“I HAVE AN EXPERIMENT,” GENEVIEVE CLARKE BEGAN as she leaned forward on the driftwood log, toward the crackling beach bonfire. She paused, waiting for Darcy Scott to put down her beer bottle and Gray Hartnett to glance up from her iPhone. Miranda O’Rourke raised her eyebrow. Genevieve always had grandiose theories, and the later it was and the more beer she’d taken from the cooler, the more she tended to expound on them. But Genevieve had been Miranda’s best friend since seventh grade, and even when her experiments were ridiculous—like the time she convinced Miranda to sneak into a frat party at Coastal Carolina with her and pretend they were exchange students from Estonia—her enthusiasm made up for any absurdities.
“I’ll only do it if I don’t have to stand up,” Miranda cracked as she opened her Sigg water bottle and took a large sip. It was already almost midnight, and she had an exhibition soccer tourney tomorrow afternoon, which college scouts were supposed to attend. But she didn’t want the party to end. Not yet. After all, who knew how many nights like this they’d have left? School started next week, and then next summer they’d all be scattered across the country at colleges, embarking on their “real” lives. That was a thought that simultaneously terrified and excited Miranda. Sometimes, Miranda tried to close her eyes and imagine what it would be like to be surrounded by strangers, to not live steps away from the ocean, but she couldn’t. And right now, she didn’t want to.
“Okay, lazy,” Genevieve said, interrupting Miranda’s reverie. “Ya’ll don’t need to do anything. I’ll do all the work. I learned to read tarot cards this summer. And it sounds so stupid, but it works. Like, when I got it done at the beginning of the summer, the cards said I’d have a summer fling. And I totally did!” Genevieve crowed, obviously still thrilled about the totally hot hookup she’d had with a Columbia University rising sophomore when she was enrolled in a pre-college program in New York City during the summer. Or at least the hookup she’d claimed to have. That was the thing with Genevieve: It wasn’t like she lied per se, but she definitely often embellished, and more than once, Miranda had witnessed a flirtatious gaze across a crowded party on a Friday night become an all-out hookup when she described it to everyone else on Monday morning. Miranda never called her on it, and Genevieve never seemed to feel guilty. It was as if, in her mind, she actually began to believe the things she said. Miranda wished she could be more like that.
Miranda was convinced that Genevieve’s faux-scandalous life was pretty much designed to be one step more scandalous than that of Genevieve’s mother, Jane. Jane had been divorced three times, and Whym Islanders were still up in arms that she’d been the one to inherit the sprawling seventeenth-century mansion on Witch’s Knee, the most exclusive area on the island. Jane had converted half the mansion into a yoga studio and had turned the once meticulously landscaped lawn into an organic vegetable plot. And Genevieve followed in her mom’s footsteps, attempting to scandalize the next generation of Whym Islanders by dying her hair bright red, getting a tiny silver stud pierced into her nose and a star tattoo inked onto her wrist, and ending almost every statement with a no? at the end, as if she were daring anyone to disagree with her.
“Did you sleep in his bed? I heard New York is full of bedbugs. I wouldn’t hook up with anyone there,” Gray drawled, wrinkling her nose and purposefully edging away from Genevieve. “Course, I’d never be in New York anyway. Too dirty.”
“It’s also full of hot guys,” Genevieve smirked as she pulled the cards out of her bag. The light from the bonfire was flickering on Genevieve’s face, making her look different than usual—older, more sophisticated, like someone who had a whole different life back in New York. “Right, Miranda?” Genevieve asked.
“Yeah, the guys I remember from pre-school were really hot,” Miranda joked. That was one of the things about Whym: unless you were born there, you’d always be considered an outsider on some level, no matter how many years you’d lived there or how many ties you could claim to the island. Miranda was technically a sixth-generation islander, but because her mother had dared to move and have children elsewhere, she’d never been fully embraced as a local, even though she’d moved here full-time more than ten years ago.
“Ya’ll know I haven’t been back since I was five. Besides, wasn’t the point the tarot-reading thing?” she asked as she hugged her knees to her chest and pulled her giant Calhoun Academy soccer shirt as far as it would go down her legs. Despite the fire, she was freezing. Still, she didn’t want to break up the moment and suggest they head into the pool house.
