The Getaway

It had been Shannon’s idea, of course. She was the one with the ideas lately. Eric went along with it, but dutifully and without enthusiasm, as a bit of flotsam in the tide, pitched to and fro without opinion or resistance. She hardly recognized him anymore.

She told herself it was all right, that she didn’t need him to be enthusiastic, she only needed him to come along and get away from the house and the memories that surged around them night and day, overwhelming them with sharp longing and caustic regret.

The house was torturous comfort since the accident; it was thick with Tilly’s presence yet unspeakably empty and they moved carefully through the hallways and rooms, floating like ghosts, filled with irrational hopes that they would turn a corner and she would be there, laughing into their haunted faces.

They had to get away, and it had to be as far removed as they could go. Not Gulf Shores, certainly, where they had vacationed since becoming a family. They needed somewhere they could begin again, make a fresh start. Shannon’s mind went immediately to Cayman Brac, where they had honeymooned a lifetime ago, a tiny island just over a mile wide in the vast Caribbean Sea.

Their honeymoon had been spent at an all-inclusive resort where they were attended every moment by smiling attendants bearing drinks to their ocean-side cabana, but this time Shannon didn’t want people around. The thought of being surrounded by frolicking vacationers made her feel slightly sick, so she turned to an online booking site and found a tiny cottage for rent situated atop the rocky shoreline a short walk from the lapping waves.

“It’s just perfect,” she told Eric, laying a hand on his shoulder where he sat, gazing out the window of his office. His laptop was open before him, a blank document on the screen, the cursor blinking expectantly. He hadn’t written a word that Shannon knew of since the accident, and she missed the sound of the keys filling the house; it always reminded her of Gene Kelly, tap-dancing his way across the television screen in the musicals they had enjoyed.

Eric nodded but said nothing, lifting a nearby bottle of whiskey to his lips and taking a sip. Shannon sighed and gathered the trash from the wastebasket—two more bottles (empty) and a congealing slice of pizza with two bites out of it. She frowned. Sausage and pineapple was his favorite, but he hadn’t been eating much. Most nights he fell asleep on the couch in an alcohol-hazed stupor, and she had given up helping him to bed.

The morning of the trip dawned and Shannon packed both their bags as Eric snored from the living room. Waking him was a challenge but he rubbed his eyes and got into the shower obediently, which she took as a good sign. The ride to the airport was a quiet one, but he smiled at her as she handed him his passport and ticket, and she felt hope stir in her chest.

“It will be nice to see the ocean again,” he said. “Thank you for arranging everything.”

“Let’s try to have a good time,” she answered, taking his hand. “Can you…try?”

“I’ll try,” he said, and Shannon almost believed him.

It was a hop to Miami, a skip to Grand Cayman, and a final jump on a propeller plane to the outermost island. Their companions on the plane numbered exactly ten, and Shannon could see the North star appearing in the darkening sky as their smiling, brown-skinned pilot navigated them over the glittering sea.

“Remember our honeymoon?” she shouted to Eric over the noise of the engines from the open windows. “You said you felt like Indiana Jones.”

Eric nodded and patted her hand.

“It was an adventure,” he said, leaning his head back and shutting his eyes. He was gaunt, the cheekbones standing out from his handsome face. In three months he had transformed, the robust man Shannon had always known melting into a frail stranger. He had been her pillar and strength for the ten years she had known him, carrying her through two miscarriages and the death of her father, his strong arms bearing her up when she thought she couldn’t go on.

Now that man was gone and she was left to watch, helpless, as he floundered in his sorrow. It bore down on her shoulders, mixing with her own grief, and she felt she might suffocate from the combined weight.

You can do this she chastised herself. Just be there for him, like he’s always been there for you. He’ll come out of it soon. You’ll see.

When they landed, he drove their rental car to the nearest liquor store and bought himself a bottle of rum.

“Gotta have rum when you’re in the Caribbean, right?” he said to the cashier in a jovial voice that made Shannon wince. It was foreign and forced, but the clerk only nodded, her dreadlocks swinging as she slipped the bottle into a paper sack.

“Ya mon,” she said with a smile. “You’re on island time now. Where you stay?”

“Just up the road,” Shannon said.

“I’ll be seeing you, then,” the girl said, waving them out.

