“A moody and moving, richly scenic romance.” – Kelly deVos, author of Fat Girl on a Plane
“An emotional riptide of a read! I’m still searching for my next breath...and my next tissue.” – Darcy Woods, author of Summer of Supernovas
Meredith Hall has a secret. Every night she takes the ferry to meet Ben, her best friend and first love. Though their relationship must remain a secret, they’ve been given a second chance, and Mer's determined to make it work. She lost Ben once before and discovered the awful reality: she doesn't know how to be happy without him…
Until Wyatt washes ashore—a brash new guy with a Texas twang and a personality bigger than his home state. He makes her feel reckless, excited, and alive in ways that cut through her perpetual gloom. The deeper they delve into each other’s pasts, the more Wyatt’s charms become impossible to ignore.
But a storm is brewing in the Outer Banks. When it hits, Mer finds her heart tearing in half and her carefully constructed reality slipping back into the surf. As she discovers that even the most deeply buried secrets have a way of surfacing, she’ll have to learn that nothing is forever—especially second chances.
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|Publisher:||Page Street Publishing|
|Product dimensions:||5.60(w) x 8.10(h) x 1.40(d)|
|Age Range:||14 - 17 Years|
About the Author
Read an Excerpt
The sun hung low over the Pamlico Sound, a vivid smudge of orange against a watercolor sky. If I'd been a tourist, I'd have snapped a million pictures, seeking that perfect image to post on social media with some cheesy caption about the beauty of life.
Instead, I adjusted my earbuds and jammed my hands deep in the pockets of my hoodie. In early April, it should've been warmer, but even the local weatherman was stumped by this cold spell. With every exhale, my breath formed a small, wispy cloud, easily claimed by the wind. I leaned against the ferry railing and tried to ignore the chill worming its way through the denim of my jeans.
Watching the sunset over the sound — the wide expanse of salt water separating my island from the North Carolina mainland — used to be my favorite thing. It made me feel like anything was possible.
Now, I just felt alone, bitter, cold.
It didn't make any sense. The ocean wasn't alive. It couldn't do anything to me personally, but that's how I felt. Like it had betrayed me.
If I had a choice, I'd steer clear of it for the rest of my life, but I lived on Ocracoke, one of the southernmost islands of the Outer Banks. Avoiding the ocean was like making a New Year's resolution to quit junk food and exercise every day. Eventually you found yourself back on the couch, eating Oreos and binge-watching TV shows.
A flock of seagulls screeched overhead. I twisted up the volume on my iPod until the husky voice of my favorite indie singer drowned out the ferry's engine and the constant roar of wind and waves.
Just a little while longer.
I inhaled, lifting my chin to the wind. The music may have blocked out the sound of the ocean, but nothing could block out the salty, tangy smell. Living on the Outer Banks, that smell permeated every part of my life — my clothes, my house, every good memory, and every bad one.
Under my feet, the engine vibrations changed. We were close to shore.
I left the railing and squeezed through a couple of parked cars, stopping next to my bright red scooter — a surprise birthday gift from my parents, from back when they still had a daughter they could be proud of.
Climbing on the seat, I rubbed life into my frozen fingers. Ahead, someone appeared between the vehicles. It was Henry — one of the few people in the world I liked. He'd worked as a deckhand on the Ocracoke-to-Hatteras ferry for as long as I could remember.
His weathered face lit up. "Mer." The wind lifted a patch of his gray hair and set it back out of place. Not that he seemed to care. "My favorite passenger."
"I'll bet you say that to all the girls."
"Nope. I just have a soft spot for the ones who scowl at everything for no reason."
A smile tugged at the corners of my lips. "Ah, Henry, you're such a charmer. How is it that some frisky lady at the seniors' home hasn't snapped you up yet?"
He winked. "Who's to say they haven't?"
"If you had a hot date, I want to hear all about it."
"I'll tell you what ..." He shrugged inside his heavy jacket. At least he was smart enough to dress for the unseasonable weather. "I'll tell you, if you spill the name of the feller you've been meeting over on Hatteras."
