Authors: S. Jackson Rivera
S. Jackson Rivera
Published by S. Jackson Rivera
Copyright 2015 S. Jackson Rivera
Cover design by Creative Paramita (creativeparamita.com)
Edited by Proof Before You Publish (proofbeforeyoupublish.com)
Formatted by Totencreative (totencreative.com)
All rights reserved. Unauthorized duplication is prohibited.
All text, characters, character names, places, culture, incidents, and distinctive likenesses thereof are property of the author. No part of this publication may be used, reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means without written permission from the author except in the case of brief quotations embodied in critical articles and reviews.
This book is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and events, either are products of the author’s imagination or used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual places, events, persons, living or dead is entirely coincidental.
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he next morning, Rhees woke early and found herself on the mat, the memory of the night before gradually coming back to her. She reached behind her uncertainly, checking to see if Paul lay next to her, the way he had the last few nights. Her hand came up empty.
She hated how it all seemed to be unfolding. Were they still friends? Were they back to being enemies? And then she realized it didn’t matter anymore, since she’d be leaving.
She sat up and noticed Paul’s pillow next to hers. It hadn’t been there when she’d fallen asleep—alone. It made her feel a little better for a second, but the senselessness of reading anything into it hit her again. He’d sent his message loud and clear and the wound seemed to be deepening by the minute.
She wanted her apartment, her bedroom. She needed a shower, a change of clothes, a change of scenery—she needed to get away. And then there were arrangements to be made—packing, a plane ticket to buy, goodbyes to be said—a sad fluttering battered her heart.
“Where’re you going?” Paul called from the office as she walked past the door.
He didn’t sound gruff and that felt better, but it didn’t eliminate her need to escape. She told herself it was illogical, irrational. Running away from the pain of being sent away didn’t make sense, but it didn’t stop her.
“Home. I need to change.”
“Wait just a sec, I’ll come with you.”
“You don’t need to. I don’t want to be a bother.”
He rolled his eyes at her. “I’m coming. Just let me finish this email. I don’t want you walking around alone.”
“Okay,” she answered, but she didn’t stop. Overcome with dread at the thought of being near him, the desire to put as much distance between them as possible prevailed. She just kept walking and as soon as she made it around the corner, out of view from the office window, she ran.
When Rhees walked into the apartment, Regina confronted her.
“Paul called. He is very angry at you.” Regina pulled her phone from her pocket and hit a button. One second later, she said, “She just only walked in . . . Yes . . . looks fine to me . . .” Regina handed the phone to Rhees, but Rhees refused to take it. Regina gave her a look of incredulity. “He would like to talk to you!”
Rhees shook her head again and gave Regina a wide-eyed, defiant look.
Regina put the phone to her ear again. “She does not want to talk to you . . . I assure you, I do not know why! . . . All right, I will tell her . . . yes, I will. You can count on me, Paul . . . I shall see you later.” She hung up and stared at Rhees. “Paul wants Tracy and I should wait and walk back with you so you do not have to walk alone.”
“For crying out loud! I’ve walked back and forth from the shop a million times,
. You don’t have to wait for me.”
“I will not want to disobey that man. This is Paul I am talking about.”
“Fine! I may be a while.” Rhees realized how much Regina loved every minute of the situation. She and Paul were on the same side, some kind of secret partnership, making her feel closer to him. It annoyed Rhees and made her want to burst the bubble. “I hope you’re prepared to face
when we all show up late.”
Rhees took her time. She wasn’t purposely stalling . . . well, maybe a little. Mostly, she kept thinking of
one more thing
she just had to do before she could get back to the shop. The list of all she needed to get done before she left the island weighed on her. It overwhelmed her to a breaking point and she finally just lay down on her bed and tried to shut it out.
Regina eventually grew too nervous to wait any longer. She’d battled with her options, questioning which would displease Paul the most. The thought of seeing him sooner won over waiting for Rhees to
get back to the shop. She grabbed Tracy for moral support and left.
Rhees heard the screen door slam and knew they were gone. It felt good to finally be alone. She’d been worried she would break out crying again, and she didn’t want them to hear her. But now that she was finally alone, she felt too numb to cry.
She wanted to sleep, forget everything and possibly dream about something better than what was happening in real life. She tried to drift off, hoping for a brief escape. Seconds later, she thought she heard a noise outside on the porch.
How did he not get the point when I refused to speak to him on the phone?
She jumped out of bed and put the lock on the screen door. She listened—waiting for whoever happened to be coming up the stairs outside—no one showed up.
“Paul?” She waited for an answer. Nothing. “Tracy? Regina?” She waited again, thinking they’d changed their minds and came back for her.
