Read Down By The Water Online

Authors: Anna Cruise

Down By The Water

DOWN BY THE WATER

ANNA CRUISE

This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places and incidents either are the product of the author's imagination or are used fictitiously, and any resemblance to any persons, living or dead,  is entirely coincidental.

 

DOWN BY THE WATER

All rights reserved.

Copyright ©2013

Mission Bay Publishing

cover design by Mae I Design Photography

 

 

This book is protected under the copyright laws of the United States of America. Any reproduction or unauthorized use of the material or artwork herein is prohibited without the expressed written consent of the author.

 

 

Hi. Did you
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Yeah? Awesome –
thank you
for supporting authors!

 

No? You didn't? You “borrowed” it or downloaded it from some free site? Hmm. Look, nothing I say is gonna keep people like you from downloading pirated copies. Do me a favor, though. If you're not going to pay the three bucks it costs to buy my 82K word book, at least take the time to write a goddamn review in return for your “free” read. Seriously. I won't hate you as much if you do that.

PROLOGUE

 

 

 

It was the sound of water. Always, the sound of water. Soft at first, a slow, steady trickle, a gentle lapping. It should have been soothing, but I knew better. I knew what it could do.

It could suffocate. Smother.

It teased my toes, danced around my ankles. Cool, refreshing, the current tugging gently at my calves, almost like a child begging me to play. I stood there and savored the feeling, wishing it would stay like this. But I knew better. I knew what it would do.

It would find me. Claim me.

The water wrapped around my legs, an icy vise. It rose faster and I plunged deeper. To my thighs, to my waist. The water soaked my shirt, goose bumps—not from cold, but from fear—prickling my skin.

I panicked. Tried to get away, lifting my heavy limbs. And still it rose higher—to my chest, my neck. It  flirted with my mouth, teasing, a drop landing on my lips. And then a surge, forcing its way into my mouth, filling me up, silencing me. I gasped and sputtered and it receded. I gasped, a heady breath of air before it slammed into me again, rising higher, faster, covering my nostrils.

My eyes widened in panic and I  blinked, not knowing if tears were raining down on my cheeks or if it was just the water consuming more of me.

Ending me.

Destroying me.

 

ONE

 

 

I slammed the drive shaft into park and dropped my head on the steering wheel.

“Shit.” I said it out loud, even though I was alone. Alone in the middle of a two-lane highway in Central Minnesota. It was the last goddamn place I wanted to be.

I pushed my bangs off my forehead and tried one last time. Shoved the key in the ignition of my battered Toyota Tercel and turned it. The car started, then sputtered to life and I said a silent prayer, even thought I didn't believe in them. I touched my foot to the gas and pressed down. The engine spun and the car went nowhere.

I yanked the key out of the cylinder and flung the set on to the passenger seat. “I cannot fucking believe this.”

Tears of frustration clouded my vision and I angrily wiped them away. I reached for my purse and fumbled for my phone. The metallic case glinted in the sunlight, momentarily blinding me. I dragged my finger across the screen and checked the battery. Eighteen percent. I sighed. Of all the things I could have forgotten to pack, the car charger for my phone was probably the worst. Especially on a near cross-country drive.

I clicked on Jenna's name. It rang twice before my sister answered.

“Lily.” She sounded surprised. “You're not already there, are you?”

“No. I'm not.”

She waited. “Okay...”

“My car broke down.” The windshield was like a magnifying glass, amplifying the sun's rays, and the cool air from the A/C had already dissipated. and I felt beads of sweat blossom on my forehead.

“Are you serious?”

“Deadly.”

“Well, shit. How far did you get?” she asked.

I hesitated for a minute. “Minnesota.”

I could hear her swallow. “Where in Minnesota?”

“Close.”

She knew what I was talking about.

“Okay.” She sounded flustered. Disturbed. I knew exactly how she felt because the same emotions were running rampant through me. “Um, do you want me to call someone? Or come and get you?”

“Don't be an idiot.” The words came out harsher than I'd intended. “You're eight hours away, Jenna.”

“I know that,” she snapped. “But it's not like you have a ton of options.”

“Well, having my eighteen year-old sister come and rescue me isn't one of them.” I took a deep breath, slowly expelling it as I thought about what to do. “You don't even have a car.”

“I can call someone for you,” she said. “Save your phone battery.” I'd texted her an hour after leaving our house in North Dakota, telling her I'd forgotten my charger. She'd promised to pop it in the mail that morning so it would be at my new apartment on Monday. Which meant she might remember to do it the following week.

I sighed again. “Yeah, okay.”

I surveyed the deserted highway. Miles of corn fields flanked both sides of the road, the tall greenish-gold stalks standing at attention in the still, August air. I'd passed a small town about five miles back and I tried to think of what I'd seen as I'd sped past. A McDonald's. A wooden clapboard church, a Lutheran one, I thought, the white siding faded to a weathered gray from sun and age. A steel-roofed building that housed a few different businesses—a thrift shop, a small feed store. I squinted, thinking. There had been a gas station, too, a couple of antiquated pumps planted in cracked pavement. But I couldn't remember if there had been a mechanic shop attached to it.

“Where exactly are you? Do you know?”

I knew exactly where I was. I'd passed the green highway sign only a few miles back and my hand had tightened on the steering wheel as I read the name of the town ten miles up the road. Pelican Lake. The weight of it settled on my shoulders and I felt the anxiety I'd carried the whole day ratchet up a notch. But I'd talked myself through it. I'd known it would happen. It was inevitable, really. The memories, the fears—all of those things were bound to come hurtling at me. I'd told myself this over and over, even as my heart began to race and the roar sounded in my ears.

