The gunshot echoed through the woods. Connor whirled around, his fly rod smacking against the tree branches. He was well downstream, but he was still in the woods that belonged to Montfort Farm. The shot had come from the falls and the pool that Connor had been fishing in. A posted sign on a nearby pine tree glared yellow, a signature scrawled angrily at the bottom in black Sharpie.
Â Â Â No, he wouldnâ€™t go back to check it out.
Â Â Â Connor hurried downstream. The tip of the fly rod quivered. He could have blamed it on the gunshot, but his hand had been shaking since he had left the falls in such a hurry, after seeing â€“ what the hell had it been?
Â Â Â He had hooked into some nice brookies â€“ eight or nine inches long. Much bigger than what he had found in other streams around Greenfield. They had been beautiful â€“ shimmering green heartbeats fibrillating the line in Connorâ€™s fingers, but he always practiced catch and release. There were hardly any natives left anymore. Most trout nowadays were bred in hatcheries and dumped into the river out of the back of a truck. But not these. No wonder the falls were posted.
Â Â Â The last fish had bent the pole over, and the clicks of the fly reel had blurred together as the neon green line paid out into the deep pool. Then the line slackened, and Connor reeled furiously to regain the tension before the trout threw the hook. The brookie surfaced, a good nine inches, flipping through the mist in front of the falls. Connor lifted the rod while holding it level so as to not pull the hook from the somersaulting fishâ€™s mouth.
Â Â Â That was when the massive tail broke the surface and slapped the water. Connor dropped the rod. The fish on the end of his line, now forgotten, threw the hook and vanished into the pool.
No way. Brookies donâ€™t get that big. Hell, salmon donâ€™t get that big.
But there had been no mistaking the olive brook trout markings.
Â Â Â The snap of a branch broke his stupor. Connor glanced up, trespasserâ€™s adrenalin surging in his blood. A blond head poked up out of a clump of ferns, and a pair of blue eyes stared out from under a Red Sox cap across the pool at the fly line bobbing in the ripples left by the impossibly large fin. They traced the line back to the bank, narrowing as they settled on the fly rod shaking in Connorâ€™s hands.
Connor reeled in the incriminating line. â€œAfternoon.â€
Connor waved a hand downstream. â€œI fished my way up from the bed and breakfast. Wrightsâ€™ Bed and Breakfast. Iâ€™m Connor Wright.â€
â€œHeard of it.â€ The boy crossed his arms and glanced at the waterfall, then back to Connor.
Connor fished his cell phone out of his pocket and raised an eyebrow, as if the dark screen were full of urgent business. He grabbed his tackle box and waved the phone at the boy.
â€œGot to get back.â€ He managed a guilty nod and retreated into the pines
Â Â Â Connor had gone fishing to escape from the cream and sage Victorian, but now the house was a welcome sight. He and Sharon had bought the bed and breakfast two years ago when they had moved across country from Seattle. It had been a risk â€“ Connor had to turn down a promotion at his software firm â€“ but the rooms at the bed and breakfast had been easy to fill, at least at first. Connor also took side jobs servicing computer systems for local businesses. But as the months wore on, more rooms in the old Victorian stayed empty, until one day Sharonâ€™s room joined the list of vacancies.
Â Â Â Connor tromped down the hall toward the business office, still in his fishing boots. He tried not to look at the picture on the office wall but failed as always. It wasnâ€™t a proper painting, only a page ripped from an oversized art book, complete with a crease down the middle where it had been folded â€“ a Bouguereau â€“ one of those neo-classical paintings of a family in a woodland setting. But Connor had found happy families to be as mythical as the figures in their togas. A cold, empty feeling crept into his stomach, and he fished out a cigarette. Even now, after six months, he still glanced around before flicking the lighter. But no one would scold him for smoking in the house now.
Â Â Â Â Connor threw himself into the swivel chair in front of his computer. His fingers flew over the keyboard, still shaky enough that he had to tap at the backspace key several times before hitting Enter. His eyes flickered over the images of brook trout that the search engine had pulled up. No. None of them were even close. He typed more words – â€œrecord catchâ€ â€“ but nothing resembled what he had seen at the falls.
