They had scheduled to be on the beach at midday. Seemed the warmest time of the day, but in reality it turned out to be overcast with slight dribble of rain. They could see from far two pairs of naked legs running high up in matching raincoats, Valerie’s was yellow and Meredith had frog eyes popping on top of hers. Those seemed to be standard here, too – Reed had seen at least six more yellows running around and Tomas knew about four more when he asked. Probably the only type they had in the shop. All this was accompanied by pair of flip flops instead of rubber boots. Not that they had any other idea – sandals were far easier to leave on the beach. It was warm though, and the sea looked calm without any notable wind.
Meredith was jumping up and down on her place, talking way too fast to make any sense and none of the grownups gave her much attention. Valerie greeted them quickly and eyed the water suspiciously, but Reed was determined not to let her out of this one. This was the first real get-together and he didn’t want to let anything spoil it.
“What you’ve got in there?” Tomas asked, nodding at the bag laying few meters away next to bush of beachgrass.
“Towels, med kit.”
Reed smirked and Valerie immediately took offense, frowning at him. She was wrong in her judgment, but Reed didn’t correct him, turning his attention on assessing the wreck in front of them. The ship was, as she had said, only few hundred meters and firmly sank into some rift in the bottom. The ground here didn’t have sand, instead a lot of round stones, but none of them seemed to be slippery. The waters itself didn’t seem to have debris flying around and there looked no mud they might bring up to make it hard to see through. This was good. Not ideal, but much better than he’d hoped. Since he was a kid he’d liked submerging into murky river near their home to search small treasures and even now he loved taking a week or two off each year to go diving. Given, all his destinations so far had been in clear tropical waters with instructors and less chances of cramps due cold water. So, seeing her come prepared as well lessened his uneasiness on their plan. It all depended how deep the water really was.
“Goggles!” Meredith shouted and ran towards the bag.
“Make sure you have no hair between them!” Tomas instructed.
“I still don’t think it’s a good idea…” Valerie’s voice shook, pulling Reed’s attention away from the ship. As if timed, the ship let out a loud metallic sigh.
“There’s almost no wind, we shouldn’t have any problems.” Tomas assured her, already tugging his t-shirt up. Reed followed his example and also tossed the flip flops closer to the red bag, leaving his shorts on.
Valerie didn’t look convinced, but she wasn’t stopping Meredith either, so that was half win at least. Reed turned his head and stopped for a heartbeat, when their eyes locked on each other. Her uneasiness was creeping in him now, forcing tiny shiver down his spine. Reed gave her a wide grin to shield if off and for a second it retracted, giving in anger instead. That was good, she was easing up.
“Maybe I should get a boat.” She debated, unbuttoning her raincoat, revealing a dark blue swimsuit with huge red dragon swarming around her slim body.
Reed could not stop staring. He’d expected something girly, something to go together with Meredith’s fashion sense. When his eyes reached back to her face, her look was challenging him to keep his comments to himself and he gulped, forcing his eyes away. He remember the kid and he turned his full attention to her, anxious to see if he was right. Those two seemed to do everything together, the kid being her complete copycat. Meredith ripped her studs and tossed her coat on the bag. Hers was neon green with small ruffles like small skirt and he let out a long relieved breath. Why it made him happy that she didn’t copycat her was beyond his reasoning and he couldn’t care less to explain it.
“How are we to get there, geniuses?”
“You do know how to swim, right?”
“Of course! I may be local, but I’m not sure I want to risk her swimming that far at her age. So what was your plan?”
“This!” Reed announced and pulled her up to his arms.
“Are you mad?” she yelped, her hands searching for anything steady to hold on to. She obviously wasn’t used to carrying around like princess.
Shame, Reed thought, she felt perfect for it, but instead of saying it, he said aloud. “ I’ll get you back here, I promise!”
He started walking towards the water, but felt her turn around in his lap, when another delighted squeal left Meredith as Tomas hopped her high in the air to settle her on his shoulders. He didn’t have to look behind to know his brother was instructing the kid how to squeeze down under his armpits so she wouldn’t fall over and how to use his hair to hold on. For a second he wondered if he should offer Valerie the same, but then he felt her soft breast pressing against his chest and opted against it. It was gonna be sweet torture, but he gripped her harder, embracing them both against the cool water. It wasn’t cold, but it was still took some getting used to.
