Home > The Summer Girls (Lowcountry Summer #1)(11)

The Summer Girls (Lowcountry Summer #1)(11)
Mary Alice Monroe

Normally Carson was careful not to scrape her board by driving it into the beach, but today she rode the wave all the way in. Her legs felt like rubber and were scraped by the sand. Her friends ran to help her up and to carry her board from the sea.

While people clustered around her, Carson stood on the shore and stared at the ocean, her arms crossed tightly around her chest, shivering violently despite the morning sun. She looked out in an uncomprehending daze. Somehow, for reasons she didn’t understand, a dolphin had saved her life, perhaps losing its own in the effort. She’d heard similar tales from fellow surfers, but this hadn’t happened to somebody else. It was real. It had happened to her.


The following day, Carson returned to the Isle of Palms and stared out from the beach at the familiar vista of ocean and sky. The surfboard felt heavy under her arm, and the late-afternoon sun was hot on her shoulders, but she lingered, staring out at the expanse of ocean and the mild waves cascading ashore. Only one other surfer was out there, bobbing in the calm sea, staring out at the horizon. The surf was unremarkable, barely enough to bother with. Yet that wasn’t what was keeping Carson’s feet rooted to the sand.

She was afraid. Her mouth was dry. Her heart was racing, not in anticipation but in dread. As she looked out at the vast expanse of the ocean, images of the shark flashed in her mind. She saw again the death in the soulless eyes, the rolling back of the mouth, exposing powerful pink gums and razor-sharp teeth. Carson felt again the terror of floating helplessly on her board while, underneath the murky water, a frenzied beast was biding its time.

Never, not even as a little girl, had she hesitated to leap into the salt water, as eager as any other creature of the sea that had been on land too long. The ocean, the Atlantic especially, was her motherland. She knew she shared the water with countless other creatures. Sharks included. The ocean was their home, too, one she’d shared with them for all of her life. She told herself that what had happened yesterday morning was a freak occurrence.

She shook her legs, swallowed hard, and expelled a long, shaky breath. “Get back in there. You belong there. Come on . . .”

Carson rolled her shoulders, then took off into the water. The water was chilly as she splashed into the shallows. Her heels dug into the soft sand; then, when she was far enough out, she slapped her board onto the water. She felt the tingling cold on her bare skin as she lay flat on the board, then stretched her arms out and began paddling hard out to sea. Push, push, push, she told herself, puffing hard. The sunlight on the water was glaringly bright. Carson felt cold, and the salt water burned her eyes. The first wave was approaching. She gripped her board tight. Ducked her head. Took a breath to dive under it.

Then she bailed. She couldn’t help herself. Her muscles were tightening and her heart was pounding in a panic. All she could think of was that she had to get out of the water, get back to shore. Gulping air, she paddled for her life. Once in the shallows she leaped from her board and dragged it ashore, collapsing on the sand.

Carson crouched on the beach with her forehead resting on her knees as her breath slowly returned to normal. When she could, she wiped her face with her palms and stared out at the ocean again, stunned.

What had happened to her out there? She’d panicked for no reason she could name. Who was this girl? She had always thought of herself as fearless. But today, when the fight-or-flight instinct kicked in, she hadn’t fought. She had fled.

Carson retreated from the beach, packed up her car, and headed back to Sea Breeze. Her hands clutched the wheel so tightly her knuckles were white. She told herself over and over that her panic was just a normal reaction to what had happened yesterday morning. That in time the fear would dissipate like the confusion one felt after a nightmare. She just had to keep trying.

Still, Carson felt shaken to her core. Her whole life seemed to be spiraling. She was free-falling without a parachute, and now even surfing didn’t bring her the sense of belonging that it always had.

Perhaps her fear wasn’t a failure as much as it was an omen.

There were no secrets from Mamaw.

Later that night, after Carson had showered and feasted on crab cakes and red rice, she and Mamaw went to sit for a spell on the back porch. Carson curled up on a large black wicker chair with a glass of wine. A candle flickered in the low light and Carson could hear the pounding of the surf in the black distance. Across from her, Mamaw sat in a rocker, wrapped like a queen in a scarlet shawl.

“Well now, missy,” Mamaw said when they’d settled in their chairs. Her blue eyes shone like full moons in the candlelight. “You’ve arrived early looking like one of the Joad family with your car packed to the gills, you’ve been sulking around, and tonight you’re as nervous as a long-tailed cat in a room full of rocking chairs.” Her left brow arched. “Let’s have it.”

Carson sighed, took a sip of the cool wine, then set the glass on the table. “I’m okay. I’m just a little freaked, is all. I was almost shark food out on the ocean yesterday.”

Mamaw sucked in her breath and her hand reached up to the pearls around her neck. “What? What happened?”

“It was one of those weird perfect storms of coincidences. I was farther out than usual and this shrimp boat was closer in than usual. All these gulls and pelicans and dolphins were chasing the chum.”

“Not a good combination.”

“Right. It was a smorgasbord.”

“A shark . . .” Mamaw shivered dramatically. “Honey, I hate knowing you’re out there with those beasts.”

“Oh, Mamaw, they’re out there all the time. It’s their home, don’t forget. I mean, I’ve seen a lot of sharks out there. A lot.” She saw the expected look of shock on Mamaw’s face and wanted to spare her worry. “We’re not their usual diet and they leave us alone. But this guy . . .”

Carson paused, feeling again that drop she’d felt in the pit of her stomach after the determined bump the shark had delivered to her leg. Carson knew that most of the accidents with sharks in the surf were just that—accidents. A case of mistaken identity.

“I just got spooked.” She went on to tell Mamaw the details of the encounter, ending with how the dolphin T-boned the shark. “If that dolphin hadn’t defended me, I don’t know what might’ve happened.” She paused, her hand resting on her wineglass.

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