The images still glowed on the screen when he awoke at the computer the next morning. He glanced at his watch and groaned. He had to drive into Greenfield and service the computer system at Hot Rocks, a New Age shop on Main Street run by Andromeda Stamos â€“ one of the few accounts he had been able to hang onto. After a quick shower and a change into a shirt that didnâ€™t smell quite as bad as the one he had slept in, Connor stumbled out to the Subaru.
Olivia Stoddardâ€™s real estate office was a couple of doors down from Hot Rocks. Connor split the difference and parked in between, shoving his last two quarters into the meter. When he came out, he clutched a stack of paperwork and brochures. The bell jingled as Connor pushed open the door to Hot Rocks.
Connor smiled at the young woman standing on a chair hanging Tibetan prayer flags. She draped the red, green and blue squares over her shoulder and hopped down, pushing her brown hair away from her Mediterranean features. She wrapped her tattooed arms and their patchouli fragrance around Connor.
â€œHey, Con man. Come to check out my hardware?â€
Connor smiled and returned her kiss, the tiniest of pecks. He took a step toward the register, but it was too late. Andie frowned and grabbed his arm.
Connor shrugged and tossed his paperwork on the counter before he settled onto the stool behind the register. He began typing on the keyboard.
â€œI saw something weird last night at the falls.â€
â€œWestminster Falls? What were you doing there? After that guy from Connecticut inherited Montfort Farm, he posted the shit out of those woods.â€ Andieâ€™s eyes narrowed over a mischievous smile. â€œYou were trespassing?â€
â€œHiding from bill collectors.â€ Connor picked up the real estate papers off the counter and waved them. â€œIâ€™m going to lose the bed and breakfast.â€
Andie pulled two cigarettes out of the fatigue jacket on the counter and handed one to Connor. â€œThat was Sharonâ€™s dream. She used your nest egg on it and then bailed on you.â€
Connor minimized the POS window and entered the admin screen.
â€œIf I lose the Victorian Iâ€™ll have to move back out west to Seattle.â€
Andieâ€™s face fell. Connor looked up. â€œIâ€™m not making it, Andie. The odd jobs just donâ€™t cut it.â€ Connor ran his fingers through his red hair. â€œTwo years ago I was a senior programmer and drove a Beemer. Now I canâ€™t hang onto a used Subaru.â€
â€œThe car too?â€ Andie put a callused hand on Connorâ€™s shoulder. â€œHey, the apartment upstairs is going to be open at the end of the month. Youâ€™ve seen it. Youâ€™ve helped me fix the sink enough times. You could crash there.â€
Connor shook his head. â€œI donâ€™t want charity.â€
Connor swore under his breath as Andieâ€™s finger punched the power button on the LCD screen, and it went black. She spun the stool around so he had to look at her.
â€œItâ€™s not charity. You must know that by now. I behaved. I sat on my hands â€“ gave Sharon time to figure out she didnâ€™t want you.â€
â€œPeople donâ€™t know.â€
Andie tilted her head. â€œAre you still telling everyone that Sharon is in Seattle with a sick mother?â€ She waved her hand at the people walking by the window. â€œThis is Greenfield! Itâ€™s college kids and hippies. No oneâ€™s going to care if you move in upstairs.â€
Connor scrolled the mouseâ€™s wheel. â€œIâ€™m thirty with no real job. Thatâ€™s not a lot to offer.â€
â€œNot to mention unresolved issues from your recently ended marriage.â€
â€œSee, it gets better and better.â€
Andie rested her forehead on Connorâ€™s. â€œThis isnâ€™t you â€“ the bed and breakfast, the LL Bean jeans, the goddamn Subaru Forester.â€
Andie shook her head. â€œOh, you put on a good act. You had me fooled too. Then one day while Sharon was in the pharmacy I saw you on the village green talking to some biker chick.â€
â€œShe wanted directions.â€
â€œUh huh. Those were some complicated directions. Where was she going, Timbuktu?â€ Andie slipped her arms around his waist. â€œYou donâ€™t look like the kind of guy that would know the way to Timbuktu.â€
â€œOh, God. I forgot you were a psych major.â€
â€œYouâ€™ve never been to Timbuktu, but youâ€™ve got the way memorized, just in case.â€
â€œAre you charging me by the hour?â€
â€œAnd some day you plan on going. But how do you know when the day has come?â€
â€œBecause I have to tell you Blue Cross dropped me last month.â€
Andie looked into his eyes for a moment. â€œItâ€™s too soon, isnâ€™t it?â€
Connor looked down at the floor.
