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Pirates Lost at Sea
Saturday June 14th, day 14
But they that wait upon the Lord shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings as eagles; they shall run and not be weary; they shall walk and not faint.
The first part of Blair’s birthday plan was to recruit some help. I asked Stony Sam (who I found out’s real name is Garry) to drive me to Virginia’s. I could have hired someone, but this was more fun. I asked around until I found the front office, and then I asked for Jada Allens. The administrator gave me directions to room 655.
I didn’t know Jada very much, but she was the kind of person who you didn’t need to know for eons before you liked her. she was the perfect person for the job, and I was in serious need for some girl time.
Room 655 was as big as the gym, with a low ceiling that I could touch with my fingers. The smell of paint was strong enough to make my eyes water. Ten girls were painting on the walls, the ceiling, and the floor. The scene looked like some sort of fantasy forest, with bubbling waterfalls and tall mountains and rolling hills. Some were painting blue onto the ceiling, others painted paths on the floor. Jada was on the west wall, painting what was going to be a sunset.
One of the girls gasped and slapped a hand over her mouth. Jada, the picture of surprise, scrambled to her feet and trotted over.
“Do you want to help me with something?” I asked her quietly. After she nodded eagerly, I explained what I wanted her to do, amid stares. She said we could leave right now; they were ahead on their project by at least a week. She just needed to change and put away her supplies. Turning to leave and wait in the limo, I heard snippets of the other girls’ exclamation.
“Is that Hanuara Fei-Ling?”
“As in the supermodel?”
“You’re friends with her, Jade?”
“What is she doing here?”
I smiled at them before leaving. I wasn’t even out of the building when Jada caught up to me. “Boy, was everybody surprised when you showed up. They heard rumours of you hanging around here, but they never actually believed it.” Jada chuckled.
“So you paint when you’re not dancing?”
She nodded. “Loraligh thinks its good for me to expand my horizon or something. It was actually my idea to paint the walls like a scene. It’s going to be a meditation room.” She rolled her eyes. “Loraligh will probably make me sit there for three hours after practice.”
“Loraligh seems pretty…tough.”
“She’s like a hermit. She’s never had a boyfriend in her life, and she blames men for all the problems of the world, including the leaky roof and the crazy weather.” She sighed, shaking her head. To change the subject she said, “So what exactly are we doing again?” we were outside, in the front parking lot. It was sort of confusing. I was used to the dilapidated back-alley entrance, but the front was so modern. It had a view of the ocean, and to the left was Crimson Island. the school was huge. it was more like a campus than anything. there were lots of buildings scattered all over. A breeze picked up and clouds were gathering. What would we do if it started to rain?
“Well, I have this friend—”
“Hold that thought! Look, there’s Lee and his sister,” said Jada excitedly. Lee was standing next to a petite brunette and a silver BM convertible. They were arguing in rapid-fire Spanish, gesticulating profusely.
“That’s his sister?” I paused. “So what?”
“So let’s go say hi!” Jada bounded to the convertible, uncharacteristically hyper. Maybe it was paint-fumes. Up close, Lee’s sister was elfin next to six-five Lee. She looked sixteen.
“Hi, Araunah.” Jada hugged her.
Lee’s face was lined with tension. But he smiled at me.
“Hanuara. Good to see you again.” he gave me a significant look. “This is my sister, Araunah.”
The tiny girl looked up and up at me, with wide green eyes. “You’re—you’re—you’re her!” she stammered.
“Yes. Yes I am.” I offered my hand. But she dodged it and turned on her brother.
Her accent wasn’t as strong as Lee’s, but it came out now. “Levi Palener, how could you? Why you not tell you were friends with the Hanuara Fei-Ling?” She couldn’t hold her face in her outraged expression for too long. She broke into a smile.
Lee leaned against the convertible. “I knew what would happen. Now stop being immature and say hi back. That’s the thing to do in this culture.”
Araunah smiled sheepishly. “Right. Hi.” She shot a betrayed glance at Jada.
An idea hit me. “Hey, Araunah, Jada and I are going shopping for my friend’s birthday party this afternoon. I would really like it if you came.” Araunah was energetic and looked like she would be a lot of fun after she got over her star-stricken faze. Jeez, did nobody here know the concept of playing it cool?
Her eyes widened even more. “Oh, my gosh really?” I nodded with a tight smile. Lee laughed silently. “Thank you! Thank you so much!” she threw her arms around me. Over her shoulder, I caught sight of something that made me take pause.
“Oh no! guys, its the paparazzi!” I ducked my head as the van drove in and parked. “Guys, we have to go right now. Bye, Lee!”
Secrecy was no longer an option; we ran full-out to the limo, not waiting for Sam to open the doors for us. Araunah looked like she wanted to admire the shiny limo, but she jumped in and slammed the door. Cameramen ran toward us, asking us to stop, but I told Sam to drive. He jerked the car into reverse, and the men scrambled out of the way. We screeched out of the lot. The cameramen jumped back in van, and before they could try and follow us, Sam manoeuvred onto the main highway and weaved through cars until they were out of sight.