After all, this was the last summer the Whym Island seniors—the Ferries, as they’d been annoyingly dubbed back in first grade, when their parents (or, in Miranda’s case, grandmother) had all had to sit down and create a chaperone schedule to get them all to the mainland to school at Calhoun Academy. The Ferries were the progeny of the Whym Island elite: The kids who’d never attended Whym Public, the tiny redbrick school house on the other end of the island that held kindergarten through twelfth grade. Whym Public was for the sons and daughters of the fishermen, housekeepers, gardeners, and clerks who worked year-round to keep the island in its postcard-perfect condition. Calhoun was a private school founded in the seventeenth century that had always catered to wealthy Carolinians. That was what made it weird to be a Ferry: They didn’t really know the other Whym kids, and most of the Calhoun kids lived on the mainland, fifteen miles of ocean away.
And now, none of them could imagine it any differently. Sure, some of them had awkward romantic histories with each other, some of them never quite forgave others for excluding them from seventh-grade sleepovers, and some of them hardly came to parties in favor of hanging out with mainland kids, but all of that seemed to be forgotten in summer—especially this year. So far, the routine had been perfect: Spend the day at soccer practice, at the beach, or doing SAT prep, and then at night, head down to the two-mile stretch of beach in front of the O’Rourke house.
Sometimes, Miranda couldn’t help but wonder whether her own mother would be proud or appalled. Miranda’s mother, Astrid, had hated the island, and had only begrudgingly come back during the summer to allow her mother, Eleanor Ashford, to get to know her children. It was a good island for kids—it had pristine beaches with fine white sand, when the tide was out. The ocean was gentle and sparkling blue, and the ride on the ferry was a guaranteed way to effortlessly entertain a child on an otherwise sweltering day. So that’s why every summer, Miranda’s mother Astrid and her father Hank would pack Miranda and her younger brother, Teddy, into the car and drive down from New York City to set up house in the sprawling mansion Astrid had grown up in. After a week or so, Astrid and Hank would leave, eager to enjoy a temporarily kid-free existence of downtown parties and concerts. For the next two months, Teddy and Miranda would play under the watchful eye of Miranda’s grandmother, Eleanor.
As a four-year-old, Miranda had felt like an outsider. Always shy, she noticed all the other toddlers on the beach at Whym had friends to build sandcastles with and chase in and out of the water. She didn’t. She only had Teddy, Eleanor, and Louisa, the nanny Eleanor hired each summer.
Until the night when Miranda was five and Teddy was two. They’d been listlessly playing with Teddy’s trucks on Eleanor’s screened-in porch one evening after dinner. Louisa was rocking back and forth in a rocking chair, fanning herself with her hand and reading a gossip magazine. It had been storming, and Miranda remembered watching the way bolts of lightning would illuminate the sky. A roll of thunder struck, and Teddy began sobbing. At that point, before Louisa could scoop him up to console him, Eleanor walked in, her face white.
“Teddy and Miranda need to go upstairs,” she’d said, circling her wrist with her opposite hand, as if she were holding onto a banister.
“I was just gonna give them their bath,” Louisa had said guiltily, sure she was about to be chastised for letting them stay up so late.
“Now,” Eleanor whispered.
The next morning, Miranda’s whole world had changed. Now, although she remembered the moments leading up to Eleanor’s announcement perfectly clearly, she didn’t remember the next morning: Who told her, how it was phrased, why their car possibly could have driven off the bridge on Johns’ Island, en route to the dock, where they’d been coming from an afternoon festival. All she knew was that she wasn’t going back to New York City. Not at the end of the summer. Not ever. And her parents were dead.
In her new life on Whym, she was to wear a dress at all times, call her grandmother and all her grandmother’s friends “ma’am,” and play with the dolls that Eleanor bought her, even though she’d repeatedly told her that she only liked stuffed animals. She’d soon learned to never, ever talk about her parents in front of Eleanor, since doing so tended to cause her grandmother to get a faraway look in her eyes, then disappear into the master suite with a headache, for hours at a time. What she hadn’t known until she got older were all the rumors surrounding Astrid and Hank’s deaths: That they’d been seen drinking at the festival, they may have been smoking pot, that maybe it had been something they’d meant to do, a suicide pact for a couple that had been too out there, too passionate, too much for the island.