Andieâ€™s arms fell back to her sides. Her smile hadnâ€™t left her face, but it was smaller. â€œFine. Grieve in your big empty house. But I wonâ€™t put the apartment in the paper right off.â€
Connor flicked the screen back on, but he watched Andie out of the corner of his eye as she climbed back up onto the chair with her prayer flags. He smiled. Though Andieâ€™s New Age spirituality claimed nothing in common with Grandma Oâ€™Shaughnessyâ€™s Irish Catholicism, there was much that reminded Connor of the old woman with her witchy ways and odd stories.
Andie turned. Connor flicked his gaze back to the screen, his cheeks reddening.
â€œSo, what did you see up at the falls?â€
Connor shook his head. â€œA big fish. It looked â€“ it was probably nothing.â€ He shut down the admin screen. Andie was waiting for him as he walked around the counter.
â€œThe world isnâ€™t a computer screen, Con man. Not everything fits into a window.â€
â€œWhy, have you heard of record size fish in the Lamott River?â€
â€œThere are stranger things in heaven and earth. Be more open. If shit happens, roll with it.â€ Andie pecked Connor on the cheek. â€œEspecially if itâ€™s good shit.â€
Â Â Â Connor groaned as he pulled into the driveway. The boy with the Red Sox cap sat on the steps of the Victorian. He stood up as the Subaru ground to a halt. Connorâ€™s stomach twisted, but he forced a smile and nodded at the boy.
Â Â Â â€œWhat can I do for you?â€
Â Â Â The boy looked Connor up and down. â€œIâ€™m Noah. I seen you at the falls yesterday.â€
Â Â Â â€œYeah, sorry â€“ you must live at the farm now?â€
Â Â Â Noah snorted. â€œNo. Some rich guy owns it. I stay at Jenâ€™s house up the road.â€
Â Â Â Connor scratched at his beard. â€œJen? You mean the Connelly place. The daycare, right?â€Â Â Â â€œItâ€™s a foster home now. Iâ€™m really from Harden, on the other side of the mountain. But mom messed up big, and now I have to stay with Jen.â€
Â Â Â Connorâ€™s boots shifted in the gravel. Noah stared at him from underneath his ball cap.
Â Â Â â€œYou saw her, didnâ€™t you.â€ The boy didnâ€™t ask. It was more of an accusation.
Â Â Â Connor squinted through the afternoon sunlight at the boy. Noah shoved his hands in the pockets of his khaki shorts and stared down at his grass stained sneakers.
Â Â Â â€œShe said you did. I donâ€™t know who else to go to. It looks bad, and Iâ€™m kinda worried.â€ Noah wiped at his nose with a grimy finger.
Â Â Â Connor raised an eyebrow. â€œYouâ€™re serious. Someoneâ€™s hurt?â€
Â Â Â Noah stared at his sneakers. â€œWill ya just come look?â€
Â Â Â Connor found his head nodding. Noah scuffed through the loose gravel and out across the lawn â€“ toward Westminster Falls.
Â Â Â Noah led the way along the river, staying a couple of paces ahead. Soon, a roar filled the hot, stuffy air between the pine trees. The bristly branches gave way to the pool and its forty foot waterfall. Noah skirted the edge of the pool until he stood beside the curtain of water. He looked over his shoulder at Connor.
Â Â Â â€œOh yeah. Weâ€™re gonna get wet.â€
Â Â Â Connor opened his mouth, but the boy pressed himself against the rock face and slipped behind the torrent. Connor took a breath and stepped under the water.
