Authors: Kaira Rouda
The first place he’d look would be the Kids Club; maybe Tade had returned in the time it took Steve to summon Jack. Even if the kid wasn’t there, he knew Dorsey would be. He smiled at the thought as he pulled on his white polo shirt. Everything led him back to her.
The playground outside the cottage was empty, but as he walked up the steps to the Kids Club, he spotted Dorsey inside. She was dressed in the official uniform, of khaki shorts and a pale blue polo, but she still looked great. And, she had a tennis shoe on her hurt foot, no crutches in sight.
“Hey,” Jack said, shaking his wet hair once more before walking into the cottage. “Feels good in here, chilly.”
“What are you doing here?” Dorsey said, a huge smile across her face, and of course, the usual blush.
“Me? Why I just wanted to see how the prettiest woman on the island was doing today. Sorry I had to slip out before you woke up,” he said. Being this close to her again made him want her, made him remember the kiss from the night before. He fought to control himself. He didn’t want to scare her away.
Dorsey walked over to Jack and held his hand. “It was the first night I can remember having a really good sleep. Thank you,” she said.
The door slammed open and Steve appeared, hands on hips, furious. “How the hell do you expect to find Tade here, Jack? I told you he didn’t show up at the Kids Club so why would you?”
“I wanted to be sure he still hadn’t showed up.”
, he didn’t add. “Dorsey and I are going to look for him now. We’ll find him. Right, Dorsey?”
“Right, I don’t have any campers today,” she said, looking confused but soon following along. “Steve, you really should tell Tade’s parents to sign him in, follow the rules. If they don’t, how can they expect their kid to?”
“They think they own the place. Tade likes you, so just go find the little brat,” Steve said. An angry flush rose on his cheeks and his dark brown eyes flashed at her. He’d pushed his glasses up above his eyebrows.
Jack realized the man’s eyes were too small for his face but made up for their size with intensity.
“Look, he’s a good kid. Just lonely. We’ll find him,” Dorsey said. She had to walk past Steve to get out of the cottage and as she did he patted her on the butt.
“Go get ‘em, tiger,” he said. “And Jack, you can go back to the pool. Dorsey has it covered.”
Jack felt his neck tense and his hands form fists. He couldn’t believe Steve had touched her that way. And he didn’t care what Steve said, he’d help Dorsey find Tade, and tell her to stay away from Steve.
Jack caught up to her by the golf cart, climbing into the driver’s seat. “Does he do that often? Touch you like that?”
He saw her shudder. “No, that was a first, but it’s nothing I can’t handle, really,” Dorsey answered, but Jack didn’t believe her. And he didn’t trust Steve. “Let’s focus on finding Tade.”
Jack didn’t say anything, but he knew if he saw Steve touch her like that again, there would be trouble and he’d be the one making it. He reached over and squeezed Dorsey’s hand, and she smiled at him.
“He’s probably on the backside of the island,” Dorsey said, and she directed him down the beach, past the swimming complex and around a bend. A small creek poured into the ocean there, Jack saw as he pulled to a stop in the golf cart. A sign marked the end of the Top Club Plantation and the beginning of the “backside” of the island.
Jack had yet to venture past the creek, and hadn’t been off the plantation since he’d arrived this year. The backside belonged to the island’s natives, as Steve called them, and it remained a tangle of moss-covered live oak trees, pine trees, dirt roads and mysteries. When he was a kid on vacation on Indigo Island, he’d explored back here, too.
Jack stared into the thick dark woods. “You ok going in there? I can go find him if you’d like to stay here, rest your foot?”
“If Tade wasn’t afraid to venture back there, I’m not,” Dorsey said, although Jack suspected she sounded braver than she was.
Jack led the way along the sandy bank of the creek into the island. Inland, the heat was stifling. The dense hum of bugs hung in the thick air. No ocean breeze reached here. Dorsey followed closely behind, following Jack and the snaking water, and started calling Tade’s name.
“Hey Dorsey!” the boy said, his voice coming from somewhere inside the thick woods.
“Come out here, would you? You promised not to run away. You said you’d be at the Kids Cottage everyday,” Dorsey said, putting her hands on her hips but not budging from her spot on the creek bed.
“Come meet my friend,” Tade said, suddenly appearing at the edge of the woods, a smile stretched across his face. “She’s awesome, she teaches me so much. Oh, hi Jack.”
“What could you be learning out here?” Jack said.
