Steve grabs my hand, ignoring my half-finished sandwich. “We’ll go on the ski so all you have to do is hang on tight.” He’s speaking more to Daniel than he is to me. I’m not sure why I don’t insist on staying put when he’s so obviously using me. I guess I want to be a little obnoxious, too, to see what Daniel would do to keep me with him. The answer is: nothing.
Riding out, we bounce over the incoming waves, my arms in a vice grip around Steve’s waist. It’s like hanging onto a steel pole. There isn’t a single inch of flab or soft skin, just muscle, rock solid, almost difficult to think of as part of a human. About the time I think my head’s going to snap off from all that bouncing we arrive at the trough of peaceful water that sits alongside the break. This is where surfers line up waiting for the right wave, Steve explains.
He idles the Jet Ski and we sit, gently rocking in the current, watching the waves roll in, gathering lumps from completely calm water until the lumps rise and crest and rumble forward toward their collapse.
It’s quite a thing being a few feet away from all that power. I don’t understand how it works or where it comes from but I feel it inside me, the proximity of danger just waiting to reach out and suck me into its clutches just like someday the Vanguard will find me and I’ll face judgement.
Or maybe I’ll stay here forever on this little strip of calm beside the break, aware but safe. I enjoy the waves for only a few minutes before my mind wanders back to the beach and I ask what he and Riley were arguing about.
“Arguing?” Like he’s already forgotten.
“I’m tired of Dan making excuses. He just needs to get over himself and do it.”
He hesitates. “Mom isn’t going to keep Poppy here anymore. She wants one of her friends to move in while she’s doing her recovery thing.”
“Poppy doesn’t live with you?”
“Are you kidding? A kid at our place?” He laughs. “Hey, that looks like a good one.”
“Good one for what?”
“Wife, today you’re going to fly. Ready?”
We leave the safety of the trench and maneuver into position between the incoming waves. Probably there is a lot of technical information I’m not aware of that Steve is calculating in order to do what he’s about to do but all I know is we’re in the line of fire. About where we were idling a minute or two ago there was a rising mound of water. Here it comes again. It tilts us sideways and passes as Steve shifts the engine and speeds forward to catch it.
Rise, rise, rise, I’m pretty sure the air even gets colder whistling around my ears. Suddenly we’re at the top, end of the ride. The ski plunges nose first down the face of the wave, skidding a little, having trouble gripping the water as its going one direction and we’re going another with my stomach in my throat.
At the bottom, Steve straightens out and gains traction running parallel to the wave, at times tilting up into it. The sun disappears. I raise my hands with my eyes and watch stupefied as the wave crests and tunnels over us. On one side a roaring grey wall surges upward. On the other, not quite blocking out my view of the beach, feathery, throat-clogging, white falls with increasing speed, chasing us.
My lifted fingers catch the ceiling and are thrust along the trajectory of the surge, I almost lose my balance pulling them in. It lasts hours, or minutes, I’m not sure. This place defies an application of our limited human understanding. The lines we cut to make the universe feasible to our small lives. Here a human can be caught up and carried without a thought. There’s nothing to stop this power from shifting beneath the ski and swallowing us whole.
It isn’t a monster, or an unspeakable evil, but unadulterated energy, a life force surrounding me without any thought to consider its actions or debate right or wrong. If it consumes me nothing will change. I cannot help but laugh one moment and scream the next knowing there is nothing to control, I am merely here, weightless, soaring, with the ocean beside, above, and behind, reaching to take me in.
The ski shoots out of the tunnel just before the crest collapses in on itself. I’m breathless, not even able to see properly as my blood scatters through its veins unable to tell where it should be going, surprised by the reintroduction of gravity.
I drag myself up the beach, not even far enough that my feet are out of the water. I forget to care that I’m gathering sand in my hair like the tongs of a mop. I don’t realize one of my breasts has come free of its cup until Mrs. Helston points it out. Even then, my embarrassment is muted by the rush of elation coursing through me.
“Jane, suit check!” she calls from her encampment further up the beach. I stagger up surprised she’s alone. To my questioning look she replies, “Daniel took Poppy home. She has her piano lesson in an hour.”
This explains the mysterious presence of that keyboard in the living room.
“It was Daniel’s idea, the lessons,” says Mrs. Helston. “Obviously we don’t normally go in for that kind of thing. But variety is good I suppose in case something doesn’t work out….” She trails off, her eyes distant, seeing an alternative past.
“Anyhow, it’s over and done with now. The important thing is to move on. What are we going to do about this husband of yours? Is there a past history of violence? I’m sure a restraining order isn’t too hard to get.”
“It’s not that. He’s not violent with me. It just didn’t work out.”
“So divorce him. Although breaking into your condo when you’ve been apart five years could still be grounds for a restraining order. I’ve had one or two of those in my time. It’s nice for a woman to know she’s still got what it takes to drive a man insane, right?”
Riley is back on the water surfing with Steve on the Jet Ski. Even from this distance I can tell they aren’t talking. One might as easily not be there for all the attention the other pays. He zooms with his tail of water and churning foam trailing behind. She glides, a silent, effortless joining with the waves.
“With a divorce I think you’d have to go back to the state that married you or something like that.”
“I’m never going back.”
Mrs. Helston arches a considering eyebrow of surprise at my vehemence. “Well I’m sure you have your reasons. But a man who breaks into your house...you can’t run from that forever.”
I can try. But yes, now that Brandon, or someone, has come this close, several long avoided questions are unavoidable. The primary one being, how far will I go?
“I’ve done some things I’m not proud of. The people back home…it’s like I’m a criminal and if I go back I’m not sure what they’ll do.”
Mrs. Helston scoots toward me with eyes widened by curiosity. She wants the juicy details but I can’t imagine how she would understand. In her world what I did is what any woman might have done as her prerogative. I finger the necklace Brandon gave me.
“I married the wrong man.”
“Dearie, that’s not a crime.”
There are many kinds of crimes but Mrs. Helston isn’t the kind of person to get into that kind of discussion with. I put her off until it’s time to go back to the house. Thinking about home has made me lonely. It’s harder to feel any kind of belonging among the Helston’s with that other world pulled so vividly to the forefront. By comparison, they feel so simple, so careless of their actions, not burdened with the responsibilities of faith. I will never be like them; God is too real, Satan too close. Steve would have a good laugh if he knew what I think about.
Daniel is up guarding the third floor tower. At first I think I’ll go up and join him. The quiet solitude is appealing and I wonder about that room with all the pillows. No one seems to use it much. It’s another one of those things about the house that feels out of synch. But I worry Daniel sits there because he wants to be alone. I shouldn’t bother him. Maybe he’s there to escape me.
I cover my isolation by playing the piano, feeling an entirely new connection to the music since spying on yesterday’s recording session. I have my headphones plugged into my phone listening to the music as I play. I don’t hear the doorbell.
When Mrs. Helston lays her hand on my shoulder I worry I’m too loud and adjust the keyboard volume, then I notice two policemen standing in the front entryway, dripping because it’s started raining again.
“They want to ask you some questions.”