Â Â Â For a moment, the rush of water threatened to sweep him into the pool, but his fingers grabbed at cracks in the granite. Then the rock face gave way to open air. The space behind the falls was black at first, but then Connor adjusted to the dimmer light. He stood in a cave, knee deep in water.
Â Â Â A bright light assaulted his eyes. Connor swore under his breath, and the white beam condensed into a circle on the rocky wall. Noah fiddled with the flashlight.
Â Â Â â€œSorry.â€
Â Â Â â€œSomeoneâ€™s hurt in here?â€
Â Â Â â€œYou donâ€™t spook easy, do you? Cause she donâ€™t need you yellinâ€™ or anything.â€
Â Â Â Connor fought down the sour irritation in his stomach. â€œJust tell me what weâ€™re looking at. You got a stray dog in here?â€
Â Â Â Sneakers squeaked on wet rock, and Noah knelt down, playing the beam into the flooded cave. A slick, greenish tail whipped back and forth, and red eye shine glared out from under strands of matted black hair shot through with streaks of grey. Ripples radiated out in the cold water from the powerful fin.
Something tightened in Connorâ€™s chest, and the blood in his legs seemed to pool down in his feet. A wave of vertigo hit him, and he stumbled, cracking his head. He swore under his breath and clutched at the rock wall. He squinted into the dark and took a step closer. The fin slapped the water as a cold hiss filled the cave.
Â Â Â â€œCareful.â€
Â Â Â Connor looked down at Noah. Waves splashed at the boyâ€™s waist. Noah held the flashlight off to the side, and the eye shine winked out.
Â Â Â â€œShe donâ€™t know you yet.â€
Â Â Â Connor stepped further into the pool, getting a better look at the fin as it smacked the water in front of him. Scales were missing here and there, probably from rubbing against the rough granite, exposing the raw pink flesh underneath. The smell of fish was overpowering. Noahâ€™s cold fingers touched Connorâ€™s forearm.
Â Â Â â€œUh uh. I wouldnâ€™t. Sheâ€™s kind of twitchy.â€
Â Â Â Connor nodded and held out his hand. Noah surrendered the flashlight. Connor brought the beam up slowly toward the shadow at the back of the cave. He played the beam along the shimmering tail, so like a brook trout in its marking.
Â Â Â Another hiss echoed through the cave as Connor brought the light up further. The slimy scales on the tail gave way to brown skin on the upper body â€“ human skin on a bare belly below two very human breasts and two naked arms shielding a feminine face from the harsh light. A pair of eyes glared out from under the shroud of black hair, one green, the other dead white. A thin white scar ran from the forehead down through the dead eye and across a bruised, sunken cheek.
The flashlight in Connorâ€™s hands veered wildly, the beam darting away from the face. Connor jumped and frowned at Noah. The boy took his hands off the flashlight.
Â Â Â â€œSorry. Itâ€™s just â€“ I know she doesnâ€™t like that, and I donâ€™t want you to get hurt.â€
Â Â Â Connor nodded. He pointed to his left eye and raised an eyebrow. Noah grimaced.
Â Â Â â€œFishing hook. A long time ago.â€ The boy sighed and ran a hand under his Red Sox cap. â€œSheâ€™s old. I mean real old.â€
Â Â Â â€œYou know a lot about her. She talk?â€
Â Â Â Noah shook his head. â€œSomething to do with breathinâ€™ water, I guess. But she knows a kind of sign language.â€
Â Â Â â€œShe always shake like that? Itâ€™s July.â€
Â Â Â Noah slid further into the pool. Connor had to settle for keeping the light on the boy as much as possible without further enraging the thing at the back of the cave. Noahâ€™s voice bounced off the rocks.
Â Â Â â€œHey, itâ€™s okay. Show him.â€
Â Â Â A low hiss filled the dark. Connor ground his teeth as Noah put a water wrinkled hand on the slimy tail. The hiss became a sigh, and a brown back slid into the flashlight beam. The boy picked at the clumps of tangled hair, pulling them away from the bare skin.
