Authors: Dan Rix
“It’s only available for private booking,” she said. “There’s an underwater tour, Shipwrecks of the Bermuda Triangle and all that, if your parents are loaded.”
“It’s just my dad. My mom’s not with us. Do you know how to work it?”
“I watched them do it once before. I could probably figure it out.”
Cedar ran his hands over the sub’s steel hull, his face mesmerized, his sister apparently completely forgotten. At last he faced her, and his intense gray-blue eyes invited her into a private world only he had access too—and made her rethink him all over again. “Let’s go inside it,” he said.
Jake did his
best to remain impassive as he watched Brynn undress in front of him. When her jean skirt hit the deck, though, his heart gave an extra loud thud. Clothes and towel discarded to the side, she stood shyly in an itsy-bitsy two-piece and watched him carefully, waiting for him to go next.
She may have only been fifteen, but boy was she shaped right. He tugged off his own shirt and tossed it aside.
Next to them, the solarium whirlpool on deck fifteen steamed inside a glassed-in overlook, glowing magenta. A panoramic view of the moonlit ocean stretched below.
At this hour, the hot tub and the surrounding hallways were dark and empty. They were alone.
Jake waded into the near-boiling water and let out a long sigh. Brynn tiptoed in after him, and that was when he noticed her strange behavior.
She crossed to his other side, presenting only her right side. Meanwhile, her left arm stayed glued to her torso, as if covering something.
She had done the same thing at the pool.
Jake reached out to move her hand aside, and she tensed up. He held her gaze, though, and said gently, “Let me see.”
Slowly, her body relaxed and she let him nudge away her hand, but her eyes averted from her stomach.
The only light came from the hot tub itself, and in the alternating neon blues and purples, he saw why.
Just above her hips, a deep three-inch scar cut into her waist. Still, it was hardly noticeable, she had nothing to be ashamed about. He leaned closer to get a better look—
She twisted away from him and plopped down into the water. “It’s nothing,” she said, her tone implying anything but.
Still, Jake knew better than to ask her about it. He eased down next to her, feeling emotional turmoil radiating from her skin, figuring the night was pretty much dead in the water—
Without warning, Brynn swiveled on top of him and straddled his thighs. In the steamy darkness, her dripping silhouette hovered in front of him, angel-like in the neon glow. She stared at him, one hand draped across his chest, her blue eyes almost frantic with longing. Then she descended and kissed him.
His pulse, ever steady, pounded in his chest like a jackhammer. She scooted onto his lap, her mouth working against his. He caught her butt and slid his palm up the cool skin under her bikini bottoms. Her body rubbed against his torso, making him dizzy, lightheaded . . . drunk. He kissed her back, his brain dazed.
Her lips, wet from condensation, slid across his mouth, brushed his jawline, and ended somewhere near his ear. He kissed her neck, and she let out a whimper and bit down on his ear, raking his scalp with her fingernails.
Then it all crashed and burned.
In his hands, her body went rigid as a board. She extracted herself from his lap and sat back in the hot tub, gasping for breath. Not meeting his eyes. “I can’t,” she whispered.
“That’s okay,” he said.
“I know I started it, it’s just . . . it’s just . . .” She lowered her head and stared at the water. “I’m really sorry.”
“That’s okay. It’s just what?”
She swallowed and chewed on her lip. “I’m kind of still in love with my ex-boyfriend.”
His heart gave an odd pang. Of course. It was a
. . . what had he been expecting? “Is that scar from him?”
She shook her head. A moment later, a tear slid down her cheek and dripped into the steaming hot tub. Then she nodded. “His name is Simon.”
Naomi opened the
hatch, and the smell of disinfectant and heat molded plastic wafted out of the sub.
Cedar climbed in first, lowering himself onto the pilot’s seat. The foot-thick plexiglass swallowed him, damping the background murmur of machinery.
“So what’s it like having your mom in the cruise industry?” he said, trying to distract himself from the claustrophobia clamping down on his throat.
“She’s away eight months every year.” Naomi squeezed in next to him, and he felt the closeness of their bodies in the cramped fishbowl. The heat of her skin, combined with his, fogged up the glass.
