dawn abeita

fiction from my head

Exiles

by Dawn Abeita, All Rights Reserved.

By the time Andy drove her boat to the mainland to buy garden supplies, she had been alone on her island for three months. It wasn’t a lot of island; it appeared only on navigational maps and no others, and even then only so that boats cruising the Gulf’s Intercoastal Waterway in the dark might avoid hitting it. It had no name.

Boat handling was still new to her, so she was tense as she found her way across the dark, shallow water between the island and the mainland. The bottom between was grassy, but on occasion she spotted some moving detail – a needle fish darting or a small ray gliding along the water’s currents. They made her proud of herself.

Before she became a hermit, she had been a divorce attorney in Chicago. She slowly grew sick of her clients – all those people who seemed to think their love had been a contract they only entered into for their own enlargement. If the love wasn’t going to perpetually make them feel better about themselves, then they wanted their money back. She hadn’t had a real relationship herself since college. She guessed she had first been too busy and then too jaded and then too sour. She didn’t have a clue with what kind of person she could possibly go out. As far as she could tell, people really did seem to think the world was theirs to maul to fit the shape of their egos. It was like everyone had the same contagious disease.

“You’ve rediscovered existentialism,” her friend Kelsey told her. “Or you’re delving into Nietzsche land.”

“You’re sick and you need professional help,” Kelsey’s husband, Carlton, said, perhaps in jest, since he laughed.

“Just quit,” said Kelsey. “I would if I inherited all that money.”

Months went by.

Then, one morning as she was starting down the steps leading to the subway, she just stopped as though her feet had stuck. She had an important arbitration meeting first thing. She had a business lunch. She had a full schedule, but she was frozen with revulsion that this was a bona fide moment of her life. With one foot on the filthy gray steps of the el and people hustling past in their rushes, everything seemed horrible to her, especially the people. Even the guy who was curled up asleep on the landing was making a greedy demand that she had to either abide or ignore. The area near his hands was sprinkled with dollar bills.

“Couldn’t you just take up painting?” said Kelsey. “It seems kind of crazy to maroon yourself on an island.”

“Not marooned,” she had said. “Retreated. And besides, you’ll visit. You’ll have a private beach house in the tropics to visit whenever you want.”

“It’s in Florida,” said Kelsey. “Does that count?”

“Technically,” she answered.

They had wanted a million for her little bump of an island, but she got it for less because it only had a door-less cinder block hut on it and only the very center stayed dry during a storm tide. It took a lot to add the infrastructure – the well, the septic tank, the wind turbine – and build the little house with its solar panels. She couldn’t expect much return on her investment, but she still had enough to live on, and she was satisfied.

In her first days, her new life seemed to contain an alarming lack of the accountability she was used to. She stuck closely to the schedule she had posted on the refrigerator, but within a month she found that the hours overlapped and melded and the days began to fly past in a benign haze as though she had fallen into a dream. She began to talk to and email her friends less and less, and they, busy with what was right in front of them, didn’t worry about it. The stereo, which had been a constant companion in her first weeks, was never on, and she developed an obsession with food and its preparation.  She searched the internet for online classes, recipes, and produce. She had perfect exotic baby greens shipped from somewhere in Virginia, mushrooms from Washington, cured organic beef from Montana. She had shade- grown coffee beans custom roasted in Boston to suit her own taste and the humid climate. This was all good, but what she needed was a source closer to home. She needed a garden.

When she pulled the boat up to the marina dock on Pine Island, a young guy came from the sailboat in the next slip to help her with the lines. This etiquette of marinas always amazed her. It was as if when you arrived at the mall people gathered around to insure your safety as they guided you into a parking space. The guy stood with his arms folded across his bare chest staring at her as she performed her cautious maneuvering. He seemed built of some cavalier patrician blood, still handsome even though stringy, bearded, and sun-blackened from too many months at sea. His nylon shorts were faded in a stripe down the front as if they’d faded along his penis the way some men’s jeans faded around their wallets. He didn’t say anything, only grinned at her and waited until she threw him a line.

“Do you want a spring line? There’s some wind.”

“I don’t think so,” she said.

“Do you want a beer then?” He shrugged as if to show he’d made the offer out of politeness but no real inclination toward sociability. He inclined his head toward his sailboat and then walked over and boarded it, stepping easily across the space from dock to deck.

She knew little enough about sailboats, but it seemed like a nice one though the teak decking was fraying and gray. She stood at the starboard side judging, hesitating.