Â Â Â Connor winced. â€œJesus.â€ He shone the flashlight into the angry red wound that ran along the small of her back, right where the scales gave way to skin. Fish flesh and human flesh were red and swollen, and something green oozed out of the gash.
Â Â Â Connor raised an eyebrow at Noah. â€œThe gunshot?â€
Â Â Â Noah squinted into the white light. â€œI left when I saw you hanginâ€™ around. It happened when she came out to look for me. Can you help her?â€
Â Â Â Connor took off his glasses and rubbed his eyes as he thought. Last year, Sharon had come down with a bad case of strep. He had taken her to their family doctor in Waterville, and the nurse practitioner had given them both prescriptions. No way you wonâ€™t get it, the nurse had told Connor. But Connor never got strep, and the bottle of Amoxicillin still sat in the refrigerator.
Â Â Â Connor nodded at Noah, but a frown creased his brow. â€œWeâ€™ve got a bigger problem. Now somebody else knows thereâ€™s something strange in this pool. Even if they think itâ€™s just a big fish, theyâ€™ll talk. I told someone this morning myself.â€ The sleek, shiny body twisted, and Connor found himself staring into a thin, brown face. â€œYou canâ€™t stay here anymore. One way or another, you have to move on from this place.â€
The Victorianâ€™s shadow stretched long and dark across the lawn when Connor stumbled out of the woods. Amber lights flashed in the driveway. Connorâ€™s stomach sank as the tow truck rumbled onto the dirt road, kicking up gravel with its double rear tires, pinging stones against the side of the Subaru that dangled like a fish on the end of the truckâ€™s hook.
The Subaru had been the first thing Sharon had insisted they buy when they had moved here from Seattle two years ago. Eighteen months and one baby daughter later, Sharon had marched into Connorâ€™s computer room and announced she had never been in love with him, not really. They were too different. He had sat there and listened, numb. Then, as if he were a bystander, he had heard himself plead with her, asking her to think of the baby.
But starting over was no big deal for Sharon. She started over all the time. It was like her life had a reset button. That was what this move to Greenfield had been. Now she had decided to move back to Seattle and her family. She needed a â€œsupport network.â€
Yes, she had already discussed it with them. Sharon cited all the times he had been distant, emotionally unavailable. Connor figured it had to do more with money. He hadnâ€™t been able to find any programming work. The income from the bed and breakfast was unsteady, and the mortgage on the old Victorian ate up most of that. Sharon was used to money â€“ first her fatherâ€™s and then Connorâ€™s.
Â Â Â It had agonized Connor that he hadnâ€™t been able to find any work. He tried Monster.com and networking. He had even swallowed his pride and gone to the Department of Labor, but all they were able to find him was a computer sales job at a superstore over in Wilmington. Connor couldnâ€™t bring himself to wear a red polo shirt and a name badge.
â€œIn this economy you take what you can get, Mr. Wright,â€ the graying woman behind the desk had told him over her black rimmed glasses. â€œThere are plenty of people with degrees working retail now.â€
But Connor had refused. Maybe he could fix the Victorian up better, do some more advertising, build a slicker website to draw in more customers. That had stalled Sharon for a little while, but when the collectors had started to call, that was the end.
Â Â Â Connor watched the tow truck rumble down the mountain with the Subaru. He didnâ€™t have a support network.
Morning was just a faint yellow glow behind the mountain when Connor returned to the falls carrying a small blue cooler filled with ice and a pink bottle of antibiotics. Noah had beaten him to the falls, and waved from where he sat waiting on the bank.
Noahâ€™s charge was lying at the back of the cave, half out of the water. Connor handed her the plastic bottle of Amoxicillin, and she sipped from it. He screwed the child proof cap back on and handed the bottle to Noah, who placed it in the rapidly melting ice in the cooler.
Â Â Â â€œShe have a name?â€
Â Â Â Noah climbed up onto a rock. â€œAmadahi. Took me a whole afternoon to figure it out after I learned the signs. She donâ€™t hear like we do â€“ guess sheâ€™s used to hearing underwater. Probably why she didnâ€™t hear me at first that day I came here to swim. Thereâ€™s a big undertow. Lucky for me she saw me splashing or I would have drowned. He glanced at her brown breasts under their veil of black hair. â€œAt first I thought Iâ€™d come across someone skinny dippinâ€™, but then â€“ â€œ Noah looked down at the slimy green tail.
