Wind tore through the house like a pack of ghosts so when Mom started crying, her wails only added to the eeriness of the night. Through the window I could see the rain pelting down from every direction. This was no ordinary shore-front storm. This was a gale.
Coach came by again. I sat on the top stair, high enough that no one would see me, but I could hear everything they said. Next came Mr. Chipman, then Pastor Laird and his wife. Mrs. Laird bustled into the kitchen and soon the whistle of the tea kettle added to the shrilling ghosts. I wrapped my arms around my knees and hugged them to my chest. I tried not to think of how Henry looked when I last saw him. How it seemed like he didn’t even like me. I tried not to think about how I’d just taken off without giving Dad a hug. Did I even look at him? I squeezed my eyes shut tight and tried to remember the last time I hugged Dad or told him I loved him. All I could remember was how happy I’d been to get off that boat.
“He’ll be all right, Mary,” Pastor said. “Are the boys with him?” Mom didn’t answer, but a moment later Coach spoke so quietly, I had to strain to hear him.
“Pete’s here,” he said.
Pete’s here. The words rattled around in my head like the spin on a puck, round and round. Pete’s here. Not out there, with my brother and father and Bruce and Mike. If I’d gone, maybe I could have spotted the gale. Maybe I could have tightened the rigging just the way Dad liked it. If I’d gone, maybe they’d be home by now.
I must have fallen asleep on the stairs, and someone must have found me, because when the bells started ringing, I woke with a start, the blanket slipping to the stairs. The church bell only rang for services or emergencies, and I didn’t think there’d ever been a greater emergency. I looked up just in time to see Mom go flying out the door and I ran after her, into the driving rain.
“They’ve found them!” someone shouted from out on the road, but everyone was already sprinting for the shore.
Everyone worked together to haul in the boat as it bucked against the swells, the heavy machinery crowding its stern barely visible in the pouring dark. But it wasn’t Charlie’s Pride, that much was obvious. Mom often joked that no one could miss the Pride out to sea with its robin-egg hull. This one was red, the body painted with white bands. The Coast Guard.
Mom ran out onto the dock, her arms already reaching for Dad or Henry, but I stopped short of the wooden planks. My slippers sank into the gravel beach while Coach rushed past me to help pull the men ashore.
I watched as the leads were tied off and the crew were helped onto the dock, their shoulders bowed by more than just rain. Henry lay in Mike’s arms. Mom cried, wailing as she clung to Pastor Laird and tripped alongside him back to the house. They walked right past me; didn’t seem to notice me at all. It was Coach who draped an arm over my shoulders and walked with me back to the house.
My feet felt like they were made of lead. I dragged them up the beach and over the rough, pocked road and the rickety porch. I ducked out from under Coach’s arm and trudged up the stairs—not so far that I couldn’t see the living room, but far enough. Just out of reach. Just apart. I hugged myself while my body shook like I was laughing, dripping rain and tears onto the threadbare stair runner.
Bruce and Mike were all right. Henry too.
But Dad had not come home.
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