* * *
I sink to the bottom of the glimmering midnight pool, the cashmere-soft water swallowing me whole. With a lungful of sticky night air held tight in my lungs, I wait until my toes scrape the concrete bottom before floating to the surface.
My father always says, “Nothing good ever happens after midnight.”
But it’s 1 AM.
And this is divine.
I brush a ribbon of chlorine-soaked hair from my face, take a deep breath, and close my eyes, letting the full moon paint my body as I float on my back. Muscles liquid. Mind emptied of the day’s worries. Naked as the day I was born and as free as a dove.
I could stay here forever—which is ironic because I shouldn’t be here in the first place.
Technically, I’m trespassing.
Eyes shut, I inhale the distinct scent of pool water and nearby rose bushes, and try to imagine what it must feel like to be a Monreaux, growing up behind these privileged iron gates, a world away from us ordinary locals.
Not that there’s anything wrong with being ordinary.
In fact, I’m quite content being a nobody.
There’s more to life than having the world at your fingertips. It’s okay to struggle, to want for things. Mama says it builds character; gives us the grit we need to get through the runaway rollercoaster that is life. Or maybe that’s what she’s had to tell herself all her life to get through the of inflictions God saw fit to gift her—a rare vagus nerve disorder that makes her body overreact to even the mildest stressors, a weak heart that makes everyday tasks feel like scaling Everest, and just this year he thought it’d be fun to throw in a bout with Guillain-Barre syndrome.
Mama also said no one every promised life would be fair for everyone. We all have our crosses to carry and comparing them doesn’t do us any good. She also said that if all we have is each other, that would be enough. We don’t have much in terms of money or possessions or bragging rights, but we have our loyalty and love, and for us, it’s all we need to get through this life.
Squinting, I study the blanket of stars above, distracted by Cassiopeia’s flickering constellation and the rich section of Milky Way that runs through her—until a light flips on near the back of the Monreaux estate.
A second later, a door slides open with a jarring slick before slamming shut with so much force the sound echoes off the water. My heart beat ricochets in my chest before whooshing in my ears so loud it drowns out my panicked thoughts.
Righting myself, I swim to the closest ledge, half-obscured by a manmade waterfall trickling over a boulder grotto.
Heavy footsteps pound the pavement, growing louder, closer.
I hold my breath—as if that could possibly make me invisible—and pinch my eyes shut.
“Show yourself,” a man’s voice booms over the trickling water splashing around me. “I know you’re out here.”
This morning I ran out for coffee for Mama and overheard someone talking about how the Monreauxs were on their annual trip to St. Thomas this week—which was partly why I saw fit to scale their six-foot fence and dip my toes into these forbidden waters. That and it’s been hot as Hades all week, and our air conditioner decided it’d be the perfect time to kick the can.
It has to be a property caretaker. Or maybe a house sitter. People like this don’t just leave their massive homes sitting empty while they’re snorkeling off some island in the Caribbean. Their staff doesn’t take a vacation just because they do. I know that. I guess I figured whoever was here would be fast asleep this time of night …
“You can’t hide in there forever,” he says with a voice too sharp, too young-sounding to be someone left to tend to a multi-million dollar estate in its owners’ absence. He exhales, shoes shuffling closer. “Come on. I don’t have time for this. Get your shit and get off my property.”
He must’ve spotted my dress, bra, and panties, resting in a heap on one of the lounge chairs.
I swim out from behind the waterfall, keeping everything below my neck beneath the surface. Scanning the length of the mystery man, I start at his designer sneakers and trail up his ripped jeans before stopping for a brief detour at his broad shoulders, which are hardly contained in his gray t-shirt. Lastly, I arrive at his moonlit glare.
His dark brows angle in as he captures my stare, his expression unreadable. A warm breeze plays with his mussed, sandy blond waves and star-cast shadows frame his chiseled features.
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