“That was awesome!” Araunah laughed, falling back against the leather seat. Jada popped her gum. “They must bug you all the time. I saw that article with you and that guy. The things they do for a good story.” She looked around. “Man, this is one tricked out limo. Is that a flat screen?” she pointed. “Is that a bar? Jada, can you believe this? Hanuara, I can’t say thank you enough. But you’re a supermodel! Why are you here?”
Jada gave Araunah a look that suggested she might be going to far. I sighed. “My mom thinks I need to find my balance or something like that. I was randomly jogging around when I found Virginia’s and met Lee and Jada. Do you go there?”
Araunah nodded. “I’m in Monsieur Galli’s culinary class. I’m pretty good, if I do say so myself. Just don’t ask Lee for an opinion ‘cause he’d be lying.” She laughed. “But down to business. What exactly are we doing here?”
“Well, I’m planning a birthday party for my friend, and I needed help. Say, I have an idea. Do you want to cook for it?”
She bounced in her seat. “Of course!”
I had to admit that I hadn’t thought about food until that point. We were going to have to get a cake too. It was Anne Frank Memorial Day, so the beach would be empty. We could drag a table down near the rocks. Oh yeah, and candles. But how old was Blair turning? I fiddled nervously. There were holes in my plan, but I wanted this to be perfect. I needed to earn Blair’s trust more than I had wanted anything. he looked like he had problems trusting people.
We were going to Bernalda. I had looked up pet shops on the Internet, and the most promising one was called Yvonna’s Pet Shop. We could buy everything there, including food and a leash and collar. Maybe a couple toys. I had a feeling I was going to have to provide for Blair’s puppy. Not to make any judgments about his mother, but I just had a feeling in my stomach. And it wasn’t a good one.
“So the first thing on the list is a birthday present. He asked for a puppy.”
“You’re going to buy him a puppy?” Jada asked.
“He asked for one.”
“How old is your friend, exactly?” said Araunah.
I bit my lip. “I don’t know. Seven, I think. He’s very sweet.” I added quickly.
Silence. “That’s cool. So his mom let you plan his birthday party?” Jada peered at me.
My teeth sank into the inside of my cheek. “Okay, here’s the thing. I think he’s having some problems with his mother and father. He seems to live on Crimson Beach. Every time I go there, he’s there. No matter what time of the day, and he never likes to talk about his mom.”
Jada patted my arm. “And you say he’s seven?”
I nodded. “That’s why this birthday party is so important to him. he told me he doesn’t know when his birthday is.”
“He and his mother must be having bad problems. We should pray for him, Jada. Do you want to pray with us too, Hanuara?”
I shook my head. “No, thanks. Oh, look, we’re here.”
Araunah recognized the place. She had gotten her pet goldfish Stanley there. My mom had given me money for the day.
The store was huge, with an African safari theme. There were bird noises and dog noises and I even heard a pig squeal. I inhaled the scent of shavings and shampoo. There were cages along the walls and a rope staircase that lead up to a pirate ship-type deck. “There’s turtles and stuff up there,” Araunah pointed. “It’s nice.”
Stony Sam followed at a distance. The puppy cages were on the right. they were like miniature shop windows, stacked on top of each other. Puppies were playing, adult dogs were sleeping. One little Newfoundlander yapped at me. “Aw, look at this one, Araunah. It looks like Zac.” Jada tapped the glass.
“Like my sister’s Zac?”
Araunah gave me a “well, duh” look. “Yes. Don’t you think that looks like Zac?”
“I guess. But he doesn’t seem like the right dog for Blair. That thing will eat him when it grows up.” Something medium sized would probably be better. Like a collie, or a cocker spaniel. Even a nice golden retriever. A woman asked if she could help us, and I said we were just looking. She looked a little suspicious of me; I didn’t blame her. With my new pair of sunglasses and my hood pulled up, I probably looked like a hoodlum.
“Oooh, look at this one,” said Araunah, pointing at a little black and white cocker spaniel puppy. It growled and backed into the corner, all the hairs on his body standing up.
“Too nervous,” I said. Jada pointed out a border collie that yapped and jumped at its glass enclosure. I deemed it too hyper, along with a corgi that was too sleepy, and a Yorkshire terrier that looked just plain dumb. I didn’t feel any perfect puppy vibes from any of the puppies. we checked the other side.
“So, Araunah, if I buy some supplies and a barbeque, you’ll cook some hamburgers or something?”
She looked at me in horror. “Just hamburgers? Wouldn’t you like something more exotic, like shish kebabs or salmon filet or filet mignon?”
“Don’t be rude, Araunah,” Jada chastised.
“Whatever you want. And oh yeah, you guys have to pick out a present for him too.”
Hmm. This whole birthday party thing was turning out pretty good. Now not only did I have one person to celebrate with him, I had four. Yes, I would be including Stony Sam. If he could unfreeze his face enough to eat. I doubt he’d want to dance or anything, but he could probably help move tables.