Of course, none of that could be proved. After a cursory investigation, the police department had deemed the crash to be a accident. And yet, there were so many unanswered questions that nagged at Miranda even more as she got older. Had they been drinking? Had they had some type of suicide plan? And, in those final moments, had they known that Miranda and Teddy would now be bound to the island forever?
The questions had started only once she got to school and realized what being an O’Rourke meant to other Whym islanders. And she’d never asked Eleanor about them. Instead, she distanced herself from her grandmother, preferring to spend time by herself or with Teddy. She’d never realized she was lonely, until she found herself being forced to sign up for a sport on her first day at Calhoun Academy in seventh grade. She’d chosen soccer, and had actually been good at it, which had been the catalyst that had caused the Ferries to befriend her. Before, they’d been friendly enough, but wary, as if they could sense she didn’t want to be on the island. But the fact that she could score a goal in the last thirty seconds of a game outweighed her outsider status. Slowly, despite any apprehensions, Miranda began getting invitations to sleepovers and birthday parties. Over the past five years, the Ferries had taught her everything she needed to know about the island, from how to build a fire on the beach, to how to sneak from one end of the island to the other without ever hitting the main roads. Now, heading into senior year, she was being watched by soccer scouts from around the country and had spent the past year dating Fletcher King, the most sought-after boy on the island. It was a Cinderella story come to life; a sign that fairy tales did come true. And yet . . .
“Aren’t tarot cards, like, dark magic?” Gray asked, taking a dainty sip from her Poland Spring bottle and interrupting Miranda’s thoughts. Because Gray was only a second-generation summer islander, and her grandparents still lived in a pink mansion on Charleston’s Battery, Gray had taken Miranda’s position as a Whym Island newbie, even though her family had moved to Whym full time five years ago. And even though she was always invited, she tended to treat impromptu bonfire evenings on the beach as ever so slightly beneath her, and often reminded everyone of her Charleston debutante ball coming up later in the season.
“Yeah, because we live in Salem in the seventeenth century and I’m forming my witch coven.” Genevieve rolled her eyes. “No, it’s just a fun way to figure out what might happen. I promise it’ll be fine. Way less risky than playing ‘Never Have I Ever,’” Gen picked up the deck of cards and shuffled them on her lap. “Now, who wants to go first?”
Lydia Banay shrugged and took a big swig of the cranberry juice and vodka mixture she’d concocted at home and smuggled into her water bottle. “I will. What the hell do I have to lose?” She asked rhetorically, as the rest of the girls murmured sympathetically. Lydia had just gone through a bad breakup with Brad Carmichael, the Calhoun Academy All-State soccer star who’d just started at Clemson University two weeks ago. On his first night there, she’d received a text at 2 a.m. that featured a photo of a skinny blonde girl in a halter top, along with a question from Brad: Would you hate me if I told you I’m about to cheat? The next day, he’d begged forgiveness, citing too much alcohol and “too many temptations,” but the damage had been done and Lydia had been devastated. Even tonight, Miranda could see her eyes were red and her face was puffy from crying.
“Okay, sugar,” Genevieve said, closing her eyes and shuffling the deck. She picked out a card from the deck. The card had a photo of a skeleton on it.
“Ew!” Gray shrieked.
“Am I going to die?” Lydia giggled, but her face looked terrified.
“Maybe it just means Brad’s hooking up with some Skeletor skank,” Darcy said, taking another large sip of her own vodka soda as she absentmindedly tightened her auburn ponytail at the crown of her head. Darcy was the youngest of four sisters, and always seemed slightly bored when discussing boy drama, most likely because she’d heard it all at home.
Genevieve turned the card over in her fingers. “It doesn’t mean that. It’s symbolic, no? It means a part of you is going to die.”
“What the hell does that mean?” Lydia asked nervously.
Genevieve sighed, as if she were a kindergarten teacher explaining the rules of addition to an exceptionally slow six-year-old. “It’s like, maybe the part of you that loves Brad will die, because you’ll meet someone new,” she said, enunciating each word.
“Okay . . . ,” Lydia trailed off. “Or maybe it means that if I do find out he’s hooking up with a skeletor skank, I’ll kill him. Do someone else. Get me out of my misery.”
“Anyone?” Genevieve glanced around the group of girls.