“So you hang with your dad?”
“He didn’t stick around.”
“So what do you do for the eight months?”
“School. Rolling on ecstasy. Dealing pills at raves. Crystal meth. Rehab,” she said. “In that order.”
Cedar peered sideways at her, but he could tell she wasn’t joking. “Still?”
“I’m clean now. But I was addicted for a few years.”
“I don’t want your sympathy.” She faced him. “Where’s your mom?”
“Right back at me. Nice.”
“Well?” Her eyes probed.
He stared back matter-of-factly. “She’s dead.”
“I am so sorry,” she began, but her voice cracked and she swiveled away from him, fighting laughter. “Oh god, I’m a horrible person. It’s
funny. It’s just . . . this conversation is so morbid.”
“Naomi: sick sense of humor. Got it.”
“How’d she die?” she said, clearly struggling to keep a straight face.
“I killed her.”
Cedar marveled at the sobering effect of his comment. Naomi’s eyes shot wide open, and she opened her mouth to respond.
Only she never got the chance.
At that moment, the lights in the room dimmed, then went out completely, leaving them blind in the pitch black dome of the minisub. Cedar felt motion beneath him, a stirring in the pit of his stomach as if the ship was rising on a huge swell, and then a second of weightlessness as it sank back down again.
Slowly, the lights flickered back on.
Brynn felt a
funny wave pass through her body, like an electric scanner . . . so subtle she almost didn’t notice. Just a tickle.
Then the underwater mood lights dimmed. Through the floor of the Jacuzzi, the ship shuddered, the vibrations rippling the surface of the water. A thin film of dust dislodged from the glass ceiling and sifted into the water.
“Did you feel that?” she said.
“Probably just a big swell,” said Jake.
Brynn scooted mermaid-like up the side of the tub so she could perch on her palms and peer down at the ocean through the inverted windows. The dark sea sloshed two hundred feet below her, relatively calm.
“Did you feel that thing in your body, like a weird electric current?”
“You must have felt a little vertigo.”
Brynn shivered and slid back into the steaming water. Outside the Jacuzzi room, the deck fifteen hallway leading to the Solarium Bistro remained empty.
“Must have been a
big wave,” she said. “Normally you can’t even feel the ship move.”
“Probably a swell. Big cruise ship’s like this usually have stabilizer fins that cancel out the waves.”
Brynn nodded, and sank deeper in the water, submerging herself up to her chin. “It’s cool how there’s no one up here.”
He smiled lazily. “Yeah, all the adults have probably passed out by now.”
“I’m sorry,” she said, scooting back up.
“That’s okay,” he said.
“And Cedar. You seem like a really good guy. He’s just . . . he’s just always like that.”
Jake tilted his head back, his eyes drifting across the stars. “What’s his deal?”
“He got all screwed up after our mom died,” she said, stirring the water with her finger. “He blames himself. My dad blames him too.”
“I was too young to remember.”
Jake sat up, and Brynn tried not to look at the water glistening off his toned chest. “Kids do stupid stuff all the time. He shouldn’t still feel guilty about it.”
She shrugged. “Tell that to him.”
“He seems to have lightened up, though. He hasn’t come looking for you.”
“That’s because I lied to him and told him I was going straight back to my room after I finished playing foosball in the Living Room.”
“That was smart,” he said.
Brynn studied Jake’s face, lit from underneath by the glowing water, but his dark eyes and rigid lips didn’t tell her if his comment was sarcastic or not—and she gave up trying to read him.
She glanced back at the hallway. In the last few minutes, no one had wandered past the hot tub. The steady stream of late night stragglers had finally cut off. At the moment, getting dizzy in a hot tub under Jake’s probing stare, that fact made her feel desperately alone.
“That was weird about the dust falling off the ceiling,” she said, trying to break the silence.
“Yeah. Just a big swell,” he said.
Sky Wilkinson woke up in wet blackness. A power outage? She felt below her. Her bed—her bed was gone.
Instead, she was lying on some kind of hard slab. She breathed in sharply, and nearly choked. Her windpipe felt like it had constricted to the width of a straw. The skin inside her throat throbbed, as if it had been rubbed raw.
