Authors: Kaira Rouda
“Oh, no. Should I cancel the beach walk?” she said. “I don’t want the kids to find anything.”
“That’s what I was thinking. How about we do a sandcastle-building contest instead?” Steve suggested. “Are you all right, Dorsey? You look a little spooked. It’s hard sleeping in an unfamiliar place during a storm and all.”
“What does that mean?” Jack said, “Why don’t you back off, Steve?”
“Why don’t you get to work, son,” Steve said to Jack, a vein popping in his forehead.
“I slept very well, actually,” Dorsey said, and turned to check on the children, who were playing with brightly colored plastic buckets on the sand, leaving the two men facing each other.
“Get to work, Jack,” Steve said, his squinty eyes searching Jack’s face for a reaction.
“I’m going,” Jack said, but stopped on the seawall to watch Dorsey with the kids. And to make sure Steve didn’t touch her again. He felt like a guard dog.
“Guess what, kids, we’re going to build sandcastles today instead of looking for treasures. Mr. Steve will be back to check on us in an hour, so let’s make sure we build some great things to show him. He’ll bring prizes.”
“I’m sure you all will impress me,” Steve said, before he climbed the seawall, stepped into his golf cart, and, thankfully, drove away.
“Look at this shell, Miss Dorsey,” said little Pippi, as Jack had mentally nicknamed her.
“That’s beautiful. Enjoy looking at it and then toss it back so another sea animal can move in.”
“Can I keep this?” asked a little boy of five or six. His outstretched hand held a very alive sea star. Jack saw Dorsey smile as she watched him examine his treasure.
“The sea star is still alive—see all of its tiny little legs moving? We should go throw him back into the water so he’ll live. He probably washed ashore during the storm,” Dorsey said. “I’ll go with you to toss it back. The rest of you better build fast. Steve will be back before you know it, and I know he has great prizes.”
As Jack watched, Dorsey held the little boy’s hand and they walked to the ocean. The waves were rougher than usual, still stirred up by the storm.
At the edge of the farthest-reaching waves lay the debris and treasures claimed and then returned by the ocean. Seaweed clumps. Beached and dead horseshoe crabs. Aluminum beer cans. A piece of blue Styrofoam ripped from a boogie board. A large buoy had washed in, along with a brown plastic bag full of trash. Jack was thinking about organizing a beach clean up party. Maybe Dorsey and the kids could help the lifeguards. Team building and all. Steve couldn’t object to that. He stretched and stood up on the seawall. He knew he couldn’t watch Dorsey all day, even though that was all he wanted to do.
Jack saw Dorsey and the little boy walk toward something lying on the beach. Afraid it might be a dead dolphin, Jack hopped down off the seawall and began jogging toward them, just as Dorsey turned toward him.
“Please help!” she yelled and she’d grabbed the little boy in her arms and was walking quickly toward Jack. As the boy and Dorsey got closer, Jack realized it wasn’t a dolphin, but a person. A woman.
And then the smell, like rotten meat, blew toward him as he grabbed Dorsey’s arm and helped her hurry toward the seawall. To his horror, the other four children began to run toward them. Jack knew he had to keep them moving away from the body. He could hear the little boy crying and he lifted him into his arms. Dorsey’s face was a mask of determination as she trudged quickly through the thick sand beside him.
“Hey kids,” she said, arms out, blocking the little herd from going any further toward the body. “Let’s turn back around. Listen, we’re all going to have a race. First one to the seawall gets all the candy they can fit in their lunch bag. Go!”
“I get candy, too?” asked the small boy still in Jack’s arms.
“All you want,” she said as the little boy wiggled free from Jack’s arms and joined the rest of the kids running up to the seawall. “Jack, do you have a phone?”
“No, but I can run to the pool hut if you’re OK here,” Jack said.
“I’m fine. I’ll keep the kids busy while you call for the emergency squad. I think it’s too late for her, though,” Dorsey said, shaking her head. “Go!”
Jack was reluctant to leave her there, but knew they needed help. By the time he jogged to the pool, called 9-1-1 and jogged back, Steve was at the scene, shepherding the confused children from the beach back to his cart.
“Mr. Steve has lots of candy for all of you, but it’s all back at the inn,” Dorsey was saying as she helped clear the children from the beach while emergency sirens sounded in the distance.
“Help’s coming,” Steve yelled to them. “Stay here. Jack, keep those people back.”