“Come aboard,” he said, and Andy obeyed. He moved an open book out of the way so he could sit with his feet propped against the wheel housing. “My name is Bryce,” he said. And this is the Solitaire,” he waved across the boat. “She belongs to my parents.  They thought it might be therapeutic for me to go sailing for awhile when I graduated, ya know, between undergrad and grad. They always want to know when I’m coming back, so I don’t call them very much. Every month they put less money in the account, like they’re weaning me.” He picked up the cast-aside book and lifted it as if he was going to settle in to read.

Andy didn’t know what to say. She had become unused to talking.

“I heard,” he nodded toward the marina store, “that you live alone out on your own island.”

Andy smiled her slight assent.

“That’s cool,” he said. He set the book open across his knee. “I want you to meet Melissa,” he said. “She’ll be back in a second. It would be good for her to have another girl to talk to, someone regular.” He laughed. “Another person, really.” Before Andy could answer, Bryce hopped up and with one step and a practiced swing disappeared down the hatch. She could see someone at the marina store pulling down the shades against the afternoon sun. A girl with blazing blonde hair came out. She was carrying something small in her hands, like a pack of cigarettes. Andy felt that she’d better hurry if she wanted to get her errands done. Young Bryce reappeared with two beers. He sat where he’d been before and extended one toward her.

She perched on the edge of a faded cockpit cushion and sipped. “I can’t stay really,” she said. “I just came over to do some errands.”

The blonde girl came down the dock and hopped aboard the Solitaire. She had on shorts and a bathing suit top that had once been crochet but now seemed best described as string. She was skinny, nearly flat-chested, and very delicate looking, as if she’d been sick. “Hey,” she said to Andy and plunked down across from her, then immediately hopped to her feet again.  I think I’ll join you. Don’t go away.” She tossed the pack of gum she was carrying onto the bench and disappeared down the hatch.

“I don’t know what I’m going to do with her,” said Bryce. “If I can help her, it’s worth it, I guess. She came aboard in St. Lucia. She used to be the cook on a charter boat.  She didn’t know what she was getting into when she took that job.”

Andy felt pretty sure what his help involved. It was surprising he had his dick in his pants enough for it to wear a streak. He was a spoiled kid intent on drifting around doing nothing on his parent’s money with some chick to massage his ego. Which was about the same as her, except for the chick.

“Look,” he said. He leaned toward Andy and whispered. “She’s fed up with my agenda, which is to be morose and sail from nowhere to nowhere. We don’t see many people, try to stay away from em, but it’s hard on her. She’s completely social, a partier. Understatement,” he said. He looked at Andy to see if she caught some secret meaning of his before he tipped the last swallow of beer into his mouth.

Melissa came back on deck carrying an insulated cup full of a clear liquid. She lifted it toward Andy and smiled. “Hard stuff in the afternoon,” she said. “Vodka. Did you ever just get fed up with everything? Did you ever think that things can’t get worse, or lonelier?” She stared at Bryce. “Or more fucked up?” Melissa raised her glass and drank. “Sweet,” she said.

 

Andy took a taxi to the garden store and back again. She had the tools she bought – the 15 different herbs, the seedlings of banana, and papaya. She had seed packets for vegetables that might survive the heat: tomato, eggplant, and chard. The lemon, orange, mango, and avocado trees plus the manure would be delivered to the marina and then brought out with her groceries and mail in two days, but she could find no one to help with the planting. The guy who brought the groceries out twice a week, did handyman work for her, and hauled away her trash couldn’t do anything extra for a couple of weeks. They could put up a sign in the shop, the marina manager told her. Maybe someone would call.

When she had finished getting her stuff stowed, she walked over to the Solitaire and asked them if they’d like to dock on the island for a few days and help her out with the garden, earn some money. Bryce only glanced at Melissa, who looked as if she was about to burst out laughing, before he said no, thank you.

 

Andy was on the porch the next afternoon, the Cooking of Provence on her lap, a mojito in her hand when Melissa appeared on the sand path leading from the dock. The sun shone off her hair as if from broken glass. She was wearing a ragged flowered skirt and a cotton tank top that hung so loosely on her it threatened to expose her nipples with every movement. “Hey,” she called, “we thought we’d take you up on your offer, if that’s okay.”

“Sure,” said Andy. “Sure. Great. I really need the help.”