The air tasted different too, salty and stale, musty. Like it hadn’t been breathed in centuries. Chest heaving, she sucked down frantic breaths.
She was somewhere else. A dream, maybe. A nightmare.
No, she was wide awake. The realization chilled her. Where though? A moment ago, she had been on the
, fast asleep on her bunk above her foster parents’ bed.
And now . . .
She pressed her eyes shut, counted out five shallow breaths, then opened them again. Nothing . . . no difference. Eyes shut or wide open, there was no difference. Just blackness enveloping her in its warm, eternal embrace.
Please don’t be blind.
Please don’t be blind
. Heart echoing in her ears, she strained to make out details.
She tried to sit up, but straps held her down. A fishnet of braided twine. Her pulse quickened.
With trembling hands, she probed the slab beneath her, found it slippery. Soapy. It gave a little under her nail, like a sponge. When she lifted her hand, her finger came away with a sticky strand of mucous.
What did it smell like?
Fighting panic, she guided her hand through the net and reached for her nose. Instead, her fingers struck a mouth piece that was suctioned to her face.
And then she understood the numb sensation in her throat, the rubbery taste in her mouth, why she couldn’t breathe—and her spine tightened with fear.
She picked at a corner of the mask, peeled it from her cheek, and at last tore it away—pulling along with it the entire length of a slimy feeding tube that had been shoved down her throat. The tube slithered halfway out of her before triggering her gag reflex. She expelled the rest, spitting and coughing—puking inch after inch of the tube onto her chest where it coiled in a hideous slurry of mucous and bile.
“It’s getting kind
of lonely in here,” said Brynn. “Let’s go to bed.”
“Not together, I hope.” Jake hoisted himself out of the hot tub.
Brynn, who had been unable to prevent her gaze from roving over Jake’s well-defined torso, blushed furiously.
“Not unless you want to wake up with a knife in your throat.” She climbed out after him, wrapped herself in her pink beach towel, and leveled her eyes with his. “I’m not kidding.”
“Fair enough,” he said.
She suppressed a smile. Even now, Cedar’s presence onboard protected her like a force field. Jake wouldn’t dare.
“What floor are you?” she said.
They walked to the elevators in silence. Not a soul lingered on deck fifteen . . . nor on fourteen. Brynn halted outside the elevator in a moment of panic, the empty hallway stretching a thousand feet ahead of her. Not a soul.
“Jake, what time is it?”
“Late,” said Jake. “Everyone’s in bed.”
“Crap,” she whispered. She pictured Cedar barging into guests’ rooms, picking fights with crew, and pulling kitchen knives on the officers. “He’s going to kill me.”
“I’ll walk you to your room.”
“NO! He’ll cut out your heart . . . and then he’ll make me eat it.” She pushed Jake back into the elevator and jabbed the button for deck nine, then stepped back into the hallway.
“Ouch,” Jake said, as the door started to close. He just stood there, though.
“Wait—” she threw out her hand to stop the doors, earning herself a raised eyebrow. “What’s your room number?”
“Two-oh-seven. Port side.”
“Um, which is . . . ?”
She stepped back into the elevator, stood on her tiptoes, and kissed him quickly. “Now go,” she said, shoeing away his hands, which had lifted to give her a hug.
From his poker face, she read that her kiss could not have meant less to him. Frustrated with herself—and his aloofness—she stomped away before the doors fully closed. At the last second, though, she thought she saw a smile tug at his lips . . . okay,
she saw a smile.
Confronted with the empty hallway—and now alone—she slowed her pace. They must have stayed out much later than she’d thought. Earlier, these halls had bustled with activity.
A hallway branched to her right, and she glanced around the corner on her way through the intersection.
Nobody. Not even a waiter delivering room service. Just endless stretches of luxurious purple hallways, abandoned.
It was starting to creep her out, and she walked faster.
How late was it?
Okay, Cedar was
going to kill her. She reached her stateroom and fumbled with her Cypress card. Never mind that now—
Movement flashed from the corner of her eye. She froze, card half inserted, and swung back to face the way she’d come. Her skin prickled. No one. Just her imagination. Just a quarter mile of dim, creepy hallway.