Â Â Â The tail twitched in the water. Amadahi glared and splashed Noah, her hand gestures fast and emphatic. Noah blushed and nodded.
Â Â Â â€œShe donâ€™t like us lookinâ€™ at her tail. She gets self-conscious.â€
Â Â Â Connor sat down on the rock next to Noah. Amadahiâ€™s one good eye followed him.
Â Â Â â€œIf weâ€™re going to help her get home, we have to know how she got here.â€
Â Â Â â€œIâ€™ve asked her. Itâ€™s depressing as hell.â€
Â Â Â â€œAsk her again.â€ Connor frowned. â€œAnd donâ€™t swear. Youâ€™re a kid.â€
Â Â Â Noah clapped his hands at Amadahi, and she turned to the boy. Noah and Amadahi began to exchange signs. Noahâ€™s lips moved as he watched her, his voice rising above the waterfall. As Noah translated, Connor watched Amadahiâ€™s face. Noahâ€™s high, boyish voice became hers.
Â Â Â â€œMy sisters had told me not to swim in the caves – that they were cursed. But I thought it silly superstition. I grew tired of the lagoons, and began to venture further into those places where water and earth intermingled.
Â Â Â â€œThere had been a festival. I had on a garland of pink and purple flowers, and I carried a pearl my eldest sister had given me. She loved the deep blue water, and the treasures hidden among the coral. But it was the water under the earth that drew me. I ventured into a cave, deeper than any of the others. There was an undertow. No matter how I thrashed I was pulled deeper into a dark tunnel. My head struck a rock, and my mind went dark.
Â Â Â â€œI opened my eyes and found myself floating in a pool with a roaring waterfall. Standing on the bank was the strangest creature I had ever seen, and the most beautiful.â€
Â Â Â Noah paused. â€œDo I really gotta say all this junk?â€
Â Â Â Connor smirked. â€œConsider it a personal favor.â€
Â Â Â Amadahi splashed Noah and pointed at Connor. Noah nodded.
â€œYeah, yeah. So anyway, she sees this handsome Indian standing on the bank. Gets all googly-eyed. They fall in love, blah blah blah. He teaches her sign language. Oh, yeah. His name was Ahote, and he named her Amadahi, which means â€˜forest waterâ€™ in Abenaki.â€
Noah stood up and shoved his hands in his pockets. â€œI donâ€™t like the next part.â€
The water in the cave sloshed as Amadahi slipped off the rock and glided over to Noah, enfolding the boy in her brown arms. Noah turned away from Connor, long, wet strands of Amadahiâ€™s hair still clinging to his cheek.
â€œThey spent all summer together. White men were working their way up into these woods, and most of Ahoteâ€™s clan had moved on. One day, while Ahote was sitting by the pool with Amadahi, a trapper all dressed up like Davy Crockett stumbled across them. Of course, the trapper freaked out when he saw Amadahi. He yelled and raised his musket. Ahote grabbed him, and they fought. Ahote stabbed the trapper dead, but not before the trapper got a shot off.â€
Noah sniffled, and Amadahi stroked his hair. â€œShe stayed with him all afternoon, holding his hand. As the moon rose that night, Ahote stopped breathinâ€™.â€
For a while, there was just the sound of the waterfall. â€œI guess she thought about lettinâ€™ me drown at first, she was so scared of people findinâ€™ out about her. So what do we do? Jen says I gotta go back to my mom next week.â€
Connor remembered being Noahâ€™s age – spending nights at Grandma Oâ€™Shaughnessyâ€™s house on Bainbridge Island across the Puget Sound. Grandma, or Gam as he had called her, had been from Ireland â€“ County Galway. From the west coast of Ireland to the west coast of America, she liked to point out. At least she hadnâ€™t had to give up ocean sunsets. Gam would sit on her beach chair and tell Connor stories, reminding him how real the fairy world was.