Still no answer. She laughed at herself and went to the kitchen and got a drink of water. She heard the floorboards creak in the other room. She froze.
She poked her head around the wall to double-check. The lock still hung on the door—it could only mean that someone had already stole into the house before she locked it.
“Paul, calm down. Don’t hurt them. It’s just a prank. Everyone knows you’d beat the heck out of anyone who broke in. Paul, please don’t hurt them.” She hoped her bluff would scare anyone out of hiding, but no one came out of the woodwork to confess they’d come to play a joke.
She ran back into her bedroom and slammed the door. She locked it too. She glanced around the room, searching to make sure the room was safe, no one crouching in the corners. Her heart pounded. She lunged onto her bed and clawed her way to the farthest corner. She sat waiting and listening. She didn’t hear anything. She looked into the bathroom. The shower—the shower curtain—anyone could be hiding behind it. She slid quietly off the bed and tiptoed to the door.
She listened for a minute before opening it, unsure whether the biggest threat was ahead, outside her room, or locked inside with her. She took a deep breath and charged from her apartment, forcing herself to take the time to lock the doors behind her when all she really wanted was to bolt.
She felt better when she reached the bottom of the stairs. The pleasant little yard soothed and helped her clear her mind of all thoughts of strangers lurking in her house. She admitted her imagination had been working overtime, but it still left her feeling jittery. She headed toward the shop.
Oceanside stood at the end of the street, a side street no one traveled unless they lived on the road. There were a few houses along the way that always gave Rhees a creepy feeling but today, as she walked past the worst ones, she felt her hair stand on end. She quickened her step.
She neared the banana tree orchard, a long stretch of the road that had always intrigued her. The orchard appeared neglected and she often wondered if it had been abandoned and why. The trees grew thick and too close together, too dark to see much past the first few rows but someone had spent a lot of money to put up an ornate, wrought iron fence.
For some reason, the owners decorated the top of the fence with broken bottles and animal skulls. She once assumed it was to keep kids from sneaking in and stealing bananas, but today, visions of Voo doo warnings came to mind. From the shadows, she imagined eyes watching her, following her, waiting for a chance to grab her and drag her into the dark.
Her heart hammered harder. She could hear it pounding in her ears. She felt hot and cold at the same time, and her stomach rolled, doing somersaults. She ran, though she already struggled for breath, as fast as she could make her legs move.
She saw the main street up ahead, saw people walking by, and she thought if she could just make it to the main street she’d be safer—if she could just get past a few more creepy houses with dim doorways.
She rounded the corner and just when she finally felt she might be safe, someone grabbed her. He threw his arms around her and picked her up off the ground, refusing to let go. Her feet dangled, removing any chance she had at gaining enough leverage to break away, so she kicked. She screamed and writhed, looking around frantically, in a panic, for anyone who might help her.
“Hey! Hey, what’s wrong?” Paul pulled her to him, even closer. He’d seen her come barreling around the corner, and grabbed her when he realized she hadn’t noticed him coming for her. When Tracy and Regina showed up at the shop without her, he’d taken off. He needed to make sure she was all right. The thought of her walking around alone, unprotected, gave him what he knew to be irrational anxieties, but he couldn’t turn them off.
She fought him like a mad woman and he struggled not to drop her.
“Shh! It’s okay, it’s me.”
She finally looked at who had her and moaned with exhausted relief. With a sob, she threw her arms around his neck and circled her legs around him, throwing him off balance. He hung on to her as best as he could while he steadied himself.
“What’s wrong? Did more of Mario’s friends turn up?” His muscles tensed and his nerves bristled, ready for a fight.
She whimpered, shaking her head. She buried her face against his neck. He felt her trembling.
“Only in my imagination,” she sobbed. She didn’t let go for another minute but finally peeled herself off him and climbed down. She covered her face with both hands, shamed and humiliated, and part of him wanted to smile. She looked so cute, squirming and floundering as though she didn’t think she’d ever recover her dignity. But he worried too much about what had just happened.
“I told myself the whole time that it was just my imagination. I knew it wasn’t real, but . . . I was so scared!”
Paul hugged her. “Rhees. You’re trembling. Let’s get you to the shop.”
“No!” She didn’t catch herself fast enough to conceal the alarm. “I can’t face everyone like this.”
“Okay, let’s go back to your place.”
“No!” Alarm again. She couldn’t get the ghost lurkers at her apartment out of her head.
“Okay.” The worried look on his face grew worse with every second. “What about my place?”
She couldn’t believe how patient he seemed, considering she happened to be acting like a lunatic. She nodded and out of nowhere, hug bombed him again, even tighter than before.
He picked her up and held her, and never once tried to make her let go until she was ready. When she did climb down again, she took a deep breath while he took her hand and led her toward his apartment.
