Saturday, April 16, 2011
I teetered on the narrow metal railing and tightened my grip on the mast line. Jumping was supposed to be a piece of cake, except that now, looking down at the Mediterranean Sea, I wasn’t so sure. It had to be at least twenty-five feet to the water. Twenty-five feet! I did a quick calculation. Holy crap, that’d be like leaping out of a third-story window.
“Hold up, Luke,” Dad called from the main deck. He held up his lucky Apollo coin and tossed it, like he always tossed it, with a swift flick of his thumb. The gold coin glinted in the sun before he caught it in one hand.
I rolled my eyes thinking, What’s he doing now? If I was going to jump, it was going to be on my terms, not his.
“Heads you jump, tails you dive.”
Dive? Diving wasn’t part of this deal. My temples pulsed. “Dad!”
“Apollo says…” he opened his fist. “Dive!”
The word spun around in my head, the panic building. I got all woozy inside, like I was riding a tidal wave of nausea. Then, in the back of my mind, I heard my best friend, Conner Larkin. He was 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.”
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 a wimp, a real grade-A chicken.
The whole point of my being up here was to prove myself, show my dad I still had grit. I stared at the water and chewed on that thought. Did I?
My brain sparked. Yes you do! Then the glob of gray matter inside my skull went one better: Forget the dive. Go for a front flip.
So I did.
And fast, too. I forced back my shoulders and propelled myself off the railing before my gut had a chance to the spew the humus I’d eaten for lunch. I pushed so hard that the greens and browns and tans of the scrubby Turkish coastline became a muddy blur.
But what resulted was the most pathetic, swan-dive-cum-front-flip a 16-year-old American teenager has ever attempted. A whopping side-flop, if that’s even possible, onto a slab of turquoise-colored cement. Pain radiated from my solar plexus and pricked at my fingertips. I curled into a ball and sank.
But not for long. The sea pushed back and I shot to the surface.
“Son,” Dad said when I exploded out of the water. “That was one hard fall.” He tossed me a life preserver. “You all right?”
It didn’t take the brightest bulb in the box to see I wasn’t all right. I started to reach for the preserver, and then dodged it at the last second. No way was I letting Dad know how much I hurt. I eyeballed the distance between our boat and the rocky shore, and treaded water. Too friggin’ far. The best I could do was grit my teeth and try to smile, if only to keep myself from blubbering. I knew I should have forced my gut to pull rank on my brain. I just knew it.
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 residence with a certain Mr. Hades. The lagoon where the Didyma 111 was anchored was shallow and the sea floor gave way to an entire underwater mountain range. If I’d nailed the flip and entered the water feet first, I’d have slammed into a boulder for sure. At the very least I’d have splintered my ankle bones.
I shivered just thinking about it, and moved into a slow one-armed breast stroke around the bow of the boat. Just before I got to the ladder. The only thing left was to haul my sorry butt up the rope ladder. I took a gander at my chest. The whole right side was as red as a hunk of rare roast beef.
I pulled myself up onto the deck and rushed past everyone for the stairs to the sleeping cabins below. I needed some serious time alone. Unfortunately, I ran into Kaitlyn Davies in the lounge.
“L-L-Luke,” she called, following me like a puppy dog.
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 Davies’ large square head darken his daughter’s shoulder. He glared 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.
I opened my mouth, an apology right there on the tip of my tongue. But then I thought: wait a minute; I’m not the problem, she is. Kaitlyn Davies. Why can’t she just leave me alone? She’s thirteen for Christ’s sake. Thirteen.
I bit my tongue and stomped down the dark hall to my sleeping cabin, slamming the door behind me.
Inside, my younger brother, Adam, was sprawled across the upper berth. His scraggly brown bangs masked the fact that his nose was glued to a book. 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.”
I switched off the overhead light and slid between the sheets on the bottom berth.
“Hey, what’s your problem?” Adam complained.
The small mahogany-paneled room was equipped with only one port hole, and without the overhead light it was too dark to read. He leapt off the upper berth and switched the light on.
I pulled the pillow over my eyes and ignored him.
“I heard Dad telling you to dive.” He climbed back up top.
“I thought you were reading.”
“I can read and listen, you know.”Adam made a nasal squeaking noise, which meant he was pretending to clean out his ear. Creepster.
“The minute we land at Dulles airport, I’m history. Gone, like yesterday.”
“Why? Because of Dad?”
“Dude, you don’t understand.” I pressed down on the pillow. “He’s a tool. Always pushing me…in front of everyone. Then I end up doing something stupid. Ray and Kaitlyn and the whole stupid boat crew saw me.”
“Dad likes to rile you. He does it to make you more determined. Not to humiliate you. Like during wrestling season. You’re the athlete, Luke, preparing to be a warrior. It’s like he’s the drill sergeant.”
Leave it to Adam Ant to size up the situation in only two seconds flat. Of course that’s what Dad was trying to do. But I wasn’t ready to own up to it.
I clenched my jaw and said, “I hate wrestling.”
“Don’t take Dad so seriously. You know he likes to joke around. Anyway, he’s having a tough time right now. Mom told you to cut him some slack.” He said it like Dad’s impending bankruptcy was my fault.
I fumed under the pillow, not giving a hoot about anything but how badly I botched the flip. Then I said, “You know, Mom’s going to be furious if she finds out you’ve been reading in bed with your shoes on.”
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