– ONE –
The first day he saw her, was the same day she died. Her jet black hair soaked, plastered to her face as they pulled her limp body from the water. He watched as her friends stood surrounding her, staring. No one moved to help her. In seconds he was kneeling at the strange girl’s side, preparing to do mouth to mouth as her friends stood looking on in a drug-induced haze, unsure if she was playing a joke or seriously lying there dead. He felt no breath coming from her lips, and heard no heart beating in her chest. He looked again at the face that had captivated him all day and knew he couldn’t let her die. He hadn’t even gotten a chance to learn her name yet.
He placed his mouth to hers, swiftly and accurately performing CPR until she finally seemed to respond. A gush of water burst from her mouth and once the sounds of her gargling gasps broke the silence of the early summer night, Jim sat back on his heels and began to quietly cry. The sound of the girl struggling for air seemed to bring her friends’ sobriety back. Pushing Jim out of the way, they ensconced her. He stepped back, giving the small band of comrades some room. He was, after all, the outsider. He shouldn’t have even been down on the beach with these kids.
Jim woke, remembering the dream vividly as he always did when it came. It was less and less frequent now that nearly twenty years had passed since that night in July, but the feelings and memories lingered for hours after whenever the dream lay itself upon him. He remembered her, and how she had died for the briefest moment. He remembered how he brought her back; then in turn, gave him back his own life.
A sharp pain shot through the side of his head and he slammed the palm of his hand against his head. The throbbing signs of a migraine started as he viciously ripped the blanket away and rose from the bed. He hated when the dream came to him, and loved it all at the same time. Because, eventually, he would give into the memories and spend just a small amount of time living there with images of Abby.
Standing over the small porcelain sink he studied his reflection in the mirror. The sight of his drawn and tired eyes staring back caused even more memories of that day to return. Suddenly, his ears rang out with loud static, and the images before him wobbled, and Jim could feel his knees starting to give. He realized, even as the world around him went dark, that he was falling and loosing consciousness at the same time, and even then, his only thought was of the dream.
– TWO –
Twelve hours before the late night beach rescue, he was staring a pallid reflection of himself in his mother’s bathroom mirror. The deep blue eyes resembling the color of the sky on a stormy summer day, stared back at him. But they didn’t look familiar anymore. All he could see where dead, listless remnants of what used to be there. In the six years since his brother had left for college, Jim’s life had been steadily heading downhill. Constant belittling lectures and a controlling grip from his father, and the always persistent disgust on his mother’s face chipped away at him.
It was slow at first. He thought they were taking out their frustrations on him now that Kevin had left, but as the years went on, it never got better. The slow descent to despair picked up speed by the time he turned fifteen. For years his sole salvation was the knowledge that upon his eighteenth birthday he could be free of both of them and the life they were steadily mapping out for him. But when eighteen came and went, and there was no escape in sight, he searched until another way out revealed itself.
Sliding back the bathroom mirror, Jim carefully studied each small bottle of pills hoping to find one that would end it for him quickly. He had stashed away a fifth of vodka to wash down the pills of his choice, but just wanted to find the right ones. His worst fear wasn’t of the dying itself, but of his parents finding him half dead and bringing him to a hospital. The wrath that would come down upon him would be worse than anything he could do to himself. Jim could already hear his father’s voice, and knew the words that would be spat at him for attempting to end his own life. Suicide was the coward’s way out, and Walter Wallis wouldn’t have his youngest son be called a coward.
Deciding on a cocktail of pills, he began to pull down the various bottles, when his mother’s voice boomed from down the hallway. He could hear her ordering around one of the various maids and quickly put the bottles away before she could discover his thievery. Without thinking, he flushed the empty toilet and pretended to wash his hands before opening the door and leaving the bathroom. If she was in the hallway, there would be no getting around the dragon lady he called his mother. He emerged, saddened that his escape would have to wait until later, and came face to face with Olivia Wallis.
“What are you doing in my bathroom?” she asked with contempt. “Don’t you have your own bathroom?”
“Sorry mom, I was here looking for you and had to go so I used yours.”
“Well, I hope you didn’t leave the seat up.”