Whoa. Conversation whiplash. I swallowed and looked away. "There's no guy. Just a boring job at the arcade."
"Yeah, right. You get on this ferry at night, looking all flushed and dreamy." He rolled his eyes and made a pouty expression. "Never saw pinball games affect anyone that way."
"The fact you assume they're all pinball games shows your age, and I do not look like that." My eyes narrowed. "Not ever."
"Sure you do."
"The next time you go to the doctor, you need to get your vision checked."
"There's nothing wrong with my eyesight." He leaned against a nearby truck, his face turning serious. He squinted against the last of the daylight. "I just hope whoever you're seeing is good enough for you. Underneath all this" — he waved his hand in the general direction of my ripped jeans, black hoodie, and the purple streaks of hair mixed in with my own black strands — "there's a good girl. You need a boy with a big heart and a mind of his own, a boy who'll challenge you."
I snorted. "Even if a boy like that existed, I'm not sure I'd deserve him."
I said the words without thinking. They were true, but they hurtled forward, straight into a gaping void of awkward silence.
Henry stared at me, his eyes almost lost in the folds of his weathered skin, but I still found the mixture of sadness and pity hiding there. I'd seen it so many times over the last few months, it was hard not to recognize. My fingers curled into fists, and I slowly exhaled. If I never saw that look again, it'd be too soon.
Henry straightened, looking uncomfortable. The Outer Banks bred tough old men who didn't express their feelings easily. "Mer, if there's anything I can do, you'd tell me, right?"
"I'm fine," I lied. "Everything's great."
"Well, good then." He rubbed one hand across his chin. "We're almost at Hatteras. Guess I'll be seeing you again later tonight?"
"Yeah. Later." I plucked my helmet from the back of the scooter, tugged it on, and fired up the engine, avoiding the lingering questions in his gaze.
My heel bounced as I waited for the ferry to finish docking. After a few minutes, Henry gave me the signal, and I drove straight off, passing the Hatteras terminal. Unlike the tiny landing on Ocracoke, this one had shops and stores, and people normally milled around. Tonight, though, it was strangely deserted. Everyone must've decided it was too damn cold to be out.
I worked the scooter up to the speed limit, fast enough for the brisk evening air to make my eyes water. The highway headed northeast, away from the last of the twilight sky. By the time I reached the small road leading to the right spot on the beach, it was fully night. The sky stretched from horizon to horizon, inky black and a perfect contrast to the brightness of the constellations. I knew many by heart: Cassiopeia, Cygnus, Orion, Ursa Major, Ursa Minor. I'd learned most of them from my dad. On warm summer evenings, we'd float together on our windsurfing boards. He'd tell me stories about all the places he'd traveled before he met my mom, and I'd tell him about all the things I wanted to see and do when I grew up. My dad, the optimist, believed we could be that way again, but I knew it would never be the same.
I parked at the end of the road and climbed off, my backpack slung over one shoulder. On the edge of the dune, blocking out the stars, he waited for me.
My bag slipped. I sprinted forward and crashed into his chest. His arms circled around me, steadying me. I pressed my face against his flannel jacket and inhaled his scent — warm, salty, familiar.
"You're late. I thought you weren't coming," he said, his low voice trailing past my ear.
My chest tightened. I leaned back, keeping my arms around him. "I promised, didn't I?"
He didn't respond, his expression hidden by the shadows of the night. I pulled his head down until our foreheads met.
"You still don't trust me?"
His shoulders stiffened. If he doubted my promise, it was my fault. I'd lied to him once — the kind of lie you couldn't recover from. Only somehow, he'd given me this second chance.
"You know I trust you." His breath fanned my face. "I wouldn't wait here on this freezing beach for you every night if I didn't, but I still worry when you're late."
"I'm sorry." I used to be a punctual person, but it seemed like I was always late these days, no matter how hard I tried. "I wouldn't blame you if you left, but you always wait."
"Only because I have nowhere better to be." His cool lips brushed my forehead, and I looked up at him. His eyes crinkled at the corners. "And maybe because I like you ... a little."
