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"Don't struggle," the voice said. "Don't ... it'll be easier if you don't struggle ..."
But the roaring came again, like it always did, that growing surge of indistinct sound and a scream, muffled, distant ...
"Don't struggle ..."
But she was struggling ... great gasps of air from lungs bursting, and that split second, that terrifying instant of realization as strength gave out and water poured in, black and sickening and endless ...
"Don't ..." the voice was fading, as everything was fading, as her very life was fading ... ending ...
"Oh, God, help me!"
Kelsey Tanner jolted upright, heart pounding, and her hands flew out, desperately seeking something to hold on to.
"Hey, you're okay. This old boat's been through a lot, but it's still pretty dependable."
She didn't know the boy beside her, but her hands were clamped down on his shoulders, and his eyes were so close that she could make out soft, green flecks beneath his lashes.
"Oh," she murmured and pulled away, conscious now of the rocking movement of the ferry and the flush creeping over her cheeks. "Oh ... I didn't ... I mean ... I'm so sorry—"
The green eyes laughed at her. "Don't apologize. Women throw themselves at me all the time—I'm used to it. Look," he bent down to peer into her face. "You're still pretty pale—I'll get you some water."
"No, really, I feel fine. Don't go to any trouble—"
"No trouble," he grinned. "Be right back."
She gave a halfhearted nod and leaned back against the wall, watching him disappear down a stairway at the far end of the deck. That dream again! Kelsey shut her eyes against the memory, but the images began to gather like old familiar reruns, so she forced herself to stare at the vague outline of land in the distance. Beverly Island. She had never even heard of Beverly Island before, but Eric Connell, her mother's boyfriend, was coming here this summer to work on his plays and spend time with his kids, and he had invited Kelsey and Mrs. Tanner for a visit. Kelsey hadn't wanted to come—she'd had her heart set on going with her best friend to Jenny's family cabin in the mountains.
"His sons are lifeguards," Mom had tried to tempt her, "and his daughter can't wait to meet you—"
"We'll probably hate each other, and I'll probably hate the island, too!"
"You're going," Mom had said. And that was that.
Kelsey groaned and grabbed hold of the wall as the floor took a sudden slant beneath her feet.
Water. As far as she could see, choppy, gray water. An eternity of it.
"Here you go."
She slammed back against the railing as a hand reached out to steady her.
"Hey, easy—I really think you should sit down. Before you fall down." And it was him again, green eyes and wide, lazy smile, and strong hands guiding her back to the wooden bench, safely away from the sea.
"Just drink this and stay put. I'm a lifeguard, but I'd rather not have to rescue you this far from shore."
Kelsey's ears pricked up. "Lifeguard? Are you Eric Connell's son?"
For a moment Kelsey felt a twinge of uneasiness, looking into his eyes. He stared at her, his grin slowly fading. "No. Skip Rochford. But I know both his sons. Are you ... a friend?"
"Sort of. I'm just visiting."
"Oh. Then I guess you haven't heard."
The uneasiness began to spread. "Heard what?"
Skip opened his mouth, but before he could answer, Mrs. Tanner rushed up, smiling as if she'd known him all her life.
"Isn't this boat great!" Mom waved her arms in the air. "I can't believe we're really here, can you, Kelsey? No city for two whole weeks! I wanted you to feed the gulls with me, but you were having the best nap, and—"
At that, Skip glanced down at Kelsey's bent head. "You are better now, aren't you?"
"Yes," Kelsey said quickly. "Thanks again." She downed the last of the water and looked up to see her mother scrutinizing her.
"Something's wrong," Mrs. Tanner said flatly.
"No, Mom, it's just a little headache," Kelsey brushed it off. "I'm feeling much—"
"It was the dream again," Mom said, and Kelsey looked away, almost guiltily. "Oh, Kelsey, you haven't had it for such a long time now, I just—"
"It's all this," Kelsey's voice tightened. "The boat and all this water—you know how much I hate water, but you made me come anyway—" With a sharp intake of breath she folded her arms across her chest, trying to stop the violent shaking inside her.
"Well ... if you're sure you're okay then," Skip said slowly, taking a step back. "I'd better get below. We'll be docking in a few minutes. See you on the island, huh?" He grinned and waved, vanishing into the crowds, but Kelsey closed her eyes and sighed.
