleston student washed ashore.
Annie sat beside Jamie’s hospital bed, watching over him as he slept, thankful it wasn’t him.
All afternoon, reporters remained outside the door, wanting an interview with the dog that had saved a man’s life. Lady was being treated to VIP status and given free reign of a small waiting room near the E.R. while Annie waited to see if they planned to admit Jamie. If he would just wake up, they planned to release him. Aside from the bump on his head, he seemed fine. Apparently, his surfboard tether had kept him afloat long enough for Lady to reach him. When he opened his eyes, Annie was right there to greet him.
“Hi there,” he said groggily.
Annie gently brushed the hair back from his forehead. His blue eyes gleamed a little feverishly, but the smile that followed was every bit as waggish as Annie had grown accustomed to. She had never been happier to see a man smile and her voice held none of the censure her words did. “So which is it, Jamie Heywood … stupid, can’t read or have something to prove?”
He groaned. “I’d say all of the above, but I don’t think they give law degrees to guys who can’t read.”
Annie laughed softly. “You scared the hell out of me. For a minute, I thought I was going to lose the two souls in my life I care about most.”
The twinkle in his eyes brightened. “Do you mean that?”
Annie kissed him fully on the mouth. “I do, Jamie—what are the odds?”
“The odds are definitely better that we would have met and walked away. It happens every day.” His expression sobered and the glimmer faded from his eyes. “What about the other surfer?”
Her hand went to the angry red knot on his head, gently stroking it. “He didn’t make it, Jamie. You almost didn’t either. Lady dragged you out.”
His Adam’s apple bobbed. “I guess I owe your dog two debts …”
Annie bent to kiss him gently on the lips. “Shhhh.”
“Never shush a dying man,” he chided her.
Annie smirked. “Except that you’re not dying. What made you do such a stupid thing?”
He stared at her soberly and shook his head. “I don’t know.”
Annie’s brows knit. “Damn it, Jamie, if I’d known you were planning to commit suicide, I would have gone home!”
“Annie, love,” he said, “it can’t be considered suicide if you aren’t trying to die.” But there was genuine regret in his eyes. “Would you really … have gone home?”
She shook her head. “I’m pretty sure the minute I met you everything was out of my hands.”
His lips curved into a weak grin. “So you’re saying maybe you like me more than a little?”
“Shhhh … ” Annie bent to kiss him gently on the forehead. She brushed the back of her fingers over his cheek.
“What do you think about marriage?”
Annie screwed her face. “I think that’s a weird question and that you took a nasty blow to the head,” she said. But something in his eyes told her he was completely serious.
“Not so weird if you just saw your life flash before your eyes. I mean … to me, Annie.”
He stared at her expectantly.
Annie blinked. “Are you … asking me … to marry you?”
He shrugged. “Sort of. Maybe …” His eyes glistened slightly. “Yeah, I guess I am. I’ve been around long enough to know a good thing when I see it.”
Annie stared at him.
Who in their right mind signed up for a lifetime after a single awesome week? There were jobs to think about. Geography—they lived in different cities and what did they really know about each other? Marriage was hardly something to be taken lightly.
Annie searched her heart, banished all thought and gave him the only answer that felt right.
It was official as of this morning: 1776 East Ashley was off the rental market. Annie’s movers were due tomorrow. Jamie’s had come the week before.
While everyone was preoccupied, Annie felt compelled to take the opportunity to peek into the attic, needing to know exactly where everything would go.
Some habits were hard to break.
Without any idea of what to expect, she pulled down the attic door, unfolded the steps and climbed up. There was a bulb at the top of the stairs, but there was no need to turn it on. Two small ventilation windows in the back and two more in the front provided all the light she needed and she didn’t want Jamie to know she was there. Aside from a few cobwebs, she was pleasantly surprised by how well organized the space was, but she took a moment to peek out the back window, checking to make sure that Jamie was still working on the sailboat in the back yard.
While Lady watched his progress with interest, he was lovingly refurbishing the boat. It was nearly finished now, but Annie was almost six months pregnant and he’d already stated pretty emphatically that she wasn’t allowed on the boat until after she delivered.
She wasn’t allowed in the attic either, but here she was anyway.
Who would have figured mister carefree dude on the beach would turn out to be a worrywart where she was concerned?
She had never pegged him for an attorney either, but that’s what he was, although mostly retired. At the age of 39, Jamie owned so many properties along the Atlantic Coast that he made enough to live on the earnings alone. Whatever time he spent on legal cases was as General Council for the local preservation society, handling cases involving endangered species conservation and land use. He was one of those guys her grandmother would say “who puts his money where his mouth is.”
Annie loved him.
So did Lady.
Their faithful dog had become his shadow. She knew beyond doubt that this is where she was supposed to be. Annie sensed that as keenly as she did the water around her.
In the attic, the scent of pluff mud was strong, mixed with the musty odors of old boxes. Dragging herself away from spying on her husband at the attic window, she set about the task of making room for the dozens of boxes she knew would be arriving soon. Much of what she intended to store up here were business related items, things she would set aside until after the baby was born when she could better determine where to re-open her business.
She moved boxes around, stacking them neatly, inventorying what was here and creating a system. Forty-five minutes later, she was nearly done with no sign of the over-exertion police.
There was just one more stack of old boxes remaining and she tackled it with renewed enthusiasm, hopeful of finishing before Jamie caught her and made her come down. Shoved at the far back of the attic, these boxes seemed unlike the others. To begin with, they weren’t your usual Boxes-to-Go variety. They were printed with names that screamed of the past: There was one with Victor “His Master’s Voice” stamped on the side. Staring into a daffodil shaped bell, the dog that would later be known as the RCA dog cocked his head curiously. Another box marked Magnavox was crisscrossed with brittle tape, but one corner easily flipped up for her to peek inside. It held a pile of old sheets, yellowed with age. But one box in particular caught her attention. It appeared to be an old World War II ammo box. Curious, Annie started with that one, sitting on the floor beside it. She opened it and found a blue spiral notebook that held sheets of seventies-era baseball cards. In a child’s handwriting, the scribble on the inside of the notebook read: Bobby G.