I looked at the cages in disappointment. There were cats and kittens on this side. We were done. The special puppy wasn’t at Yvonna’s, and there was no time to go to another pet store.
“I thought that German shepherd was nice, or that little Boston terrier.” Jada rubbed my arm. What nerve.
“Or that Boxer or that Jack Russell…” Araunah chimed in. I just shook my head. I didn’t want to give Blair just any puppy. I wanted to give a puppy that was exactly right for him. I scuffled back toward the other side, Araunah and Jada in tow, when suddenly Jada grabbed my arm and pointed.
“Look, there’s one more. But what’s it doing with the cats?”
I turned around, sure I was just wasting my time, but boy, was I wrong. It was a gold and brown Australian shepherd, with fluffy fur and a little tail that didn’t wag. He had his head on his paws, but he wasn’t sleeping. He watched me with sad blue eyes the exact colour of Blair’s. When I took a step closer, the puppy raised his head and let a long, soft howl break through his lips. It fixed its blue eyes back on me, and I knew. This was my puppy. Blair’s puppy.
“It looks a little melancholy, don’t you think?” Araunah commented.
I shook my head. “This is the one.”
“That sorry looking thing?”
Jada pinched her, looking at me apologetically.
I nodded. I checked the price written in permanent ink on the window. Forty dollars. Poor guy. Nobody thought he was even worth a decent price.
I didn’t need to take a closer look at the little puppy, even if it was just to solidify my decision even more. I told the woman standing by that I would take puppy number 843, and she gave me a look that matched Araunah’s. I cradled him in my arms as the woman gave me a sheet with his shot records and his registration papers. “Thank you,” I told her with satisfaction.
Jada wanted to hold the puppy. Araunah led us to the supplies section of the store.
“So, we need food and stuff, right?” Clueless, I gazed at the towering shelves.
Araunah stepped forward. “I got this,” she said. “Lee has a pet poodle named Princess, and he makes us baby-sit when he’s at college.”
“Lee has a poodle?”
Araunah reached and grabbed a box of apple and peanut butter dog biscuits. “Of course not. She’s actually a German shepherd named Friendly. But the principle is the same, no?”
While Araunah appraised the shelves, Jada stroked the almost lifeless puppy’s fur. “What do you think I should get Blair? What kinds of things does he like?”
“The beach, I guess. Fishing. Oh, and he’s interested in reading and writing, even though he doesn’t know how.” My fist clenched. “I like his mother less and less. I hope I never meet her, if only to give a good piece of my mind.”
Araunah picked out a big bag of puppy food and a big bone to go with the disgusting looking peanut butter treats. We had to get a shopping cart, and the pup rested on the child seat in a plush bed..
“Poor thing,” I murmured. “You probably just didn’t like being in that kennel with all those cats. No wonder you’re so unhappy looking.”
“Next we need a collar, a couple leashes, and some cool toys.” Araunah ticked off on her slender fingers. Despite herself, she patted the half sleeping dog. His expression was heartbroken as he gazed at her.
I had only planned on buying a couple things, but with Araunah shouting things like “Oh, we forgot the food bowl, and what about shampoo? He’ll need a brush then, too!” the basket was soon almost too full to push. Jada drifted over to a rack filled with books and greeting cards as we stood in the checkout line.
Suddenly, she exclaimed, “Oh, look! I’ve found the perfect gift for Blair!”
She held up a hard cover book labelled “The ABC’s of Australian Shepherds” for us to see. The cover had a picture of a black Australian shepherd ringing a school bell with its teeth. There were full colour photos on every page, with words no more than six letters each.
“Its perfect! I’m going to teach him read this summer if it’s the last thing I do.” she took the book from me. “This is your present, then?”
Sam followed closer than I would have liked as we trekked back to the limo. The puppy squinted when his eyes hit the sunlight. He had probably lived in that kennel all his life. Jada cuddled him close, half hiding him inside of her jacket. Suddenly, I stopped dead.
“Oh, no!” I cried, pointing with a trembling finger. “Look, its them! its—her.”
This time she had a different man accompanying her, and she was strutting around my limo with a camera phone. Her violet coloured suit sparkled dimly in the sunlight. It was Lila Benzik, and she was back to haunt me.
“Well, hello, Hanuara darling,” she purred. “Fancy meeting you here!” she disregarded Jada and Araunah completely. All three of us crossed our arms simultaneously. The puppy growled.
“Yes, Lila, fancy that, meeting me here. At my own limo.” I cocked my eyebrow.
“So how’s your sister doing?” Lila asked casually, examining a fingernail. I wondered where she got them done, Sears?
“What do you really want, Lila?”
She blew a strand of hair out of her eyes. “Oh, just wondering where you were, you know. Since you missed Juanita June, and all.” She was the perfect picture of innocence, except for the two tiny horns I could see sticking out of her permed hair.