"Kelsey" Mom said quietly. "Honey, I'm sorry. I thought it'd be good for you to have a vacation. Make new friends. I ... guess I thought ..." her voice sank to a whisper and trembled, "maybe you could forget ..."
She trailed off, but Kelsey's mind raced on. Forget? How in the world would she ever be able to forget? When every sight of water reminded her? When the same nightmare kept coming back? When every time she looked in a mirror, the reminder was always there: her father's black eyes snapping back at her, her father's black hair, wavy and wild ... his nose ... his chin ... his olive complexion ... how could she ever forget when he wouldn't let her?
"Honey," Mom's hand settled lightly on Kelsey's head. "If you really hate it that much, you can call Jenny, and—"
"It's okay," Kelsey mumbled. "Come on—we'd better find our suitcases." As they joined the line near the exit, she even tried to laugh. "Well, at least Eric's kids have never met me, so I still have a chance of impressing somebody. What are their names again?"
Mom counted them off. "Let's see ... there's Beth ... the boys are Justin ... and Neale. Eric said this vacation was really Beth's idea, that they see each other so seldom, she wanted to get everybody together again."
Kelsey mulled this over. "That's nice. She sounds sweet"
"Eric sure loves her—and Justin—he talks all the time about Justin's honors at school."
"What about Neale?"
Mom hesitated, a slight frown creasing her brow. "You know, I'm not really sure. Eric hardly ever talks about Neale. I might be wrong, but I sense something there. A holding back, maybe. I get the feeling he doesn't know Neale as well as the others."
"Maybe Neale's the problem child," Kelsey shrugged.
"Maybe," Mom mused. "Neale's the oldest, so it was probably hardest on him when their mother died. Whoops! Hang on, honey, I think we're going out!"
Kelsey braced herself for the stampede as they were sucked through the doors and down the gangplank. The first thing she saw was the pier, swarming with people and shops. The next thing she saw was Eric, fighting his way toward them.
Kelsey lifted her hand to wave.
And then she saw Eric's face and froze.
"Marjorie—" his voice cracked, and he grabbed them, held them close. "Marjorie, it's Beth." And then, as if both she and Kelsey were beyond understanding— "My daughter. She's missing."CHAPTER 2
"What?" Mom's lips moved, marionettelike. "What—"
"The boys are with the search party now. I tried to get ahold of you, but—"
"We stopped off to see my parents." Mom looked dazed. "I never—"
Eric held up his hands. "I have to get back. We can talk on the way."
He shepherded them to a jeep, throwing their luggage in the back, and Kelsey climbed in with the suitcases.
"It happened three days ago ..." His shoulders hunched forward, fingers strained white on the wheel. "I should have kept tabs on her. She's only thirteen ... but my work ..." His voice faltered. "I just can't believe she's ..."
"Don't," Mom whispered. "Don't even think it."
"They found her sandals and a beach towel—covered with blood ..."
Kelsey looked away, suddenly feeling sick.
"Beth's a good swimmer, like her brothers. She knows the island, and she's not one to take risks."
"You don't think," Mom suggested gently, "that she ... well ... staged something ... maybe ran away?"
"She was going out that night," Eric said. "With a local boy she really cared about. Skip Rochford."
"Skip ..." Kelsey murmured, but Eric didn't hear.
"The ferry only runs to the mainland twice a day. The last trip's at four, and Beth was still home then. I know because she yelled at me from the hall, and I looked at the clock on my desk."
"What about a private boat?" Mom was almost begging.
"They've already checked it out. Beth had no reason to leave here—she was happy."
Skip Rochford! Kelsey was sure that had been the name of the boy on the boat, but if that was the same Skip Rochford Eric was talking about, then why hadn't he seemed more upset? She pressed her nose against the fogged window, staring, when suddenly out of the rolling mist ahead something loomed up like a watchful animal. She leaned forward, frowning at the rocky horizon, at the black, ugly scars swelling against the hazy twilight, until the car turned into a driveway and stopped alongside a cottage.
The front door banged open immediately. "Dad?"
"Justin—has there been any—"
The shake of the boy's head stopped Eric in his tracks. "Nothing. They're still searching the cliffs, but ..." He looked at Kelsey and her mother standing awkwardly by the car.
"Justin," Eric murmured, "this is Marjorie and Kelsey. This is my son Justin."