The rental was a mere 800 square feet of space but Shannon didn’t care much about its interior; she dropped her bag and threw open the door to the deck. The sun was fully down now and the moon had not yet risen so the only light was the few twinkling stars and the incandescence that flooded out the doorway. She couldn’t see the sea but she could hear it, feel it, smell it, the enormity of it washing over her and causing her blood to thrum in recognition. She inhaled deeply and felt the fatigue of the long day ebb away.

“Eric, come out with me,” she called, turning towards the door. Eric was drawing a glass from the kitchen cupboards and opening the rum.

“Do you want some?” he asked.

“All right,” she said. She wasn’t sure she did but told herself she might as well save him from draining the entire bottle in one night. Eric poured the drinks and handed her a glass as he joined her, clinking it with his own before taking a generous gulp.

“To us?” Shannon said, sipping the rum and feeling the warmth spread through her chest.

“Sure,” Eric said. “To us. Whoever we are now.”

“Don’t say that. I’m still me. You’re still you.”

“I’m not sure who I am anymore,” Eric said. His face was shadowed by more than the night, the roar of the waves almost drowning out his words.

“It’s always ourselves we find in the sea,” Shannon said, the lines of the e.e. cumming poem rising to the surface of her mind. “Maybe we can find ourselves again here, darling. Please say we might.”

Eric sat heavily into a wooden chair on the deck and drained his glass. Shannon sat beside him as the moments passed, his silence somehow less frightening to her now that the ocean filled her ears.

“The waves are glowing,” she said, hoping to turn the conversation to a lighter topic. “What makes them do that?”

“Plankton,” Eric answered. “They’re bioluminescent. Like fireflies.”

“Fireflies in the ocean. That’s so cool.”

“Puerto Rico has the most bioluminescent bay in the world. You can swim in it at night, and every move makes them light up.”

“That sounds like fun. Maybe we should go there next.”

Eric didn’t answer but rose to fill his glass again. Shannon felt weary once more and poured her remaining rum over the side of the railing. She went to the kitchen and wrapped her arms around Eric.

“I’m going to bed,” she said. “Will you come soon?”

“Soon,” he said.


He kissed the top of her head and squeezed her.

“I promise.”

Waking up the next morning with Eric snoring beside her filled Shannon with hope.

It’s a good sign she thought.

It’s only because the love seat in the living room is too small for him

She squashed the unwelcome idea and made coffee, taking it onto the deck. The sun was rising and the sky was awash with pink and orange, clouds standing on the Eastern horizon like ministers heralding the arrival of their solar sovereign. The waves broke against the shoreline as birds poked amidst the pools, searching for their breakfast in the thousands of rocky pockets where marine creatures might be trapped.

Eric emerged, yawning into his coffee cup, and Shannon smiled, delighted that he was up so early.

“Isn’t it beautiful?” she said, sweeping one arm towards the water. “I’ve missed it.”

Eric nodded and sat, Shannon pulling her chair close to his as she joined him.

“Remember the octopuses?” she asked. “Remember how they would hide in the rocks and change color if we got too close?”

“I remember,” he said.

“I felt like I was six years old again, seeing them. They were so new to me.”

“People are like trees,” Eric said, leaning his head back and closing his eyes. “All the people we ever were are still inside us, like rings.”

“That’s a beautiful thought,” Shannon said. “You should write a poem about it.”

Eric grunted.

“Anyway, I can’t wait to get out there and get my feet wet,” Shannon continued. “Come on, let’s get breakfast.”

Together they found their way to a tiny restaurant a short walk up the road, where they ate fried plantains and scrambled eggs on the patio and watched pelicans and terns skimming the water. Shannon was encouraged by Eric’s empty plate, thinking that perhaps the ocean air would help him find his appetite.

Back at the house they put on water shoes, swimsuits, and sun hats and made their way to the edge of the rocks jutting over the sea, where a ladder affixed to the stones led down to the water. They stooped to examine the many holes in the ironshore to find the various animals hiding there, but though they found starfish and anemones and small darting fish, there were no octopuses, to Shannon’s disappointment.

They climbed higher, onto a small outcropping, panting slightly with the effort but marveling at the view spreading below them.

“Look over there,” Eric said, pointing at a cliff to their left. A large hole opened out at its base and they picked their way to it, Eric turning the flashlight on his phone so they could see inside. It was big enough to allow them to enter and Eric stepped through the opening, stooping slightly, Shannon behind him. The floor sloped downward and light shone from somewhere ahead. They pressed on.