Miranda shifted in the sand and leaned back against her elbows, trying to pay attention, even though her mind kept wandering. Maybe it was just nerves for the soccer sectionals showcase on the mainland tomorrow. And even though Coach Devlin had told her not to worry, that the Stanford coach had seen enough videos of her that all Miranda had to do was get on the field and have fun, she knew it was only natural to be nervous. But it was more than that. It was a sense that no matter what the cards said, it felt like their destinies were already becoming more and more etched in stone with each passing day. Genevieve would move to New York. Miranda would play soccer at Stanford. Darcy and Lydia would most likely stay in South Carolina and get married to cute Carolina guys. None of these paths were bad exactly, it was just . . .
“Guys, this is ya’ll’s future. Don’t you care?” Genevieve called down to the guys who were hanging close to the tide-mark. Earlier, they had been hanging out around the fire as well, but obviously, they’d gotten bored with the girls’ sprawling conversations and had drifted off to do their own thing: Jeremiah Black was playing his guitar; the same four chords of “Free Fallin’” over and over and over again, while Alexa Madden watched adoringly from the edge of the circle. Alan Osten and Fletcher King were tossing a Frisbee back and forth. Occasionally, Alan would overshoot and the Frisbee would land in the water. Fletcher would eagerly run in to get it, reminding Miranda of an eager golden retriever.
“Miranda!” Genevieve snapped, and Miranda glanced away guiltily. Despite the independent vibe Genevieve projected, Miranda knew how much Gen wanted to be part of a couple, and she knew that in Genevieve’s mind, sharing a possibly-fictional kiss with a cute Columbia boy was nothing compared to the fact Miranda and Fletch were steadily dating. “I’m doing your tarot reading, in case you care,” Genevieve said, slapping the cards down on the piece of driftwood in front of her. The light from the fire flickered on the overturned card. It was a man and a woman, their arms intertwined in an embrace.
Genevieve rolled her eyes. “Of course, this figures,” she said, scooping the cards back up and shuffling the deck.
“Wait, what was that?” Miranda asked, genuinely curious. At least it hadn’t been the skeleton.
“The lovers. It means that you’re about to find the love of your life. Or you’ve already found it.” Genevieve laughed, but the hurt look spreading across her face made it clear how much Genevieve wished she was the one in the relationship.
“Lucky!” Darcy exhaled, smiling encouragingly at Miranda. Darcy loved the idea of being in love, and had already served as the bridesmaid at two of her sisters’ weddings. Her two older sisters had both met their now-husbands in high school, and Darcy was sure Miranda was on the same track.
“Yeah, you’re lucky. The question is, would Fletch agree?” Gray smiled so it seemed like she was teasing, but Miranda could read the subtext. It wasn’t so much that Gray liked Fletch, as that Gray liked to always have the best of everything. In her mind, Fletch was the ideal boyfriend, and Miranda sensed from the chilly way Gray had greeted her for the past few months, that Gray felt she, not Miranda, deserved him.
Miranda smiled, embarrassed for her relationship to be on display. Besides, it wasn’t exactly accurate. Sure, she liked Fletch a lot. Maybe she even loved him, a bit. She adored his sense of humor, the way he didn’t take himself too seriously, the way he’d always agree to split an enormous plate of disco fries at the Sand Witch Diner with her, even though she ended up eating most of them.
But was he the love of her life? She glanced dubiously at the water, where Fletcher was holding the Frisbee aloft over his head like a trophy. As soon as he spotted her staring at him, his face broke into a smile and he bounded over, throwing his wet arms around her shoulders and dripping onto her.
“Hey!” Miranda squealed as he leaned down and planted a kiss on the top of her dark hair. “Stop it!”
At that, Fletcher hugged her again. “Maybe I will. What will you give me if I stop?” He asked, wiggling his eyebrows manically.
Miranda grinned despite herself. Despite his showdog-like name (full name: Fletcher Adamson King, the third) he was pure Whym royalty: A sixth-generation resident whose family owned half the island and whose dad was the former mayor. Fletch was also undeniably hot: At six feet with shaggy brown hair and a muscular swimmer’s build, he was the type of guy who’d cause women at the Harris Teeter supermarket to poke each other and giggle as he walked by. But something else also drew people to him. It was his attitude, how he was so comfortable in his own skin, and never seemed to be at a loss for things to say. His confidence was sometimes overwhelming to Miranda, who couldn’t quite understand why Fletch had chosen her instead of someone like Gray or Lydia—born and bred South Carolina girls who’d no doubt be spending evenings ten years from now at dinner parties with each other, swapping tricks for how to get their kids to sleep through the night. While on the surface, Miranda—with her tall, athletic frame, long brown hair, wideset green eyes, and walk-in closet full of pastel tanks, cashmere cardigans, and Lilly Pulitzer sundresses—looked every inch an island girl, she wasn’t one of them.
