Young Adult -- Heather Tourkin
I teetered on the narrow metal railing and tightened my grip on the mast line. Twenty-five feet below me the Mediterranean Sea swelled, rocking the sailboat. I’d never been this friggin’ high before, and now I was supposed to jump? A knot formed in my gut. This was like leaping out of a third story window. Only idiots leap out of third-story windows. The knot twisted.
“Luke,” my dad called, waving at me from the main deck. The gold coin in his hand glinted in the sun. “Hold on. Let me toss this baby.”
I gave him a casual look of annoyance. Everyone knows ancient Greek coins don’t have tails. I hesitated. Then again, maybe they do. But that wasn’t the point. I just wanted him to back off. Let me do things my own way.
“Heads you jump, tails you dive.” Dad tossed the coin. “Apollo says…” he caught it and opened his fist. “Dive!”
Dive? The word sounded foreign to my ears. My head started to spin. It’d be crazy to dive from this height. I started to get a little woozy. Then in the back of my mind I heard my best friend, Conner Larkin, egging me on like he was some kind of authority. “Chill,” he’d say if he were here now. “Don’t get your tighty-whiteys in a twist. Just do it.”
The truth was I wanted to prove myself, show my dad I still had grit. I had to do it. Then suddenly something inside me sparked. I stared at the water and mouthed, “Forget the dive. Go for a front flip.”
Dad rocked back on his heels and rested his beer can on his paunch. “Want me to toss it again?” The way he said it made it sound like he thought I was too much of a whuss to dive.
A gust of wind whirled around me and sent a shiver down my spine. I wobbled, catching myself before falling backwards. Just as I got my balance, nervous-Nelly Kaitlyn Davies walked around the corner of the bridge, gripping her tangled curls behind her head. She stopped short and gawked.
“Mr. Ha-ha-hansen,” she said, jabbing a finger anxiously in the air. “I-I-I don’t th-th-think he should do it.”
My father roared, “A strapping young man like him?” He took a giant swig from his beer can, and then wiped his lips. “Now, which is it, son? Are you an archer like Apollo? Or do you favor Athena with your bright baby blues and long golden hair?”
I rolled my eyes. Dad and his not-so-subtle attempt at sarcasm. Here he was comparing me to a Greek goddess just because of my long hair, when the man didn’t even have his facts straight.
“Gray,” I said, ignoring the insult, but still letting disdain creep into my voice.
“Athena. She had gray eyes.” I resisted the urge to add, Where were you when Mom, the bulldog, was force feeding us the Iliad and the Odyssey, downing a six-pack in front of the TV?
“Whoa!” Dad did this little pretend bow and wiggled his rear end. “I stand corrected, smart al—er…Bright Apollo, sir.” He saluted me.
On the main deck, Kaitlyn’s father, Mr. Overprotective Ray Davies, sidled up to his daughter. He glanced at me with these rheumy green eyes etched with red veins that made him look like he was on the verge of crying, or screaming, or both. Then Tasant, the cook and co-captain of the boat, poked his head out of the galley. He gave me a thumbs-up.
Dad yelled, “Shoot!”
So I did.
I forced back my shoulders and faced the sun head on. I raised my arms, bent my knees, and in a moment of no return, propelled myself off the railing. The tans and browns and greens of the scrubby Turkish coastline became a blur.
What resulted was the most pathetic, swan-dive-cum-front-flip a 16-year-old American teenager has ever attempted. It felt like a whopping side flop onto a slab of turquoise-colored cement. Waves of pain radiated from my solar plexus to the tips of my fingers. I curled into a ball and sank.
So this is death.
But death would have been too easy. The sea pushed back, and like an arrow, I shot to the surface.
“Son,” Dad said when I exploded out of the water. “What happened? You all right?” He tossed me a life preserver.
I cringed just hearing his voice. Of course I wasn’t all right. I dodged the preserver and eyeballed the distance between our boat and the rocky shore. Too friggin’ far. Then I gritted my teeth and tried to smile, if only to keep myself from crying out. I knew I should have forced my gut to pull rank on my brain. How could I be so dumb?
Chapter 2 The Blues
It wasn’t until I ducked back under the water that I realized how close I’d come to taking up permanent residence with the fearsome Hades. The lagoon where the Didyma 111 was anchored was shallow and the sea floor hosted an entire underwater mountain range. If I’d done a flip from any higher, or from a little more to the stern, I’d have done a face-plant on one of the boulders.
I breathed through the pain and did a slow, one-armed breast stroke around the bow of the boat. Just as I got to the ladder, I saw a shadow from the corner of my eye. I did a double-take and gulped down a mouthful of salt water. I couldn’t believe it. A dolphin was swimming only inches beneath me. I spat and reached for its dorsal fin, but it dipped down and swam off. Too bad, I thought, there goes my ticket to freedom.
The only thing left was to haul my sorry butt up the rope ladder. Man, it hurt just thinking about it. Then I took a gander at my chest. The whole right side was as red as a hunk of rare roast beef. A whimper bubbled to my lips, but I sucked it back. My reputation was at stake. If a Hansen boy broke down in tears, what would the Davies think? Or the boat crew? Or worse, my dad?
When I got on deck I rushed for the stairs to the sleeping cabins below. Unfortunately, stuttering Kait spied me dodging through the lounge.
“L-L-Luke,” she called, following me like a puppy dog. “Y-y-you okay?”
In my haste I tripped on the last tread and stubbed my big toe against the wall. I shot Kaitlyn a fierce look and snarled. That’s when I saw Ray’s large square head darken his daughter’s shoulder. The crow’s-feet along the corner of his rheumy eyes deepened.
I opened my mouth and was about to apologize. The words right there on the tip of my tongue, I could almost taste them, but then I thought: wait a minute; I’m not the problem, she is. Kaitlyn Davies. Why can’t she just leave me alone?
I bit my tongue and spun around. I needed time to think. I needed space. I stomped down the dark hall and slammed the door to my sleeping cabin.
Inside, my younger brother, Adam, was sprawled across the upper berth. His straggly brown bangs masked the fact that his nose was glued to a book about Theseus. He was so gripped by the words on the page that he’d forgotten to remove his shoes—a crime punishable by a lifetime of Mom’s “I told you not to’s.”