Turning a corner, Eric came to an abrupt halt, putting his arm out to stop her. Shannon peered over his shoulder and saw an opening leading to a churning dark pool ten feet below them where the ocean poured in, seething and angry.

“Whoa,” she said over the roar. “That’s kind of scary.”

“But look,” Eric said, pointing at their feet. “There are steps carved here.”

“Who would want to go down there?” Shannon said. “It would be suicide.”

Eric said nothing, and Shannon was startled by the look on his face. It was something between fear and longing as he leaned forward further, and she had a sudden image of him pitching into the cavern and disappearing beneath the waves. She put her hand on his arm.

“Come away,” she said. “You’re too close.”

Eric turned, his face once again composed, and led them back to the entrance, where they squinted at the bright sky.

“I’m going to swim,” Shannon said. “Are you coming?”

“I’ll watch you,” he answered as they returned to the shoreline behind the cottage. Shannon took a breath and dove off the rocks, glorying at the feel of the cool, clear water against her skin. As she came up for air, she called to Eric.

“We’ll have to get some snorkel gear later.”

“And some groceries,” he called back.

Shannon frog-kicked her way out past the breaking waves, feeling energized as she floated on her back. The sun was higher now and warmed her face as she gazed into the sky.

Tilly would have loved this she thought, and her heart squeezed again in the grip of her grief. The accident had taken her daughter in an instant, even as she and Eric had suffered only bruises and scrapes, a gross injustice she still couldn’t believe. Tears rose in her eyes and mixed with the saltwater beneath her.

You’ve got to be strong she told herself, taking a long, shuddering sigh. For Eric. He needs you to be strong. Save your tears for the therapist’s office.

Eric refused to go to therapy with her, though she told him it would help him work through his pain, as it had for her. She could be vulnerable there, and it was an oasis in the midst of the emptiness of Tilly’s absence. Still, the anguish ebbed and flowed, threatening to consume her at times.

If only he would share what he’s feeling with me she thought. We’re supposed to lean on each other, aren’t we?

Frustration welled up and she frowned. It would do no good to be angry with him, she knew. It would only make things worse.

With a sigh she stroked back to the shore and stood dripping over her husband as she squeezed out her hair. He squinted up at her.

“You ready to head back?” he asked. “It’s getting hot.”

“The water feels great,” she said. “You should come in next time.”

Together they went back to the cottage and cleaned up before climbing back into the rental car to buy groceries and grab lunch at the café. As Shannon expected, Eric pulled into the liquor store parking lot before returning to the house.

“I’ll just be a minute,” he said. To Shannon’s dismay he came out with multiple bottles of rum, which he placed carefully on the floorboards. He gave Shannon a wink, suddenly cheerful, though she suspected it was only from the knowledge that soon he would be comfortably numb.

She spent the rest of the day exploring the shoreline and swimming, Eric resisting her entreaties to join her, preferring to sit on the deck and drink. He promised to come along the next day and she tried to believe it, but her heart was a heavy weight in her chest even as she gathered shells and took pictures of the scenery. As dusk fell, she returned to the porch and found Eric dozing in the rocking chair. She gently shook him awake.

“Shall I make us some dinner?” she asked as he looked up at her with bleary eyes.

She made crab cakes, a delicacy she knew he loved, but as she set them before him at the table he shook his head, pouring the last of a bottle into his glass.

“I’m not real hungry,” he said, his words thick and drowsy.

“Please, honey,” Shannon said. “You need to eat something.”

“I’m not hungry,” he repeated.

Anger welled in Shannon’s chest and she tried to stuff it back down. This time, however, it refused to stay contained and she rose to scrape his portion into the trash before putting the plate into the sink with a clatter.

“That’s just fine,” she said bitterly. “You just go ahead and drink yourself into a stupor again. Don’t mind me, trying my best to hold everything together. To hold us together.”

“I never asked you to do that,” he said with a shrug. “I don’t know why you’re trying so hard. It doesn’t matter anymore.”

“It matters to me,” she cried. “You matter to me! Don’t I matter to you?”

Eric slammed his glass down, suddenly animated. He glared at Shannon with a fury that startled her.

“What matters to me is that I can’t figure out how to stop waking up,” he shouted. “That I’m too much of a coward to just stop this goddamn heart of mine from beating. That I can’t stop this goddamn brain of mine from thinking! Thinking about her! Thinking about that night, how she’d still be alive if we had just left a little later, or earlier, or not at all, or if I’d driven slower, or faster! How if the bastard that hit us had just had one more drink and stayed at the bar or taken a taxi!”

