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Authors: Errin Stevens

Updrift

BOOK: Updrift
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 Updrift

Errin Stevens

The Mer Chronicles, Book 1

Published 2015

ISBN: 978-1-62210-269-3

Published by Liquid Silver Books, imprint of Atlantic Bridge Publishing, 10509 Sedgegrass Dr, Indianapolis, Indiana 46235. Copyright © Published 2015, Errin Stevens. All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic, mechanical, recording or otherwise, without the prior written permission of the author.

 

Manufactured in the United States of America

Liquid Silver Books

http://LSbooks.com

This is a work of fiction. The characters, incidents and dialogues in this book are of the author’s imagination and are not to be construed as real. Any resemblance to actual events or persons, living or dead, is completely coincidental.

Blurb

Since her father died, Kate Sweeting’s home life has been in the pits, her well-being on life support. Her future looks desolate until she and her mother, Cara, make another plan: abandon their shriveled existence for more promising prospects on the coast, where her mom can play small-town librarian-bachelorette and Kate can figure out what’s up with the secretive Blake family from the beach.

Everyone is eerily captivated with Kate and her mother, and Cara is the first to figure out why when the man of her dreams arrives all dripping and devoted and closed-mouthed about what he intends. Kate is willing to go along with their subterfuge for a while, but eventually makes a charge for the water to learn what her mother is hiding. Gabe Blake is there waiting for her…and so is someone considerably less friendly. By the time Kate navigates her way home, everything will have changed for her—what she feels, what she wants, and what she will risk to be with the man she loves.

Dedication

For my husband, Michael. Everything good comes from you.

Acknowledgements

Thank you to my parents for their support and encouragement as I worked on this often ridiculous plan to write novels. I know you’ve felt my triumphs and failures as your own, and I’m sorry about that. I’m especially grateful to my mother, who listened to every passage, traveled to conferences with me, cried with me, laughed with me, and believed in my stories even more than I did. I love you, Mom! My high school English teacher, Liz Schroeder, is and will always be a goddess for all the beautiful care and attention she showed her students—Mrs. Schroeder, I still use that rush-write trick you taught us in College-Bound English. A special thanks also goes out to the folks at Liquid Silver who thought to give me a look.

I have too many other family members and friends who have helped (tolerated?) me on this journey. Please know I love you all. Without you there to write for, I wouldn’t have the heart to do this!

Part One

The cure for anything is salt water—sweat, tears, or the sea.
Isak Dinesen

 

Chapter 1

The pleasure cruiser floated on billowing waves a mile off the Atlantic shore, its small group of passengers reclined in various stages of stupor on the modest deck. The sun, white-hot and high in the June sky, pummeled the seafarers with its heat, penetrating and dulling the attention of even the most preoccupied until all were calm, quiet, and drunk on their own leisure.

To her disappointment, Kate was the only child in the party, but she was used to solitude and entertained herself as she often did with a game of imaginary play. For this interlude, she lay on her stomach, her chin resting on crossed arms as she peered over the boat’s edge into the sapphire water. Her lips moved as she whispered, hoping to conjure a sea turtle or dolphin to play with, although nothing swam her way.

She became hopeful when a long, silvery blue fish appeared. It paused just past the depth where she could determine what, exactly, it was, and it swayed to catch her attention.

It’s teasing me
.

At which point, it vanished. Kate strained closer to the ocean.

Too soon a brilliant, turquoise-colored fluke startled her from just below the water’s surface, the body attached to it out of sight under the boat. The tail rippled out and back again, gossamer and fantastic.
Come
, it beckoned. Kate reached down to touch it and slid noiselessly into the water.

Her mother told her later she heard her laughing then, and how panicked she was when she realized Kate had fallen overboard. Kate herself was unconcerned, already racing off with her new friend, a boy named Gabe, caring only for his invitation to play and the adventure he promised if she could escape from her mom. The passengers on the boat appeared impossibly far off, although she heard their shouts to let go of the dolphin, which confused her, since she was holding on to a boy. Her life vest floated, detached, useless, and well out of her reach. She yelled to everyone she would be all right, that she was swimming to shore.

“But she can’t swim,” her mother cried. Kate disappeared as the boating party scrambled to follow and to call for help.

On the shore, two shockingly pretty women waited for her as she and Gabe exited the water. Kate walked ahead of her new friend, who was now escorted by a dark-haired lady whispering admonishments in his ear.

“We were just playing, Mom,” Gabe complained.

Kate smiled at the red-haired woman who approached her and took her hand.
I’m Anna
, she heard her say, or imagined she heard her say, since the only actual sounds she recognized were those of the surf and the wind. Anna stopped by a blanket littered with the remains of a picnic.

Would you like some lemonade? You must be thirsty
.

Kate accepted a cup and checked on Gabe, who now wore swim trunks rather than…whatever he had worn in the water. She couldn’t recall. She waited for him to catch up. He asked if she wanted to build a sandcastle, and she said okay.

When her mother, Cara, reached the shore, Kate could see she was frantic, running awkwardly in the sand to get to her. Anna, the other woman, and Gabe’s mother oriented themselves in a semi-circle around her and Gabe, all of them frowning at her mom’s progress. Kate scowled at the hovering adults and whispered to Gabe, “Can you make them go away?”

Gabe sneaked a peek at his mother. “We should go in the water again.” They stood to act on their intention but the adults stepped in their path.

“Absolutely not,” Gabe’s mother scolded them. They slumped back down by their would-be sand castle.

“Catherine!” Her mother gasped when she reached her. And for all her petting and kisses she felt as if she’d never been in bigger trouble. “Did you fall in? I was…I was beside myself…and where did that dolphin come from? I can’t believe you weren’t hurt!”