“Well, you’ll be glad to know, I’m sure, she hasn’t left her room since you assaulted us at dear Carol’s party. And if that’s all, I’d thank you to leave. Now.”
Of course, Sam didn’t see them as any threat to my health. Though he did give her one of his famous and ever-present stony glancing, she didn’t seem to notice.
“Well, if you insist. But I’m sure the public would be just delighted to know that you have such a soft spot for”—she snapped the phone shut and motioned to the cameraman—“puppies.” She laughed a tinkling, sugary laugh that followed her back to her van.
I slammed the door to the limo as hard as I could.
“That was interesting,” said Araunah cheerfully.
“Do you…get that a lot?” Jada asked.
I just shook my head, totally exhausted.
After the pet store, I had just enough money to buy a camp stove at Camp World and some chicken breasts, potato salad, and a huge vanilla cake at Sobey’s. No one could’ve been more embarrassed than I to have a stone faced personal guard following me into the pastry department. I wonder what my mom would have thought had I reported him a stalker.
Araunah announced, as we cruised in the general direction of Tianam, “I know what I’m going to get Blair. Do they have a Wal-Mart here?”
My protest was cut short by the fact that I had been doing a lot of low-class shopping lately. What had I let myself become? Was I now, dare I say it, common? This was not good for Operation: Iris. Not at all. I chewed my nails, as an alternative to ripping out my hair. What if the media—Lila Benzik being just the beginning—caught my limo at Wal-Mart? What would the people think then?
How had I become so soft?
I took a deep breath, letting it out and trying to imagine the worry going with it. I knew perfectly well why I was doing this. I was doing it for Blair, because for some reason I had grown attatched to him. I had to face the facts: being famous wasn’t all it was cracked up to be, and Blair had shown me that. So I waited in the limo while Araunah ran into the Wal-Mart. The puppy was on the floor with its bed. He had been sleeping, but now he crept forward, inch by inch, to place his cold nose on my bare leg. He issued a quick lick, and then scuttled back to his bed.
“What a sweetie,” I crooned to Jada.”
“I suppose. But is he really the right dog for Blair? I mean, I’m sure you know him better than I do,’ she added quickly. “I’m just saying he doesn’t really seem like a children’s dog.”
“Don’t worry,” I assured. “They will get on just fine.”
Araunah returned with a small shopping bag that we were instructed not to touch. When Jada asked what she had in the bag, she replied in clipped Spanish that I didn’t understand. But Jada rolled her eyes.
Now we had everything, and it was one o’clock. I ordered Sam on to Crimson Island. I went alone to the bridge, and called his name as I creeped along the rocks. His cave was hidden in a stand of shrubs. A sea breeze picked up and sent a tingle down my spine.
He popped up from the rock directly in front of me. “Hanuara!”
I swept him up. “Happy birthday, Blair!”
Blair laughed. “Thank you, thank you.” He took a grand bow.
“Guess what, Blair. I brought some special friends with me and we’re going to have a party!”
“A party? Why didn’t you tell me you were bringing friends?” to my surprise, he glanced down at himself as though he were self-conscious.
I stroked his soft hair. “Blair, it was a surprise. And you look great.” He was wearing a blue Mickey Mouse tee-shirt and khaki shorts. So he had gone home, after all. I motioned to the girls and Sam, who had been watching us intently.
“Where’d you get the cool car?” Blair asked.
“Its my sister’s. Since I’m staying here, I get to use it too.”
Blair regarded Jada and Araunah with cool shyness, disguising it as disinterest. He peeked at them from under his long lashes. I felt a swell of pride and matronliness that he was glued to my side, and chose me to hide behind. My smile was not well hidden; Jada gave me a knowing look.
“Blair, I’d like you to meet Araunah Palener and Jada Allens. And Sam—I mean Garry.” I indicated them.
“Hey, Blair,” the two said in unison. Their smiles were genuine.
“Hi.” He inched forward to get a better look.
Araunah kneeled in front of him, so they were at the same height. Her brown hair looked almost blond next to his utterly black hair. “You don’t mind us being here, do you Blair? Hanuara said it was a very special day, but I hope we aren’t intruding. We just thought it’d be funner with more people.” Her expression was hopeful. After a moment’s hesitation and a quick peek at me, Blair assured her that he didn’t mind. “Then let’s get this party started!”
As one we took off, racing to the picnic area. Araunah, Jada and I tripped over each other and fell in a laughing heap of tangled girls. Blair declared his victory with a leap in the air. The table was dragged as close to the rocks as we could get, and Araunah set up the camp stove. I brought the battery powered boom box out and started the music. Jada looked like she wanted to dance.
The chicken sizzled on the grill, and we arranged ourselves in the sand. Jada sat between Blair and I, and Sam sat at the table with Araunah who fried chicken. He never took his eyes off me, except to scope the area for intruders.
