Authors: Courtney Cook Hopp
“What happened . . . back . . . there?” I whispered in the dark car, my shivers impeding my ability to talk coherently. “I don’t understand why . . . How did you get here so fast?”
Quentin cranked the heater full blast. “How about we not play twenty questions.” His voice was curt, his face fierce with anger.
I sat, quietly, not having the energy to fight. He sped north on Alaskan Way and made his way into the heart of Queen Anne, the Space Needle loom
ed over us as we passed the Seattle Center. We zig-zagged up one street and down another. I was completely disoriented.
Abruptly, he pulled his car into a driveway with a small white house that sat back from the road. Every window was pitch black. Not even a porch light hinted that someone lived here. Without a word, he got out and made the reverse trek back to my door. He opened it and stood perfectly still. I did the same because I didn’t think I could stand without falling.
“Are you coming in?”
Determined not to feel intimidated by his scowl, I stared straight ahead and said, “I can’t.”
He exhaled sharply. “CeeCee, get out of the car.” He paused and added, “Please.”
I gingerly swung my legs around without looking at him and placed both feet firmly on the ground, attempting to stand. As I shifted the balance of my weight, my legs crumpled. I waited for the fall. But it didn’t come. Instead, I was cradled back in Quentin’s arms
as he carried me out of the black of night and into the shadows of his home.
My eyes were slow to adjust, peeking over his shoulder, trying to get my bearings. He pulled me away from his chest, my body hovering in thin air before he gently set me down on a cool, leather couch and disappeared into the darkness. I strained to hear him as he moved about, opening and closing doors. And then all was silent. Too silent. Until something draped around me, causing me to jump and send a painful jolt through my bruised body.
A small table lamp flicked on. I squinted against the soft glow, waiting for my pupils to adjust. Quentin reached out and pulled the blanket tight around my shivering body and sat down next to me, his nearness wreaking a havoc all its own.
“You need to get in a hot shower.” His face was expressionless. His perfected barrier in place.
“It happened again.” The words just popped out. I couldn’t look at him. Instead my eyes darted around the bare room. There were no pictures or art, hardly anything to fill the space contained by the four walls. “Out of nowhere. It happened again. Without you. You weren’t there.”
He took a deep breath and ran both hands through his hair. “Where were you?”
“At school. A dance. I fell. I couldn’t get up. I couldn’t get out from underneath the trampling feet.” His hand moved to my lower back where I’d been kicked. Reflexively I pulled away, his touch sending a jolt of pain through my body.
Misunderstanding my movement, he quickly snatched his hand back, his voice frustrated. “What did you see?”
The images tumbled urgently from my mouth. “It was the boat again. And someone was in it. Clinging desperately to the sides. Water was everywhere.”
He sat up straighter. “Was it any clearer?”
“No. But it was desperate. It felt desperate.” I felt desperate.
“If you were at a dance, how did you end up at the OK Hotel?” The hardness in his voice was back.
My eyes quickly danced over his face before looking away. “I fought with my dad and ran out.”
A huge breath whooshed from his mouth. “Do you want to talk about it?”
My flight from the island suddenly felt childish under his scrutiny. “No,” I said quietly, a tear escaping from my neatly contained dam. “It doesn’t matter.”
He reached out, cupped his hand to the side of my face as his thumb brushed away the tear. The hurt. The fear.
I turned, my eyes traveling to find his. The deep cuts of his face turned vulnerable, the softness catching me off guard. Without thought, I shook my arm free from the blanket and carefully reached out, tracing the soft line of his scar with the tips of my fingers.
Overwhelmed with emotion, I leaned in. Hovering. Waiting. Unsure.
Until I saw it.
A warm smolder in his eyes as he laced his fingers in my hair, pulling me to him, closing the gap, sealing his lips over mine. He pulled me tighter, the new sensation over-riding the pain shooting through me, creating a new energy all its own. Energy that escalated with every breath we tried to catch. It was electrifying, without thought, without care. Unburdened by the outside world.
Abruptly he stood, pushing away from me.
“This can’t happen. You have no idea,” he said through clenched teeth. He stormed from the room, leaving me alone to stumble and catch my breath. I touched my lips, still warm from his. When he returned, he held out a chocolate brown towel to me. “You need to take a shower before your shivering turns into hypothermia.”
I needed to leave and save a shred of my rejected dignity. “I need to catch a ferry.”
“It’s after two in the morning. The ferries have quit running.”
Painfully I stood, determined not to be the one left broken on the couch. I was tired. Tired of people telling me what to do. Telling me what I knew and what I didn’t know. Bravely, I asked, “Why did you come for me? How did you get there so fast? Why didn’t we call the cops?”
“The guy was drunk. I was not about to waste time on statements, only for him to get a slap on the wrist and walk.” His answer was quick. Too quick. He began pacing.
I stood and pressed on. “Quentin, how did you find me so fast?”
“I was already downtown when you called.” He stopped and focused his intimidating eyes on me, the returned lines cutting severe paths across his face. “You shouldn’t have been anywhere near there.”
His answer brought me up short. I took in his dark clothes, realization dawning that he’d probably been out on a date. One I interrupted and then topped off by throwing myself at him. The thought was mortifying. I imagine the heat in my cheeks would be obvious to that.
Interrupting my thoughts, he said with a sigh, “CeeCee, it’s been a long night. I think you should take a hot shower and crash.”