“Lots. You’ll walk around the world three times in your lifetime. Cool, huh? Come meet her.”
“What? Who are you talking about?” Dorsey asked. “Come here right now.”
“No, you come with me,” Tade said, and disappeared into the woods.
Jack and Dorsey didn’t have a choice, so they followed, reluctant but captivated by his excitement. Not only was Jack afraid to lose him, but also he needed to know that his friend was a safe person for a ten-year-old boy to be hanging out with. Jack grabbed Dorsey’s hand reflexively. The bolt of electricity shot through him.
“Tade, slow down!” he demanded, worried about Dorsey’s foot. He could hear her panting from her sprint through the thick tangle of grass, vines, and pine trees. Finally Tade came to a stop in front of a seemingly deserted tin-roofed shack. The place reminded Jack of the slave cabins he’d seen in the black-and-white etchings in the inn’s art gallery. The roof was the color of the inside of a can of soup. The gray wooden walls were covered with tabby—ground oyster shells—and had leaned toward each other over the years and away from the sloped front porch three steps above the ground.
The cabin was stuck in time—in black and white itself, as the pine-tree and live—oak canopy above forced the sunlight to work hard to break through. The front door was a dusty red, and light blue shutters framed two small, steely windows. Jack felt sure if he stepped onto the porch, he’d fall through to the dirt. He had to get Tade and Dorsey back to the plantation, back to the environment where he was in control.
“Come on, Tade,” he said, placing an arm protectively on the boy’s small shoulders. “Let’s get out of here. We really aren’t supposed to be out here.” Jack noticed the windows on either side of the door, although partially covered by the shutters, were polished clear.
Tade noticed him looking at the shutters. “I love that color blue, don’t you? It’s called haint blue and it’s the color of heaven. The blue keeps the devil away at night. The bad guys are called haints—you get it?” Tade said.
“No, I don’t. Let’s go,” Dorsey said, and started pulling him backward by his arm.
“Hey, Barbara, I brought my friends, Dorsey and Jack, to see you,” Tade said.
“Oh honestly, chile, I’m in no shape to be having company,” a deep, gravelly yet singsong Southern voice said from inside the shack.
Jack realized whoever lived here had heard what he said about the island. “Oh, please don’t come out on our account, ma’am. We’ve just come to take Tade back before his parents know he’s gone. We’re sorry to disturb you, ma’am.”
“No problem. He’s a fine boy. Lonely boy. But a nice boy,” the woman said, as the old red door opened a crack. From below the porch, Jack saw the woman’s smooth, walnut-colored face. Wisps of cotton-white mingled with her black hair, pulled back tightly into a bun.
Tade shook Jack’s arm off his shoulders and Dorsey’s hand off his arm, bounded up the stairs, and pushed the door open wide enough to wrap both arms around the thin figure, now revealed. She wore a simple brown cotton dress. The hand that reached out to pat Tade’s head was wrinkled and bumpy, with large, dark, age spots. Jack had no idea how old the woman was—she seemed timeless in her sepia surroundings.
“I’ll try to come again, Miss Barbara, before I leave,” Tade said, backing out of her embrace.
“That would be nice, honey—now you go so’s y’all don’t get in no trouble,” Barbara said. Then smiling kindly down on them, she closed the door.
“Tade, you’re not supposed to be on this side of the island,” Dorsey said as they made their way out of the moss-draped forest.
Jack was in the lead, Tade behind him and Dorsey in the rear. He imagined black rat snakes under each tree and alligators lunging at them from the marsh. He hated snakes. He was completely on guard and he knew Dorsey’s foot must be throbbing.
“Yeah, yeah. Bet you can’t catch me,” Tade said, breaking into a run at the creek.
“Bet I can,” Jack said, catching Dorsey’s eye to be sure she was ok. She nodded and Jack took off after Tade, grabbing him as he rounded the bend at the beach and reached the golf cart.
“Can I drive the cart?”
“No. Scooch over. We need to pick up Dorsey. And Tade, don’t do this again,” Jack said, relieved to be back in civilization. He looked out over the ocean and was surprised to see thickening dark clouds. He didn’t know it was supposed to storm. They reached Dorsey as she was limping across the thick sand and she climbed on the cart, Tade between them in the front seat.
“Want to go put some blue crabs in the pool? I did that once and watched all of those sunbathers scream. It was funny!” Tade said as they drove past the pool area.