I could get use to the emptiness of the beach on holidays. A longing for it to last drifted over me, and I wondered why all good things have to come to an end. When this day was over, I would have to go back to my real life, which had once been as good as it was going to get after Adam’s death, and was now an excerpt from my worst nightmare. I am being stalked by my brother’s killer, my brother’s memories, and some creepy woman who nobody else could see.
“I remember how to spell my name, see, Hanuara?” Blair pulled a stick out of his back pocket and wrote Blair in the sand.
“Very good,” I praised him. “But do you remember how to spell my name?”
He bit his lip in concentration. “There. Hanuara.” A proud half-smile was turned up for my enjoyment.
“Wow,” said Araunah, who had paused to watch us. Jada looked at her sharply. “Good job, Blair,” she added quickly. This time even I looked at her sideways.
“How do you spell your name, Jada?”
One by one, he wrote out Jada’s, then Araunah’s, and even Garry’s name. With each stroke of his stick in the pale sand, my heart squeezed tighter. He really didn’t know how to spell or read, but judging by how old he looked, he should’ve been entering the first grade. What was wrong with his mother?
“Hanuara!’ he interrupted my brooding. “I wanted to tell you but I forgot. I found a shipwreck yesterday!”
Jada and I sat up. “A shipwreck!”
“Yeah. Do you wanna see it?”
“Let me come too!” Araunah exclaimed, flipping off the stove.
“What about the chicken?” I inquired.
“We can heat it up later. its almost done, anyway. Lead the way, Blair!”
East, in the direction of Faith’s Cove, we walked quickly with light steps. Blair didn’t stop talking about how awesome the shipwreck was, and my excitement grew. You only saw shipwrecks in movies, not in your own country. “How much farther, Blair?” was the most frequently asked question. Each time he smiled at us, really smiled, his eyes sparkling.
We came to a large outcropping of rocks the size of boulders: Faith’s Cove. Since Blair had been there first and knew how to get around, he went up before us. I wondered how Stony Sam was going to get up there, with his stiff bearing and slipping shoes. He looked like he was going to help me, but Blair held out his hand. Using as little of his help as I could, I hopped on.
“Okay, Jada, you next, and then—” my words were cut short.
The rock I was standing on gave way, and before I had time to scream, I plunged into the water.
It was like plunging into a pool of liquid ice. Black ice. The sun over head was like a dim star in the darkest night. A stream of silvery black bubbles snaked their way to the surface, while I was left behind. My eyes burned with the salt water, but I didn’t want to close them. I gazed around wildly, looking for something to grab hold of.
I didn’t know how to swim.
My thrashing created more bubbles, and my lungs screamed for air. I got so turned around I didn’t know which way was up. I couldn’t see the sun at all. I wanted to scream for help but I couldn’t. And that is when I heard the singing.
She was like the missing sun, moving toward me as though she were walking on land. Her face was still unbearably sad. My thrashing stopped, and I stared at her as she came closer and touched my arm. her arms wrapped around my waist, and in a motion like climbing stairs, began pulling me to the surface again.
“Who are you?” I tried to ask. All that did was get rid of the last of my stale bubbles. “Why are you following me?” She smiled a sad smile, kissed my cheek, and was gone.
“She’s awake! Hanuara, are you okay?”
I sat up and spit a long stream of sea water out of my lungs. My eyes burned. Sam was leaning over me, dripping wet. His black coat was off, and underneath was a white shirt. His crew cut hair glistened with water droplets.
“Are you alright, Miss?” His voice was smooth and inflectionless.
“Yeah, I’m fine. Just cold.” Light headedness clouded my thinking when I sat up. Blair was gripping Jada’s hand, a look of frozen terror on his face.
“Blair, I’m okay. Everything’s fine,” I stuttered around my shivering.
“I’m going to have to drive you to the hospital to check you for pneumonia or something. Come on.” Sam rolled back to his feet and held his hand out to me. when I didn’t take it, he hauled me to my feet.
“Sam—Garry—no! I’m fine, and why would I get pneumonia? Its summer.” I planted my feet. “Look, I’m barely even shivering any more and my goose bumps are almost gone. They can’t do anything for me that you haven’t already done. Oh yeah, and thanks for saving my life.”
“Hanuara, I am responsible for your care and protection. You are coming to the hospital.” He strode off.
I scrambled after him and grabbed his arm. “Garry, please,” I hissed. “Its Blair’s birthday. I’m not sick. I can’t miss this. Please don’t make me go.” He stared at me for a while, and then slowly shook his head.
“Fine. But if anything terrible happens, its not my fault. This is a very unprofessional decision, but I’m going to do it anyway. and since I know you are going to insist on seeing the shipwreck for your Blair, may I insist that you go around Faith’s Cove?”
“Thank you, Sam! I mean Garry!”
On almost stable legs I sprinted back to where Jada and the others were. Blair still seemed horrified.
“Blair, I’m fine. You don’t need to worry. Now, do you still want to show us the shipwreck or do you want to do something else?”