“Rhees, I’m worried about you.” Paul handed her a small glass of wine. “This will help calm your nerves.”
“I’m all right, really. I just freaked myself out.” She tried to laugh off his concern.
“I think you should see a doctor.” He started thinking out loud. “But the health care system here sucks. The doctors are all quacks. You might need anxiety meds or something to help you through this, but you’d need to get stateside, or you might just wind up getting your leg amputated, or worse.” He shook his head in disgust.
“The horror stories I’ve heard—”
“So, Saturday isn’t soon enough?” She didn’t hide her bewilderment. “Are you in such a hurry to get rid of me? Maybe I should just leave right now?”
“Saturday?” Paul stared at her, confused.
“I’m leaving Saturday.”
“Why are you leaving Saturday?” It was his turn to sound incredulous.
She rattled her head, not understanding why he acted so surprised. “Because I want you to get out of here before I do something I might have to feel bad about,” she paraphrased him in a mocking tone.
He looked down. A breathy laugh came out as he shook his head.
“You’ve already booked your flight?” He stared at the floor.
She shook her head. “But I’ll get it. Don’t worry!”
She hasn’t booked a flight—yet.
That was good, though getting a flight off the island wasn’t hard. The airline had an office on the island, but most people didn’t stop in to purchase their ticket until they were on their way to the airstrip.
His brows knit together, his head spinning from her announcement. “Since when do you do anything I say?” He couldn’t figure out why she suddenly decided to jump so quickly on something he said at such an emotional moment. He had to think of something.
“Saturday is a busy day for the airlines. If you wait . . . if you left on a weekday, it might be cheaper.” He grasped for any way to stall her—keep her—knowing how tight she was with money. It’s all he had. “Do you
want to go home?”
“Yes,” she whispered. “You’re right. It’s for the best.”
He exhaled hard and ran his hand through his hair. “Can you wait until next week, at least?”
She didn’t look up, wouldn’t look at him, but she nodded.
That Saturday, Paul counted his blessings. Instead of standing hopelessly by as Rhees boarded a plane to leave, he was able to watch her board his boat. He designated himself her dive buddy that morning, something he hadn’t done since her twenty-ninth dive—the one where he could tell she finally
what diving was all about. That dive, he’d been able to tell she’d finally relaxed and let herself enjoy it instead of watching her gauges the whole dive—as though she was just counting the minutes—waiting for it to be over.
In his experience, it seemed to take most divers between twenty and twenty-five dives to get there and he’d started to worry she’d never really like it. But when they came up her twenty-ninth time, she’d said, “Wow! I actually liked that dive.”
He’d laughed and teased her about what she’d thought about the previous twenty-seven dives—he knew why she didn’t enjoy the first one.
Rhees was leaving the following Thursday. She had four more days to dive and he wanted to spend as much time with her as possible. Everyone on the boat made their entrance into the water. Paul gave the bobbing heads one last inspection, gave them all the thumbs-down signal, tipped his chin to Randy, and did his characteristic flip into the water.
He made his way to Rhees on their way down and watched as Mitch took over the supervising of the dive before taking Rhees’ hand and leading her away from the other divers. He had something he wanted to show her.
She seemed confused at first about leaving the group, but he gestured for her to follow him. She shrugged and so willingly obeyed, no reservations—so trusting—it made him uneasy all of a sudden. He didn’t think she should put so much faith in him. He’d never let anything happen to her—while diving—but he’d been fighting demons since he’d been spending so much time with her on the surface.
They reached the site he wanted to show her. The area was comprised of a series of rocky pillars and underwater caves—rarely visited because so many of the divers on the island were beginners and not ready for diving the enclosed environment. Rhees had just finished the bookwork for cave diving so the timing was perfect as Paul gave her a personal tour of one of his favorite sites.
The coral, the majestic formations, and the way the light penetrated the caves through small crevices scattered throughout the site, were breathtaking. He excitedly watched her face—her eyes, since it was hard to see too many facial expressions with a mask on and a regulator in your mouth—but he could tell she thought it was as beautiful as he did.
Paul expertly navigated his way through the maze and she followed. At the last tunnel, he hurried ahead and turned to wait for her to come through—he wanted to see her expression when it happened, remembering the first time it’d happened to him.
She came through, her eyes on him at first, but when she looked down, he could see her whole body tense as though she thought she was about to plummet hundreds of feet—off the edge of the steep cliff she’d just unknowingly crossed over. He laughed into his regulator as she met his gaze and put her hand over her heart to tell him how relieved she was to remember she could float.
Paul finned to her side and got close to her ear. “Magnificent, right?” he yelled through his reg.