“No ma’am.” Jim said, head down looking at his shoes.
“Fine. Well, what do you want then?”
Struggling to think of a reason to have needed her, and coming up empty he replied, “I, um, just wanted to tell you I was going to go for a walk on the boardwalk.”
“Fine.” She turned on her heel and vanished into her bedroom so quickly, he had a hard time believing the interaction happened.
Jim stepped out of his family’s summer home on the Jersey Shore and looked out over the dunes. Empty sands lay before him, but only for about two hundred yards. Beyond that, hundreds of beach goers littered the pristine sandy shore, all oiled and baking in the hot sun. The glare off the ocean was enough to cause an immediate headache, but that was a welcome feeling over the anxiety his mother always left him with, no matter how brief the interaction had been.
As he approached the crowded boardwalk, he couldn’t help but wonder why his parents chose that location for a new summer home. In years past they had owned homes in Martha’s Vineyard and out in the Hamptons. Not that he cared for either of those places, but this small seaside Jersey town seemed so far out of his parents’ scope that there had to be a reason behind the choice. Maybe that’s what caused his mother to be more bitter and bitchy than usual. The area was definitely more blue collar, than blue blooded and that couldn’t be sitting well with the dragon lady.
The boardwalk was a little more than half a mile long and home to two miniature golf courses, and one pier of rides geared towards families with younger children. There was a vast array of food and drink vendors, along with at least four different arcades. Thrown between that were different boardwalk games you could participate in for a grand ole price of fifty cents. The smells and sounds of the boardwalk that most people salivated over neither enticed him or repelled him. The walk, after all, was nothing more than a plot device to get him out of his parents’ house. That was until he heard a guitar playing from the other side of the boardwalk and heard an accompanying voice that stopped him dead in his tracks.
Regardless of the heat of the day, he felt a cold shiver run through his body. He had a sudden and desperate need to find where the music was coming from. Finally, he spotted a small crowd of kids around his age, gathered near one of the benches that looked out over the beach. Jim tried to get closer to them in a roundabout way, without being noticed, so he could see the source of the music. One of the guys, a taller than average kid, with a shaved head and multiple tattoos on his arms and back stepped aside, enabling him to catch his first glimpse of her.
Hair so black that it cast off a purple glow and a face so angelic that he thought that there was no way she could be real. When he saw her for the first time, sitting there on the ground picking at a guitar, everything else around him faded away. There were no more sounds of kids running on the beach; the carnival-style music generated from the rides was no longer. There was only the raven-haired girl and her guitar. She was strumming softly and singing even softer.
He couldn’t imagine how he had heard her in the first place over the noise of the boardwalk. No one else in her small circle seemed to even notice that she was singing. She sat on the splintered boards, head lying back against the railing with her eyes shut and face turned up towards the sun. From across the boardwalk he studied her; completely unaware of how hard he had been staring. She wore rings on nearly every finger, and even from his distance, he could see small star shaped tattoos on her strumming hand. Then, something one of her friends said caused her to stop singing and burst out into a laugh that caused him to smile too.
Suddenly feeling conspicuous about watching the girl, he walked a little further ahead and found an empty bench to sit on. He found her in the crowd again and watched as she struck a match and light a cigarette. There was something about her that he couldn’t let go of. Something that caused him to forget his surroundings, forget that he was sitting on a crowded boardwalk staring at a complete stranger. A distant vibration seemed to bring every back, the smells, sounds and people buzzing around him. Again, a vibration from deep in his pockets, snapped him back to reality. He pulled his cell phone from his pocket and saw MOM flashing on the call screen. Immediate dread washed away any good feelings the strange girl stirred in him. Wanting to silence the phone and go on observing, Jim knew there was no escaping Olivia.
“Hello?” he said answering the phone reluctantly.
“Where are you?” his voice’s voice commanded in a way only she could.
“Remember, I told you I was talking a walk on the boardwalk.”
“You said a walk James, NOT a frigging journey. Home. Now.”
With that Olivia hung up and Jim was left with silence. He slowly closed his phone, stopped and flipped it back open again. Without thinking he started the camera function and pointed it in the direction of the raven haired songstress. Snapping two quick pictures of her from a distance was enough to appease him for the time being.
