Ch. 25 In the Water

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***Russell

Russell had seen Beth's polka dot bikini bottoms (okay, he had been checking out her ass frequently) in the bay while she was snorkeling. He had felt a pang of guilt that she had to do it alone, but there was one last person he had to talk to while he still could.

Erica.

He wasn't saying goodbye. They were past goodbyes and misunderstandings, past any hurts that he had come to the islands with another woman. But he wanted a moment with Erica on the waves, in the sun, alive and vibrant in his heart. The only thing alive in his heart for so many years.

She was always with him, but this was the first place that he could sense her. This yearning to experience bitterness, burning, fist-clenching pain and rage for the first time since she left him—eyes closed and lips parted—surprised him. But he had no choice but to go to her on the water. Anything to relieve the aching emptiness for a moment and to be near her. He watched the beach and bay while he surfed, letting his anger and pain flow through him with the waves.

He had actually had flutters in his gut seeing Beth stretched out on the towel as he left. Flutters for a woman. She had succeeded in waking his body when he thought it had been shut and sealed like the coffin around Erica's broken body.

Conflicting desires and emotions wrapped around his chest, waging war. Hollow ache versus driving need for Beth. But anger was rearing its ugly head along with any desires he felt. He could not face that. He would leave it on the island when he left and ignore the shouts for him to open his eyes to the world around him before he lost it, too.

The deal with Beth for the trip here was one night together and it had already gone on for too long. He scanned the bay area, looking for her. He didn't notice her as he paddled his board towards the beach, so he sought out the towels and bag they had left. She must have finished swimming, he thought. He reached the shallows and stood.

She wasn't on the beach, either and the bag with her snorkel gear lay flat and empty. He suddenly remembered her telling him that she was not a strong swimmer. He spun around, board under his arm to squint into the glares from beyond the bay. There were only a couple of surfers off to the right, and off to the left....Something floating? Someone far from shore?

He shot forward, stomach flat on the board.

***Beth

A couple of minutes later Beth knew she had to try again. She couldn't just keep floating on her back. Soon she wouldn't be visible from the beach. She rolled to her stomach, determined to at least stay close enough for a surfer to see her.

"Last chance, princess, now fight for it," she muttered to herself. Head down and arms forward, she refused to let herself think about anything but swimming. Not sharks, not the endless depths she could sink into, not the stitch in her side setting her lungs on fire, and definitely not the possibility that she might not make it.

Her strength was flagging. She was not actually moving forward even with all her efforts.

"Help me!" she yelled and waved one hand at the distant people on the beach, more from desperation than hope that someone would see her. A wave hit her face, filling her mouth and windpipe with saltwater. She gasped and spit, dogpaddling for a moment.

She whimpered and tried again for the shore, forcing her heavy legs to move. Keep going, keep trying! Another wave hit her, pushing her backwards.

"Help!" she cried. She sank briefly when she raised her hands to motion for help. There were a few surfers coming out with their boards and she yelled to get their attention.

Water went over her head and panic gripped her. Beth flailed her arms to surface—she needed air. She tried in vain not to think about the abyss below her body, what creatures might be down there. If a shark was circling below her legs...

Something brushed her leg and she panicked, kicking fast and hard. It could have been anything; seaweed, trash or a fish. Not a shark, not a shark, please nothing that will attack me! But adrenaline dried up too soon, leaving her boneless and weak.

Terror had her by the throat. She couldn't reach the shore, couldn't breathe, couldn't protect herself from an attack and couldn't stop sinking. Oh, sweet Jesus, I'm going to die.

"Help me!" she gasped, sounding pitiful and weak to her own ears. Help me, dad, please! She went under, thrashing desperately to swim upwards.

Before she could surface, something clamped onto her arm, tugging her. She tried to scream and push it away, but ended up with her lungs full of water. She choked and flailed her free hand, pain shooting through her shoulder as the trapped arm was yanked in the opposite direction. There was no air; her brain burned, her water-filled lungs agonized, and everything was spinning to darkness. Blood pounded through her veins and her heart hammered in her ribcage. There was no air, only pounding and hammering. Warm water swirled around her. Warm with blood? Was her last confused thought as everything went black and the pounding faded.

***Russell

"Beth?" Russell yelled. Oh, God, if he lost her, if she drowned! He never should have left her alone. He paddled the board with all his strength to the spot he thought he had seen someone struggling. Something black bobbed between the large undulating waves.

A mask and snorkeling tube. It was hers. He knew she had left the beach at least half an hour ago and the last time he had seen her, she had been floating calmly in the shallow bay. That had been over fifteen minutes ago.

"Beth!" he yelled, the name tearing from his throat. He could not see anything but the sun's blinding reflections.

"There, the other side, bro!" shouted another surfer. He was pointing beyond Russell.

Russell turned in time to see a dark form under the water, churning up bubbles.

He lunged off the board to reach Beth before she disappeared entirely. He managed to catch her arm, but she was out of her mind with panic and struggled against him. Fear surged through his heart when he felt himself sinking with her. He would not let go. He would not let this happen. She continued to fight him, but weakly, and he dragged her back to the surface.

The other surfer was there and Russell grabbed the end of his board.

"Here," he said, through clenched jaws. The surfer took Beth by her arm and between them, they heaved her limp body onto the board.

*** Thank you for reading. Please hit the star or leave me a message if you enjoyed, or have something you are dying to say! I'm listening. I promise. Beth might be dead (we hope not!) but I'm still here. ***

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