He was in up to his knees when they heard a loud wail and something huge with strike of green flew past them, straight into the water and then sank low in one quick go, forcing out another choir of screams as their bodies tried to get used to the temperature.
Valerie swirled around in his arms, ready to yell at them in shock when both of them rose back above the water laughing and gritting their teeth against sudden chill. Then they sank back in for another long minute and Tomas swam around them a little bit.
“Come on! Water is warm!” he shouted back at them while they giggled.
“I can walk, you know.” Valerie murmured under her breath and Reed glanced at her face next to his shoulder. He wanted to protest… No, he shook his head and smiled. “Your hands will be tired by the time we get there.” She tried with another protest and instead, Reed strode on-wards, deeper into the water and second later he felt her take a sharp breath as her body straightened a bit, attesting against the cool sensation.
“I’m not whining! Ah!” Her voice climbed higher and he felt her body follow it, involuntarily trying to get out of the water. Instead, he bowed enough to submerge them both. She panted, her chest rising and falling against his biceps, her toes curling against his calf, but he kept her in his lap, locking his fingers around her waist and giving her no way out. His own skin covered in goosebumps and in his head he protested just as much, but he doubted it would help her. He gave her time to relax and whisper few exploitative.
Tomas swam closer, squatting on the seabed so Meredith was half was in the water.
“You two ok?” he checked.
“Juuust perfect.” Valerie wheezed and Reed nodded. He kept his brother’s gaze above the water, so they didn’t see Valerie’s fingers digging in his lower arm, forcing him to open his grip.
Tomas’ eyes fell below and there was no way he would miss it in this clear water. He scoffed, turning around and heading in deeper water. Reed turned his glare back on the woman. “You’re way lighter in the water, all you have to do is hold on!” He instructed and stood. If she wanted not to fall on the stones, she had to hold on, letting his hand go.
The chill wasn’t leaving her. He knew very well it wasn’t due the weather.
“Despite your predictions,” he changed the subject, hoping to get her attention off from her uncomfortable situation, “it is raining and it is only fourth day.”
“I’m not a barometer.” She scuffed.
“For official predictions, please turn to the World Weather Center.” She added moment later, quietly, her eyes fixed ahead.
Good job, he gave himself a mental pat, weather is safe topic! It was hardly what he wanted to talk about, but it was a start.
“We have that here?” he continued.
“What, the WWC? Yeah, their tower is up on the Snake Isle.”
“I meant the Internet!” he scoffed.
“We’re not dead to the world, Mr. Bradenton.”
“Keep calling me that, and I might think you are.”
For few meters they went in silence. He tried to focus on the footsteps which she pointed out every now and then, but after a while her eyes fixed on the wreck and stayed there for a while, brows furrowed.
“Are you scared of ghosts?”
“Not really.” She said quietly, her arms tensing for a second as the wave brushed against her middle. “There are too many I don’t want to meet again.” She whispered, tightening her arms around his neck while she turned slightly to look over his shoulder where Meredith was enjoying her piggy-ride on Tomas.
The last remark made his heart jolt, but the uneasy sensation melted when her body heat warmed his chest. Her chill had resided and for a second he fought his feet to keep walking and not surrender to his body’s need to press her harder against his stomach.
“So!” Tomas shouted from behind them, scooping closer. “What’s the story with this one?”
Reed turned enough that they could look over his shoulder before he focused on her while continuing their journey.
“It’s called Rotenfels!” she shouted over the sound of rocking waves. “It was a cargo ship that sunk here in 1956? I don’t know exactly what year, but it was big storm.”
“There always is.” Reed commented, but Valerie ignored it.
“They say it was the storm that took it down, but there were rumors that it was a spy ship and it sank itself to hide itself from coastguard. Nobody knows, why exactly because the morning after the storm they found the ship here with its captain dead in his cot.”
“Dead? Like heart attack, something like that?” Tomas asked.
“Something like that.” She agreed without elaborating.
“Really?” Reed asked without thinking, but she hesitated, waiting until they were far enough that the kid wouldn’t hear. He turned her a little so her head was out of site for the couple.
“No. He cut his own head off.”
Reed stopped abruptly. “What?” he whispered.