As intriguing as the girl was, he was beginning to scare himself with his quick to stalker-like status. He’d seen plenty of beautiful girls. His school had been full of them. But there was more than just beauty to this girl. She was a siren, captivating him in deadly fashion with her song. He needed to see her eyes. He felt like he would understand the enormity of it all if he could just see her eyes. It was an odd thought to have, especially if you consider that had his plans went in his favor, would most likely be on the road to the morgue by now.
His path back home took him past her again. This time, playing up his tourist status, he stopped just past their little group and looked out over the railing as if he were looking for someone lost in the sea of people on the beach. Jim could hear her humming louder now, and it was just as light and airy as it had been before. She seemed so carefree and oblivious of anything but whatever song was playing through her. He could have stayed there all day, as long as it was close to her. But the vibration of his phone once again brought him back to the reality of his life. Turning away from the mystery girl, he headed home to appease his mother.
Thoughts of suicide didn’t creep back into his mind for the rest of that day. Only thoughts of the girl were swirling, and even Olivia’s whining demands didn’t sway the feeling she’d left him with. Still, he couldn’t understand why the fleeting sight of a beautiful girl would control his every thought. Why he couldn’t shake it. Why, suddenly, she was haunting him. After a few hours of doing the list of chores assigned by the dragon lady, the thoughts of her were getting almost desperate. It was as if the memory of her was teasing him to come and find her. Not that there was any chance in hell he thought he would see her again. But still, he had to try. He’d never before been so consumed by anything; except, maybe, the feelings if inadequacy laid on him by his parents.
Dusk came that day in broad strokes of pinks, purples and golds. Even once the summer sun had set on the western horizon, the sky was left with color that no artists’ eye could match. Jim took advantage of the sudden shopping trip that struck his mother, and went back out on the boardwalk to see if he could find his mystery girl.
He heard her laugh at every turn, but never found her. Jim knew the odds were slim, but he knew there would be no sleep that night unless he gave it his all to look for her. Finally, the colors melted in the darkness of the night sky, and the stars came out to shine over the bright lights of the boardwalk. Finding an empty bench near where he first saw her, Jim looked out over the black waters of the Atlantic. For the first time since arriving in Shore Point, he could see why people flocked down here every summer. Even though the place was crawling with tourists, there was a feeling of serenity to it all.
Further down the beach, Jim could hear the sounds of people yelling, but not in distress. He walked down the boardwalk, past the bright lights and into shadows where the dark summer homes not yet occupied sat along the edge of the beach. He could make out five or six people tossing around a Frisbee, laughing and shouting at one another. Momentarily forgetting about his mystery girl, Jim watched them, wishing he could be apart of it all. Wishing that his life was different, and he had a group like that, that accepted him and that he could be with.
Before the familiar feelings of depressions and insecurity could bubble to the surface, another burst of noise came from one of the houses behind him. The door slammed and out came his mystery girl. Dashing across the boardwalk, she attempted to hop the rail to land on the beach, but instead her foot caught and nearly fell head first to the boardwalk. Jim caught her as she was about to hit, and set her straight back on two feet.
“Shit man, good thing you were standing there.”
Finally, even in the blanketed darkness of night, he could see her eyes. They were as green as summer grass and as alive as he was feeling. Now that he was close to her, he could smell… not perfume, not cologne… but her. She had a natural soft, powdery scent that made him feel at home.
“You okay?” Jim managed to say, unable to stop staring.
“Yeah,” she looked out over the beach, and then back to him, “we’re playing football. Wanna play?”
And that was everything. Those were the only words the girl said to him. He followed her to the beach and no one asked who he was. They just started to include him every now and again in their game, until it fizzled out an hour later. The group of seven meandered down the shore a ways before finally taking a place on the cool, moist sand near the tide line. He sat just outside their circle, just watching them interact with each other so naturally… so easily. Jim never had that in a group of friends. The few he had he would consider more acquaintance than anything else. But friends, not one. The same guy he saw earlier in the day, shaved head, tattoos now covered with a long sleeved shirt, was the first to ask him who he was.