Too fatigued to argue anymore, I snatched the towel out of his hand and shuffled my feet along the hardwood floors to the bathroom. It was as bare as the living room. The only sign of use was a rumpled hand towel and a toothbrush lying on the counter.
I locked the door and bypassed the truth of the mirror. I
pushed in the plug and filled the tub with scalding hot water. The rising steam soothing as I gingerly peeled off my clothes and slid down into the enveloping warmth.
My eyes followed the jagged lines of the tiles, the surreal evening sinking in. The weight of exhaustion pulled me down further, along with the last of my shivers, which dissolved in the heat of the water. I remained perfectly still, my ears floating underwater, heightening my silent isolation.
Slow to rise out of the tepid water, I stepped out and wrapped the large bath towel around me, my loose hair dripping down my back. I bent over and pulled the plug. The sucking sound of the escaping water flooded my senses and overloaded my body with tingles and vibrant color. It was all back.
The painful needle penetration gripping my entire head.
I slipped to the ground, willing the face to be clear. “Who are you?” I whispered in frustration. “Show me your face.”
The scene was suddenly flooded in brilliance and she turned, her red hair whipping wildly in the wind. The fear of death painted on Autumn’s face.
“NO!” A blood-curdling scream escaped my lips. I reached out. Tried to touch her. Tried to grasp hold of her, but the shadows converged, stealing her away, leaving only a vortex of darkness.
I forced my eyes open, but the room remained dark. I closed and open my eyes again. Nothing. Nothing but black. My hands reached out. Touching. Feeling. Trying to make my way to the light switch.
The rap on the door startled me. “CeeCee? Are you okay?”
I couldn’t find the light switch. I couldn’t see my hand. My fingers. Nothing but darkness filled my eyes and senses. I was slipping into a void, grasping to stay conscious.
“Cee?” The anxiousness of Quentin’s voice seeped under the door, unable to retract the darkness caving in. The locked doorknob jiggled. “CeeCee, open the door!”
I grabbed tight to my towel and tried to move, the excruciating pain in my body brutishly overthrowing my efforts. I couldn’t see. I opened and closed my eyes as quick as I could. Nothing. I couldn’t see.
“I can’t see!” My panic turned audible and the screams flew from my mouth. “I can’t see! I can’t fucking see! I have to find her. You have to help me find Autumn!”
The sound of ripping wood cracked through the small bathroom, billowing cold air over the humid space, waving up the scent of Quentin as he knelt next to me. “What happened?”
“I can’t see!” I screamed again, squeezing my eyes shut.
He grabbed either side of my face, the nearness of him intensifying my desperation. “Open your eyes and look at me,” he commanded.
Unquestioning, I opened my eyes, fully expecting to see his face hovering over mine. There was nothing. Terror was taking hold. I tried to push him away. “I can’t see. There’s nothing. Nothing. Nothing. I can’t see anything.”
He pinned my arms to my side, his frighteningly calm voice ordering, “CeeCee, just open your eyes and look at me.”
“I told you . . .”
He didn’t wait for me to finish. “Look at me. You have to look at me. Just open your eyes and look at me.”
The first shifts were miniscule. I couldn’t even be certain of them. Then, like clouds dissipating after a dark thunderous storm, the shadows gradually slipped away like ghosts, revealing Quentin’s tempestuous face in front of mine.
My arms shot out and clung to his neck. He scooped me up and carried me down the hall, every fear, every ounce of horror, every unsettling event, flowed out of my eyes, leaving pools of water on Quentin’s shirt.
He shouldered open a door and crossed the room, gently laying me on his bed. I couldn’t let go of his neck. My arms wouldn’t budge, terrified of being left alone with myself.
“What’s happening to me?” I sobbed into his neck. “I couldn’t see. I was fine until I saw . . .” It hit like a freight train — Autumn, fighting to stay alive in the boat.
My body lurched, pulling away from Quentin. “It’s Autumn.” The alarm of my voice rang clearly in the room. “I need a phone! I saw her! SHE’S IN THE BOAT!”
“CeeCee, what the hell . . .” he whooshed, running his hand over the bruises that made a
gnarly trail up my thigh. “What happened to your leg?”
“Phone!” I screamed in near hysteria. “I need a phone!”
He marched out of the room, returning with his cell phone in hand.
I quickly dialed Aunt Lucy’s house. Uncle Russell picked up after only one ring. “Hello?”
“Uncle Russell. It’s CeeCee.”
“CeeCee! Where are you?” I could hear relief in his voice.
“It doesn’t matter, where’s Autumn?”
“We don’t know. We hoped she was with you.”
My hesitation was a half of heartbeat, knowing demands for answers would await me. My eyes locked on Quentin’s as I replied, “You need to go to the lighthouse. Someone needs to get down to Old Robinson Lighthouse and look for her out on the water.”
“CeeCee, there’s a storm going on,” his voice registering fear. “Why would she be . . .?”
“GO!” I yelled. “You have to go now!”
Without a further word, the line went dead and I fell back on the bed, covering my face with my arm as another flood of tears rushed out. Quentin stood up and pulled the comforter around me.
“Who’s Autumn?” he asked quietly, the bed bending under his weight as he sat back down. Gently he began to stroke the back of my head.
“Cousin,” I managed to say between sobs. His fingers were soothing on my scalp. Methodical. Slowly pushing up before gently stroking back down.
“Why was she on the boat?”