Another peek for you!
This one is a little different. Our heroine, Rosie, has met Casey who is kind of a pain. But he’s smart—and cute—and yet that doesn’t mean he’s not annoying.
This scene is the first time they’ve really talked and … well … you’ll see …
All night long, I dreamt only of the ocean. There was water in my lace shawl, and waves knit into it. Wave sounds were in my ears, and the wind in my wet hair, and I finally felt like myself.
It hurt to wake up.
No one in the house seemed to know anything about public pools, or they didn’t care, so somewhere around dawn I decided I was going to go swimming today, and I didn’t much give a flying leap what happened. They could ship me back to Tucson. I’d been working hard. I could go anonymous now which meant no one could see me to bug me. I knew that getting to Coney and back on a weekday was easy. As for the problem of beaching solo—dealing with your things while you swam—I’d figured that one out, too. I planned to take a grocery bag and stash my towel in it, then pin a baggie with my Metrocard and some cash into my suit. Towel stays in bag on beach; baggie stays on me. It wasn’t like I was heading out there to glamourize someone.
I just wanted to swim.
To prove my point—that I’d been learning and was safe now—I went anonymous before I headed downstairs. I could hear the others talking to Mina about the events of the night before. I peeked into the kitchen. They were sitting at the big dining room table, but I knew some of them would be able to see the kitchen’s central island that had the bacon plate on it. The protein sang to me. I rechecked my anonymity and walked very carefully into the kitchen, paying them as little mind as I wanted them to pay me. I took a few pieces, then gently opened up the cabinet beneath the sink. Bacon was nothing. Taking a plastic bag without the sound breaking the spell would be the real test.
A+. Test passed with flying colors.
As I walked back to the foyer, I could hear my blood pumping in my ears and I focused on slowing it down. I patted myself on the shoulder, psychically, then picked up my towel from where I had left it on the landing, I reset my shields and opened the first door. Before pulling it closed behind me, I paused and listened.
No one called out. Their voices didn’t even register a change.
After the outer door clicked shut, I checked my watch and headed down the stone steps. I figured I had at least an hour before they noticed I was missing, and even then, only if anything went wrong. If my plan worked, then I had a few hours.
I whistled as I walked to the train. If it was humid, I didn’t notice.
I have a waterproof watch from when I first joined swim team. I know, it causes drag, but it also lets me time myself, and I don’t wear it at meets. I say this because I had it on in the ocean and looked at it when everything changed.
I’d been swimming laps, kinda—horizontal to the shore, out beyond what passes for breakers here—then came in and body surfed a bit. New York beaches and the Southern California beaches where I’d swam other summers really needed to get together and agree on how to do this ocean thing. I know New Yorkers would fight me on this, but California does the beach and wave thing better. At Balboa Beach, where I used to go, you get in the water and there’s this rush and surge upwards that you can feel when you swim under a wave. Something about that moment has always made me happy. No, not happy exactly. Giddy. You’re weightless for this split second, and your hair is pushed back, and you can feel sand and the layers of the ocean’s temperatures, and…anyway…it’s just one of those things for me, I guess.
Gorgeous sunsets? Happy.
Huge electric storms in the desert? Happy.
A chocolate birthday cake with real buttercream frosting? Happy.
Going under a big wave in the ocean? Priceless.
I was in a wave when the whole world shifted to the right. Or maybe I just felt pushed off balance. Either way, something was wrong, and I came up gasping for air, pleased to find oxygen still available. I steadied my breathing, then took a shallow dive under the next wave, pushing my hair out of my face cleanly. I turned to slog back to my towel, checking my watch to see how long I’d been out.
I froze at that border where wet sand turns dry. My towel had been taken out of its classy plastic bag, placed neatly on the sand, and now had an occupant. Sitting on exactly one half of it was Casey.
His arms were encircling his knees while he watched the water. He had sunglasses on, so I couldn’t tell if he was watching me. For all I know, we could have stayed like that—me standing mid-step, him looking at me from behind his dark glass—for an hour. A wave or three had to wash over my feet to break the spell.
“So, you haven’t played with water yet?” Casey asked, finally.
It took me an abnormally long time to process this. The raindrops flashed through my mind, but I shook my head.
“Ah … perfect.”
“Um. What are you—”
Casey rose, held up a finger to silence me, and walked past me to the water. The tide was coming in, but not evenly, across the stretch of beach. I followed and we had to adjust our position a few times until our feet were in the water, just barely. The wave surge didn’t go over our ankles.