“You can’t change the past,” she shouted back. “You have to figure out how to move forward!”

“You’re hilarious,” he muttered, subdued again as he drained his glass.

He rose to open a new bottle of rum and she reached for him.

“Please, Eric—”

“Just leave me alone,” he said, shaking her off and going to the deck, where he stood in the dark, back to her. Shannon began to cry but he didn’t turn around. She went to the bedroom and buried her face in the pillow to stifle her sobs until she fell asleep, despair and sorrow swallowing her up.

Waking in the early morning, Shannon felt the urgent need to repair the rift she felt between herself and Eric, to take back the words she had said and tell him that he wasn’t alone in his grief, to tell him that she struggled every day too, to tell him that together they would make it through to the other side. She washed her face hastily, grimacing at her image in the mirror, her swollen eyes a testimony to her restless night.

Eric wasn’t folded onto the loveseat, nor was he asleep in a chair on the deck. Shannon swept the shoreline with a glance, stepping out further to examine the surroundings but seeing no sign of her husband.

“Eric!” she called into the wind. There was no answer. She went around the side of the house to the front, but he was not on the lawn, nor on the road that stretched towards the café, and town. She pulled out her phone and punched his number, but the rings soon became his voicemail, and she felt a steadily growing panic rising in her chest.

In a flash, the image of Eric’s face as he stared into the flooded cavern came to her, and his words from the night before echoed in her mind.

I’m too much of a coward to stop this heart from beating

“No,” she murmured, her hand over her mouth. “He wouldn’t...”

She darted into the house to slip on her shoes before descending the porch steps and running over the ironshore to the cliff, screaming Eric’s name as she went. She clambered inside the cave and stood panting for a moment as her eyes acclimated. An empty bottle of rum lay at her feet.

“Eric,” she cried, the sound bouncing off the walls of the cavern and coming back to her. She switched on her phone and made her way forward until she stood looking down into the hole that led to the churning ocean.

She blinked, confused.

Instead of water, a bright swath of sand shone in a brilliant ray of sunshine below her, and the steps etched in the rocks led all the way down to meet it. Shannon wasted no time in thought, not stopping to wonder at the phenomenon, her only thought finding Eric, alive and whole. She descended the steps, still calling his name.

As her feet touched the ground, her voice died in her throat. Sunlight slanted through the wide doorway of the cave before her, the walls arching upward like the nave of a cathedral, and she suddenly felt like a princess at a wedding. She walked forward, bare feet in the sand, imagining the cheers of her subjects as she exited onto a wide, glittering beach, the ocean lapping on the shoreline some distance away. Cliffs rose behind her, their rugged faces stretching into the sky.

What had she been doing? She frowned, trying to remember. She had been calling to someone, but who? It didn’t seem important. Her eyes swept her surroundings and she saw a small figure stooping at the water’s edge. It was a boy, digging in the sand. She went to meet him and he stood when he saw her.

“Hello,” Shannon said, looking up into his face. It was a nice face, she thought, but kind of sad. His eyes were dark and his brown curls were blowing in the cool breeze from the ocean.

“Hi,” he said, brushing his hair back. “Who are you?”

“I’m Shannon,” she said. “What’s your name?”

“Eric,” he answered. “Where’s your mommy and daddy?”

“I don’t know. Where are yours?”

“Somewhere around here,” the boy said, shrugging. He seemed unconcerned and Shannon found it hard to care, herself. “I’m sure they’ll be back soon. Anyway, look what I found.”

He held out his hand to reveal the spiral of a striped shell. It was broken on the end and the hollow was creamy white. Shannon took it and poked her finger into the opening, feeling the silky-smooth interior.

“It’s real pretty,” she said, handing it back.

“You can have it,” he said. She smiled and slipped it into the pocket of her pink shorts.

“How old are you?” she asked.

“Six. How old are you?”

“I’m six too. Come on, let’s look for more shells.”

Shannon spent the next hour in joyful exploration of the water’s edge with her new friend, and together they found handfuls of broken clams and pieces of sand dollars and dozens of tiny, hinged shells.

“Look at all the colors,” she said, spreading them on the sand in tidy rows as Eric sat beside her. “Purple, and pink, and orange. The stripey ones are my favorite.”

Eric picked one up, the purple rays spreading from the center to the edges. He nodded.

