If you want to read the Prologue and Chapter 1 first, please go HERE.
©2007 Cheryl Kaye Tardif
IT WAS THE dazzling light that hit us first.
Large picture windows wrapped the entire front of the house and faced the ocean. The flaming sunset outside made the interior glow like the embers of a fire.
“Wow,” I murmured.
My eyes swept across the open main floor. There was a living room to my left. It was decorated in bronze and copper tones, and two beige plaid couches framed a chocolate-brown area rug. To my right, a dining room table and four chairs claimed the area in front of one of the windows.
I ran to it, almost knocking over a potted plant. I looked out the window and stared, mesmerized, as the setting sun sparkled on the bay.
“I can hear the ocean, Dad.”
The door behind us opened and my mother joined us, her face instantly lighting up. “It’s beautiful, Jack.”
“It’s private too,” my father said. “The nearest neighbor is about a fifteen-minute walk down the beach.” He teasingly ruffled my hair. “Hey, do you want to check out the rest of the house?”
“Do I ever,” I said, my eyes wide with anticipation.
He led me to a large closet by the back door. “This is the closet.” His voice was serious, as if he were a realtor showing me a potential property.
I laughed. “No kidding, Dad.”
I took off my jacket and hung it in the empty space. That was my first claim on my new home.
“Over here is the living room,” my father said with a sweep of one hand.
I pointed to a large black monstrosity. “What is that thing?”
My mother stifled a gasp. “A wood-burning stove. How charming. I love it, Jack.” She spun on her heel slowly and surveyed the room. “You were right about this house. It’s perfect for us.”
I agreed. The house was far better than I had expected.
I walked closer to the stove.
Over it, a cedar shelf was mounted to the peach-colored wall. On it was a peculiar collection of oddities—an eagle’s feather, a fisherman’s glass ball wrapped with twine, a skull from a small animal and a crab shell.
I looked up and gasped. “Mom! That’s your painting.”
The large watercolor that hung above the shelf was the one my mother had painted while she was pregnant with me. It was of a mountain waterfall and was her very favorite. Mine too.
“I sent it on ahead so it would be here when we arrived,” my father explained. “I asked the caretaker to hang it. He also made sure we have lots of firewood. And he turned the electricity back on.”
“Let’s check out the kitchen,” my mother said, rubbing her hands gleefully.
A spacious country kitchen with a wooden island was tucked around the corner, barely visible. The walls were painted the palest sage green and along the ceiling edge ran a soft leafy border. A small round table and two chairs sat in one corner.
My mother busied herself by checking out the fully stocked cupboards and making a pot of tea while I continued my exploration of the lower level of the house. Between the kitchen and dining room area, a wrought iron staircase led to the upper floor. Behind the stairs, a sliding glass door opened onto a cedar deck.
“Can I go out there?” I asked my father.
He smiled. “Of course. It’s your house now.”
We stepped outside and the humid night air enveloped us.
“Hey,” I shouted. “A swinging chair.”
The deck held a padded swing, big enough for three people. There was also a barbecue and a picnic table with two benches. A protective wooden rail ran around the entire deck, with an opening for the stairs that led to the ground below.
I leaned over the rail.
A well-trodden rocky path led from the bottom of the stairs, through the grass and down to the beach. From the deck, I saw waves crashing on the fiery shore. Better yet, I heard them. I breathed in the salty air, thrilled with my new home.
Then I turned and darted inside, urging my father to follow.
“Come on, Dad,” I yelled. “I want to see my room.”
He smiled and remained where he was. “You two go ahead.”
Grabbing my mother’s hand, I raced up the spiral staircase to the upper floor. Under my pounding feet, the stairs groaned with a dull clang. I turned down the hall and entered the first room on the right.
The room was tiny, like a baby’s nursery. But there was no crib. There wasn’t even a bed. The walls were painted off-white, but looked like they had definitely seen better days. Small tables, old toys and cardboard boxes littered the floor. A rocking chair sat motionless near a large window and an antique bookshelf took up one wall. Dusty encyclopedias and ancient books inhabited the shelves.
I drew a heart in the dust.
“This room needs a good cleaning,” my mother muttered.
I yanked back my hand and eyed her suspiciously. I was positive that she had plans for me, plans that included a dust rag in one hand and lemon furniture polish in the other.
“This’ll be my studio,” she said, eying the room.
I barged past her out into the hall. “I want to see my room.”
The next room I entered boasted a large brass bed with down-filled pillows and a flowered quilt. Along the side walls stood two white colonial dressers, one with a large oval mirror. The other wall had a cedar bench seat built into a bay window that faced the ocean.
I fell in love with that room immediately.
I turned, fingers crossed behind my back. “Is this your room?”
I fervently hoped it was not.
My mother looked around the room and pointed to the boxes stacked to one side. On the bottom box, the letter S had been scribbled in red marker.
“Looks like it’s yours, Honey-Bunny.”
I rolled my eyes at her.
