I LOVE Sarah Ockler, you guys. Twenty Boy Summer and The Book of Broken Hearts are two of my favorite contemporary novels! She’s just so fantastic. I’ve been SUPER excited about her upcoming release, The Summer of Chasing Mermaids, and am ridiculously excited to partner up with Simon & Schuster to give you a sneak peek at the first two chapters for your reading pleasure! ENJOY!!
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The Beginning and the End
This is the part where I die.
Don’t panic; it isn’t unexpected. The sea is prideful, after all, and Death never goes back on a deal.
Granna always believed that the d’Abreau sisters were immortal, even after her daughter-in-law died delivering the last of us (me). But among our six bodies, she said, there were only five souls. Twins were special. A single soul dwelling in two bodies.
So Natalie and I—the twins, the babies—were blessed. Blessed by all who loved us. Blessed by the godsand goddesses, by the lore and the legends of Trinidad and Tobago, our islands in the sea.
Our connection was unbreakable, and from the first time we sang together in the bathtub, instinctively harmonizing at age three? Well. We were bright stars, Granna promised. Put on this earth to make music, to share it with the world. No matter that Natalie grew into a soft-spoken beauty with a voice as comforting as a warm breeze, and I became the raging storm, fearsome and bewitching. Our destiny tangled as our limbs in our mother’s womb. We were the first to know each other, the first to feel our matching heartbeats. Together, we made magic.
Two bodies, four lungs, one soul.
The beginning and the end. Completion.
Natalie and I sang for Granna and our father. We sang for our older sisters. We sang at Scarborough in Tobago, for fund-raisers and festivals. We sang in Trinidad, our mother’s homeland. We sang for the guests—always rich, often famous—at d’Abreau Cocoa Estates, Granna’s farm and eco-resort, the place we’d called home after my mother’s death. We sang for the men and women who harvested the cocoa pods, who came in for dinner covered in dirt and laughter, eager to listen. During Carnival we sang on top of the big music trucks that traveled through the streets of Port of Spain, as masqueraders jumped up around us dressed like angels and princesses and mermaids. We sang for home, Trinidad and Tobago, twin-island nation, the proud red, black, and white. For our mother’s memory—though for Natalie and me, she never existed.
We sang for fun. For our lives.
That’s what it felt like, the music. Like being alive.
So maybe I was a liar, and maybe I should’ve told her years ago, but I didn’t. Granna, I mean. It’s just that she was wrong about completion, so wrong about the connection and the stars.
The thing about souls was that Natalie really did have her own, like each of our four older sisters.
And mine belonged to the sea. Always.
I was born into the sea, born knowing this. Natalie had been born on the boat, but by the time my turn came, we’d been tipped. My first breath outside my mother’s body was salt water; the Caribbean Sea lay claim to my soul the moment it took hers.
I’ve never considered this soul more than a loaner, a broken-winged bird I’ve only nursed and borrowed. Granna might not believe it, but eventually, I knew I’d be called upon to return it.
One night last spring, just after Carnival, the moonlight sparkled on the waves not far from where our mother had delivered me, her last, and I came so, so, so close.
Then I escaped.
For a time.
Even a fool knows you don’t cheat Death more than once. And technically, after my watery birth, that night last spring already made it twice.
There’s peace in acceptance. Death in it, always. Inevitable. With the acceptance of one thing comes the dying of another: a new belief, a relationship. An ideal, a plan, a what-if. Assumptions. A path. A song.
Consider: Pregnancy dies upon birth. Plans die upon action. Dreams die upon waking.
Not to ruin the story, but if you’ve come this far, you should know how it happens.
The end begins, as all things must, in the water. Now.
Ropes of black hair twist before my eyes, swaying like reeds. One by one, red clips loosen from the braids, tiny jeweled starfish that
into the deep.
My body is sinking, sinking, sinking. Cold . . . And a memory stirs. The warm sea pressing against me, leaking into my lungs. Stealing my voice.
No, wait. . . . That was then. The spring. That last time, when I came so, so close. Then was the Caribbean, my Caribbean. Now is the Pacific, and though it’s late summer here, the Pacific isn’t as patient, isn’t as warm. My limbs will soon turn as blue-blue-blue as my silk dress.
It’s midnight now, the in-between, and the only person who knows where I am is asleep above, in the berth of our boat, the Queen of Cups. He was dreaming when I left; I knew from his sleep sounds. Beautiful, he was, stretched out alone where moments earlier we’d been entwined.
When he realizes I’m gone, he’ll search the water, dive beneath the boat. Frantic. Desperate. But he won’t reach me.
There’s blood in my mouth now, blood in the water, black-not-red at these dark depths. My lungs burn.
But as my heartbeat stalls, as my limbs give their final tremble, as all around me turns to darkness, I can’t help but wonder…
If the sea had offered me one last chance—if I could’ve bargained with Death to make this broken wing mine, a soul with all its beautiful imperfections—would I have taken it?
Even after everything I’d lost?
After spending the day in Aunt Lemon’s gift shop with a sticky note in the shape of a crab stuck to my boomsie (and no one even told me until after I’d escorted a pair of surfers to our collection of mermaid dashboard ornaments, and then my cousin Kirby sent me the picture, all, u got crabs!), I decided a little alone time was in order.