"Hey." I smacked him on the chest, then tugged him closer, pushing my hips against his. I buried my fingertips in the dark hair at the base of his neck. "Just a little?"
"Okay, maybe a lot." He chuckled in my ear, opening his flannel jacket and scooping me inside. "I love you, Mer."
His words surrounded me, like the warmth of the jacket he'd wrapped us in. They anchored me, seeping into all the cold, dim places I tried to hide from him. "Me, too," I whispered.
But my feelings for him were so much bigger than words. People didn't understand. Because I was only seventeen and Ben was eighteen, they figured we couldn't possibly understand real love. Sure, we could feel love for family and friends, but somehow adults believed that true romantic love was reserved for them. That we needed to be able to legally vote or drink before we could understand what we felt. But Ben and I were different. We'd always been different.
My lips found his neck, then his jaw, working their way up. When I reached the corner of his mouth, he sighed and captured mine back. I closed my eyes and welcomed the heat of his kiss, sweet and familiar, like curling up in my favorite blanket on a cold night. It was amazing how one kiss could erase all my doubts and make everything feel right again.
We broke apart, and I tucked my face into his neck, letting his solid presence block the wind off the ocean.
He caught my hands against his chest. "You're freezing. Where are your gloves? Why aren't you wearing a jacket?" I huddled closer. "It's a matter of principle. I shouldn't have to bundle up in April."
"So you're taking on the weather now?" He blew on my fingers, warming them up between his callused hands. "Like that time you took on Santa at the mall."
I pushed away from him and groaned. "That was ten years ago, and I was just trying to prove he wasn't the real Santa."
"By punching him in the gut?" He tugged my hair and grinned.
"To prove it was padding." I tried to catch his hand, but he was quicker. "How was I supposed to know that part wasn't fake?"
"You got us all kicked out of the mall. I never even got to sit on his knee. You still owe me for that."
"After ten years?" I cocked an eyebrow. "I think it's time to move on."
He suddenly crouched, an evil glint in his expression. I turned to run, but he lunged forward. His shoulder dug into my belly, and next thing, I was spinning in a circle, five feet off the ground.
"Ah!" I squealed and smacked his back, but he whirled me faster. "Enough. Stop."
He set me down on the sand, and I stumbled into him. "Okay," I said, panting, "we're even now."
He swooped up my backpack in one hand. "Maybe if you let me sit on your knee."
"Yeah, right." I jumped on his back, and he hooked his arms under my legs. "You'd crush me." I snuggled my cheek against the warm flannel of his jacket and hung on while his long strides carried us to our spot.
It was a small nook between the dunes that gave some shelter from the wind. We'd claimed it years earlier, back when we were still kids, burying each other in the sand and gorging on Twizzlers until we both got sick. It was partway between his house on Hatteras and my house on Ocracoke. We'd never gone to the same school, but our mothers had been best friends, so we'd always had the weekends together.
Now, they didn't even speak to each other.
I slid to the ground and tugged my backpack from his hand. "But if you're good, I'll sit on your knee."
He waggled his eyebrows. "I'll be so good. Scout's honor."
"That would mean more if you'd actually been a Scout."
I pulled out a battery-powered lantern and a blanket. Together, we shook it out and spread it across the sand. He stretched out, propped up on one elbow, and I sat cross-legged facing him, with the lantern between us. In the fluorescent glow, I cataloged his familiar features. If I stared long enough, I could still find the skinny, dark-haired kid who'd taught me how to tie my shoes. He'd filled out over the years, but his brown eyes still held the same solid goodness. They still lit up when he teased me out of a funk.
He grinned, his hair curling over his forehead. "Like what you see?"
"Yeah." I boldly met his stare, until he flushed and looked away. I smirked, loving that I could make him squirm.
"So, what do you have planned for us tonight?"
"Ugh. You make me sound like the activity coordinator on a cruise ship, but I did bring this." I reached into my backpack and pulled out a harmonica.