Mostly, it was her legacy. She knew her parents’ death had cast an aura of tragedy around her. She knew that her friends’ parents privately and not-so-privately wondered about her well-being. After all, they knew that although Eleanor was graceful and impeccably polite, she wasn’t warm and nurturing. They knew Miranda’s own mother had had a wild streak. And Miranda was almost positive that Fletch’s mother would have preferred if he’d begun dating Lydia or Gray, girls who didn’t have so much baggage. And sometimes, like now, when she forced herself to switch into full-on flirt mode because she knew it made Fletch happy, she wondered if it wouldn’t have been easier for him if he’d never fallen for her.
“Well, a kiss is all you’re going to get. Take it or leave it,” she said as she allowed her lips to graze his. Miranda wrapped her arms around him, inhaling his familiar sunblock-and-Old Spice scent.
Then she pulled away and turned toward Genevieve. “What were you saying?” she asked, not wanting Genevieve to think she was ignoring her.
“Never mind, just keep on making out with your boyfriend. I was just talking about your future, but it seems you guys are set for life,” Gen said, rolling her eyes.
“Are we?” Fletcher asked, perching on the driftwood next to Miranda. His bare leg touched hers, sending another shiver up her spine. She edged closer to the fire.
“I drew the lovers’ card for Miranda. It’s obviously you, no?” Gen shrugged. “Y’all’re about to be Alexa and Jeremiah,” she said, knowingly jutting her chin over to the water’s edge, where Jeremiah and Alexa were standing. Jeremiah’s fingers were snaking under Alexa’s pink-striped bikini strap, and both were oblivious to anyone around them. They’d been dating for five years, and still acted like they couldn’t get enough of each other, even going so far as to full-on suck face before Chapel at Calhoun. Miranda and Genevieve both agreed it was gross.
“Please,” Miranda rolled her eyes. She had no doubt Alexa and Jeremiah would get married in the next few years. That was the way it was with island kids—if they found each other early, they felt no reason to wait or explore other options. And that was her whole problem with Fletch. Even if she did love him, a bit, was that the same as wanting to be with him forever?
“Aw, that’s so cute for y’all,” Gray cooed. Miranda stiffened. Even though she knew Gray would never really do anything, she still didn’t make it a secret that she’d always liked Fletch, and that she didn’t quite understand what Fletch saw in Miranda. One time, right after they started dating, Gray had mentioned to Miranda that she was a prime example of the ish factor in a relationship.
“It?” Miranda had asked, thoroughly confused. It had been one of the first days of summer, and Gray had been lying on the beach, surrounded by magazines.
“Not it. Ish,” Gray clarified. “Apparently, guys like girls who are pretty-ish, smart-ish, athletic-ish . . . like, they’re the whole package, but they don’t especially stand out. Like you!” She smiled encouragingly, as if to disguise her critique as a compliment.
“Thanks,” Miranda had said, smiling tightly. Gray may have thought that she was passive-aggressively insulting her, but it wasn’t anything that Miranda hadn’t known herself. She was ish. And she liked it. It was better than standing out.
“What’s so wrong with being lovers?” Fletch demanded as he leaned toward Miranda and kissed her hard.
“Fletch!” She murmured, pushing away on his strong chest. “We’re in public.”
“You know that talk turns me on,” Fletch joked. Miranda blushed.
“Do your reading, Gen. I want to know what your future is, even though I’m sure it’s full of scandal. Just the way you like it,” she said, leaning over and feigning extreme interest in the cards. She didn’t want to talk about whether or not they were lovers in front of all their friends. “And Fletch, remember, gentlemen don’t kiss and tell.”
“Who said I was a gentleman?” Fletch asked, but obediently walked over to the cooler.
“Okay, ready?” Genevieve asked, pleased that all the attention was back on her. She shuffled the cards and laid them out facedown in a cross pattern, before flipping over the center card.
Miranda gasped. Gazing up at them was the same smiling, dancing skeleton Gen had drawn for Lydia.