“Mine too,” he said. “They look like butterflies.”

“Or angel wings,” Shannon said.

“There are some rock pools over there,” the boy said, pointing along the beach. “Let’s see if there’s anything in them.”

They examined the pools one by one, disappointed to find very little hiding there, until they came to the largest at the very end and peered in. It was pockmarked with many small caverns, and as they looked, the water rippled.

“There’s something in there, see?” Eric said. “What is it?”

“I can’t tell,” Shannon answered, squinting. “It’s hiding real deep.”

The boy reached his hand into the water and Shannon grabbed his arm.

“Don’t,” she said, frowning. “You don’t know what it is.”

Eric grinned and shook her off gently.

“It’s fine,” he said, and she marveled at his courage.

He poked his finger into the opening and snatched it back again.

“What is it?” Shannon cried.

“Something blew water at me,” he said, eyes wide.

As they stared, the something stretched from the opening, unfurling and exploring the surrounding rock.

“Snakes,” Shannon said, recoiling.

“No,” Eric said, excitement rising in his voice. “It’s an octopus.”

Shannon looked again as the creature emerged from its hiding place, its fist-sized body undulating in the water as its bulbous eyes fixed them with a look of suspicion and irritation, or at least Shannon imagined so. As they watched, it moved closer, the mottled skin rippling with blues and greens as it came. A burst of water broke the surface and sprayed both of them.

“See? It’s blowing water,” Eric said, laughing.

“It wants us to go away,” Shannon said, unnerved. “Maybe it’s scared.”

“It’s not scared,” Eric chuckled. “It’s so cool.”

Shannon held her breath as the boy reached his hand cautiously into the pool, inching his way towards the alien creature. It sat, waving its tentacles as his fingers came closer.

“Eric, no,” Shannon whispered.

“I just wanna touch it,” Eric said.

Suddenly the octopus shot forward, its body changing from blue to orange in an instant, its arms coiling and uncoiling like a tiny boxer about to start a fight. Eric snatched his hand out of the water with a yelp as the creature sat, rippling with bright colors, staring at him. The boy started to laugh, a bubbly, infectious sound that Shannon couldn’t help joining in with.

“You made it mad,” she giggled.

The octopus, seemingly satisfied with the lesson it had taught, turned and disappeared back into its crevice until not even a tentacle could be seen.

“Aw,” Eric said, still chuckling. “I guess we should leave it alone now.”

“Yes,” Shannon said, relieved that he would bother the animal no more. “Let’s leave it alone.”

They left the rocks and walked back to the beach, where they stood in the surf as it whisked the sand from the soles of their feet. Eric sighed.

“I wish Tilly was here,” he said, his voice mournful. “She would have liked that octopus.”

Shannon looked at him, surprised at his turn of mood. His face was dark and sad. The name Tilly stirred something within her, a memory that almost broke the surface of her mind before fading away just as quickly.

“Who’s Tilly?” she asked.

“She was my friend,” Eric answered, his eyes filling with tears. “She died. I miss her really a lot,” He turned from Shannon to scrub his face and her heart twisted in her chest. She reached for his hand. It was warm and strangely familiar in her grasp and he didn’t pull away. She squeezed it.

“That’s sad,” she said. “I’m sorry.”

They were quiet then, Eric staring out over the ocean, Shannon staring up at him. An idea came to her in a burst of inspiration.

“How about you make a sandcastle,” she said. “For Tilly. Make the best one you can. I’ll help you.”

Eric turned back to her, forehead creased and lips pursed. Shannon thought perhaps he was upset with her but then he smiled.

“That’s a good idea,” he said.

Together, they heaped damp sand into an enormous pile and began to craft it into a tower and walls, scooping and patting as they worked. Shannon let Eric decide on the design, following his orders to sculp ramparts and battlements in various places until the miniature medieval monument rose from the beach. They dug a moat to surround it until finally they sat back on their heels, panting a little from their efforts.

“It’s good,” Eric said, wiping sweat from his brow with the back of his hand.

“It’s the best sandcastle I’ve ever seen,” Shannon agreed. “Wait here.”

She ran up the beach to where the collection of butterfly shells lay, gathering them up in her hands and running back to deposit them on the sand between them.

“For decoration,” she said, and Eric smiled. They set about placing the shells into the turrets and towers until Eric was satisfied that the castle was well and truly finished. They stood, brushing sand from their knees, and viewed the results of their combined efforts. Shannon gave Eric a sidelong glance and was happy to see that he was nodding, his face thoughtful..