“Jim… huh? I don’t think I know any Jim.
“Yeah, um, that girl there, by the water, she invited me down.”
“Oh,” was the guy’s reply. Jim was puzzled, but didn’t press the issue. The whole day had had a very strange vibe, so why should the night be any different.
Jim watched his mystery girl tease the edge of the ocean with her toes. He watched as she inched closer and closer, her legs disappearing a little more each time into the frothy surf.
Tattoo asked him another question, but Jim’s focus was on her. He watched as she leaned over to whisper to another girl, and that’s when it happened. That’s when she died.
— THREE –
God, how she wished she could remember how it got as bad as it did. Three tabs of blotter acid, and she was floating face down in the Atlantic. She didn’t feel the stranger’s hands pulling her from the surf and laying her on the sand. She didn’t see her friends’ dumbfounded faces as she lay motionless amongst the fragmented shells. She couldn’t for the life of her, remember how the hell she was breathing again. But she was. Her heart stopped. Her lungs stopped. But here she was, waking in her bed the next morning with one hell of a hangover.
Unable to focus on her bedside clock, she couldn’t tell if the clanking sounds of pots and pans were for breakfast, or simply to rouse her from her coma-like slumber. Lucy had a terrible knack for making the worst noise in the kitchen while she was sleeping. Lucy knew how it irritated her; so of course, she did it as often as possible. After all, that’s what little sisters are for, right?
Pulling her aching body from her small bed, she managed to dress herself in a tank top and sweat shorts, brush her hair and teeth and amble out to Lucy in the midst of a breakfast disaster. Egg shells on the floor, burnt toast in the toaster and charred bacon on the stove didn’t help the nausea that was assaulting her stomach.
“Lucy,” she said in her strongest husk of a whisper.
“What are you doing?”
“Making breakfast stupid. You were zonked, so I am making you a nice breakfast.”
“Sweet, but I can’t eat anything right now. Could you just chill with the banging.”
Lucy turned to look her in the face. For twelve, Lucy had the uncanny ability to stare down her five years older sister much like their mother once had. It was a stern, I-know-what-you’ve-been-up-to kind of stare, and it unnerved her.
“Lucy, don’t start with me. I’m not in the mood.”
“Abby, I don’t want to hear it. You made so much noise coming in last night. You and Buzz woke me up three times.”
“Buzz came in with me?” Abby asked more to herself than to Lucy.
“Yes. You don’t remember?”
“Yeah, of course I do. I’m still half asleep. What time is it anyway?”
Abby focused in on the stove clock, and tried to remember what time she had made it home. When she couldn’t remember, she dare not ask Lucy for fear of the look again, she tried to remember anything else she could about the night before. The acid, the water, and the gagging made for a bad morning. But still there seemed to be a missing element that her mind just wouldn’t let her to remember. Her chest and throat ached horribly, as did her stomach and back. Actually, her entire body felt like it had gone several rounds with a Mack truck, but those were the really tender spots.
After a hot bath and several cups of coffee, Abby was able to focus a bit more on the previous night. Acid, water, and what? Acid, water and what? What the hell did I do? But no answers came. What she did know however, was that it was time to take a break. She needed to chill out with partying every night, and give her body a break. The drugs had become more rampant after school let out, now that her and the other junkies had the summer off, it would escalate even further.
They were junkies, each and every one of them. Of course each had a different vise, but in the end they were all sporting track marks of some kind. But in their circle, it was not only acceptable; it was a way of life. All coming from a different kind of hell, they had each other. They relied on each other for comfort, support and therapy. Didn’t matter if that therapy came in the form of a shoulder to cry on, or a needle in the arm, they were there for each other above all else. Abby, however, was set apart from them because of Lucy. Lucy was her responsibility. The other junkies had only themselves to care for. Lucy only had Abby.
Since Abby was eleven and Lucy was six, Abby was, for all intense and purposes, Lucy’s sole parent. Their father was a long shore fisherman and was gone for weeks, sometimes even months. Their mother had been a local girl who grew tired of small town life and moved on to bigger, better things, leaving her husband and girls behind.