"You look cold," Justin said softly. "Come on inside."
He stood a head taller than Kelsey, and although she knew he was about her age, his face had a mixture of solemnity and little-boyishness he would probably never outgrow. His hair was sun-tinted brown, silkily brushing his shoulders, and his eyes were big and brown and gentle, lowering shyly as she stared at him.
As Mom went into the house with Eric, Kelsey hesitated on the porch. "I'm ... really sorry," she stammered.
His eyes raised slowly, meeting hers for a brief instant, then glancing away. "It's good you're here."
Kelsey nodded, squeezing past him into the living room. Justin's T-shirt smelled of salt and sand; his damp jeans clung tightly to his narrow hips. As he went to get their bags, Kelsey noticed a family photograph on the mantel—Eric, Justin, another boy half hidden in the shadows, and—she supposed—Beth, a pretty girl with dimples and long hair and a long red scarf around her neck.
"I'll show you your room if you want," Justin said behind her.
"Well ... I don't know if we're staying—"
"Sure you're staying. Dad needs privacy for his work, so we have the cottage next door. Follow me."
He carried her suitcase across the yard and gave her a quick tour of the house.
"Neale and I are in here," Justin pointed to the first upstairs bedroom as they went past. "I guess he'll be coming back, now that it's getting dark ... Anyway, here's your room. You can use this first bed." He flipped on the light, and as she stepped across the threshold, her heart sank.
Beth was everywhere—in the decor, the clothes in the closet, the shoes under a chair. Kelsey swallowed hard and stared at the French doors next to her own bed, almost a whole wall of floor to ceiling glass.
"I don't think I can stay here."
Justin looked sympathetic. "Beth was really looking forward to meeting you. She'd thought up all kinds of things for you to do."
Kelsey walked slowly over to her bed, then saw something which made her stare. Propped against the pillows was an envelope with her name on it.
"What's this?" she asked softly.
Justin shrugged, a sad smile crossing his face. "Who knows ... Beth was always leaving little surprises around for everybody."
Kelsey reached out and took the envelope between her fingers, sliding out the paper inside, staring down at the message for a long time:
Welcome, Kelsey! So glad you're here!
"She didn't even know me," Kelsey murmured at last. She glanced up at Justin, who looked away. "Oh, Justin, I can't believe this is happening—"
"I can't, either." Justin shook his head, bewildered, like a child who didn't understand. "I keep waiting for her to walk in ..."
Kelsey sat down. "Do you ... want to talk about it?"
"There's not much to tell," he sighed. "I didn't see Beth that day, but Neale saw her going home around three-thirty. She was supposed to meet a friend of mine that night ..."
Skip Rochford ... "You and Neale are lifeguards?"
"My friend Skip's one, too. There's two beaches on the island for swimming. West Beach is just down the hill from here. It goes about a mile along shore before it runs into the cliffs. The cliffs go another two miles—nobody's allowed to swim there—it's all sharp rocks and really deceiving. The cove's the most dangerous spot on the whole island. East Beach is on the other side of the island from here, but it's private."
"Who uses it?" Kelsey asked.
"The people who live there don't really use the beach that much 'cause they have swimming pools. But they still want a lifeguard around for security."
"Which beach do you work on?"
"We switch off. East Beach only needs one lifeguard. It's small, and there's never much going on." He crossed to the French doors and stared out into the rainy darkness. "Three lifeguards ... and not one of us helped Beth ..."
Kelsey was silent, turning the note over in her hand.
"They found some of her things at the cove," Justin said quietly. "Beth liked to take walks by herself ... go off alone and think." He smiled, remembering. "Sometimes she'd come back with these stories—she wanted to be a writer—so half the time you never knew if what she said was real or imaginary."
Kelsey's throat ached, and she looked away.
"I don't know why she went there when she knew how dangerous it was." Justin lowered himself onto the other bed. "They think she probably fell, that she was hurt so bad, she never had a chance."
"What do you mean?"
"The cove. It's—" Justin broke off abruptly as a squeal of tires sounded beneath the windows, followed by the slamming of a car door. "There's Neale—maybe he's heard something—"
Kelsey followed slowly as Justin raced downstairs. Now she heard a new voice—deep and authoritative—cutting off the questions as they tumbled from Justin's mouth.
"They've called off the search till tomorrow, Justin, that's all I know."
