Updated: Aug 15, 2020
She led the group through aqua water, past brilliant coral formations, through schools of orange and yellow-spotted fish, past fluorescent sea fans. She pointed out a clownfish, motioning her charges to stay away from its venomous tentacles. A herd of seahorses galloped by.
The dive started smoothly. As usual, a couple of younger, more athletic swimmers ventured too far out in front, and a middle-aged couple lagged too far behind. She should tether each person to her on a separate line, Will thought, so she could move through the water like the mother of twelve toddlers navigating the mall, or a twelve-tentacled octopus, or a twelve-plaited Medusa. She hated being out of control.
Someone grabbed her from behind. Will took the grasping hand in her own as she turned around. It was Brad.
The rest of the group vanished from Will's attention as she struggled to control him. He was panicking -- and strong. She couldn't keep him at arm's length -- he clutched at her desperately and managed to get a grip on her mask with one hand, while clinging to her arm with the other.
Will tried to protect her air supply as they tussled, but a strap broke and Brad won the tug-of-war, with her mask and mouthpiece as his prize. With a surge of power she freed her arm from his grip, swam a few feet away, and then looped back to grab his wrists. Lungs about to burst, she swam for the surface.
Will broke through the water first and gulped air. Brad came up next to her and immediately resumed his thrashing and clawing. She pulled off his mask, and one look at his wild eyes left her no choice. She landed the hardest punch she could manage and he went limp.
Will treaded water, catching her breath, Brad's lolling head cradled in the crook of her arm. Blood streamed from his nose as the rest of the divers bobbed up one by one. She led the bewildered group back to the boat.
As Brad came to, the ship's paramedic hovering over him, he gasped a request for the inhaler that could be found in his backpack.
Fucking idiot. Will turned away in disgust.
The Wind Spirit's captain, Jack Ellis, was healthy, handsome, and possessed of abundant patience and good humor. Several crew members were hanging out with him on the bridge when Will stormed up.
"Something wrong?" he asked mildly.
Will turned her glare on the others.
"Could you please leave?"
Jack seemed curious but not intimidated -- he motioned them to stay.
"Fine. Have it your way," Will fumed. "Number one, I'm sick of risking my life to rescue morons. Number two, I don't appreciate being the laughingstock of this ship. Number three, I quit."
Jack turned to the crew, now openly gawking. "Could you please leave?"
"And flowers. What made you think I wanted fucking flowers?" Will didn't care any longer who heard her. "We're not in a relationship. You're acting like a female."
"Maybe one of us ought to," Jack shot back. "If we're not in a relationship, what do you call what we've been up to all summer long?"
"Nothing. Who cares? I don't need to give it a label."
"Aren't you getting on a bit for the madcap single girl routine?"
Will felt her face flush.
"You're scared, aren't you?" Jack's voice dropped to an awed whisper. "Maybe all you ever wanted was someone to hang onto in the dark."
She wheeled around and left.
The ship engine stopped. Will stood at the rail and watched the setting sun as the crew hoisted the sails. Golden ripples danced across the sea.
From the upper deck, she heard a guitar playing and the soft chorus of voices. It was the way they ended every excursion -- sailing back, lulling the tourists into a nostalgic stupor with old folk songs. Corny crap like "Michael Row the Boat Ashore" and "Kumbayah." She put on her sunglasses to keep the wind from stinging her eyes.
Will poured the last of a bottle of Shiraz into her glass. Every light in the apartment was on. The ceiling fan rotated at high speed. Curtains covered the broken window, but shards of glass were still strewn across the floor. Will held the phone to her ear, counting the rings on the other end.
"Sheila -- hey. I'm glad I caught you," Will said brightly. Too brightly.
She leaned back and closed her eyes, listening for what she wanted to hear -- trying not to hear what Sheila actually was saying.
Will lowered her voice, struggling to sound casual, but she heard her desperation singing through. "Come on, Sheila -- I can't stand this tourist crap. In fact, I quit today."
Maybe not a good idea to mention the quitting. It pressed another one of Sheila's endless alarm buttons.
"No, no another episode. An unfortunate romantic entanglement. The captain sent me roses."
She glanced at the window. The curtain had moved. She was sure of it.
"Flowers aren't exactly sexual harassment."
"They're stupid. All of this is stupid. You know what I'm capable of. I shouldn't have to beg, but I'm begging. Please -- give me a spot -- anything."
Will squeezed her eyes shut. Sheila told her she needed to see a doctor. Why was that the only thing she could say anymore?
"Don't you think you might be overreacting a little? I'm not the first person to screw up -- and there was no damage."
"Tell that to the tubeworms."
Will cringed. She had destroyed a beautiful field. A deep sea paradise.
"It won't happen again."
"Will. I heard you yelling at someone."
"Myself. People do that. I was rattled."
"You were terrified."
"Okay. Fine." She hung up the phone. Sat on the edge of the sofa. Sipped the wine. She couldn't think anymore. The debate was over. Sheila must be right -- she must be crazy.
Thousands of miles away, in the kitchen of a rambling Michigan house, a phone rang. The soapy hand that reached for a towel before answering it belonged to Polly Gilbert, a soft woman with a tumbled mane of blonde hair. She stood at the sink, sun streaming through the window. When it registered that the voice on the other end belonged to her sister, she sat down at the big oak table.
"Will -- what? You're coming home?"
"Whatever that means. How's Mother?"
"She's ... you know."
"What's going on?"
"Nothing. Is this a bad idea?
"I thought you were on an expedition, that's all. You said you'd be out of touch."
"I'll explain when I get there."
"I'm glad you're coming."
"Give Becky a kiss for me."
"Sure -- love you."
Will hung up. A sudden sinking feeling drew her eyes to the broken window. The curtains were wide open. A shadowy figure slunk back into the darkness. For a long time, Will stared at nothing. She didn't know how she had gotten so bruised, but she knew the white owl was behind it.
This is Excerpt No. 3 of The Darkest Eyes by Mick Brady
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