Part One: Chapter Five

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“That’s it?”

“What do you mean?” Mary asks, looking over her notes. “It’s the perfect plan.”

“It just seems a bit anticlimactic, that’s all. Essentially we’re opening the door and stealing the money, like a thief would have done in a Sherlock Holmes novel… actually, no thief would do that in a Sherlock Holmes novel, that’s how normal this plan is. Where is the flying machine? The poison? The trained dogs?”

“Literature has ruined you, Watson,” Mary says, shaking her head. “Now come on, we have to get some shut eye so you can be your heart-winning self tomorrow afternoon.”

*** 

Mary steals two of the resort wristbands from innocent swimmers in the morning, and when Lana and Lance arrive, she straps one on each of their friends with a claim that she purchased them at the concierge desk.

“Look, Lana,” Lance says, putting out his hand and showing her a piece of paper as they walk to lunch, “Mary was kind enough to give us this gift certificate for Senior Frog’s, that restaurant you’ve been wanting to go to! It expires tonight, and since she and Atlas will be in the city, they can’t use it.”

Always a step ahead, Atlas thinks, always guaranteeing a bet. Mary modestly brushes off their thanks, but Atlas can see her hide her grin behind her hand. After lunch, Lance and Mary lounge on pool chairs by the ocean and drink margaritas while Atlas convinces Lana to rent snorkeling equipment from the hotel. A red flag on one of the nearby rocks indicates a hot spot for oceanic wildlife, and he has never seen fish up close before—trips to the beach were never at the top of his foster parents’ to-do list. When she puts the wide goggles on her face, Atlas can’t help laughing—she looks like an alien—and to get back at him, Lana tries to dunk him in the salty ocean water. “No!” he yells, thinking of Max’s warning about his contacts and makeup, and she freezes with both hands on his skinny shoulders.

“I’m sorry…” he says, thinking quickly, “it’s just…the ice storm.”

“The one your parents died in?” Instantly her voice shifts down to a comforting tone, and she leaves one of her hands perched like a parrot on his shoulder. “What about it?”

“They got lost in the ice storm,” he begins, thinking Where’s Mary when you need her?, “and they were so lost that they accidentally walked over a frozen lake. Then whoosh, they sank like rocks right to the bottom of the ocean, never to be seen again. Since then I’ve been afraid to go all the way in the water, though I guess that seems pretty silly to you.”

“No, not silly at all,” Lana says as they continue to walk to the rock, “I’m afraid of airplanes, spiders, roller coasters, camping—”

“Camping?” he asks as he gives her a hand to climb by the slippery step of rock. “What does that even mean?”

“I think it’s easier if I give you an example. A few years ago my dad tried to take us camping, and I might have been okay if one of the other campers hadn’t mentioned seeing a bear that very morning. I got so scared by the rustling in the forest that I insisted on sleeping in the van, and he’s never taken us camping again.” Lana looks down at her feet, than says, “Atlas, look!”

Around their feet, fish swim like lava over the rock, forced into movement by a strong wave that carries their small bodies to the other side of the walkway. Many of the fish are neutral colors, like sandy or grey, but a few are the brightly colored fish Atlas saw on the sign when they picked up their snorkeling gear: bright blues and sunny yellows with spots and stripes to identify them. Atlas runs a hand through the water, but the fish avoid the obstruction like cars around an accident and flow around his hand to the shelter on the other side. When he and Lana put their faces in the water, they can see entire schools of fish hovering in the dark crevices under the rock, crowded like Washingtonians on a busy metro train. Atlas swims along the side of the rock with those he frightens out of hiding, just another flippered fish among the crowd, and becoming part of their group is the most magical experience he has ever had. Lana swims below him, her smooth, white body undulating with her movements, and she looks like an otter, not needing arm strength to direct her forward.

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