And then the fucking car had shimmied and jerked and I'd nearly swerved off the road.

“I'm a few miles away, Jenna.”

“Okay.”

She didn't need any more information. She knew exactly where I was.

Back in the last place either of us ever wanted to be.

 

TWO

 

 

“Hey.”

A voice startled me. I lifted my head off the back seat of the car and sat up, disoriented.

I wiped the sleep out of my eyes. I couldn't believe I'd dozed off. It had to be the heat. The air was thick and warm, smothering me like a blanket. By my calculation, it was easily a hundred degrees, even with all of the windows rolled down.

“Are you here to tow me?”

The guy staring back at me looked my age, maybe a couple years older. Brown hair tucked under a John Deere cap, sunburnt shoulders on full display under his pristine wife beater, a hint of stubble surrounding a slightly crooked smile. He didn't look like a tow truck driver, but it wasn't like I was an expert at identifying them.

“What?” He eyed me curiously. “You need a tow?”

I pushed open the door and got out. My legs were wobbly and I steadied myself, my hand gripping the door handle. “Who are you? What are you doing here?”

He held up his hands. “Whoa. I was just driving home. Saw your car on the side of the road and you passed out in the back. Just thought I'd stop and see if everything was okay.”

I narrowed my eyes. “I'm fine.”

“Do you take naps often on the side of the highway?”

“I said I needed a tow,” I retorted. My head felt fuzzy and my tongue was thick and swollen from lack of water. I hadn't drank anything since breakfast. Stupid move.

His lips quirked into a smile. “Mind if I take a look at it?”

“Are you a mechanic?”

He shook his head as he strolled to the front of the car. In one fluid motion, he popped the hood and propped it open. “Nope.”

“Then maybe we should wait for the tow truck.”

“No harm in looking,” he said, his voice muffled as he bent over the engine. His biceps, slick with sweat, flexed as he braced himself on the front end of my car. “I won't touch anything.”

I  tore my gaze away from him and glanced at my watch. It was almost five o'clock. I'd gotten a text from Jenna almost an hour earlier, telling me a tow truck was on the way. Where the hell were they?

I leaned against the car but pulled away quickly. The exterior felt like a pan left on the stove, it was so damn hot. I moved a little closer to the guy looking under my hood, curious as to if he was seeing anything. Maybe it just needed fluid or something. Maybe he could look at it and know what was wrong and he'd be able to fix it and I'd be on my way. I took another step but a wave of dizziness washed over me. I fought through it, making my way toward him and the open hood.

“Can you tell?” I asked. I rubbed at my forehead. My skin was clammy and, at that moment, I suddenly felt nauseous, like I might actually hurl.

He looked up at me and his expression was one of grave concern. “Yeah.”

I tried to focus, to forget about the bile rising up in my throat. “What is it?”

He stepped away from the open hood and I watched him go. I noticed his truck for the first time, an older model white Chevy streaked with dust and dirt. He opened the door to the cab and disappeared inside. A few seconds later, he reappeared, holding a bottle of water.

I licked my dry lips. “It just needs water?”

“No.” He thrust the bottle at me. “You do.”

I hesitated.

“You're about ten seconds away from heat exhaustion,” he warned.

“Bullshit.” But I knew he was serious. And right. Reluctantly, I reached for the bottle. It was cold and I resisted the urge to rub it across my forehead and chest. Instead, I twisted the cap off and took a long drink, hoping it would stay down.

“Not so fast,” the guy said. “Drink slow. And go sit over there.” He pointed to the ground on the passenger side of my car.

“Why would I sit on the ground?”

“Because it's in the shade.”

He grabbed my free hand and pulled me to where he wanted me, gently pushing me to the ground.

I sank to the gravel. The small rocks dug into my thighs and filled my sandals and I tried to shift into a more comfortable position.

“Are you always so bossy?” I snapped. I'd known this guy for all of five minutes and he was ordering me around like a little sister.

“Yep.” He grinned. “Name's Ty, by the way.”

I lifted the bottle and drank some more. The nausea had abated a little and my mouth didn't feel like it was stuffed with cotton anymore.

“And you are...?”

I stared at him. “Still thirsty.”

He chuckled. “I'll bet.” He looked toward the road and cupped his hand over the brim of his hat, shading his eyes as he scanned both lanes. “I don't see any sign of a tow truck. You sure you called someone?”

I rolled my eyes. “Yes. My sister did, I mean.”

“Who did she call?” Ty asked. “Timely Towing?”

I shrugged. “I don't know. She just said she talked to some guy and he'd be here as soon as he could.”

Ty nodded, frowning. “Probably Jimmy.” He glanced at his watch. “He's probably already at the bar. Saturday night.”

“You know the tow truck driver?” It was my turn to frown. “Like, there's only one?”

“Look around,” he said, gesturing with his hands. “How many do you think there are gonna be around here? Pelican Lake is the only town with a tow company in a thirty mile radius.”

He had a point.

I sighed. “Okay. So, what do I do?”

Ty lifted his hat and scratched at his head. He was a few inches taller than me, long and lean. His shirt, damp with sweat, clung to his chest and his cargo shorts hung loose, the brown fabric almost the exact same shade as his legs. My gaze returned to his face. Hazel eyes, friendly and warm. A smattering of freckles on his nose, a dimple in his left cheek when he smiled at me.  If I hadn't been so eager to get the hell out of there, I definitely would've taken a longer look.

“What do you do?” he repeated. “Well, first you tell me your name.”

“Why do you need my name?”

He crouched down, his face inches from mine, and the smile on his face deepened. “Because if I'm gonna take you home, I kind of think I should know what your name is.”

 

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