â€œEarth, air, fire and water,â€ she would point out, poking a gnarled finger at the fire burning in the sand and then at the sea and sky. â€œAll four elements. The Veil is thin here.â€
â€œVeil?â€ Connor usually tuned out Gamâ€™s stories about the fairy world, but she hadnâ€™t mentioned a veil before.
â€œThe Veil between the worlds.â€ The old womanâ€™s wrinkles cast shadows on her face that shifted in the flickering beach fire. â€œIt grows thin here on the beach, and other places that are â€œbetweenâ€ â€“ where the elements intermingle. Thatâ€™s where you can cross over. But you got to be careful.â€ She raised an arthritic finger in Connorâ€™s direction. â€œDonâ€™t get caught up in the wrong world, lad. Knowinâ€™ when to stay and when to move on is the key.â€
Connor had fought to keep the smirk off his face. â€œDonâ€™t worry Gam. I got it.â€
Connor looked up at Amadahi. She didnâ€™t smile. Not that she had much reason, too. What did that do to someone, being imprisoned in a pool for a couple of hundred years?
Maybe nothing. You donâ€™t know how long she lives. This might seem like a couple of days to her. Hell, they might not even be missing her yet on the other side.
Connor looked at the drawn, expressionless face. No. She felt it.
â€œGam was right. I think we can get you back home.â€
Amadahiâ€™s good eye widened.
Noah folded his arms across his chest. â€œHow? And who the hell is Gam?â€
â€œDoesnâ€™t matter. And donâ€™t swear. Ask her if sheâ€™s ever tried to swim back.â€
Noah threw up his hands. â€œSheâ€™s tried before. We tried again a few weeks ago. She says thereâ€™s no bottom to the pool. It just goes down and down, darker and colder.â€
â€œShe said she banged her head. Thereâ€™s no knowing how long the tunnel is.â€
â€œThatâ€™s youâ€™re big answer? She ainâ€™t tryinâ€™ hard enough?â€ Noah slipped a hand around Amadahiâ€™s. She glared at Connor and wrapped her arms around the boy. Connor met her gaze.
â€œYour world is there, at the other end of the tunnel.â€
Amadahi hissed and turned away. Connor stood up and looked down at Noah.
â€œGive her a swig of the pink bottle every six hours.â€ He sloshed toward the cave opening. Noah slipped out of Amadahiâ€™s arms.
â€œHey, where you goinâ€™?â€
â€œI have a mortgage. I donâ€™t have time for fairy tales.â€
When Connor got back to the house, Andieâ€™s number was glowing on the caller ID. Connor hit the blinking play button.
â€œHey Con man, itâ€™s Andie. You there? Hey â€“ I just want to say â€“ you know. Aw, fuck it. Hey, if you canâ€™t move on, this isnâ€™t gonna work. Shit. I didnâ€™t mean â€“ Look. Call me.â€
Connor glanced over at the Bouguereau in its cheap plastic frame.
Andie was a lot like Sharon had been â€“ at least at first.
Connor had no idea why he was drawn to edgy women â€“ bikers, hippies. Sharon had changed after the baby was born. Connor always thought of Emma as â€œthe baby.â€ He had been working all the time at first, and then looking for work or fixing up the Victorian. They had never really bonded.
Connor walked over to the picture, but it was the mirror at the end of the hall that caught his eye. He grunted at his reflection. Connor had let himself go lately – grown out a short, reddish beard and wore work clothes most of the time. He had put on twenty pounds, and his stomach hung uncomfortably over his belt.
Connor took the picture down off the wall. No, the happy family had been a myth â€“ a fantasy of Sharonâ€™s, and he had been miscast. He tossed the picture in the trashcan by his computer. The stack of mail on the corner of his desk clamored for attention. He frowned at the envelope from the mortgage company, ripped it open, then swore under his breath. Connor picked up the phone and dialed the number for Olivia Stoddard, tapping his foot through the message with the office hours. He spoke up at the beep.