My parents had been calling me that ridiculous nickname since I was a baby, but I didn’t have the heart to ask them to stop.
Looking around my new room, I was elated. It was twice the size of the one back home, the bed was huge and I could see the ocean from my window.
“I love it, Mom,” I said, stifling a yawn.
After I took a peek at my parents’ room and the large upstairs bathroom, I followed my mother down to the kitchen where I devoured a piece of toast with peanut butter and maple syrup. All through my snack, I wrestled with exhaustion, afraid that I would miss something wonderful. My mother noticed and sent me to bed early.
That was the first time I didn’t argue.
In my beautiful ocean room, I sat in the window seat and cranked open the side panel. I heard waves lapping softly against the shore. In the distance, a water bird cried out, searching for his home.
I didn’t know it then, but I had found mine.
Everything in the new house was perfect. But I missed Amber-Lynn. I had promised her that I would call and write to her every week. After all, best friends were hard to find. We’d been inseparable since we were two years old. Her parents and mine had often played cards together while the two of us stayed up past midnight watching movies until we fell asleep.
Now I was hundreds of miles away from my friend, but I pledged my undying devotion to her. My only consolation was that in three years I’d be returning to Wyoming , to my ranch and to Amber-Lynn.
To a child my age, three years was a lifetime.
As the moon dipped lower behind the trees, I climbed into my new bed and sniffed the spring-fresh sheets.
Then I sank into a dreamless sleep.
“CAN I GO OUTSIDE?” I asked my father the next morning.
We were eating breakfast while my mother slept in.
“Sure. Let’s go for a walk.”
I followed him onto the deck, down the stairs and across the rocky trail to the beach. The sun gleamed off his blond hair, highlighting a few gray ones. At forty-one, my father was the handsomest man I knew. And I loved him more than I loved anyone in the world. He was my idol. He always made my mother and me laugh. He’d pretend he understood the creatures of the sea and he’d tell us what they thought of his fellow professors. Apparently, some of the whales didn’t have too many nice things to say about them.
I studied my father as he leaned forward and picked up a rock. He examined it with what my mother and I called his scientific mind. Then he skipped it across the water.
When I tried to mimic him, my rock sank with a thud.
“Like this,” he said.
He showed me how to select a flat stone and fling it toward the water’s surface like a Frisbee.
“You have to throw it hard, but keep it flat.”
I practiced skipping stones until my arm ached.
“Last one,” I said, frustrated.
I flung a smaller stone and to my amazement, it skipped.
“You did it!” my father cheered.
We followed the beach a few yards from our house. The shoreline of multi-colored rocks disappeared and a sandy beach curved toward the water.
I squealed with delight and pointed to a floating raft anchored maybe fifteen yards out into the water. “Is that ours?”
My father’s eyes turned serious and dark. “This is all part of our property. It’s safe to swim out to the raft, just don’t go any farther.”
I looked out over the water and noticed an island not too far away. My father stared at it too and I wondered what he was thinking. It wasn’t until after supper that I found out.
That was when he told me the story of Fallen Island.
“Last year, the son of one of our neighbors tried to swim out to Fallen Island,” he began. “The story I heard was that the boy challenged his younger sister to swim from the raft to the island. When she refused, he went anyway. They say he made it most of the way across.” He paused and I clung to my chair, waiting.
“No one knows if he got caught in an old fishing net or if he just got too tired,” he continued. “His sister tried swimming out to him, but I guess she panicked and went back to the raft. Her parents found her an hour later, sitting on it, staring at the island.”
“Did they find the boy?” I asked.
My father shook his head. “Search teams dragged the bay, but they never found his body. I heard that his sister went to the beach every day for months, hoping to catch sight of her brother. She believed he was still alive. He was only fourteen.”
“That’s an awful story,” my mother moaned. She turned and patted my back. “Your dad never should have told you.”
“There’s a reason I did,” my father argued, looking at me. “I want you to promise, Sarah, that you’ll never swim farther than that raft.”
There were times when he scared me. And that was one of those times. The intensity of his words combined with his piercing blue eyes made me swallow hard.
“Promise me,” he repeated firmly.
As I made that solemn vow, I reminded myself that promises were sacred, not to be broken. I knew that he loved me and that he was only protecting me, or trying to.
My father would always be my protector.
THE FIRST WEEK went by swiftly. Our days were spent exploring the beach. My mother was happy because my father didn’t have to go to work for two weeks. I watched them take off their shoes and run along the water’s edge, laughing like children and holding hands. If Amber-Lynn had been there, I would have felt mortified by my parents’ display. Since I was the only witness, I just smiled and watched.
During the second week, my father often went into town to get supplies. I’m sure he just wanted to escape all the cleaning my mother had planned. While he was gone, I helped her clean her new studio. We emptied one side of it and made room for her painting supplies. I dusted the numerous books while she washed the floor and stored the owners’ boxes in the basement.