Melissa seemed relieved, as if she was afraid they’d missed their chance. “There isn’t any power or water hookup down at the dock is there?”

“Sure, probably,” said Andy. “Come on up and sit.” Andy rose and started into the house. “I’m making you a mojito. You’ll love it.”

“A mojito,” she heard Melissa repeat behind her, and then Melissa followed her in.

In the kitchen, Andy began to make the drink – putting the mint and sugar into the bottom of the glass where she could crush them slightly with a muddler, then lime, then rum, then soda water and ice. “This is so good,” she said. “It’ll give you a little orgasm.”

Melissa was walking around the living room picking up things. She looked up startled at Andy’s words, but she neither laughed nor blushed. She seemed instead to be trying to decode the secret meaning. She opened each of the little carved boxes Andy had placed here and there around the big, open room. That all the boxes were empty clearly disappointed her.

“Here we go,” said Andy. Melissa leaned forward to take the glass as if she was afraid she was going to spill some on herself. When she did that Andy could, in fact, see the small pale nipples. Andy missed sex, fantasized about it a lot, and wondered suddenly what kind of man Bryce was that he found Melissa’s scrawniness sexy.

“You have beautiful hair.”

“Yeah,” said Melissa. “I’m lucky.” She pulled a hank of her crystalline hair forward and inspected it, then hooked it over her lip like a mustache and laughed at her own cuteness. She sipped her mojito and seemed shocked for a minute at its mixture, but then smiled her appreciation. She walked around the house, drinking. She walked into Andy’s study and fingered the computer’s keyboard. She went into the bedroom and opened the closet door and looked inside. She touched the clothes letting her hand rest on one dress in particular, a blue batik Andy had bought in Fiji.

“You can have it,” Andy told her. “It would look better on you.”

“Cool,” said Melissa. She handed her empty glass to Andy, and stripped off her clothes. When she was naked she laughed, hands on hips, and paraded as though she was on a fashion show runway. She pranced her way back to Andy and hugged her, her breasts bunched against Andy’s own. “It’s so great to be around girlfriends,” she said. Then she took the dress and slipped it on over her head. “It seems like there’s always just guys around.”

“Definitely suits you better than me,” said Andy.

“Yeah, guys really like me,” she said. “That’s how I get whatever I want. I get worshipped.” She twirled around on her tiptoes. “I look really good in clothes. That’s what everyone says I should go be a model. You have to be the kind of person who doesn’t mind everyone looking at you. I could do it.”  She laughed and then turned and went into the bathroom. Andy leaned in the doorway watching her. “Oh, my God, a bathtub,” Melissa squealed. She turned to study herself in the mirror, then opened the medicine cabinet door and picked up the prescription bottles to read their labels. Suddenly, she turned and headed toward the door. “I better get back to the boat,” she said.  Andy assumed that she was suddenly trying to avoid some vitriol from Bryce about the length of her absence. “You better come down and give us the water and power.”

 

They arrived for dinner a half-hour late, which had made Andy none too pleased. She had made flounder with a lemon ginger tahini sauce that by now, to her eyes, had gone viscid. She had also drunk half a bottle of Pinot Grigio by the time she saw them coming, Melissa wearing the Figian dress. They did not hold hands or even seem to be talking to each other. They plodded toward her as to a duty. Bryce took the glass of wine she offered and began to poke around in the kitchen inspecting her cooking. “Look at this,” he said. “Damn. You really know what you’re doing.” He put a finger in the sauce and licked it, leaving the finger to linger in his mouth while his eyes lit up. Then he winked at her.

“Can I have some Jack Daniels or vodka or something,” said Melissa “Or one of those things you made? I’m not much of a wine drinker. Do you mind if I use your bathroom?”

Bryce walked around the house, taking in its particulars much as Melissa had done. He touched each knob and inspected the trim around the big windows with his finger. “It’s great,” he said. “You had a good architect. Good builder too. Look at these,” he said. He walked over to inspect the transoms over the doors. “They used to put them in old houses for air circulation. It’s really cool. And the materials, the lights in here at night, all the glass and all the natural wood. Really nice. Just right. Maybe someday,” he said. He sat down on the edge of the couch and touched the coffee table as if trying to determine what wood it was made of. “I’m supposed to be in architecture school right now,” he said.

Melissa came back and sat on the sofa next to him. She tucked her feet under her and looked mournfully at Andy. “I’m so hungry,” she said.

