Caroline curled the toes of her right foot in the sand and dug them in as far as she could. Her polish would scratch, she supposed. As late as it was already, she didn’t want to go home and repaint her toenails. Still, she dug. The lights of the pier sparkled in the dark to her right: a long string of lights beckoning her to join the festivities under the pavilion. Soft streams of jazz floated over along skimming waves and pulled at her soul.
Gripping the cold, damp sand firmly with her right toes, Caroline raised it up from its hole, extended her foot and leg behind her, let her body drift forward in balance. Balance was difficult in the sand. Still she managed a decent arabesque with her arms extended, one over her head, the other reaching up to the sky.
She should dance on the pier, she supposed. Normal dance. Not trained danced. Bringing her right leg and foot back to the ground, Caroline felt a long aching wail ready to stream forward from her tired soul. The soul that longed to dance. Trained dance. Not normal dance.
With a cleansing breath of ocean air, she decided it wouldn’t hurt to at least get close enough to the pier to hear voices. There was no reason to make the decision until morning. He’d given her that long.
Sand shifted under her feet and she moved closer to the water until waves brushed up over her toes, over her ankles, and deeper still until it splashed up onto her calves. Normally, she would never walk where she couldn’t see what her feet might find. Her feet were her lifeblood. Or they had been.
Now, she could walk where she pleased. Caroline did her best to convince herself the freedom would be worth it, it was the good side, where others had told her to focus. The good side. All in all, she would rather go back to watching every step. The good side had never been much of a friend, that she’d been able to tell.
A sting on her arch made her jump and she pulled her foot up to survey the damage. It was too dark to see whether there was blood or a protrusion. Rubbing her hand gently over the spot, she didn’t feel anything other than moisture, and the pain felt only surface deep. A prick from a sea shell, Caroline guessed. Karma was, after all, a true bitch.
Swishing her foot, her right foot, around in the water to soothe the pain, Caroline continued toward the lights, the music, the voices. She wouldn’t go up on the pier. That was far closer to people than she had any need to be. Instead, she stayed in the water and made her way to the large wooden posts holding the pier like three rows of silent sentries from high on the beach to far into the waves. Not terribly far, considering the size of the Atlantic and that the pier, huge compared to humans, was only a little speck of minor interruption of the ocean’s flow.
Hand-in-hand couples nearly made her turn back. She rolled her eyes. Wait until reality slaps in, little ones, she thought as she moved away from them, farther up the beach. She made her way to the path underneath the long pier where locals and tourists talked and laughed and stomped against the wood planks above her head. Time to go home. She had an interview in the morning. Her looks mattered; bags under her eyes wouldn’t do any more than would scratched toe nails.
Home. Caroline laughed at herself. The bed and breakfast barely off the beach wasn’t home. The three days she’d hidden inside didn’t make it hers. Especially since she sounded like a visitor to South Carolina, which used to be home. Her voice training had been worth the cost. Her accent was all but gone. If anyone guessed, they guessed she was Canadian. She refuted it but never said where she was from. Caroline from South Carolina was far too worn out to have to listen to it one more time.
She moved back down the beach, out from under the pier, still along the water as it splashed her ankles. Just before she turned off to head back to her room for the night, a flicker of light over the water caught her eye. It was a moving flicker, similar to the lighthouse off and on glow as it turned its continuous circles around Sullivan’s Island, but far smaller. And far closer. She headed that direction. Caroline had always been too curious. Her mother had told her she was many times. It killed the cat, so the story went. Caroline figured she was safe enough since she wasn’t a cat. She’d gone well past her nine lives of curiosity and it hadn’t killed her yet.
As she got close enough to find the source of the flicker, out on the water but not too far out, she decided it might not be all that safe. A man. With a sword. On a small boat. Alone.
And mostly naked.