By mid-afternoon, the room sparkled and a faint lemony fragrance lingered in the air. As a finishing touch, we placed some candles and an oil lamp on the round table beside the rocking chair.
“There,” I said, setting a blank canvas on the easel. “Now you’re ready to paint.”
My mother shook her head. “Not quite. At least, not that kind of painting.”
To my dismay, she pulled out two cans and two large paint rollers. It appeared that the walls were going to get a new coat. Resigned to my fate, I grabbed a roller and started painting. She started on one side and I started on the other, until we met in the middle. By the time we were finished, we were covered in paint and giggling like children.
It’s one of my favorite memories.
“Good job,” my mother said, shaking my hand as we admired the finished result. She leaned against the hallway wall. “I’m exhausted. And thirsty. How about some iced tea?”
I laughed and raced down the stairs ahead of her.
By the time she reached the deck, I had already set two tall glasses— complete with lemon slices—and a pitcher of iced tea on the picnic table.
I crossed my fingers behind my back. “Can I go swimming?”
My mother stared out at the bay. “I’m really tired, Sarah. I need to lie down for a bit.”
“You don’t have to come with me,” I assured her. “I promise I’ll only swim out to the raft. You know I’m a good swimmer.”
I knew she was thinking of all the swimming lessons I’d taken at the Buffalo Recreation Center. I was an advanced swimmer, ahead of most kids my age. Not many eleven-year-olds could swim as fast or as far as I could. In fact, the last class I’d taken before we moved was with kids two years older than me. I’d even earned a badge for Intermediate Lifesaving.
“Just for two hours,” she said with a sigh. “Don’t be gone longer than that.”
I gulped down my iced tea and checked my watch. Darn! It was already two o’clock.
Charging upstairs, I changed into a one-piece bathing suit. When I caught my reflection in the dresser mirror, I stuck out my barely formed chest and scowled. “One day they’ll grow.”
Pulling my thick dark hair into a quick ponytail, I secured it with an elastic band. Then I grabbed a towel and sprinted downstairs.
My mother was still outside. “Be back by four,” she warned.
When I reached the bottom of the stairs, I heard her yell after me. “No farther than the raft!”
“Mothers,” I muttered beneath my breath.
I made a beeline for the beach across from the raft. Flinging my towel over a log, I quickly removed my sandals and stepped into the warm water. A few pieces of seaweed and something that looked like a bloated onion swirled around my legs. Other than that, the water was clear.
I laughed and plunged in, shocked by the salty taste in my mouth. Swimming toward the raft, I glanced at the forbidden island across the bay. It didn’t look so far.
With the cockiness of youth, I grinned. “I could make that.”
I floated on my back and stared at the clouds. After a few minutes, I decided to see if I could swim underwater, holding my breath all the way to the raft. I dove under.
When I reached the raft, I pulled myself up the metal stepladder and stretched out on my stomach, smiling. The raft sizzled under the summer sun and I lazily examined its surface. A few swear words had been scratched out with black marker, but I could still read them. I giggled.
As I shifted my gaze, my eyes were drawn to some initials that were carved into the weathered wood. I traced them with one finger. RD+MC FOREVER!
I glanced back at the shore, wondering about the owners of the initials. Who were they and where did they live? There were no houses visible, but the beach disappeared around a tree-lined corner.
Maybe there are houses around the bend.
I glanced at my watch. I had lots of time.
Propping my chin on my hands, I admired the view. It was so peaceful, so soothing that it lulled me. I yawned loudly. Cleaning, painting the studio and swimming had made me more tired than I realized. I rested my head on my arms and dozed under the warm rays of the sun. The water lapped against the raft, like a whisper.
“Amber-Lynn…I wish you were—”
Something splashed nearby.
I thought that maybe I was dreaming, until I heard it again and looked up.
Something was sticking out of the water. Seawater sprayed and foamed off a solid black mass as it rose from the depths. Then it sank under water, out of sight.
I was captivated by the strange spectacle and waited for it to reappear. But I didn’t see a thing.
I admit I was a bit nervous about going in the water.
What if it’s a shark?
I didn’t even know if there were any sharks in the bay. My father had never said anything. But I knew one thing. I couldn’t stay on the raft all day.
I pushed myself up on my elbows and strained my neck for a better view.
The bay seemed quiet and demure, until I sensed something moving in the water behind me.
“That was my brother,” a voice said.
©2007 Cheryl Kaye Tardif
Note from Cheryl: This month I am giving away free books at some of my virtual book tour stops, so be sure to check my schedule and drop by. http://www.whalesongbook.com/virtual-tour-2007/
To order Whale Song, please order from Amazon.com this month. If you order on my birthday, August 12th, you may qualify to win one of 44 prize packages. For more info on this special contest, please see 44 Prizes. Also, if you order Whale Song plus two other Kunati titles, you can qualify to enter Kunati’s Great Summer Reads Contest.
~ Cheryl Kaye Tardif, author of Whale Song, The River and Divine Intervention