“It’s okay, Mama,” Kate replied, confused by the repeat reference to a dolphin. But as she could see, nothing bad happened to her. “I was with Gabe…” she began.

“That was quite something, wasn’t it?” Gabe’s mom interjected, catching Cara’s gaze. “We have a friendly dolphin in this bay.” She ruffled Kate’s hair. “I guess it liked
you
. I’m Carmen Blake, Gabe’s mother.” She gestured to the other two women. “And these are my sisters, Lydia and Anna.” She offered her mom her life vest. “Here. This is your daughter’s.”

Given Cara’s agitation she decided not to say she’d taken the vest off when she shouldn’t have. The nylon belts were cut and frayed, the clasps still secure, and Cara studied the straps—which Gabe had cut with his knife—with a frown.

“What on earth…?” her mother murmured, examining the belts. She must have had more urgent questions however because she dropped the vest to her side and started asking them. Why had she left the safety of the deck? Where had she gone, and why didn’t she stay put as asked? How had she ended up on the beach so quickly? Kate noted the glowers Anna, Lydia and Carmen gave her and decided she wasn’t supposed to answer. To her relief, the trio’s strange intensity distracted her mother. Her scrutiny shifted.

Her mom’s voice became strained and her next words sounded like an apology. “I was watching her, I swear.”

“The kids were just playing,” Carmen said kindly. “I got to them right away and no harm was done. Kate’s fine, although I’m sure you had quite a scare.”

Her mom’s brow creased “You got to them? I looked everywhere in the water for her.
Everywhere
. I didn’t see anything; not you, not the boy, and certainly not Kate. And I feel just awful. I was dozing and oblivious while Kate pitched herself overboard.” She lowered her gaze to her hands. “Thank you for saving her.” She emitted a small, frustrated laugh. “And I’m grateful you haven’t called Child Protective Services on me.”

Carmen placed a hand on her mom’s shoulder, at which point Kate literally felt the tension leave her mother’s body, saw her frown soften into something less worrisome. Good. Her mom’s torment was disturbing all of them and she wanted it gone. She tugged her mother’s shirt. Could she go play with her friend?

Cara tracked the fast advancing contingent of friends from the boat, led, Kate saw, by her Aunt Dana and escorted by a bunch of people in uniforms. “The Coast Guard needs to talk with us, hon. So, unfortunately, we need to go.” Gabe added his protests to Kate’s, but no one listened to them.

Carmen offered her mother a small envelope. “We’re having a birthday party for Gabe next week at the house.” She indicated a large Cape Cod up the hill from the water. “You came just as I was filling these out. I hope you and Kate can come.”

“Perhaps we’ll take you up on that. We just moved here and I’d love for Kate to make a few friends before school.” She glanced anxiously at the clutch of humanity marching their way.

“I’m sorry but you’ll have to excuse us. Thank you for keeping my daughter. I’d like to say I’ll return the favor, but I hope I never have to. I’m so sorry this happened…”

Carmen dismissed her statement with a wave of her hand. “It was nothing. I hope you can come to the party.”

Her mother promised she’d call to RSVP and offered a quick smile to Lydia and Anna before leaving. Kate followed, waving forlornly to Gabe as she went.

After assuring themselves Kate was unharmed, conversation among the adults centered on how much time had passed between her fall off the boat and the present. Cara maintained it couldn’t have been more than a few minutes, and the others agreed although they couldn’t, considering the hour, reconcile how quickly the afternoon had passed. “We sailed at ten this morning,” Aunt Dana stated, “which means we were on the water six hours. It seemed like so much less.” Everyone appeared confused.

Her mom spoke with the coast guard, signed a form, and then steered her toward the parking lot. “Let’s go home.”

“Can we come back tomorrow?” Her mother kissed the top of her head. “We’ll see,” she hedged. This meant, Kate knew, a visit the next day was unlikely.

* * * *

They did not return to the beach the next day but Kate heard her mom on the phone saying they would attend Gabe’s birthday party. “Can we bring anything?” Which was followed by, “No, my husband—Kate’s dad—is no longer living…No need to apologize, really, I’m used to it, and please don’t worry, although I will have my sister here…Great! We’ll bring her…Yes, I’ll let Kate know.”

Her mother smiled at her after she hung up. “Gabe is thrilled you’re coming,” she reported. Her smile faded. “Although I’m not sure I’m thrilled to be going.”

“We’re going,” Kate told her adamantly. She hurried away to avoid any possibility of argument on the subject.

Her claim staked, she resumed her typical approach to her mother’s distress, which was to ignore it since her mom worried about everything as far as she could tell, always had. Especially after her dad’s death, when they’d felt alone and stuck her mom had been perpetually anxious, both for the lonely future facing them and because she’d needed to find a job. Thanks to a government education program and grandparents able to babysit, Cara obtained a library sciences degree. But she’d never, in Kate’s memory, been anything but a worry-wart.

Kate didn’t have any clear memories of her dad. From what her mother had told her and from pictures, she knew he was popular and athletic in high school, understood he’d made a go of the family’s farm implement business, and she knew he and her mom were very much in love. The machinery accident that killed George Sweeting stole all but her mother’s physical presence from Kate as well, until they relocated for Cara’s job. After the funeral Kate only noticed their brokenness when she was over at other houses with intact, un-grieving parents and lives that did not revolve around sadness. When Kate did not spend time apart from her family, she did not notice the emptiness as much. Consequently, she came to prefer being at home or at her grandparents’, where the oppressive grief hovering over her was normal.

Her Aunt Dana sent them the ad for the librarian job that would take them out of their joyless world. The ad was too modest to suggest the impact it would have on them, just a short, bold headline stating,
Librarian Wanted
, followed by a contact name and phone number for interested applicants. The job was in some unheard-of town in North Carolina.

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