After your mom died, he means.
“I have to be up to it,” I tell him. “Life doesn’t stop because someone dies. That’s something that living in a funeral home has taught me.” And having my mother die and the world kept turning.
He nods again. “Yeah, I guess that’s true. But sometimes, we wish it could. I mean, I know I did. It didn’t seem fair that my mom was just gone, and everyone kept acting like nothing had changed. The stores kept their doors open and selling trivial things, airplanes kept flying, boats kept sailing… it was like I was the only one who cared that the world lost an amazing person.” His vulnerability is showing, and it touches me deep down, in a place I didn’t know I had.
I turn to him, willing to share something, too. It’s only fair. You show me yours, and I’ll show you mine.
“I was mad at old people for a while,” I admit sheepishly. “I know it’s stupid, but whenever I would see an elderly person out and about with their walker and oxygen tank, I was furious that Death didn’t decide to take them instead of my mom.”
Dare smiles, a grin that lights up the beach.
“I see the reasoning behind that,” he tells me. “It’s not stupid. Your mom was too young. And they say anger is one of the stages of grief.”
“But not anger at random old people,” I point out with a barky laugh.
Dare laughs with me and it feels really good, because he’s not laughing at me, he’s laughing with me, and there’s a difference.
“This feels good,” I admit finally, playing with the sand in front of me. Dare glances at me.
“I think you need to get off that mountain more,” he decides. “For real. Being secluded in a funeral home? That’s not healthy, Calla.”
I suddenly feel defensive. “I’m not secluded,” I point out. “I have Finn and my dad. And now you’re there, too.”
Dare blinks. “Yeah, I guess I am.”
“And we’re not in the funeral home right now,” I also point out. We take a pause and gaze out at the vast, endless ocean because the huge grayness of it is inspiring at the same time that it makes me feel small.
“You’re right,” Dare concedes. “We’re not.” He pulls his finger through the sand, drawing a line, then intersecting it with another. “We should do this more often.”
Those last words impale me and I freeze.
Is he saying what I think he’s saying?
“You want to come to the beach more often?” I ask hesitantly. Dare smiles.
“No, I’m saying we should get out more often. Together.”
That’s what I thought he was saying.
My heart pounds and I nod. “Sure. That’d be fine. Do you care if Finn comes sometimes, too?” Because I feel too guilty to leave him behind all the time.
Dare nods. “Of course not. I want to spend time with you, however you want to give it to me.”
Dare grins at me, that freaking Dare Me grin, and I know I’m a goner. I’m falling for him, more every day, and there’s nothing I can do about it. In fact, there’s nothing I want to do about it. Because it’s amazing.
The Iredale is only a shell of a ship, so the wind whips at us and Dare shoves his hair out of his face. As he does, his ring shimmers with the muted light of the sun. A sudden feeling of déjà vu overwhelms me, as though I’ve watched his ring glint in the sun before, and we’ve been here in this ship, together.
We’ve been here before in this exact place and time.
That’s all I can think as I stare at him, as I watch his ring shimmering in the light, as I watch him shake his hair in the wind.
Dare drops his hand and the feeling fades, but yet the remains of it linger like the wispy fingers of a memory or a dream.
I stare at him uncertainly, because the feeling was so overpowering.
Dare draws back and stares at me. “Are you ok?”
I nod, because God, it’s just déjà vu, Calla. It happens.
But it felt so real. I shake my head, to shake the oddness away. I can’t slip away from reality, I can’t be like Finn. God.
Dare’s hand covers my own, and we stare out at the ocean for several minutes more.
His hand is warm and strong, and I relish it. I relish the way he rests it against my back as we walk down the beach towards his bike. And I relish the way I fold against him as we ride back home. I relish it all because it’s amazing. No matter what else is going on, this is amazing.
I feel like I’m floating as I slide off the bike and stand in front of him.
We pause, like neither of us wants to call an end to this day.
Finally, Dare smiles, a slow grin, a real grin that crinkles the corners of his dark Dare Me eyes. He reaches up and tucks an errant strand of hair behind my ear, and I swear to God I have to force myself to not lean into that hand.
“Wait here,” he tells me and he disappears into his cottage, coming right back out with his picture. He presses it into my hand.
“I’ll see you soon, Calla-Lily,” he promises huskily. I nod, and watch him turn and walk away.
God, he looks good walking away.
And then I float upstairs to my room.
It’s not until I’m staring out my bedroom window and see Finn that I come crashing down.
He’s standing out on the edge of the trees.
And he’s covered in blood.
In my head, all I can see is blood as I clatter down the stairs and rush to get to my brother.
What has he done?
I race outside, but when I reach where he was standing, he’s no longer there. I spin in a circle, gazing about, but there’s no sign of him.
Until I see a flash of green from the corner of my eye, the exact color of his shirt.
He’s headed for the beach so I take off like a rocket, pummeling the ferns as I trip over them on my way to the shore. I skid over the rocks and the clay and the dirt, and when I hit the bottom, he’s there.
Simply standing there on the edge of the water, waiting for me, like he’s been there all along.
He stands limply, his hands at his sides, and blood runs from his elbows to his hands.
“What the hell?” I shout as I race to him, grabbing his arms and examining them. “What did you do?”