“Weird,” Genevieve frowned. “Usually people don’t get the same thing. But I guess it’s because we’re all heading into senior year, so it makes sense. We’re all changing, no?”
“This game is stupid,” Gray said, wrinkling her nose. “Let’s do something else. Ladies?” She stood up and brushed off the back of her white linen shorts as she walked over to the alcohol-stocked cooler that Alan had brought along.
“Do you promise the skeleton doesn’t mean death? Because it kinda looks that way from here.” Lydia yanked the card from Genevieve’s hand and squinted at it.
“Yeah, it’s just symbolism. Not everything needs to be literal. It just means change,” Genevieve said testily. But she scooped up the cards and threw them in her bag.
Miranda shivered again. It was only getting colder and later. And even if Coach Devlin said her performance tomorrow didn’t matter since it was so early in the season, she wanted to be at the top of her game.
As she was about to tell everyone to head home, Fletcher loped up to her, a beer bottle in one hand, keys in the other.
“Hey,” Miranda said suspiciously, eyeing his hand.
“It’s a great night. Let’s take Star Gazer out for a spin.”
Miranda shook her head, annoyed. Star Gazer was the meticulously kept twenty-five-foot bowrider she’d gotten for her sixteenth birthday. She hadn’t even wanted it, but her grandmother had insisted. Miranda later realized it was more for Eleanor than for her; a way to prove that even though she didn’t know how to connect to Miranda, she did care about her. Unlike the other island kids, though, who were more likely to drive their boat than their car, Miranda barely used hers, and she’d certainly never brought so many people on board. Would they even fit?
“I don’t know,” Miranda hedged. “Isn’t it kind of thundering?” Miranda cocked her head. She thought she could hear rumbling in the distance, but that sound could well be a far-off boat, or fireworks on the mainland.
“It’s the sea witch,” Alan hiccupped.
“Stop,” Darcy said nervously, glancing around. Miranda followed her gaze, but of course, there was nothing except the crackling of the fire and the lapping of waves on the shore. Whym Islanders took legends seriously, especially the one about the sea witch. According to the stories, her name was Sephie, and legend had it that you were never supposed to say her name on board a ship, in case you invoked her wrath, a sort of nautical superstition in the same vein as the one that actors were never supposed to say “Macbeth” in a theater, in case they invoked the curse of the play.
Sephie could whip up storms in an instant, cause a low tide to rush inward, or make ships collide with each other. Every accident that had ever occurred on Whym, including the carwreck that claimed Miranda’s parents, was blamed on her. Before her parent’s accident, Eleanor would tell Miranda the sea witch would come get her if she didn’t finish her dinner, or if she made a fuss during her bath. When she was little, Miranda had always been slightly frightened of the sea witch. And when her parents died, of course she thought the sea witch was responsible. But then she grew up and faced the reality that sometimes bad things happen for no good reason and no one is responsible. It was something the rest of the islanders needed to learn.
“What? I want to see the witch. Sephie!” Alan drunkenly called, stumbling down the beach.
“Alan, stop!” Darcy said, even more firmly.
“Let’s go. Alan, if I were you, I’d be more afraid of Darcy in bitch mode than the sea witch,” Gen said. “Besides, the sooner we get on the boat, the sooner we can leave Miranda alone so you can get your beauty sleep before your soccer tournament. Or—” Genevieve grinned wickedly “—have Fletch warm you up.”
“Shut up!” Miranda thwacked Genevieve’s arm and glanced at her friends’ faces. Genevieve had a point. Obviously, not about the Fletch part, but if she brought them on the boat, she could do a spin around the island in less than half an hour, and she could even drop off Genevieve and Gray at the dock by Witch’s Knee, on the other side of the island. She hadn’t been drinking, but they had, and were in no shape to drive home. Besides, there were about two minutes in between rumbles of thunder, which meant the storm was miles away.
“Let’s go,” Miranda added, snatching the keys out of Fletch’s hand. “I’m driving,” she added.
“Thanks, Mom!” Fletch teased.
“Shut up! If you’re not careful, I’ll throw you overboard so the sea witch will eat you,” Miranda joked halfheartedly. She loved her friends, but they could be exhausting. She’d drop everyone off, she’d make out with Fletch on deck, and then she’d get back home in plenty of time to sleep before the game.