“Give them candy,” Dorsey said as Steve finally drove away with the children. “Oh, my God, Jack.”
Jack pulled her into an embrace. “It’s going to be all right.” He noticed the crowd forming and gradually moving toward them on the beach. “I’ve got to stop those people. I’ll be right back.”
“Shouldn’t someone cover up the woman? Give her privacy. That’s what they did for Dad. Covered him the way you see on TV,” Dorsey said, shaking while she was speaking. Not making any sense. Jack knew she was in shock.
Two paramedics rushed past them toward the woman, followed closely by two more.
“Dorsey, come help me hold back the onlookers,” Jack said, and she nodded, following him up to the seawall.
“Things are under control, everybody. Go on back to what you were doing before,” Dorsey said with surprising strength.
“What’s going on?” asked a woman wearing a large floppy hat and a pink floral dress.
“A body has washed up on the beach,” Jack said. “I’d suggest turning away, especially those of you with children.”
A murmur went through the crowd as several of the onlookers did turn back. Jack and Dorsey stayed put, blocking the curious ones from coming any further. Jack watched as Dorsey turned to look back at the scene, shaking her head.
“It is very important that if your children saw anything that you talk to them about it,” Dorsey explained. “Your children should see your sadness about this shocking discovery. Please don’t tell the young children details. It’s OK for you to simply say you are sad about the woman who died on the beach today. Spend time with your family today, give your kids a chance to ask questions and to grieve. Togetherness is key, what can you do with your kids to make them feel better. Light a candle, have a moment of silence. Come and see me at the Kids Cottage if you need anything, any advice.”
He knew she’d had professional training in childcare, but Jack was still impressed with Dorsey’s composure and her insights. Both of them continued to walk toward the crowd, moving them back.
Jack looked behind him and noticed they had covered the body with a sheet and were putting it onto a gurney. Four paramedics were on the scene. As they solemnly walked up the beach with the stretcher between them, the onlookers were silent. Jack looked at Dorsey’s face and saw her eyes bulging. She was biting her lower lip and had wrapped her arms tightly around herself. He was worried about her and knew instinctively he needed to get her out of here before she broke down. She’d been so strong, so competent with the kids, making sure they weren’t scared or had even realized what had happened. But now, Jack thought, it was time for her to leave.
“Let’s go,” he said, pulling her by the hand, away from the beach across the lawn to the Kids Cottage. Once they were inside, Jack closed and locked the door.
“Are you OK? What were you saying about your dad? Talk to me, honey,” Jack said, taking both of her hands in his, guiding her to the window seat.
“Jack. She’s dead.” Dorsey began to sob, her body shaking. “She was so swollen. Her skin stretched like a white balloon. We thought she was a dolphin—the underside is white, you know. My dad had those glassy eyes, like the surprise of death was written all over him. I was there, you know? Planting flowers with him in our front yard. I heard the gunshot, then warm liquid sprayed on my arms and face, and my dad dropped to the grass.”
“You watched your dad’s murder? Oh, Dorsey,” Jack said, but before he could hug her or do anything for her she was standing, and sobbing, walking in a circle on the bright blue rug in the center of the room. Jack jumped up, tried to hold her, but she pushed him away.
“I saw the murderer, too,” she said, stopping suddenly in the center of the rug, her eyes huge and blank, not seeing him, not seeing anything on the island. Jack pulled her to him.
“Shh, Dorsey. Calm down, breathe,” Jack said, holding her tight.
“I’m fine. It’s her, she needs you, she needs help, the poor lady on the beach,” Dorsey said pointing out the window to where the body had been on the beach. Then suddenly, she dropped to the carpet, her knees buckling before Jack realized what had happened. Jack frantically checked for a pulse and found it.
“Oh, honey,” Jack said, his training kicking in. He turned her head to the side and propped her feet up on one of the child-sized bean bags. Jack hurried to the small sink in the corner and ran cold water over a few paper towels, using them to wipe her forehead. He had no idea how long a fainting spell could last, but he would be right here when she awoke.
Her eyes fluttered a few minutes later and she tried to sit up.
“Whoa, not so fast. Just stay right there for a little bit and then we’ll sit up,” Jack said, jumping into rescue training mode.
“I’m fine,” Dorsey said, rolling over onto her side and then slowly sitting up. “See?”