“It looks like the real thing,” he said. “Thanks for helping me.”

“For Tilly,” Shannon said, taking his hand again.

“For Tilly,” he said.

A wave washed over their feet, filling the moat with water and leaving behind a trail of foam as it returned to the ocean. Shannon turned and saw with some alarm that the beach was now half the size it had been, eaten up by the rising tide. Another wave surged forward, covering her ankles, and she heard Eric cry out in dismay.

“It’s knocking the towers down,” he said. “Shannon, help me!”

The water had melted half of the first wall and reduced two of the towers to mere domes, and Eric was piling more sand on top of them in a frantic attempt to rebuilt them. Shannon knelt beside him and tried to shape them again but the sea was a ruthless foe, sending wave after wave in an endless onslaught against their creation. Soon half the castle was gone and the water was rushing past their knees with each surge.

“It’s no use,” Shannon said. “It’s just going to keep coming.”

“No,” Eric shouted, giving her a fierce look. “We can’t give up! It’s for Tilly!”

He lifted a handful of sand but as he did so a tremendous wave left the entire construction a simple mound on the beach. Shannon backed away from the swirling water, frightened by its sudden ascent, and stood on the small ridge of rocks lying against the base of the cliff. Eric looked at the castle ruins in shock, mouth hanging open, his features hardening.

“Dammit!” he erupted. Shannon gasped at the curse word but Eric was heedless to her shock and instead waded into the ocean, shouting. “Damn stupid ocean! Damn! Stupid! Ocean!”

With each exclamation he punched the water as it came but the ocean took no notice of his rage, instead sending a wave straight into his face and knocked him over.

“Eric!” Shannon cried as his form disappeared beneath the foam. For an instant she thought he had been carried out to sea but to her immense relief he rose to his feet again, sputtering.

“Eric, be careful,” she called. “The water’s getting really high.”

He stared at her, the anger draining from his face as it crumpled into sorrow. He struggled through the rising surf to her side as he began to cry, his tears mixing with the saltwater running out of his hair.

“It was for Tilly,” he gasped, collapsing against her.

“I know,” she said, putting her arms around him as he sank onto the stones beside her and put his head on his knees.

“She’s never coming back,” he said through his sobs. “I miss her. I miss her but she’s never coming back and I’ll never see her again and I don’t know what to do. Who’s going to be my friend now?”

“I’ll be your friend, Eric,” Shannon said, putting her arm around his shoulders. Tears prickled in her own eyes as she felt the enormity of his grief sweep over her. “I’ll always be your friend, always. It will be all right. You’ll see. I’ll help you.”

Eric cried harder, gripping her hand and quaking as he leaned against her. She patted him and didn’t try to say anything more. Sometimes, she thought, it was good to just sit with somebody when they were sad. Feeling alone was the worst thing. She rocked slightly as her mother did with her when she was crying, and waited for the sobs to lessen.

 As the moments ticked by, she couldn’t help eyeing the ocean with a steadily growing apprehension. The beach was now a mere sliver, and the water was closer to the rocks with every wave.

“Do you…do you know how to swim, Eric?” she asked.

“What?” he asked. He scrubbed his eyes and sighed.

“I don’t know how to swim,” she said. “Do you?”

“No. I never learned yet.”

Shannon looked right and left. There was nothing to their left but the cliffside. To the right, there was a trail of boulders leading around the corner of the cliff face. She had a vague memory of a cave there, and stairs. Perhaps they could get to safety.

“The water isn’t stopping. We have to get away, fast. Can you get up? I think…I think there’s a cave over there, and stairs that go up. Maybe we can get there.”

For the first time, Eric seemed to notice their predicament. He looked down at the sea, spray now splashing their toes, and nodded.

“There is a cave,” he said. “I came out of it this morning.”

Shannon stood up.

“Let’s see if we can reach it.”

“Wait,” Eric said, still clinging to her hand. His eyes were wide and luminous as he looked up at her. “Do you…do you really mean it? You’ll be my friend? For always?”

“I meant it,” Shannon answered. “I think Tilly would want us to be friends, don’t you?”

“She would,” Eric said. “And I think, if you’ll be my friend, it will be better. Not all fixed, but better. I think…maybe I might be all right if you’re my friend.”

“I’m glad. Let’s be friends forever, okay?”