“Okay,” he said. “Watch.”
I looked down where he was pointing—at his feet. At first I didn’t notice anything. Water, sand, feet, no biggie. But, soon, the change was unmistakable. We were standing side by side. The water was covering my feet as it rolled up the sand, but it wasn’t touching his. In fact, it was giving Casey something like a two inch gap all the way around. The water met up again, above and behind his feet, but he was completely dry.
“Omagaw! How’d you do that?”
“How do you think?”
“Um … magic?”
He just looked at me, “Occam would be so proud of you right now.”
“You heard of Occam’s Razor?” I shook my head. “Einstein’s version of Occam’s Razor is the principal that if you face a problem, the correct answer is usually the simplest.”
“So … magic, Professor?”
“Yeah, that’s the simple answer … it’s not the right answer … ”
“Show me. I mean … can you?”
Casey snorted. “Can you concentrate?”
“Yeah,” I said, more sarcastically than I wanted to. “Of course I can.”
“I don’t know if—”
“Water,” I said pointedly, “calms me down.”
“Subways to get to water aren’t calming.”
“People,” I emphasized, “aren’t calming. I don’t mind subways. They’re air conditioned, anyway.” Casey watched me for a minute, statue still. I squirmed when he looked like that—especially behind those glasses—but I did my best to keep up my shields and stand my ground.
“Mina’s right,” he said finally. Then, as if nothing had happened, he continued. “So, first, you should plant your feet.”
“Woah, wait a minute. Mina’s right about what?”
“Do you want to learn how to do this or not?” he asked, pointing at the sand.
I looked down. It was obvious now; the water was avoiding him. I looked up and shrugged.
“So, plant your feet. Really plant them. Let them sink into the sand. Feel the sand. Lower your Ch’i into every little grain.”
“Later,” he sighed.
“Okay … I’m sunk.” I thought I could feel my feet nudge deeper into the sand as I re-grounded myself.
Casey looked back at me. “Excellent. Now I want you to think of your legs like … like they’re wax.”
“Yes. You know how wax and water interact?”
“Exactly. That’s what you want here, too. As you sink into the sand—still grounded—you need to feel the outsides of your legs … no, wait … feel like there’s a wax coating on your legs and as you sink, you can feel that wax melt off a little and down into the sand.” He started to say more but stopped, looking out at the water. Then: “Sorry, I haven’t taught before.”
Funny, I thought, since he talks like a professor.
He looked down, now, watching my toes carefully, and I had to close my eyes to block him out. “Do your best to melt enough wax that you create a good-sized barrier between yourself and the water. This shouldn’t be too hard. You don’t need the wax to go deep, but you do need it to go wi—hey! Nice work!”
I opened my eyes. It was possible to see—if you were paying very close attention—that the water was refusing to touch me.
“Feel that?” Casey asked.
“You feel the tension? Between you and the water? The resistance?”
I stopped. I tried thinking … feeling with my feet. “It’s like opposing magnets!”
I grinned over at Casey and watched a real smile take hold across his face. A gorgeous, welcome smile.
And that’s pretty much when I stopped breathing. The next wave rode right over my feet—a mini-tsunami of failure.
“What happened?” He sounded disappointed.
“I … I don’t know … I felt it. It was working.” I scrambled to focus everything I had into my shields to make sure Casey couldn’t see the same vision I had been seeing.
It wasn’t until the train ride home that I started to relax enough to actually talk to Casey. After avoiding all of us for so long, it was odd to have him just sit there next to me.
“You’re a good teacher,” I said finally, trying to break the ice.
“Yeah, I mean, I was able to do it. Some.”
“It’s true. I don’t think it will take you much more practice to master it.” He spoke deliberately.
“Practice and attention. That’s all any of this takes.”
I nodded, thinking. “So…you’re in college?”
“Yeah, I do it correspondence, well … on the Web mostly. Not really a conventional correspondence course, but sometimes I send things in by snail mail.”
“Wow … that’s gotta be hard.”
“Why?” He looked over at me.
“Well … uh … because you don’t get to see the professor, or, you know, see or talk to other students.”
He looked around the subway car, like he was looking for someone else to talk to. “That’s not really much of a problem for me,” he said quietly.
“But … but you spend so much time alone. I mean, Justin said you just go off to the woods and stuff. Don’t you ever get, you know … lonely?”
