I recently took part in a visual writing prompt exercise over on Lori L. Clark’s blog. I usually take my inspiration from music. I find the notes tell a story of their own. I also find that staring at a picture can bring it to life, I’d just never considered writing the story down.
So, using the image below from Lori’s blog, I took a look and wrote Adrift.
As soon as my foot hit the warm sand, memories of the summers spent at the lighthouse flooded me. The voice of my sister echoed in my head, her bright laughter, her excitement whenever she spotted a starfish or found a crab bigger than mine, and her screech each time she skidded down a slimy rock.
In the distance, tiny lights flickered from the row of small beach houses. The clink of plates carried across the breeze and I envisioned families sitting down for dinner after a long day in the sun, much like we had all those years ago.
The scent of seaweed and damp sand played in my nostrils as I grazed my hand across the old piece of driftwood that had been there for as long as I could remember. Its once rough bark had smoothed out over time, whispering against my skin like the finest silk.
“You jump, Ari.” Elizabeth’s small, forever seven-year-old voice echoed in my ears. I turned my head from side to side. Fruitless—I knew I wouldn’t find her. That piece of driftwood had seemed so big when we were children. Our five year age gap never bothered me, and I played with her as happily as I would teens my own age. I used to climb to the top and pull Elizabeth up, not letting go of her hand until she’d steadied herself. I wrung my hands together. If only I’d held on a little longer, she would still be here.
The sweep of light from the lantern room at the top of the lighthouse illuminated parts of the beach. Without hesitation, I placed one foot in front of the other. The glow called to me, pulling me forward.
The sand soon became damp beneath my toes, small pools of cold water rushing up, trying to suck me in. My feet slapped against the coarse grit, every now and then a shell nicked into my skin. The warm flashes of pain didn’t deter me from my journey. The closer I got to the shoreline, the more determined I became.
The surf rushed up to greet me, and as soon as the freezing saltwater grazed my ankles, panic gripped my chest. I sucked in a harsh breath and held it, willing my heart to slow it’s furious rhythm. Elizabeth’s screams rang in my ears. I thrust my hand out in futility. Elizabeth wouldn’t be there to latch on. Still, the ghost of her small hand found mine and I curled my fingers into a fist.
“I won’t let go, Elizabeth. I swear. Give me another chance and I won’t let go.” My voice rasped and faltered, interrupted by sobs. Her wide brown eyes flashed in front of me, the terror I felt reflected in them.
A wave rolled toward me, crashing around my ankles, snapping me back to the present.
“I’m so sorry, Elizabeth. I’m sorry I couldn’t hold on. I tried, I really tried.” Though I spoke the words aloud, they carried into nothingness. Just like Elizabeth.
I stomped my foot into the sea, an attempt to hurt it like it’d hurt my sister. Like it still hurts me every day. The ebb and flow continued, ignorant of my effort to punish it. Sinking to my knees, my soaked dress billowed around me. I tipped my head to the heavens and a scream tore from my throat. Despair washed around me, stronger than the wicked ocean. If only I had just held on.
The sharp taste of salt played on my tongue, not caused by the lapping foam, but from the defiant tears rippling down my cheeks. Hanging my head, one drop spilled into the ocean. A piece of me forever mingling with the memory of my sister.
As the night wore on, the lights around me flickered and died as the residents of the beach houses sought slumber. Only the glow of the old lighthouse illuminated the beach, but the darkness will always remain.
The chatter of my teeth and the rolling waves were the only sound to invade the night air. I crossed my arms across my chest, my hands seeking a warmer pocket. My skin bared the same warmth as ice and my body trembled.
For what seemed an eternity I sat with the memory of my sister—the closest I could ever be to her. The anger crashing to get out simmered to hopelessness as I gazed out into the black rolling void.
Slow footsteps pattering against the sand approached me.
A short gasp lodged in my throat as warm arms wrapped around me, lifting me from the icy shallows. Though time had brought a deep baritone to his voice, the softness with which Noah held me remained the same.
Tucking my head to his chest and resting his chin on my scalp, Noah ran his hands up and down my biceps. “What are you doing out here?”
I nuzzled my nose into his neck, grateful for the heat seeping into my skin.
“Ari, you’re freezing.” Latching on to my wrist, he tore up the beach, pulling me behind him.
As soon as he opened the front door to his tiny beach cabin, heat rolled over me, caressing the cold away. He deposited me in front of the dancing hearth. Flames licked up, weaving in and out of each other, extending to me as if offering me their friendly balminess. I took a step back, unwilling to allow their comfort.
Noah stepped in front of me, a white t-shirt bundled in his hands. “Here, put this on.” He extended the fabric to me, but I made no move to take it.
Pushing my chin up with his finger, he studied my face. My gaze stayed fixed just to the left of him. I didn’t deserve his kindness, didn’t deserve his empathy.
With a sigh, Noah hung the t-shirt over the arm of the muted pink velvet chair next to us. Crouching down, he spun me around then lifted my saturated dress over my head. Dry cotton brushed against me as he pulled the t-shirt over my face. It billowed around my waist, dropping just above my knee. His hands slipped beneath the material and he unclasped my bra, guiding it down my arms while still keeping me covered. With a gentle touch, he fed my arms through the sleeves.
“Ari. Talk to me.”
His kindness, though undeserving, and the smooth and familiar tone of his voice elicited a response from me. Finally meeting his eyes, I drew in a quick breath. The last time I’d seen Noah Thomas, he’d been a gangly fifteen-year-old peppered with angry spots. Smooth tanned skin stretched over his cheekbones. His aquiline nose led to full, pink lips. Tiny muscles rippled in his jaw as he rested his hands on my shoulders. Dark brown eyes stared into mine, worry swirling within their depths.
My lips twitched and I exhaled. “I had to come back for her.”
Shallow lines crinkled on Noah’s forehead. “Baby, it wasn’t your fault. It was a freak storm and the wave took her too quickly. There was nothing anyone could’ve done.”
My jaw trembled and I sniffled.
Noah cupped my hands in his face. “Don’t tell me you’ve been blaming yourself these past ten years?”
I responded with silence.
“Oh, God. You have.”
Noah’s arms enveloped me, pulling me to his solid chest. I breathed in his masculine scent and my body softened, allowing him to comfort me.
Noah’s lips moved against my head as he whispered words of comfort. “You have to let this go now, baby.”
Though his words brought no end to my pain, for the first time in ten years, I finally felt solace.