Eli’s shoes sank into the damp sand as he stared out at the abandoned flooded house swept into Barnegat Bay. He should have gone out with the crew, his crew. Instead, he studied the structure from the shore. A beautiful home, former home, with an enclosed porch. One he could imagine living in, if it was farther from the water. At least far enough it would never get swept up and taken into gaping, consuming, drowning level water.
He had been told often that you could also drown in only a tablespoon of water, but the thought was so ridiculous, he brushed it off easily. As long as his feet touched something firm and his head was in the air where he could breathe, he was fine with water. He could wander the shoreline up to his waist, even up to his shoulders. And he could swim if he knew he could stand up and touch bottom. His parents had tried to get him out farther but panic always ensued and his father had to pull him back in. It frustrated the hell out of him, made him feel weak and ridiculous.
Dread knotted his stomach when his Indiana crew decided to come to the east coast to help with cleanup from Hurricane Sandy. Work was slow in his area. The idea of helping with cleanup sounded right. But ... the ocean.
Eli had never in his life been to the ocean and he hadn’t wanted to come, although he wanted to help. He wanted to work. He always wanted to work. Even when he was no more than ten years old, his greatest pleasure had been going to work with his father, mixing mortar and learning to apply it neatly and carefully. The praise he got for a job well done stirred his soul. Construction was in his blood. It was his life.
This... A shudder consumed him as he stared out at the vast blue green brown of Barnegat Bay, New Jersey. This was a whole hell of a lot of water. Unpredictable water. Life taking water.
An irony, he knew, even as he thought it. Water was the ultimate survival need. But like anything, too much of a good thing was still ... deadly dangerous.
A light chill in the wind echoed his chilled soul. Wet air. Indiana had its share of humidity, but it was nothing like this cool wet air that reeked of ... fish, he supposed. Seaweed. Dead things rotting. He’d always enjoyed fish dinners, particularly those deep fried all you can eat fish dinners presented by his local fire hall as a fundraiser. Now, after seeing the dead and rotting fish carcasses strewn along the beach, Eli wasn’t sure he could ever eat another fish.
A shame that would be. He enjoyed helping the fire hall. He always found a few people to take with him who hadn’t been and they often went back in following years and gave him a big thumbs up when they saw him there with a new group.
Possibly, once he got away from the shore and back home, he could let the current images go. He was good at letting go.
With a sigh, he headed back to the base. Maybe he could make himself go on out where he should have been.
Something under his foot threw his balance and, unable to let himself see that he stepped on something he didn’t want to even look at, he shoved it away with his steel-toed boot. It was hard enough to walk in the damp shifting sand in heavy boots. He didn’t need anything adding to...
Eli turned and found a girl with a messy wind-blown pony tail wearing jeans and a sweatshirt, both too big for her, coming at him. Not at him. At whatever he’d kicked away. She squatted to pick the thing up with gloved hands and examined it.
He couldn’t help his curiosity. “What is that?”
“A sea star.”
“Sea star? Is that like a falling star? Meteorite or something? Is it valuable?”
Brownish-green eyes met his. “It’s a starfish.”
“Now that I know. Why didn’t you just say that?”
“I used its real name. It’s not actually a fish. And yes, it’s valuable.”
“Okay. Did I hurt it?”
“It’s missing a leg. I don’t think you did it.” She crept over to where water lapped up against her old black galoshes and set the thing back in the ocean, then stood watching it.
Eli moved closer but not close enough to get water in his boots. “If it’s valuable, why are you letting it go?”
She glanced up at him as though he’d said two plus two equaled green. “It’s only valuable in the ocean, alive. Not if it’s dead.” Apparently satisfied the thing was happy and alive, she straightened and walked away.
Her attitude annoyed him. A tree hugger, he supposed. More concerned about animals than people. He could understand to a point, but to him, turning against your own kind was ... well, unforgivable. Maybe he was wrong. Maybe he wasn’t. He’d done his share of helping critters out of places they shouldn’t have been and driving them, in the cage he kept in his truck, out to a wooded area and letting them go. But if it came to a choice between human and animal, he wouldn’t think twice.
He supposed he liked people more than other people liked people. And he understood that at times, too. Lots of people just weren’t all that likeable.
Curious despite his annoyance, Eli followed. She glanced back. Probably scaring her, he figured, since she was alone and not many people were on the storm-littered beach so early in spring. “Hey, you said it’s missing a leg. Will it live that way or is it going to bleed to death out there?”
“They don’t have blood.” She kept walking.
“Serious? Okay look at me like I’m a moron again, but this is my first time to the ocean. I don’t know jack shit about sea critters other than fish, actual fish that live in freshwater ponds. I have friends who have starfish and sand dollars in their vacation collections, but that’s the extent of my knowledge.”
She stopped. “That’s cruel. It’s kills them, you know, to take them out of the water. That sea star can re-grow its leg and be fine but only if it stays in the ocean. It dies if you take it out.”
“Everyone takes them home if they find them, don’t they?”
“Not everyone.” She turned back and walked away faster.
He caught up. “I haven’t done it. Don’t get mad at me.” When she didn’t answer, he stopped and let her go on her way. Freaky girl. Not a girl, exactly. She had to be close to his age and he was pushing forty pretty damn fast. He didn’t have that much need to know more about starfish. What did it matter? He didn’t plan to take one home.
Cruel? Dead sea life was scattered along the beach. People hadn’t done it. Nature did it. A huge storm. It killed people, too. Eli had to wonder if she cared about that at all.
Shrugging it off, he headed back to work.
Hopping up on the scaffolding, he clipped a safety harness around his thighs and hips and headed up. Eli didn’t mind up. Up was fine with him. He had the harness. He had his well-toned muscles and strong hands. He had good common sense and quick thinking. And he loved the view from the air, higher than most would go. He often thought the biggest reason men joined construction, high rise construction anyway, was because they could, and would. And they were adrenaline junkies, he supposed.
~~ ~~ ~~ ~~ ~~ ~~
When her sister loses her house to Hurricane Sandy, Delaney Griffin welcomes the family into her home. Months later, with five noisy kids and an overbearing brother-in-law threatening her sanity, Delaney spends much of her free time at the wildlife refuge, which also works as her refuge. Still, the lack of privacy, along with space to dance, her only passionate release, causes her debilitating social anxiety to escalate.
Eli Forrester has come from small town Indiana to Barnegat, New Jersey with his company to help restore the coast. A high rise worker who loves new people and new places, he fears nothing, except water. When he accidentally kicks one of the sea critters Delaney is trying to help rescue, he is drawn to the quiet New Jersey girl. Unwilling to take her cues to leave her alone, Eli is alternately put off and turned on by her odd behavior.
Under shadow of devastation, fear, and forced separation, Delaney and Eli search for their own rescue light.
~~ ~~ ~~
Ella M. Kaye
75K words/ 175 pgs
$2.99 available at most ebook retailers
(see Books page for links)