Eric stood beside her just as the water rushed up and licked at their feet.

“We better hurry,” he said. “Follow me.”

Together they stepped from stone to stone, concentrating on their balance as the rocks became increasingly slippery with salty spray. Shannon was well and truly frightened now, the ocean no longer her friend but an angry stranger determined to gobble her and Eric up.

They reached the corner of the cliff and turned to enter the cave. Peering across it, Shannon could see the stone staircase stretching up into a dark hole above.

“There it is,” she gasped. Eric only nodded. They could not cross the distance, as the cavern was completely filled with the churning sea now.

“We’ll have to go around on the rocks,” Eric shouted over the roar.

He flattened himself against the wall of the cave with his arms out and Shannon did the same. Slowly they made their way around its perimeter. Shannon was trying to quell the rising dread in her stomach but every step became more and more harrowing as the water began to cover her bare feet. Finally, they reached the staircase. Eric reached the second step and turned as Shannon reached the first.

A massive surge swept her feet out from under her. With a cry, she fell into the water, flailing. Eric leapt down and she managed to grab his outstretched hand. It was slippery but strong, and he pulled her closer, but not close enough. The swirling water was determined to keep her for itself. She cried out but her mouth filled with saltwater and she began to choke.

“Kick,” Eric shouted, his face red with effort. “You can do it!”

His hand was only gripping her fingers now and she kicked with all her might.

With a massive effort and the help of a sudden surge of water that swept her nearer, she reached her other hand out and found a cleft in the craggy surface of the step. She pulled herself up to her waist with Eric’s help, his hands beneath her arms, but she found she could go no further, the ocean tugging relentlessly at her lower half.

“I can’t do it,” she wept. “I’m not strong enough.”

“You have to,” Eric cried. “Don’t leave me alone!”

A massive wave tore into the cave and washed her into Eric’s arms, lifting them higher, and higher still, until they were almost to the ceiling of the cavern. Shannon screamed as they clung to one another, closing her eyes against the certainty of death. The water sucked at her body and she felt them both being pulled beneath the surface, gripping one another as they sank.

Darkness, and a steady roar.

Water in her lungs, a suffocating weight.

A faint light filtering through her eyelids.


Shannon sat up, coughing and gasping for air, eyes wide in the dim surroundings. A form lay beside her, a man with a familiar face.


She crawled to him and shook him.

“Eric! Eric, wake up,” she cried. She patted his cheeks and placed her head on his chest, holding her breath to listen, weeping with relief when she heard the pounding of his heart. She shook him, rougher this time, and he groaned, rolled over, and threw up a massive quantity of seawater. He turned to her with wide eyes.

“Shannon?” he said. She reached for him in response and they fell into each other’s arms, laughing and crying.

“You were little,” he said, lifting her face in wonder. “Just a little girl. And I was a boy. Do you remember?”

“I remember,” she said, stroking his cheek. “Is this heaven?”

“This is the top of the stairs,” he said, smiling. “I don’t think we’re dead.”

Together they crawled to peer down the steps. The churning sea was there, a dark kettle of doom, and they stared at one another before sitting back on their heels.

“Was it a dream?” Eric asked.

Shannon shook her head, drawing from her pocket a broken shell, its smooth white interior glimmering in the half-light.

“I don’t think so,” she said. Eric pulled her to him again and she leaned into him, marveling at his solid form, his strong arms around her, his very realness.

“I thought I’d lost you,” he murmured into her wet hair. “I thought I’d lost you and I knew I couldn’t. I couldn’t lose you too. Shannon, I’m sorry. I know I’ve been awful.”

“You were hurting,” she said. “I knew that.”

“But you’ve been hurting too. I’ve been selfish.”

She pressed his head to her chest as they rocked each other, their tears falling to the stones beneath them, mingling. Eventually, Eric straightened and took her face in his hands.

“Will you be my friend again?” he said. “If you’ll be my friend, I think I’ll be okay.”

“Yes, Eric,” she said, smiling though her tears. “It’s what Tilly would have wanted, isn’t it?”

“You’re right,” he said. “It is.”

He kissed her then, his warm lips against hers, and Shannon felt as though there had never been anything but this, she and Eric, sitting on the floor in the middle of a cave in the tiny island of Cayman Brac, floating in the center of the cerulean Caribbean Sea, sharing one another’s grief, Tilly’s memory close enough to touch.

Friends, forever.