I lay on the bowsprit, my favorite haunt at sea, willing phosphorescence to appear in the navy blue waters of the Atlantic. Mom’s words rolled around in my head, Do you think I should divorce your dad? Our family could use a little luminescence.
Wind danced around me and kicked up swells of ocean.
I licked the salt from my lips and tightened my grip, my eyes glued to the chop several feet below my chin. I’d bag my bright plankton.
The sun wouldn’t set for another hour, but a grim sky grayed the light and shadowed the water. I glanced at the rain in the distance—a thousand parallel lines pulling cloud to sea.
Red sky at morning, sailors take warning. Dad’s colorblind eyes read stop lights by position. No wonder he’d ignored the dawn. Was he any better at reading Mom?
Wind gusted against our sails and careened us forward. The Annie Lee keeled at an acute angle—something I’d learned in sixth grade last week at Saint Hugh’s. The bowsprit bucked beneath me, goose bumps formed on my skin, but I held fast. God’s sea lights would show themselves any second.
A hand grabbed my calf.
I looked over my shoulder at Mom, her short hair whipping a dark halo around her head. Her free hand waved me off the bowsprit.
I made my way along the high side of the fore cabin, now slick with sea spray, in a half crouch. Dad hadn’t gotten around to installing lifelines, and I had no desire to plummet into an angry sea—the visible or the invisible—that floated our family.
Instead of joining my parents and my little brother in the cockpit, I continued onto the aft deck, determined to score my miracle in the smooth water behind the Annie Lee. I dropped to my knees, fingers clamping onto the wet gunwale. I shivered and balled my body against the bluster of the squall.
We came about and I nearly pitched over the stern. Pin pricks of adrenaline shot through my body like the rain needling my scalp and the back of my neck. I peeked over the aft cabin.
Mom and R.J. had gone below.
Dad, who had loomed larger than life for twelve years, stood a small, yellow-slickered sentry against the storm’s fury.
The rain came down in knives, now, and everything but my stomach was soaked.
I stood, defeat sinking inside like ballast, and took a step toward the fore cabin.
Dad’s parental eyes-in-the-back-of-his-head spotted me, and he yelled something the wind snatched away. But there was no mistaking the neon arm motion that said, Get below now! Do not skirt the safety-rail-less aft cabin. Do not collect two hundred dollars.
So, I descended into the gloom of my jail, peeled off my wet clothes, and exchanged them for dry.
The dregs of the day crept through the crack in the hatch, too faint to find my flashlight. I felt gingerly across the rumpled sheets, holding my breath, lest I shake hands with The Spider.
There. Between the hull and my foam rubber mattress, my fingers curled around the cool metal. My thumb shoved the button forward, and an anemic beam shone on the transom—dimmed by too many hours of Nancy Drew after lights out.
I reached for the stack of library books against the bulkhead and tossed The Spider Sapphire Mystery aside. Maybe I’d use it to smash The Spider in the unlikely event I got the courage before the books were due on Tuesday.
I grabbed the top book and propped myself against the bulkhead.
My flashlight beam grew fainter as the Annie Lee thrashed harder against the waves. The boat creaked and shuddered, and I couldn’t help but remember Dad gluing and nailing the boards of the hull together, coating them with fiberglass and resin. Were they strong enough to pass this test?
Would my family pass their test?
For the two years we’d sailed the Annie Lee, my confidence in Dad’s ability to protect us had never wavered. But tonight, fear tasted like I’d licked the metal casing of my flashlight.
My light died, and I clutched Race Against Time to my chest. I curled on my side under the sheet, a picture of my family swimming for land we couldn’t see chilling me in the stuffy cabin.
My stomach rolled, and whatever switch had turned off after I threw up on my desk in second grade kept my dinner down.
I curled against the hull, my knees drawn up to my chest, my ear inches from the water. I knew a lot of prayers, but none seemed appropriate. A rusty, off-book plea shot heavenward. God, get us home safely.
The Annie Lee crested a wave and thumped down hard on the water. My head clunked against the hull. Irked, I quit my prayer, lay down, and concentrated on not puking. My eyes clenched shut.
I woke to the flat of Dad’s hand smacking against the top of the aft cabin.
We still bobbed and bounced, but the storm’s violence was spent.
I hauled my still queasy stomach out of the cabin, and saw the lights of the marina. Home.
Mom took the helm while Dad jockeyed the ten-horse Johnson outboard down the transom into the water.
R.J. readied the bow line.
I knelt atop the fore cabin ready to let down the mainsail.
Our family worked together in smooth water, but we blew apart when things got rough.
I glanced at the bay, rushing past our hull.
Phosphorescence winked at me. Once. Twice.
The light was always there—even when I couldn’t see it.
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