Miranda grabbed Fletch’s hand, walked up the wobbly dock, and stepped on to the shaky deck of Star Gazer. It was the first time she’d been on it all summer. Between epic hangouts right on the beach and driving over to the ferry to get to the mainland, it didn’t make sense. Now, she felt a tug of regret that she didn’t use the boat more often, especially when it was right there.
Alan, Darcy, Gray, Gen, Lydia, Alexa, and Jeremiah tumbled in behind her. Jeremiah’s guitar was slung over his shoulder, and Alexa was carrying the cooler in one hand as she sipped from a beer can in the other. They all squeezed on the polished oak benches flanking the two sides of the boat as Miranda slipped behind the wheel and turned on the navigation system. Fletch slid into the seat beside her and squeezed her knee.
This little lady can drive herself, as her grandmother’s driver Roger had said during her first lesson. It was true. All you needed to do was enter your coordinates on the console, then steer if the water became too choppy or if you discovered an obstacle in your path. It was easy.
Miranda turned the wheel and pulled away from the dock, relaxing as she did so. She always felt at home on the water—felt like everything, even Fletcher, made a little more sense to her than on land. It made her feel closer to her parents. Even though her parents’ car had ended up in the ocean the night of the accident, she didn’t think of the water as an enemy. Instead, the wild, untamed waves reminded her of her mother, while the almost-still times in between tides reminded her of her father. She felt like they were there, somewhere, just ever so slightly out of reach.
“Hate to break up the love fest,” Genevieve said, glancing at Fletch as the boat jolted onto the waves. She was tipsy, Miranda could tell, and when Genevieve got drunk, she often got depressed. And her creepy tarot cards couldn’t have helped her mood. Miranda felt her heart go out to her friend.
“Nah, the more the merrier,” Fletch said, leaning back and putting his Sperry topsider-clad feet on top of the dashboard. “Just enjoying the night with my favorite ladies.”
“You’re so cheesy,” Genevieve wrinkled her nose, but Miranda could tell how much she was enjoying Fletch’s attention. She wasn’t jealous. It was kind of cute how flirty Fletch could be.
“Please,” Fletch said theatrically. “I’m not cheesy, I’m crabby.” He said, picking up a tiny crab from a red plastic bucket that Alan had inexplicably decided to bring on board.
“Gross,” Miranda groaned and pushed his hand away. “I’m trying to concentrate. It’s not easy driving the party boat.” Miranda shook her head as she bypassed a blinking green-light channel marker, a sign that the route to Bloody Point was clear to pass. Darcy and Lydia were engaged in an intense conversation in the stern of the boat, Alan was double-fisting beers, and Alexa and Jeremiah were practically having sex on top of the cooler.
“Fletch, listen. Your girlfriend is laying down the claw,” Genevieve quipped, pressing her finger into Fletch’s bicep. Miranda giggled, despite herself. One of the things she’d noticed was that whenever Genevieve and Fletch were together around her, each seemed to try to compete for her attention, getting more silly, ridiculous, and straight-up absurd by the instant. It was kind of nice to be the center of two people’s universes, especially when her grandmother barely knew she existed.
“Seriously, if you don’t stop it, I’m going to raise some shell.” Miranda attempted her own lame joke. But before Genevieve and Fletch could react, the boat lurched forward. The crab flew out of Fletch’s hand and skittered across the floor and underneath the wheel hatch. Miranda yelped.
Miranda yanked the wheel, but it was stuck, unable to move backward or forward.
“What’s happening?” Genevieve screamed, grabbing Miranda’s shoulder.
“I think we hit a channel marker,” Fletch said, jumping to his feet. He reached over Miranda’s lap, frantically pushing the buttons on the console. The boat was rocking side to side. The thunder was rumbling closer, and bolts of lightning lit up the night sky.
“What happened?” Miranda asked shakily. The boat seemed fine, just stationary. The console was blinking, but the map wasn’t showing up, and she had no idea where in the sound they were.
“Were you watching the water?” Fletch asked accusingly.
“Yes,” Miranda said, locking eyes with Genevieve. Was I? She’d been joking about the crab, but even then, she’d been glancing at the console. There hadn’t been any sign they were going to hit anything.
Miranda felt a drop on her arm, then another. She looked up at the sky, which was covered with gray clouds. Thunder sounded again, much closer than just minutes previously.