I tried not to think about the woman in white. I absolutely refused to think about her. this time it was easy to pass it off as a dream, since I had been unconscious and all, We were more subdued than before walking all the way around Faith’s cove. Araunah suddenly got the giggles. A look passed between her and Jada, and she started tittering too. “What’s so funny?” I asked.
Glancing over her shoulder, Araunah stopped until I caught up to her. “You know how Garry saved you after he pulled you out of the water, right?” my pulse quickened at the thought of the water. “He gave you mouth to mouth!”
My jaw dropped and my face turned beet red. Poor Blair didn’t know whether to laugh or throw up.
Sam had kissed me!
My expression made them all laugh out loud, even Blair. A peek at Sam told me he was pretending to ignore us like he usually did. He scanned the trees in his usual suspicious way. This was just gross with a capital EW!
I was about to go off in a fantasy about what it’d be like if Julius had been the one to resuscitate me when I saw the shipwreck looming at the edge of the water. it was almost whole, except for the sails and most of the railing. A lot of it was submerged under the water. it was the classic pirate ship. It had a green coating of barnacles and dried seaweed all over it. the waves crashed around it like a crowd parting for their sovereign to pass. I ran my fingers over the rotting wood that told stories of battles and war, of people lost to the churning water like I almost had been. This ship seemed as old as time.
“Have you explored it yet, Blair?” my voice was softened with awe.
He looked sheepish. “I didn’t want to by myself,” he admitted.
“Do you want to now?”
We climbed up a rope ladder that led to the main deck. My expertise on boats was limited to starboard, portside, stern, and bow, and that was just from watching movies. Otherwise it was nil. When Blair tried to turn the steering wheal, it snapped off in his hands. Araunah tugged on a rope that was hanging down and that broke off too. There was a smashed barrel laying in front of the door that led to the lower part.
“Let’s go down there!” Blair went to the door. “Isn’t that where the row men were?”
“Maybe. Let’s go check it out. Just be careful; that might lead directly to the ocean.”
“Are you sure we should go down there?” Araunah bit her lip. “It looks kind of creepy.”
“Oh, come on. What do you think’s down there? Ghosts?” I laughed nonchalantly as I opened the door for Blair.
The stairs creaked as we descended one by one. My foot landed on something hard that crunched under my feet. It was soccer ball-sized, and round. It took a while for our eyes to adjust to the dark. In the dimness, only one shaft of light fell through a single crack in the rotting wood. Dust shimmered in it, dancing there for who knew how long. The air was musty, with the pungent odour of rot assaulting my nostrils. It was silent except for the muffled sound of waves crashing on the side of the ship. I could taste the stillness in the air. Until Jada pierced it with a horrible scream.
My stomach flipped when I saw them,. Some were propped up against the wall with golden chains around their necks, some had red bandanas wrapped around their heads. Most of them were strewn all over the floor of the lower deck. Skeletons. With horror I looked down and realized the thing I had stepped on was a mangled skull with rotting eyes still in it.
The bottom of the boat filled with our screams and our desperate attempts to get out of there. Blair snatched my hand, shouting out to me something I couldn’t hear. We whirled to scramble back up the stairs and ran smack into Sam.
“What’s going on?” he asked, calm but alert.
We pushed passed him, and jumped off the side of the boat back to the sand, not even pausing to take the ladder. Our feet flew as we didn’t stop running until we reached our picnic table.
“That was horrible!” Blair sobbed, his thin arms in a death grip around my waist. Araunah and Jada were frozen in different states of shock, Araunah with her hand over her mouth and Jada strangling masses of her hair. Blair’s tears soaked the front of my shirt.
Adam’s face filled my mind. All I could think about was him in the ground, his bones probably rotting by now. My sweet, sweet brother.
A shuddering breath filled my lungs with salty air. I would not cry. This was Blair’s birthday party, and I was not going to ruin it with my tears. I snapped my fingers in front of Jada and Araunah, smiling gently at them to take away the sting. “Come on, you guys, snap out of it,” I said in a low voice, motioning to Blair. They nodded woodenly.
He was shuffling around, by the rocks. “Guess what Blair,” I called out. “We’re going to do something that other kids don’t get to do, but we’re going to anyway because you’re special!”
His eyes were sad. “What’s that?” he asked unenthusiastically.
“We’re going to eat dessert before supper, that’s what!”
I sent Jada and Araunah to get the cake out of the fridge in the limo. I knelt in front of Blair. Tears welled up again. “That was awful,” he whimpered. His head bowed in shame, at his own tears, probably.
“I know, sweetie. But you have to smile now, okay? Its your big day, and we don’t want to spoil it because birthdays only come once a year.”
“But what if I have nightmares tonight?”
I flinched at the fear in his eyes. “Okay, look. I have a cure for nightmares, but its kind of hard to do. Do you think you can handle it?” He nodded. I folded his hands into mine. “See, this is how dreams work. Throughout the day, we build up random junk in our brains, thoughts that went unnoticed. Un-filed, you might say. We dream because our brain is organizing all that garbage into files, because it likes to stay organized. When I see a horror movie or something, I always pay close attention, because if I forget something, my brain will have to file it when I go to bed at night. And then I have to have nightmares. So Blair, you need to think really hard about those skeletons we saw on the ship, remember every detail, because I promise you it will be worse tonight. Can you do that?”