"Wait, you're learning a musical instrument?" He stretched out his hand, and I surrendered it for his inspection. "Did hell freeze over?"
"No. I just wanted to try something new." Something to occupy the long hours when I couldn't be with him.
He shot me a skeptical look and handed it back. "I'm just remembering that poor flute."
This time, I blushed. My mom forced me to take flute lessons in middle school, claiming that I needed to broaden my interests. Since I spent so much time listening to music, she decided I'd like playing it, too. I told her classical flute wasn't my thing, but she signed me up for lessons anyway. So I threw the stupid instrument on the ground and rode over it with my bike ... multiple times. When Mom found out, she threatened to ban me from the ocean for a full month, but Ben saw how upset I was and told my mom that he ran over it with his bike. My punishment was miraculously lifted.
Ben had always looked out for me like that, even when I didn't deserve it. Maybe that's why his mom started seeing me as a bad influence.
"Hey." Ben's voice recaptured my attention. "You okay?"
The seriousness in his gaze held me prisoner. The wind lifted the corners of the blanket and my breath caught. I used to see my future in his eyes. More than anything, I wanted to see that again, to know that despite everything that had happened, we still stood a chance.
I looked away, swallowing back my dark thoughts and spinning the harmonica in my hand. "Yeah."
"Good." He rolled onto his back, stretching his arms up and linking his fingers under his head. "Because I'm ready for my personal Meredith Hall concert now, and if I'm not impressed, I expect a full refund."
I gave Ben a small smile. He was trying to lighten my mood, but tonight my worries hovered like thick fog on the horizon, impossible for even Ben to fully dissipate it. So, I lifted my harmonica and started to play. Sad notes drifted across the beach, mingling with the sound of the waves. The light from our lantern gradually gave way to the inky darkness of the night. In front of me, Ben's lips went from a smile to a grimace, and he threw his hands against his ears.
I stopped playing. "What's wrong?"
"No offense, Mer, but that was terrible. Maybe you're holding it backward."
"Gee, thanks. I'm not a complete idiot." I glared at the instrument, then chucked it at my backpack. "Stupid thing."
Ben snorted. "Maybe you should run over it with your scooter."
I considered it, but instead I lay down in the curve of his arm. He pulled the edge of the blanket around us. My hand spread out across his chest, and I tapped my finger in time to his heartbeats — solid and reassuring.
"You seem gloomy." His words rumbled under my cheek.
"I'm always gloomy. It's because of that stupid rain cloud that follows me around."
Ben laughed. "More gloomy than usual then." He brushed the hair from my forehead, his touch as soft and tentative as his words. "It's grown out again. I like it."
I focused on the stars above us.
Four months ago, I'd stood in my bathroom and chopped at my long hair until there was hardly anything left. That night, I jammed my hands in my mouth to keep from screaming. I buried my face in a towel, but the sobs still tore my chest apart. I wanted to rip the skin from my body, but instead I sneaked out and rode into the night. I ended up here on the beach, at our spot, lost in the darkest of thoughts. I wanted it all to end — the pain and guilt, the weight of everyone's disappointment.
That's when Ben found me — the boy who'd been my best friend since we'd both been in diapers, the boy who'd escorted me to my very first school dance, the boy I'd daydreamed about marrying one day, and the boy I'd broken with my lies. After everything I'd done to us, his presence was a miracle, my miracle. I didn't deserve him anymore, but I needed him anyway.
For months since he found me, we'd met in secret. He'd become my lifeline, and I liked to think that maybe I'd become his.
Now, my hair was long enough to brush the collar of my shirt, and I'd learned to breathe again. I'd started to feel.
Ben's hand stilled. "Tell me what's wrong."
I scraped my teeth across my lip, welcoming the momentary pain. I'd already learned the consequences of not trusting Ben. I'd learned that he'd always have my back, even when I didn't have his. So why was my belly tightened into a hard knot?
I just needed to get it over with.(Continues…)
Excerpted from "The Sound of Drowning"
Copyright © 2019 Katherine Fleet.
Excerpted by permission of Page Street Publishing Co..
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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