Except there’s a grip on my arm—a hand, not teeth. It drags me up in a whoosh of water, and we break the surface together.
The cold night air has never felt so good in my lungs. I gasp and gasp, unwilling to stop breathing after even a few seconds without it, unable to calm down.
Something is shoved under my arms. The white and red of a life preserver. Christopher must have thrown one down before he jumped in after me. In a kaleidoscope of stars the world comes into focus. The water, lapping at me like a living thing. Christopher, his dark hair wet, his grip on my wrist firm as he tows us toward the yacht. And the boat itself, waves drawing intermittent shadows across the white bow.
It might have been ten years before we reach the bottom of the swim steps. Or maybe only ten minutes. I’m deadweight on the life preserver, unable to kick even once to help make progress.
“Can you climb?” Christopher shouts.
I stare at him, unable to process the words. The cold has done something to my body, made me sluggish and stiff. It’s done the same thing to my brain.
“Let’s get you through the middle,” he says, reaching for the life ring. “I’ll make sure you’re secure and then go for help.”
Sudden panic is enough to jolt me out of my shock. “No.”
“It will only take a minute.”
He thinks I’m worried about being left alone in the water. More than that I’m worried about the disappointment on Daddy’s face. “I can climb,” I say, my voice shaky and thin.
Christopher stares at me for a moment, and when he speaks, his voice is softer. “He won’t be mad at you. You should hear the way he talks about you when you’re not there.”
That’s exactly why I can’t let him know I was smoking a joint and falling overboard. He wants me to be like Christopher—to be the valedictorian and go to business school. That’s something I’ll never be able to do for him, but at least I can spare him this. “Please.”
“Fuck,” he mutters.
In that moment I realize he already knows this will be a secret. Our secret. Because he didn’t follow procedure. He should have shouted for help and hit the emergency button first. And he definitely shouldn’t have jumped in after me, not without someone else on deck to pull us both back up. An unbroken sky rises from the metal railing above us. The night is quiet except for our fast breathing and the lap of the water. “Thank you,” I whisper.
“I swear to God,” he says darkly, “if you fall and die, I’ll kill you myself.”
That would make me laugh if I were capable of doing anything other than pant. He makes me go first, though I’m not sure how he would manage to catch me if I fell. If there’s one thing I know by now, it’s that he would try. So I focus on each rung with every ounce of determination in me, grip the textured metal and pray there’s enough muscle left inside me to hold on. There are a thousand steps up the side of the yacht. A million of them. It’s my own personal journey to the promised land, and it tests my determination with every aching pull.
When I reach the top, I push myself through the railing and collapse onto the deck.
A warm body tumbles beside me, but I can’t look sideways. There’s only the stars, unblinking. Then a face appears above me. Christopher, looking wet and strong and grim. “We should go back to shore. The fall. The cold. You should have a doctor look at you.”
“Harper. You’re freezing.”
There’s no way to argue that point, not when I’m shaking so hard my teeth are chattering. I think that’s a good sign. I read that somewhere. It means the body is warm enough to shiver, but I can’t get the words out through the violent movement.
He curses again and disappears from my view. I close my eyes in quiet despair. He’s gone to get Daddy, and there’s nothing I can do to stop him. The week we would have spent at sea, now we’ll spend it in some fancy emergency room even though I’m fine.
Not enough time has passed when hands force their way under me. Then I’m lifted, tucked close to a body as wet as mine but so much warmer. Christopher carries me belowdecks, turning carefully to the side so I don’t bump against the narrow walls.
He lays me down on my bed, and my arms are made of lead. My legs might as well be anvils, that’s how useful they would be if I were in the water right now. I’m helpless in front of this person who should be my enemy. Poor little rich girl, he called me, and I want to cry and rage because he’s right about me.
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