At the table, Melissa sat and picked at her food. She reminded Andy of a child who does not like being included with the grown-ups. Bryce sipped wine and seemed to relish his dinner. “I am so happy to be here,” he said. “I’m sick of my sad cooking, and sick of restaurants, and their food is never this good.”

Bryce inspected his wine and smiled at it. “Do you think,” he said, “that people can be genetically altered by genetically altered food?”

“No, I agree,” said Andy, which made Bryce smile. “There has to be some effect, and you can really taste the difference in organic foods, especially milk and eggs. I’m really excited about this garden, and maybe I’ll even get chickens.”

“And the cow?” he said.  He was teasing.

“Definitely not a cow.”

“It doesn’t really matter,” said Melissa. “It’s not an important thing as far as life goes. Who cares?” Bryce looked at her disapprovingly, and she clamped her mouth shut, but then he laughed and told her she was probably right.

“He thinks I’m stupid,” said Melissa.

“I don’t,” said Bryce. “I think you have a lot you could do if you made up your mind to it.”

I mean, God,” said Melissa. “If I had this place, I’d be having some great parties.”

During desert, a homemade ginger ice cream, Melissa seemed suddenly exhausted. She could hardly keep her eyes open, until finally she propped her head heavily on her hand, her elbow firmly on the table. She seemed to have slipped off into a dream. “I’m sorry,” said Bryce. He looked with mournful apology at Andy. “I better get her out of here.” He put his arms under her armpits and hauled her out of her chair. Melissa seemed unwilling to walk, rebelling perhaps against his treatment by dragging her feet. That he would have a hard time getting her back to the boat made Andy smile to herself.

After Andy had cleaned the kitchen, she sat on the porch with a cup of decaf and tried to picture what was going on at the Solitaire. Bryce was probably and rightfully giving Melissa a hard time for her childish rudeness, and then he probably went ahead and fucked her with the finesse of a stevedore. Over in a jiff and asleep. All forgiven.

 

Bryce felt a craziness for sex grow in his imagination from time to time, and although it was sometimes blinding in its power, it wasn’t enough to make him touch Melissa. He met her when he docked for repairs at a marina in St. Lucia. She was staying on the boat in the next slip. The boat seemed to be available for charter but not currently under hire. There was the captain and the girl on board. They drank constantly, and every night they went into town and came back tanked with a boatload of extra people in their tow. They played Jimmy Buffet and Bob Marley very loudly, and drank, and yelled, and laughed, and did cocaine. They would line it up on the cockpit table and one person after another would bend down out of Bryce’s eyeline and sniff. He could never sleep with all the noise. As soon as he could get his new stays installed he was out of there.

The day the stays went up, he felt like celebrating, so he went over and joined them. He had a drink. He didn’t do any cocaine. They all looked at him as if he was a real drag on them. They all just talked about places they’d been and stupid things they’d done.  Some jerk had jumped in the water when they had a big shark on the line so a picture could be taken of him on the shark’s back. The girl and the captain and some others had gone below deck. Some blonde girl was talking about how one time she’d gotten really blotto and been left behind in Nassau by her friends and had woken up in some local’s bed.  That was my first taste of black dick,” she said. “But not my last.” Everyone laughed.  Bryce thought he’d go below and get himself another drink.

From the bottom of the ladder he could see that girl, Melissa, in the fore cabin with three guys. The captain was putting a needle in her arm, and one guy was counting the money in his wallet, and one guy was stripping off his clothes. Bryce had appeared to them and acted overwrought and out of it and insisted that he speak to Melissa. He had to talk to Melissa. He was going to kill himself if he didn’t speak to Melissa. Melissa was his goddamned best friend and he needed his best friend. They thought it was amusing and they let her go for a minute. Just a minute. The poor girl was in lala land, and Bryce had dragged her over to his boat and started the engine and took off at the excruciatingly slow pace the tiny sailboat engine could muster. No one came after her.

She had gone through a few days of withdrawal and a few days of incoherent crying while Bryce took careful care of her. But now Bryce was having a hard time tolerating her presence. He didn’t want any companion at all and definitely not one who was childish and none too bright. She was useless, knew nothing of sailing, couldn’t cook. Bryce wasn’t sure she knew how to read. There wasn’t a value or attitude or thought alike between them. She wasted no respect on him even though he fed her and was kind to her as no one had probably been in her life. She was biding her time until someone exponentially more fun than Bryce came along. Still, he took pride in her drug-free state. And then at dinner she had gotten into Andy’s medicine chest and taken her sleeping pills. How many he did not know. He found the bottle in her pocket with three pills still clattering around in its bottom. Melissa had clawed and scratched at him trying to get it back but had finally succumbed to her own inebriation and fallen asleep. And Bryce sat up with her all night checking to see that she was breathing. She snored and drooled, and he sat nearby letting his imagination run to Andy.