"But—it'll be so cold out there again and—" Behind Justin's rising panic came the thud of a cabinet door, the chink of a coffee cup.
"Justin, why the hell are you worrying about the cold? You know as well as I do that she's dead."
Kelsey, frozen in the hall outside the kitchen, felt the sudden, suffocating silence ... heard the gurgle of coffee being poured.
The deep voice sighed, gathering patience. "Look. You know what the cove's like. The tide comes in like a flood. Even if she didn't get smashed on the rocks, any one of those underwater caves could have sucked her down."
"I'm not giving up yet."
"Fine," the voice replied. "Where's Dad?"
"Oh, hell, are they here?"
There was no mistaking the disgust in the voice, and Kelsey cringed back against the wall. She had never heard such coldness, such lack of feeling, and an inexplicable stab of fear went through her. She had no desire to meet Neale, but before she could leave, Eric and Mom rushed through the door.
Kelsey, slipping in after them, got her first look at Neale Connell and felt her heart squeeze into her throat.
He was much taller than Justin—so lean and tan in just the faded jeans he wore that he seemed like a shadow lurking in the far corner of the kitchen. He tipped his coffee cup to his lips, casual and unhurried, yet from across the room Kelsey knew he had seen her. He was watching her even now, she could feel it—those dark, dark eyes in cool appraisal over the rim of his cup; the peculiar light they had, like some cat, calmly assessing his prey ...
Kelsey averted her eyes, but not before noticing his thick black hair, the firm set of his jaw, the high cheekbones, the sinewy curve to his upper arms. He lowered the cup, still watching her, and she moved closer to Justin.
Eric pressed his fists to his eyes. "We have to do something—"
"There's nothing else we can do," said Neale. He poured himself another cup of coffee. "There's nothing anyone can do. They've questioned everyone they can think of. Nobody saw her, and nobody knows anything. Or so they say."
"No," Eric said quietly. "I can't accept that."
Neale shifted and cleared his throat. "Dad ... I think you're gonna have to."
Eric stared back at him. "Wasn't there anything else Skip could remember?"
"I wouldn't count on Skip for anything," Neale said acidly.
"He still says he came by to get Beth at six, and she wasn't here," Justin broke in.
"But I was right next door," Eric said. "Why didn't he tell me Beth wasn't here?"
"He did, Dad," Justin said softly. "Don't you remember? He said he yelled in at the door, but you were typing, and he didn't want to interrupt you."
Eric looked exhausted. "Yes, you're right ... I'm like that when I'm working ... not always quite aware ..."
Neale pushed himself slowly away from the counter. "Why don't you get some sleep? If we hear anything, we'll wake you."
"Yes," Eric said absently. "I don't believe you've met—Neale, this is Marjorie and Kelsey."
Neale mumbled something unintelligible and Kelsey nodded, escaping gratefully to the hall. She shook her head, trying to clear it, and started slowly upstairs, the floorboards groaning beneath her footsteps. The only upstairs light on was the one in Beth's room ...
Kelsey hesitated in the doorway. Yes, Beth was everywhere, sweet and thoughtful, and somehow, very much alive ...
Excerpted from The Lifeguard by Richie Tankersley Cusick. Copyright © 1988 Richie Tankersley Cusick. Excerpted by permission of OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIA.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Posted February 25, 2015
Posted June 11, 2007
I have read and reread this book. Though only thing I didn't like about it was that it was too short and there is not a sequile to it. It is a book that I hated to finish. If you a chance to read it then do it, you wouldn't be sorry.
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Posted February 24, 2005
Posted December 13, 2004
Kelsey's summer should have been paradise - a holiday on Beverly Island, complete with sundrenched beaches and gorgeous lifeguards. But Kelsey's dream holiday quicky turns into a nightmare. It starts with the note from a girl who's missing. Then there's the crazy man in the lighthouse with his mysterious warnings. And there have been a number of supicious drownings . . . At least she has the lifeguards around to protect her . . . Poor Kelsey. Someone forgot to tell her that lifeguards don't always like to save lives. I really liked this book. While I was reading it the chapter flew by. It's the type of book you can't put down. I really liked all of the characters in this book especially Neale. There is something about the strong silent type that grabs my attention. Definitely worth reading!Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted November 1, 2003
Posted April 30, 2009
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Posted May 21, 2009
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Posted August 3, 2010
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