He nodded and closed his eyes, concentrating for a long minute. When he was done, he shoved his hands in his pockets as we made our way to the picnic table.
Since Blair didn’t really know how old he was, we put all the candles on the cake. There were twenty five. It took him six breaths to blow them all out.
“How big of a piece do you want, Blair?” Araunah was poised with her knife over the cake.
He tilted his head to the side as he considered. “This big.” He puts his hand in a small triangle. After all the cake had been passed around we joined hands for grace, I so reluctantly Jada shot me a curious glance.
“Lord, thank you for all the wonderful food you have provided us with, and please bless the hands that prepared it. Thank you for all the friends you have gathered here this afternoon and please help Blair in his new year. Please let him learn from the mistakes he is going to make, and let him live well and prosper.” Araunah said Amen, and we all dug in, trying not to giggle at her strange prayer.
It was the best cake I ever had. The creamy vanilla melted in my mouth, leaving me groaning in pleasure. Even Sam looked indulged. Half way through, he rose and made a toast to Blair, blessing him again in his new age.
“You know,” I said around a mouth full of cake. “We really should try to think of how old you are, Blair. What do you think Araunah?”
“I think you look about seven. Does that seem right, Jada?”
“Hmmm, I think that seems about accurate. Do you think that’s right, Blair?”
“How many is seven?” he asked. Araunah held up her fingers. “That’s a lot. I want to be seven!”
“Then it’s settled. Happy seventh birthday, Blair.” I raised my plastic glass in another toast. “To Blair!”
Before we knew it, the big cake was gone. “I don’t think I have any room for chicken,” Jada moaned.
“Hey, that’s an insult!” Araunah swatted her. “And it’s exactly why you eat your meal before dessert!”
The only one who looked like he could eat another bite was Blair. He was so skinny. His sunken eyes were shining, though, taking in the sight of us almost unable to move. “I’ll eat your chicken, Jada. If you really want me to.”
Jada hauled herself to an upright position. “That’s alright, Blair. I don’t think our Araunah would be too pleased with me if I didn’t even try her world-class grilled chicken.”
“That’s right,” said Araunah. “She would never forgive you.”
Nobody had tasted anything so good. The meal went by, and now we were even more stuffed than before. Like that was even possible. But it was present time, and I didn’t want the puppy to get too lonely in the limo. Araunah and Jada had checked on it when they had gotten the cake. My excitement mounted. Blair was really going to love his present!
I practically had to drag Araunah and Jada up. Sam didn’t seem very blissed out, and I felt sorry for him.
Blair peered up at me with dancing eyes. “You got me a present?”
I gave him a sideways look. “Of course we did. It’s your birthday, Blair.”
Jada, holding the bags from Wal-Mart and Yvonna’s, walked in front of Araunah so that we couldn’t see the puppy. Blair and I sat on the ground, near the water. He was instructed to close his eyes.
Araunah set the puppy down, and it trembled, sniffing around itself. But then, it slowly approached Blair and crawled into his lap.
“Oh!” he squealed. “Hanuara!” He buried his nose in its soft fur, and it whimpered. The thing actually wagged his tail, his whole body was moving as he covered Blair with puppy kisses. “I’m going to call you Cuddles,” Blair declared. “Oh, Hanuara, thank you!” he launched himself at me and wrapped his arms around my neck in a chokehold hug.
At least that was one thing going right.
The secret present Araunah had gotten was a Polaroid camera, and a scrapbook with all the supplies. The scrapbook had a picture of an Australian shepherd that looked like Cuddles. She had also bought a pen with paw prints all over it.
Blair played in the surf with Cuddles while we cleaned up (I was tempted to let them do all the work, but I forced myself to help out). He liked his picture book, and he smiled when I told him I would teach him to read it. The leash and collar were left on the picnic table while they splashed in the ocean.
“I’m so glad he liked his dog,” I told Araunah and Jada.
“That was so nice of you,” Araunah said.
“I know.” I sighed. “I just hope his mother doesn’t mind.”
Darkness came way too quickly. We turned the music up, donned bathing suits (Blair just wore his shorts) and jumped into the water. I stayed at the edge with my feet in. Cuddles whimpered each time Blair disappeared behind a wave. Finally, the puppy just jumped in after his boy.
“Cud-dles!” Blair giggled as the puppy swam toward him with desperate strokes. He climbed onto his shoulders and hung on for his life. Carefully, Blair swam around, dodging the splashes Araunah and Jada aimed his way. Araunah dove under water, and came up holding Jada’s toe. She went down, screeching.
“Come on in, the water’s fine!” Araunah yelled at me. Jada whispered something in her ear, and then realization dawned on her. I waved at her to tell her that it was okay.