He thought Andy was cute but not beautiful. His high school and college girlfriends were like that – the ones driven to grab a perfect life as their birthright.  They were downright bitchy about it, an attitude bred into them by their doctor dads, an attitude that required all suitors to be on their toes and on their guard. He had charmed them, parried with them, escorted them, bedded them. It was fun in its way, though he couldn’t imagine ever again having the required temperament. Andy was like those girls, reminded him of them, but she was different. He didn’t care that she was probably ten years older than him. He was intrigued by her chosen solitude, that she had the money to manage it, by the fineness of her interest in cooking, by the taste her house displayed.

He’d been smitten a few months before with a girl he met in Aruba, but not hard.  Nothing much of life could grab him hard, and so he had simply done nothing. His friend since fifth grade, affable and loveable, was gunned down by a disgruntled client in his first job out of college, his dream job at a stock brokerage. Bryce’s heart was sore all the time, and he could not get over it, and so he had sailed away. If it wouldn’t break his parent’s hearts, he would sail the Solitaire, loaded with dry food and fine wine and a library of music and books, out into the middle of the Pacific Ocean and let her drift and wait for the first big storm to come and take him. And here was Melissa who seemed too loose and too crazy and too driven toward her own excesses. The intense blond of her hair scrambled against the pillowcase seemed like a childish scribbling in crayon. He leaned against the bulkhead and fantasized about lying in bed in Andy’s house, his horrible ache stripped from him.

 

The next day, Bryce arrived at the house early to start the work on the garden. He seemed still groggy with sleep, and Andy herself was still sitting in a porch rocker with a cup of coffee and a download of the local papers and the New York Times. She was wearing the old Yale t-shirt that she slept in and her hair was uncombed.  Without saying anything she got up and went into the house to change into cut-offs and her most ragged t-shirt. She snatched her hair carelessly back into a rubber band. When she came back out she was carrying a cup of coffee for Bryce.

He sat on the steps in the morning sun, his back to her, drinking with relish and studying the birds in the tree line. She sat beside him with her own cup and they discussed the coffee beans and the day’s tides. He asked what she had read in the paper.  She told him that in Punta Gorda a city official, who was accused of some corruption or other, had gone into a City Council meeting and started shooting, but the fellow managed to fail to hit anyone at all. Bryce had listened with his head down, and when she laughed at the end he sighed and shook his head as if testing the beginnings of a headache.

“Where does the garden go?” he said.

They walked over to look at the spot she had picked. He had her put a big conch shell on each of the corners to indicate how big she wanted it, then he silently paced it off, whispering each numbered step to himself. He said a plan would be good, so they went back to the house to draw one. She got a pad of paper and a pencil out for him, but it turned out he wanted a pen. He sat at the table, head leaning over the paper, and started to draw the garden by measuring out a grid.  He counted under his breath.

“Breakfast,” she said. “How about a frittata, maybe, with some goat cheese?”

“OK,” he said without looking up.

In the kitchen Andy began digging out ingredients. She could barely see the top of Bryce’s head as he drew. “Artichoke?” she asked him. “Do you like marinated artichoke hearts?” But he was absorbed in his drawing and didn’t answer.  She thought that was cute. She got out a bowl and the egg carton and began to break eggs. There were things about him that made no sense. Melissa being one.

The door opened and Melissa came in. She seemed to still have on her sleepwear – a t-shirt and panties in a leopard skin print. Andy could see strands of pubic hair curling out onto her leg. “My God,” Melissa said. “Just left me there alone. I could have died.”

“We’ve been up for hours,” Andy said. “Planning the garden. Plenty of work left to be done, though.  We’re going to have a frittata. Want some?”

“What the hell? He didn’t tell you what happened? He didn’t say anything?” She had come to stand next to Andy, too close for her to keep working. She smelled almost comforting, like a child’s blankie. “God,” said Melissa. “God. He lives in his own little world of one. It’s like no one else exists. Do you have any coffee?”