“That was you?” Dorsey said, shaking her head. “I heard about the prank at a staff meeting. Listen kiddo, I need your help. You’re the senior camper around here. You can help me with these new kids, show them all the fun things to do here. Like a second-in-command?”
“Maybe,” Tade said. “Didn’t you like Barbara’s house?”
“She seemed really nice,” Jack said, parking in front of the Kids Club cottage.
“When I leave, you have to visit her for me,” Tade said. “You do that, and I’ll help you with the kids. Deal?”
“OK, sure,” Dorsey said.
“As long as I’m with you,” Jack added protectively, meeting Dorsey’s eyes over Tade’s head. He saw her blush. He realized he was completely nuts about her. He didn’t want to go back to the pool, he wanted time to stand still. But he had to go. He parked the golf cart and they all climbed out.
“See you later, guys,” Jack said as he headed back to the pool and Dorsey and Tade climbed the steps to the Kids Cottage.
Rebecca was waiting for him as he reached the lifeguard chair.
“Say, just for old times why don’t you come by after work? I have a couple of your t-shirts I accidentally kept from last summer. You’re probably going to want them, right?” She had her hand on his biceps, her fingernails digging into his shirt.
“Could you just bring them to me, please?” he said, using his hand to pry her nails off of his shirt, smiling at her before climbing the ladder to the chair.
“No, I can’t,” she said tossing her long brunette hair over her shoulder, arms crossed in front of her. “If you want them, you’re going to have to come get them.” And then she stormed away from him in a huff.
Maybe Rebecca had finally gotten the hint.
orsey watched Jack walk away with pure lust in her heart. She hoped she’d see him tonight, even though she knew it was against the club policy, against everything she’d wanted when she started her new life here. She knew she couldn’t trust a man again, not with her truth. Once he knew the real story, he wouldn’t want her anyway. It would be far easier to push him away now, before it went any further. How had he gotten into her heart and mind so quickly? Her stomach clenched as an answer and her face flushed. He was the hottest guy she’d ever been around. Period.
Dorsey looked out from the porch of the Kids Cottage and saw that girl, Rebecca, standing below Jack’s lifeguard chair. What were they saying? Were they making plans? Dorsey was stuck, she couldn’t leave the Kids Cottage and couldn’t find out what was going on from here. Tade was pulling on her arm.
“What?” she said impatiently.
“So should we take the kids to look for Loggerhead Sea Turtle nests?” Tade said, interrupting her thoughts.
“That’s a perfect idea,” Dorsey said reluctantly taking her eyes off of Jack and Rebecca and following Tade into the Kids Club where they found Steve finger painting with a group of toddlers. “But we may have to wait until the storm passes.”
“Thank God,” Steve said, hurrying toward the door, wiping his hands on a paper towel. He had green paint on his cheek, but Dorsey wasn’t going to wipe that for him. “You son, need to stop hiding like that.”
“I wasn’t hiding,” Tade said. “I was visiting a friend.”
“That’s not allowed. Everyone must follow the rules precisely in order for this club to be the best. You are expected to do so, as are your parents. I will be speaking to them, as well,” Steve said, spittle at the corner of his mouth.
“They won’t listen,” Tade said, hands on his hips, taunting the large man in front of him. Dorsey didn’t know why he was being so defiant, but she didn’t like seeing Steve get so angry at a child.
“They will, son,” Steve said, jaw clenching while his tiny eyes darkened with anger. “You all will. Good work, Dorsey.” And then he was gone.
Tade and Dorsey sat side by side on the window seat of the Kids Cottage, watching the waves build as the storm approached. The water grew dark brown as the light drained from the sky. The little kids had stopped painting and Dorsey had put on a Disney movie for them to watch. Dorsey heard the sirens blowing, calling all golfers off the course.
“My parents said this is a northeastern fetch,” Tade said. “I’m not sure what a fetch is, but if it cools it down here, it’s fine with me.”
“Me too. When are you leaving?” she said.
“Tomorrow,” Tade said.
“Already? Wow, I’ll miss you.”
A crack of lightning brightened the sky, followed closely by a loud thunderclap that seemed to be directly above the Kids Cottage. All three toddlers began to cry and Dorsey and Tade gathered them together in the center of the room. Dorsey wondered whether Jack would stop in and check on her, since the pool had to be closed during the storm. Or, maybe he had other duties she didn’t know about.