My body jerked forward, spewing forth a geyser of nasty salt water. My lungs burned; my head throbbed with each pulse of my frantically beating heart. Coughing violently, I gasped in huge gulps of sweet, fresh air.
My eyes flitted around. People were hovering over me. There was Mickey and Jake, and Tommie—she was crying. Captain Bill had his hand pressed to my forehead and a worried look on his gruff face. I could hear anxious shouts over the rhythmic pounding of the tide. There was warm sand underneath me, sticking everywhere on my sopping wet body. A nervous fear was building inside me as I abruptly realized that none of this made sense. My jumbled senses were identifying hordes of details that just were not coalescing into any kind of logical picture.
My eyes closed slowly; my head lolled backwards. I heard Tommie shout my name—but it seemed to come from so… far… away.
Titan’s Point is just a small dot on the map. For a kid growing up here, it is the most wonderful place in the whole world. There is no mall or movie theatre, no strip of fast food restaurants, and no giant superstores; it’s just a quiet, sleepy little town.
In all, there are eighteen houses, thirty-one adults, eight dogs, six cats, and four kids. Mickey, Jake, and I are best friends; we do everything together. Tommie tags along whenever she can. And she really isn’t all that bad—for a girl.
Our summer is fantastic—we swim in the cove, create castles with moats, and fish from the pier. During the school year, each of our parents takes a turn driving us the fourteen miles to school.
We’re pretty sure Captain Bill was once a pirate. At least he certainly looks like one; he just needs a wooden leg or a metal hook to complete the grisly image. The Captain lives with Mad Melvin Jenkins in a small ramshackle house away from everyone else.
We always knew that Mad Melvin definitely had a hole in his net. We laughed to each other that his brain was “gone fishing.” Captain Bill looked out for him as best he could, making him always wear a weathered, dull-orange life preserver. Melvin wore it with pride—he was the official “lifeguard.” He would patrol up and down the pier untiringly, watching for any sign of trouble—pity anyone that ever did need help if Mad Melvin was their last hope.
I opened my eyes with a groan. Tommie flung herself at me saying, “I’m sorry. I’m so sorry.” I was too weak to resist.
I forced out two slurry words, “What happened?”
Tommie pulled back, blinking away the tears. She looked different, maybe it was the tears, I don’t know. She was almost pretty—in a way.
“It’s all my fault; I didn’t mean for it to happen.” She choked out the words. “Mel always told us not to run on the pier, but we never listened.” She buried her face in one arm.
Mickey picked it up from there, “Tommie chucked this flopping fish at you while we were fishing out on the pier. You chased after her, saying you were going to put it down the back of her shirt. That is, until you tripped over something and stumbled right off the edge of the pier, knocking your head on something along the way. Melvin was right there the whole time shouting, ‘Ya’ll stop that running now.’”
Mickey paused a second. “When he saw you go over, he never hesitated. He jumped right in after you. Jack ran to get help while I kept an eye on the spot where you had gone under. Mel got your head up out of the water and somehow got that stupid life vest he’s always wearing off of him and on to you. He kept you afloat ‘til Captain Bill could get there in his row boat.”
My head throbbed from the blow and my lungs stung from the water, but it was my heart that ached the most, remembering how much I had always made fun of Melvin.
I turned my head to see him sitting just a few feet away, rocking slowly back and forth. Captain Bill sat stoically next to him, not saying a word. Melvin’s mind had once more escaped to a whole other world. Gazing blankly, he was saying to no one in particular, “Ya’ll shouldn’t run on the pier.”
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