“Well, let’s get you home to your cottage and you’ll feel a lot better,” Jack said, still watching her closely as he helped her to stand.
“Thanks for being here,” Dorsey said.
Jack wondered what she remembered, if she knew what she’d told him. For now, he just wanted to get her home. “I wouldn’t want to be anywhere else,” he said.
Dorsey surprised him, pulling him close and kissing him deeply on the lips, pressing her body into his. He felt himself coming alive, all of his senses fully awakened as if for the first time in his life.
“Don’t start something you can’t finish,” he murmured, grabbing her bottom with both hands and pulling her into him, into his growing erection.
A loud knock on the cottage door startled them both, as Jack released a loud sigh.
“Who is it?” he demanded loudly.
“Steve, open up.”
Dorsey looked scared, her perfect lips caught in a tiny O.
“Hey, it’s ok. We didn’t do anything wrong,” Jack whispered. He broke the embrace and opened the door.
“What’s going on here?” Steve demanded.
“Nothing,” Dorsey said. “I um, well, I fainted if you have to know and Jack’s been making sure I’m OK.”
Steve narrowed his eyes, unsure what to believe, Jack knew. Their mistrust was mutual.
“She’s just lucky she didn’t crack her head open, fell right here on the new rug. That would have been a terrible liability for the club, right?” Jack said smiling at his boss all the while wanting to punch him in the nose for always interrupting them, for always appearing.
“The investigators are going to want to talk to both of you. Who wants to come with me first?” Steve said.
“I will, after I take Dorsey back to her cottage,” Jack said.
“I’ll drive Dorsey back, son, you go on and talk to the sheriff, OK?”
“I’m fine, Jack,” Dorsey said. Jack knew it was an attempt to calm him down. She was right. He’d go talk to the sheriff and then come and find her.
“Fine,” Jack said, leaving Dorsey alone with the person he least trusted on the island.
orsey still was embarrassed. She pulled the covers over her face and said, “I never faint, Jack, honest. It’s way too Victorian, just not in my demeanor. It was heat stroke, I’m sure of it.”
“I’m just glad to see you feeling better,” Jack said, a smile on his handsome, worried face. Jack sat on the bed next to Dorsey and kissed her gently on the forehead. He wasn’t wearing his typical lifeguard uniform of white polo and red bathing suit. Instead, he wore jeans and a white button down. He looked like a hot businessman on vacation. Her hot businessman. Dorsey’s Indigo Island family, all present. She realized that’s how she thought of him, as family. How had they grown so close, so fast, she wondered? He was very much inside her heart, even if it wasn’t a good idea. Even if it weren’t allowed.
“They want to interview you as soon as you’re up to it,” Jack said, turning serious, his hand brushing a stray hair from her eye.
“How’s the little boy?” Dorsey asked, shuddering.
“Fine. He thinks he saw a dead dolphin. I guess you told him that,” Jack said. “Good thinking. Really good. You were amazing out there, you kept it all under control. I’m so proud of you. Don’t feel embarrassed, please.”
“Did you realize it was a body, right away?” she asked. He’d been by her side so quickly, helping with the kids and the other guests.
“No, I thought it was a dolphin, too. But then I saw your face go white and I knew,” he said, shaking his head at the memory. “I’m just glad I was there, but even if I hadn’t been, you handled it like a pro.” She grinned at his words, knowing she’d said too much to him, realizing he was a gentleman for not asking her any questions. She reached for his hand just as Steve appeared in the doorway.
“Dorsey, could I speak with you a moment?” he asked, ridiculous glasses on, inside, as always.
“Of course,” Dorsey said, shooting a look at Jack who nodded slightly. He was their boss so of course she had to talk to him.
“Alone?” Steve said.
“Ah, right. I was just leaving, going back to the pool to be the good little cabana boy,” Jack said, and kissed Dorsey on the forehead, despite the fact Steve was watching. “I’ll be back after my shift. Don’t move. She’s tired, Steve.”
“I know. I won’t be long. Now, Dorsey, what exactly did you see?” Steve asked checking over his shoulder to make sure they were alone. He seemed to have stretched out the sleeves on his cardigan—his hands were missing.
“You can sit down, Steve,” Dorsey said, pointing to the chair in the corner of her bedroom. Her other bed was, as always, a mess of just-washed but not-folded clothes, kids’ craft supplies and her growing pottery collection.