Doug’s arms sliced through the water in powerful strokes, pulling him inexorably to his target. Old Soaker Island was only a deserted strip of rock, but today he would own it. He surged up through the surface and shook the Atlantic from his eyes. The smudge of island lay dead ahead—his bearing was right on.
Splashing drew his attention over his left shoulder. Thirty yards away, Brian was a machine, cleaving through the gray water. Mighty…but off target as usual, Doug thought and smirked. At this rate, Brian would miss Old Soaker by fifty yards or more. Without lane markings, Brian always had a hard time swimming a straight line.
“Swim with me.”
Unexpected, the sound made Doug twitch, and then twist. The girl from the restaurant—Meeka—was pitching in the choppy waves a few body lengths away. How’d she swim up without me hearing? An enigmatic smile illuminated her face. He remembered those lips from last night, how cool and salty they were. How good they had felt on his.
His own lips curled a bit in response. “What’re you doing out here?” A wince squeezed his features. Oh, that was brilliant!
Meeka’s smile never wavered. “Swimming.”
“Oh. Do you…do you swim here a lot?”
A wave hit him, flooding his nose with water. He hacked like an old smoker.
“Swim with me, Doug.”
An effusive smile cracked his face, twisted by a few straggling coughs. She remembers my name. “Was that you I saw out on the bay last night?”
“Yes. Why didn’t you join me?”
Without thinking, he turned to check on Brian’s progress. “Um, ’cause swimming in the ocean in the middle of the night isn’t real safe, especially drunk.” Brian was still far off course. Doug swiveled his attention back to Meeka.
Her gaze flicked out to Brian and back. “Yes, I can see how male companionship and beer was so much more alluring than spending the evening with me.”
“Yeah, I, uh…” Wrong choice, moron. Instead of staying with Meeka, he had followed Brian down to the beach to drink beer with some college guys. Well into the binge, he thought he had seen her swimming off shore, waving at him.
But here she is now, why live in the past? “I’d like to make it up to you,” he said in a stroke of budding maturity.
“Sure. I’d like that.”
“Doug? Hey, Doug! Did you find a mermaid?” Brian’s voice crested the waves, and he laughed. “Oh, it’s just your mattress from last night.”
Doug flinched, his cheeks warming. Brian was still sore from losing the prior evening’s competition. Why couldn’t you have kept swimming? “Sorry. He’s kinda stupid.”
“Who cares what he says.” Meeka smiled. “And, I do want to make love to you.”
“Swim with me.” She beckoned him.
He smiled in response, pitched into the water, and reached her in a few strokes. Up close, he saw that his eyes had not lied to him last night—she was a beautiful girl. Their legs bumped as they tread water, and she laughed. She put her arms around his neck, drawing him in for another cool, salty kiss.
“Doug, come on man. What about our race?”
“You win,” Doug called over his shoulder.
“No, you do,” Meeka said, her smile dazzling. “Follow me.” She lay back in the water in an elegant back stroke, and he gasped when he realized that she was not wearing a swimsuit.
“Seriously? Come on!” Brian called.
Doug was torn, but not terribly. “Sorry, man. Duty calls.” He leaned into a breast stroke, matching Meeka’s pace, while watching her lithe body glide through the water. Minutes of ocean slid by, before she popped out of the water, a look of irritation on her face. He looked away, flushed with guilt, thinking that she was mad at him for staring at her naked skin, but her glare went beyond him.
“Tell your friend to stop following us!”
Brian continued to churn up the water, more or less toward them.
“Go away, dude!” He felt Meeka move alongside him. Her breasts pressed into his back and biceps, and her lips skimmed his ear. Her breath tickled his wet skin. “Come, make love to me.”
She shot away from him. He caught the tantalizing sight of more bare skin, and plunged after her. She was a good swimmer, but he was confident that he could catch her. He kept popping up to check, but she always remained slightly ahead of him. The fourth time up, Meeka was looking back at him, and he heard Brian call his name.
“Doug. Doug! Doug!” The last was a squeal of terror that he had never before heard his friend make. He saw Brian go under. That was too fast…he’s drowning!
All thoughts of Meeka fled his mind as he swam back to where he thought he had seen Brian go under. He sucked in a lungful of air and dove. Without goggles, everything underwater looked distorted as he scanned the dimness, looking for anything pale. Seeing something moving, he swam towards it, and found Brian struggling with dark strands that tangled around his legs. He was doubled over, frantically wrestling with the ropy things. They looked like a squid’s tentacles.
Doug’s lungs burned, so he shot to the surface. Breaking it, he gulped air. “Help! Help! Help!” He flailed his arms. “Help! Swimmer down! Help!”
His chest ached from the size of the breath he drew, and he jackknifed under the waves. Brian was nowhere to be seen. Doug cast around, his eyes bulging and heart pounding. He searched until his chest burned again. He went up, yelled, and returned so many times that he lost count. I’ll find you Brian! This time!
He thought he saw something, down deeper, but some small part of his brain that still worked warned him away from such depths. He looked at the light colored smudge in the darkness, and his mind wailed. Around him, the sound of a motor made the water vibrate. He swam upwards, but stopped himself, his dilemma an abstraction as the carbon dioxide built up in his blood. If he surfaced now, he might get hit by the boat or its propeller. He tried to see where the boat was, but the water was too murky. Finally, the choice was made for him—either go up or pass out. He went up.
He gasped and inhaled some water as his face broke the surface.
“There, there!” Voices hammered his ears. “I see him.”
Plop. Water splashed his face, and blaze orange filled his sight. Seized by coughing, he clutched at the life ring and felt it jerk under him.
“We got a hook?”
He felt hands grab him and hoist him up.
“Brian,” he said between coughs. More hands hauled him roughly over the boat’s gunwale, and he collapsed. “Brian!” He choked.
“There’s another swimmer?”
“Yes! He’s still down there!”
One of the men who had hauled him aboard looked over the edge of the boat. “Don?”
“Hold on,” said a voice.
A splash joined the slapping of waves against the hull. Doug coughed. A radio crackled. Seconds ticked away, until arms and a face rose over the gunwale, hands fumbling with a dive mask.
“Nothing,” the man said. “I can’t see a thing. How long has it been since the call?”
Silence settled on the water. Doug blinked the salt sting from his eyes and sat up. Three somber looking men stood in the boat.
“Ten minutes ago,” said the man standing at the helm.
The oldest of the men, his face weathered from a lifetime of exposure to the sea, turned to Doug. “I’m sorry, son.” He leaned against the gunwale and peered into the darkening Atlantic. “Chuck, call the Coast Guard and ask them to send a recovery team.”
© Jason T. Graves, 2016. All Rights Reserved.
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