Andy nodded toward the full pot and then at the cabinet. “Cups are up there.”

Melissa got a cup and poured coffee and then stood looking into the black liquid as if she were disappointed.

“Oh,” said Andy. “I left the cream and sugar out. They’re right over there.”

“Do you want to know? What happened was I stole a bunch of your sleeping pills, and I took them. A bunch.”

Andy looked at her for a minute trying to decide what she should say. It was obvious that Melissa would do anything for attention. She had a greed that was personal and needy and preyed on the sympathy of others. She was, Andy decided, a dangerous person. “Did they help?” Andy finally said. “They really help me.”

Melissa held her hand up to slap five, which Andy obliged.

“Done,” said Bryce. He stood up and smacked both hands down on the table in a gesture of finality. “Why don’t you look. It’s just a draft, of course. I need to use the restroom.”

Andy went over and sat in the chair he vacated. Bryce had drawn a fence all the way around the garden, and two gates that all seemed made of swirls, like grapevines, as though the garden was on Nantucket instead of the mosquito- ridden cracker coast. There was even a vine-woven arbor over a large portion to protect those plants that might be susceptible to the terrible Florida sun. The planting area wasn’t divided into sections as Andy had anticipated.  All the vegetables were labeled in a mix between the rows, touching each other and interlaced with flowers. It would be a lot more work, and she would have to go back to the garden store, but it would be much superior to the traditional design Andy had in mind. She loved it.

Melissa was rooting around in the kitchen drawers, jerking them open one by one and then slamming them shut.

Bryce came back. “Like it?”  He put his hand on Andy’s shoulder.

“How about this?” said Melissa. “This should be good.” She had Andy’s kitchen scissors, the ones she used to cut up chickens, and she had gathered a clump of her hair at the scalp. She lifted the scissors and cut the clump off.

“Oh, my God,” said Bryce. “You’re so crazy.” He started toward Melissa but Andy reached out and held onto his arm.

“That’s going to look really good,” Andy told Melissa. “That’s going to make your life much easier.”

Melissa grabbed a ponytail of hair in the back and began to chomp at it with the big scissors, hacking them open and closed. The blonde strands fell like feathers, drifting sideways as much as down.

Bryce pulled away from Andy. When he grabbed the scissors from Melissa, she just stood where she was, not moving, slump-shouldered – a tiny t-shirt with skinny legs hanging out. She shrugged away from Bryce and turned toward Andy. Her whole body seemed to bunch around her stomach as though preparing to spit. “You live here because you hate people. Bryce is all up for that, but I’m not digging in the fucking dirt, and I’m not sitting around watching you two get it on.” She picked her coffee cup up and leaned back against the counter, taking a vicious slug of its contents, waiting to see what they would do.

Bryce still had the scissors forgotten in his hand. He was looking at the slate tile of the floor, his attention pressed in Andy’s direction. She took the scissors, put them on the counter near Melissa. “Bryce,” she said, “I promise you I’ll make this garden, but I’m afraid you’re going to have to go, and I mean right away. She doesn’t want to be here, and she’s not welcome here.” She stood shoulder to should with him, waiting for him to say something.

He took hold of her wrist. It was a collusion and a comfort. He was on her side. She had a vision of the two of them holding that skinny little succubus down and taking turns cutting the rest of her hair off with dull knives while she twisted in their hands and spat at them.

Melissa snorted happily. “This was a stupid idea anyway,” she said. “We should go to Belize like we said. There’s a place down there where all the live-aboards go and its one really big party. Everyone helps everyone.” She smiled as if this idea was all the compensation she need offer, as if Andy too should be dying to go. “I was there last winter,” she said. “It was amazing. Like a family. I’m serious. If you had two fish, you gave one away. If you were holding, you shared. I was welcome anywhere, on any boat at any time.” She shook her head. A sadness seemed to temporarily land on her chest making it hard for her to breathe. “Except this guy died,” she said in a stifled, little voice. “And no one knew how. They just found his body floating next to his boat and covered with crabs.”

Andy and Bryce were together looking at her, and she was looking back at them. “Such a waste,” she said.

“Such a waste,” Andy and Bryce repeated together in perfect synch. They turned toward each other, sharing knowing smiles and a deep acknowledging gaze. Bryce let go of Andy’s wrist, put both hands on her waist and pulled her to him.

“Jinx,” said Melissa. “If you say it together, that’s a jinx.”

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