â€œYeah, Olivia. This is Connor Wright. Why donâ€™t we go ahead and put it on the market.â€
Connor spent the next day wrapping dishes in newspaper, stacking them in cardboard boxes, wiping out cabinets, and bagging the clothes that Sharon had left behind for goodwill. He was sitting at the kitchen table eating a tuna sandwich on a paper plate when Andie called again.
â€œHey there, Con man.â€ The voice was cheerful on the machine, but Connor could tell it was strained. Andie coughed on the other end of the line. â€œAnyway, I just wanted to say sorry for pushing you like that the other day. You there?â€
Connor picked up the phone. â€œHave you put the apartment in the paper yet?â€
â€œI told you Iâ€™d hold off.â€
â€œIâ€™m selling the house, Andie. They took the Subaru yesterday. I â€“ Iâ€™m kind of in a bind.â€
The line was silent for a moment. â€œJesus, Connor. Iâ€™ll be right over after work.â€
Connor blinked and rubbed at his eyes. His voice was hoarse when he answered. â€œCan you meet me here tomorrow around noon?â€
â€œOf course. Iâ€™ll get Sandy to watch the store. Sure you donâ€™t want me there tonight?â€
Connor swallowed hard, but his voice cracked anyway. â€œNo, Iâ€™ll be busy until noon. Gotta wrap up some loose ends.â€
The sun was already burning above the dark green pines when Connor reached the falls. Noah was sitting by the pool. He crossed his arms and glared at Connor.
â€œWhere you been? You didnâ€™t come at all yesterday.â€
Connor glanced around at the trees. â€œSeen anyone around?â€
Noah shook his head. â€œHey – we talked about it. Sheâ€™ll try, but sheâ€™s scared shitless.â€
â€œDonâ€™t swear. Has she been taking the medicine?â€
â€œUh huh. How you even know itâ€™ll work on her?â€
Connor glanced at the woods again and waved a hand at Noah. â€œTell her to come out.â€
Noah slipped behind the falls. After a few moments he scrambled back out and scurried over to Connor, holding the blue cooler. They crouched down at the waterâ€™s edge as Amadahi surfaced in front of them, her hair spreading out around her in tangled black strands on the churning water. Connor pointed to her back, and she lay prone. He brushed the strands of hair away from the wound.
â€œSee? Itâ€™s less red, and it stopped oozing.â€
Noah grunted. He stood up and kicked a rock into the pool. â€œThis is dumb! If it was this simple, she would have done it ages ago.â€ He paced up and down grabbing at ferns and shredding the leaves. â€œWhy would she rot in this pool?â€
Amadahi reached for Noah, but he shrugged her off. Connor nodded at the pleading look she gave him and put a hand on Noahâ€™s shoulder.
â€œSometimes people get stuck. They get sad, and â€“ and it takes a lot to get them out of it. They need a push in order to move on.â€
Amadahi held out her hands again, and Noah plopped down on the bank. She kissed him on the forehead, then slid out away from them into the dark water. Connor put a hand on Noahâ€™s shoulder as he scrambled to his feet. For a moment, Amadahi locked eyes with Connor. Then, she dove. The shimmering green tail smacked the surface, leaving a ripple that faded as it touched the bank.
Connor didnâ€™t know how long they stood there. The sun was high in the sky when a honking horn echoed through the woods from downstream, and Connor squeezed Noahâ€™s shoulder. The boy looked up from the pool.
â€œDo you think it worked?â€
Connor glanced up at the sun and nodded. â€œShe figured out where she wanted to be.â€ He straightened Noahâ€™s cap. â€œCome on. You can come back to my place before we take you home.â€
They followed the river back down away from the falls. As they left the woods, Connor spotted Andieâ€™s Jeep in the driveway. He returned her wave. Noah glanced up at Connor.
â€œHey, you know where the yoga studio is in Harden?â€
Connor nodded. Noah shoved his hands in his pockets and looked down at his sneakers. â€œMy mom lives in the apartment above the studio. Wanna show me how to fly fish sometime?â€
Connor nodded. The horn honked again. Connor turned to walk across the unmowed lawn toward Andie, but this time small fingers grasped his hand.