“We have to go!” Genevieve said urgently, as another crack of thunder sounded. A bolt of lightning lit up the night sky, illuminating Fletch and Genevieve’s faces. They appeared terrified. Miranda’s heart was thumping in her chest, but she had no idea what she was supposed to do. Nothing like this had ever happened before. Roger had never given any lessons for what to do if everything stopped working. She hit the console a few more times. Nothing. Suddenly, rain began pouring from the sky.
“What the fuck? Guys?” Alan called from the back of the ship.
“Everything’s fine!” Miranda yelled. Suddenly, another clap of thunder sounded and Miranda heard a noise that sounded like fabric tearing. She whirled around to see a small plume of flames coming from the stern.
“Fire!” she shrieked. Her flip-flopped foot slid on the floor, which was filling with water. “Help!” Shrieks were coming from the back of the boat, but the downpour made it impossible to focus on who was screaming. Miranda knew she needed to get out, but where. And how?
“We’ve gotta swim!” Fletch yelled. “Guys, we’ve got to get out. Jump!” He yelled as he grabbed Miranda’s waist and picked her up. “You’ve gotta go,” he said roughly, trying to throw her overboard.
“No!” Miranda protested, terrified of the wild, churning water below. But Fletch didn’t listen, and hurled her over the edge. She landed with a splash just a few feet away from the boat. She could feel the heat from the flames. She thrashed and kicked as though she was drowning, even though she knew how to swim.
“Swim!” Fletch yelled, seeing Miranda’s distress. His hands were on Genevieve’s waist, about to toss her in as well. Genevieve was sobbing and Miranda wanted more than anything to just climb on the boat and do something.
“Go!” Fletch yelled, locking eyes with Miranda.
A wave rolled up and knocked Miranda away from the boat. She kicked and stroked, then surfaced and looked back.
She thought she could hear Darcy and Lydia shrieking, but the only thing she could see clearly was the fire, that only seemed to be getting larger and larger. Fletch was still on board, scrambling toward the back of the boat.
“Fletch!” she shrieked, but her scream was muffled as an enormous wall of water hit her.
And then water was everywhere. Underneath her, over her, inside her, drowning her from the inside out. She knew she was screaming, but knew no one could hear her.
Finally, she kicked herself to the surface. She gasped for breath, inhaling a mouthful of salt water. The boat was bobbing several body lengths away, its hull devoured in flames that seemed to dance on the ocean’s surface. She needed to get away. She kicked again, but this time, her foot seemed stuck, bound under the waves by an invisible force. The more she thrashed, the more her leg throbbed, and she realized that she was somehow tangling herself in the cables that anchored the channel marker below the surface of the water.
She was going to die. She was going to die, and Gen was going to die, and Fletch was going to die. She bobbed under a wave, but didn’t see any light at the end of the tunnel or any flashbacks of her life, or her parents waiting for her in heaven or somewhere. All she felt was panic, and sadness, and wishing more than anything that she had strong arms around her to comfort her and carry her to safety.
All of a sudden, she felt hands firmly grasp her hips. She kicked helplessly, and squirmed to find herself face to face with a boy. A sparkly-skinned boy with dark hair and wide-set blue eyes. Miranda reached for him, her head dropping against his warm shoulder. She had to be dead. This had to be an angel, or some type of escort to heaven or maybe even some weird sign that her brain wasn’t producing oxygen.
“Am I dead?” The words sounded fuzzy in her ears. “Did I die?” she asked again.
“Shhh,” he said, his voice sounding like it was coming from inside her brain and from the water all at once. “Shhh,” he said again, a hushed-lullaby sound that calmed Miranda. Suddenly, it didn’t matter whether or not she was dying. Suddenly, she didn’t feel the urge to fight her way to land. Compared to the last five minutes, death seemed simple.
“You’re safe,” he said. Miranda shook her head and clawed at her neck. Her mother’s heart necklace, engraved with Miranda and Teddy’s initials, felt as if it were choking her. Then unseen hands reached around her neck and smoothed the pendant. Miranda shivered, then relaxed as the boy carried her out of the water and laid her gently on the sand.
“Who are you?” she sputtered, expecting to hear that he was an angel, or a devil, or someone who was taking her to the world of the dead. But then, before she could say anything else, sleep enveloped her. And instead of fighting, she succumbed to it, her face turned up to the sky, wondering if her soul was already among the stars that were blinking above her.