It was a crescent moon. The sound of the waves and my friends’ splashing and shrieking almost lulled me to sleep. Instead, I inhaled the salty air. The soft sand spilled between my fingers as I thoughtfully combed my fingers through it. I suddenly felt an intense longing for Julius to be there with me, holding me against him like he had. I imagined the way the weak moonlight would play in his hair, and the radiance of his half-smile. I sighed, and checked my watch. We would be heading back soon. I didn’t want my mom to worry too much.
But it was one-thirty in the morning.
“Oh, crap!” Where had the time gone? It seemed like just an hour ago we were watching the sun set. My mother would not be pleased. I didn’t know about Jada’s and Araunah’s, and I didn’t bother wondering about Blair’s. But we had to go.
“You guys! I hollered. “It’s one-thirty! I gotta go, my mom’s gonna kill me!”
With only a moment’s hesitation, they bounded out and quickly wiped themselves off. It was like that ten-second-tidy on the Big Comfy Couch. We jumped around, putting everything away, unloading all the puppy stuff from the limo, and dragged the picnic table back in record speed.
“Thank you.” Blair hugged me.
“Anytime, Blair. Don’t forget to feed Cuddles in the morning. See you tomorrow, bye!”
All the lights were off in the house. I crept inside, closing the door behind me. I was about to tiptoe from the entry to the living room to the stairs when a light clicked on. My mom was on the sofa, legs folded under her and a book in her lap.
“Come here, Hanuara.”
With feet like lead, I trudged toward her. “Yeah?”
“Where were you?”
I swallowed hard. “The beach, with my girlfriends.”
“What were you doing there?”
“Throwing a birthday party.” I cocked a hip and tried to look bored.
“A birthday party? Why were you throwing a birthday party? And for whom?”
“A friend. His name is Blair. He just turned seven.” My gaze was steady on hers.
Her breath came out in a little puff. “Oh. Well, then. Are you sure you’re telling the truth?” she fingered the cross on her necklace.
“Mom, of course I’m telling the truth. Why would I lie about something like that? Can I go now?”
She patted the sofa next to her. “Have a seat.”
Eyes narrowed, I perched on the edge, ready to flee at a given notice. “Is something the matter, mom?”
“Tell me about this Blair.”
This sounded like the beginning of the talk dad should have had with me about Julius. “Mom, he’s seven years old! I just threw a birthday party for him because we’ve become friends. Did you not think I’d make friends when you made me come here?”
“His mother let you plan his birthday party. Why?”
Lying was tempting, but I didn’t really want to. Not at two in the morning. “Mom, Blair and his mother don’t get along. I don’t know what’s going on; he doesn’t like to talk about it. But he doesn’t know how old he is, and so I got two of my friends from this art studio across town and we bought him a puppy and made supper and went swimming in the ocean. Sam was there the entire time, so you have nothing to worry about.”
“Oh,” she said again. “You say he’s only seven? And his mom didn’t tell him?”
I shrugged. “Looks that way. He also doesn’t know how to read and he goes fishing every Saturday by himself under First Bridge. That’s where I met him.” suddenly, I was so tired I could barely keep my eyes open. “Can I please go to bed now?”
“Just a minute. You were just getting home now? And his mother let him stay up till one, and he’s about seven years old.” I nodded my confirmation. “I see. Fine, you can go to sleep now. But I don’t want you going out anymore. Unless it’s absolutely necessary.”
“Mom, why? I didn’t do anything wrong!”
She smiled sadly. “It’s not because of you. But I have been sitting up for more than three hours, worrying about what could’ve happened to you.” The memory of almost drowning flashed in my mind. “I can’t do that anymore because I have to focus on solving this case.”
“Mom, that’s not fair! Sam was with me the entire time! I thought that was the entire point of this!”
“I’m sorry. this is nonnego—”
“Don’t say it. mom, I’m almost an adult. You said to me yourself you’re not going to control me. if I want to go out, I will. its not illegal, its not dangerous, and its not going to kill you to just bend a little!” I regretted the words as soon as they left my mouth, but the past, no matter how recent, cannot be undone. I stared at my mother, so small on the sofa, with defiance in my eyes. Whirling around to make my grand exit, I ran straight into my dad.
My father cleared his throat from behind me. “Well, we are adults, and you are our daughter, and if we want to hold you hostage we will.”
“Dad!” He leaned against the doorframe.
“Apologize to your mother, Hanuara. That was very mean of you.”
After I did, she turned to me with haunted eyes. “Hanuara, if you want to go out anymore, that’s fine. But I’m calling in another body guard. I will not have my baby running the streets unprotected.”
The words were out before I could stop them. “Yeah? And what about Monica? Or is she so special she doesn’t need protection?”
My mother and father sighed in unison. “Your sister hasn’t left her room for two days. That hardly merits round-the-clock supervision.”
I swear I could feel my insides turning to ice. My gaze was cool as I looked both of them in the eyes and said, “Whatever.” I busted my toe on the way back to my room.
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