When he turned to me I felt that whole pinned-like-a-butterfly thing again. It wasn’t my imagination. It was like he was trying to find something in me—in my mind. The air conditioning on the train made me shiver.
“I don’t get lonely,” he said at last, looking back at the subway map, or the wall across from us. Anywhere but at me.
I just nodded, weakly. But nature abhors a vacuum, right? So I kept going. “Well, then … what do you do with … I mean, are you, like, working when you’re out in the woods … because, you know, they all say you’re the boy wonder. You’re the oldest. Everyone says you’re the best … Do you, you know, like … help police find bodies and stuff like that?”
Casey’s head whipped around to face me, glaring. His voice sliced me. “Why? Why would you think something like that?”
The anger made me flinch. “I … I don’t know … it’s … isn’t that what people like us do? I mean, Izzy’s always helping people—like last night—and since you were gone … so much … I thought that you, you know … were off … being, I don’t know … a hero or something.”
If anything, he was angrier now. “Yeah … a hero. Is that what I look like to you?”
“Geez, Casey. I don’t know. What do you look like to me? You look like a guy who has no idea how to have a conversation. How’s that? I just asked—”
“—well then, don’t ask.”
And that was the end of that.
“I called your mother.”
“Fine.” The ride home with Casey had left me in a foul mood, so I really wasn’t excited about the argument I was about to have with Mina.
“Your father needs to talk to you.”
I looked at her sideways, “Dad?”
“He wants to talk to you.”
“No.” She handed me the phone to dial.
She nodded and I punched in his work number.
“Daddy?” I turned away from Mina when I heard him pick up the phone.
“Rose? They found you?”
“Sure, Dad. Of course. I was just swimming.”
“At Coney Island?!”
“Well … yeah. It’s the easiest beach to get to. There’s only one train and it’s not crowded. I went there with everyone yesterday.”
“Rose, what were you thinking?”
“That I needed to swim. There’s nowhere to swim here, Dad.”
“Rose, you have to clear something like that with Mina.”
I turned around and looked at Mina, begging her with my eyes for some privacy. Finally, she nodded once and left the room, closing the door behind her. I sat on the edge of her bed. “Dad, she would have made the others go with me. They don’t want to swim.”
“So they would have just sat there, all, ‘can we leave yet?’ and I would have been thinking about that instead of the water. I needed some downtime.”
Dad was quiet for a bit, “Are you getting along with everyone? Don’t you still get along with Jennifer?”
“Sure, Dad. That’s not it. I mean, you and Mom even say that sometimes you just need a little time to yourself. I left a note. I even told them where on the beach I’d be.”
“Did you take your phone?”
“No. But I thought about it. I was worried someone would swipe it. That, and I wouldn’t have been able to hear it from the water anyway. I was going so I could do laps, not sunbathe.”
“Right. Okay. Look, do you understand why Mina’s so upset?”
“Yeah, she thought I was going to light the boardwalk on fire.”
“Well, honey, it’s not just her. We’re all a little … nervous. She said you’ve been learning, but she still doesn’t think you’re really in control of this…of these…abilities.”
“Well, I don’t know how she’d know one way or the other, Dad. I sit around the house all day, practicing, but we never really do anything. There’s nothing here to get angry at,” Then I thought of Justin. “Nothing much, anyway, so it’s not like I’ve been tested, except yesterday.”
“Right … ”
“And, in fact, the times I’ve gone out on my own, you know, which is kind of like a test, I haven’t had any problems at all.”
“Can’t you get them to cut me some slack?”
“No. But I can talk to Mina. Is she still there?”
“I’m sure she’s outside the bedroom door,” I raised my voice and spoke clearly. “And I’m sure she’s heard everything we’ve said.”
Dad chuckled. “Put her on for me, Rose?”
The door opened as Dad said, “I miss you, HR. It’s not the same without you in town.”
He had to wait until Mina was in the room.
“I miss you too, Dad,” I managed to get out before I needed to find tissues. I didn’t want to hear this side of the conversation, anyway.
“Your father is persuasive.”
“Here’s how we’ll work this. Leave a note on the downstairs bannister if you go out alone. You don’t ride the subway. You do take your phone. You need to be as specific about where you’re going as you can be. Until we know more you can’t leave Park Slope without the others. That gives you a pretty big area to hang out in.”
“But no water?”
“No Coney. But we’ll be getting you to water. I promise. We’re heading to the cabin soon.”