If not for the crab incident, I probably would’ve just gone to Lemon’s Summer Solstice party tonight like I’d promised. Instead, I was slithering around the Chelsea Marina docks, hoping to reach my boat before Kirby ensnared me in her net.
“Elyse!” Kirby shouted. “The party’s starting!” In a gauzy white dress and fitted denim jacket, she stood like a beacon in the sand, hands cupped around her mouth. Her voice skipped across the waves. “Where are you? Elyse!”
She wasn’t my blood cousin—Her mother, Lemon, was Dad’s best friend, all the way back from their graduate-school days in Miami—and before this summer I’d only seen Kirby twice: the first time five years ago when they’d visited the islands, and then again a year later when our two families met up at Disneyland, my first visit to America.
But I’d been in Oregon a month already now, living in her house, our toothbrushes cohabitating in the zebra cup in the bathroom, and still she couldn’t get my name right. Uh-leese, it was like.
Close enough, maybe. It just didn’t sound-feel-comfort like home.
Sing for us, Ay-leese. . . .
Ay-leese, stop drowning yourself in hot sauce. Give it to me!
Granna, you hear? Our Ay-leese, she got a boyfriend.
Ay-leese, breathe! Fucking breathe, Ay-leese. . . .
“But it’s the Solstice! And there’s . . . cake?” Kirby’s voice lacked conviction. She’d been searching the edges of the marina for twenty -minutes, and I felt a little thrill that she hadn’t found me.
Unseen in the shadows, I crept to the slip that held the old Albin Vega—last place on earth she’d check, since from a strictly “ownership” perspective the boat wasn’t mine. I waited until Kirby finally retreated, white dress vanishing like a sail in the mist, and then I climbed onto the deck and ducked through the companionway into the saloon.
For a holiday that was supposed to, according to Aunt Lemon, “honor the full strength of the Sun God,” the Oregon night was a bruise. I took in the blackness that seeped into the boat, the salty air, the mustiness that clung to torn seat cushions.
But for the damp suck of the sea, all was soundless.
The Vega rocked gently in the tumult, steadying herself, and my view of the sky—pink-purple-black through the starboard window—straightened.
The ship was a castaway among the polished vessels surrounding us, a forgotten relic here in Atargatis Cove. I didn’t even know her proper name. Queen of was all it said on the hull, once-gold letters peeling from the aqua-blue fiberglass. Could’ve been the Queen of Hearts or the Queen of the Damned for all I knew. But there was something special about that emptiness,
She was abandoned, a fate we shared, which made her the perfect hideaway.
The boat jostled as a wave hit, and I took a deep breath, fought a shiver. The sea can’t hurt me here…I repeated the mantra in my head until fear left my limbs. Until I could breathe again.
I lit the big candle I’d brought from Mermaid Tears—Lemon’s shop—to chase away the mustiness. OCEAN BREEZE, it said. It smelled like chemically enhanced coconut.
Soft yellow light flickered into the saloon.
Everything was as I’d left it. Straightened up, wiped down, cans of expired soup discarded. A fuzzy new blanket spread out in the V-berth, and another on top, for curling up. Scattered on the cushions, a few books Kirby had brought me from her volunteer job at the library. Some extra clothes, flip-flops, sunglasses I never seemed to need here in Oregon. My iPod. A box of crackers with the peanut butter already spread between them. A bundle of Sharpies, rubberbanded together, different thicknesses.
My shoulders relaxed. The Vega was still unclaimed.
I freed a mass of black curls from beneath the hood of my sweatshirt, and from a pocket in my denim cutoffs, fished out a handful of sea glass. Lemon was looking out for me this summer, so in addition to helping at Mermaid Tears, I tagged along on her morning beach combs. She collected glass to forge into sculptures, some for sale in the gift shop and others on display in the gallery above it. She valued each piece of glass like a gemstone, but she always let me keep some of the haul. I’d been saving it in an empty Costco jar that formerly contained a decade’s supply of pitted olives—my hourglass. Once the glass reached the top, things would be right again.
Repaired, renewed, recovered.
All the REs complete, and I’d be whole.
Fucking breathe, Ay-leese. . . .
My hand tipped into the jar, and I watched the colored bits clink and settle among the others, an inch of green-gray-blue rising like the tide.
I didn’t really believe it, but it sounded nice, like a poem. Even if it were possible, what then? Where would I go? Not back. Not forward. I was here, drifting on the current, eighteen years old and totally unmoored.
I pushed the jar back along a shelf in the triangular V-berth, way at the front of the boat, and settled into my favorite spot. My iPod still had a little charge, so I popped in an earbud and scrolled to a new playlist. Lemon had plenty of instrumental on her laptop—Native American wood flutes, classical, wind chimes, dolphin calls, ambient weirdness. On my first night in the States I’d desperately replaced my soca and calypso with it, erased even the reggae—anything that reminded me of home. Of who I should have been. Tonight I was onto Bach’s unaccompanied cello suites, track one. Music hummed in my right ear as I cranked the volume, but I wasn’t fool enough to sit alone on a boat with both ears covered.
A calm ocean could change in an instant.
Sing for us, Ay-leese. . . .
By the time my screen read “Suite No. 4 in E-flat Major,” my heart rate finally mellowed, and I grabbed a Sharpie from the bundle. I found a clear spot among the tangle of words overhead—some nights my notebook wasn’t big enough—and pressed the tip to the low ceiling.
Words spin and spill
ink from a bottle of blood
Queen of lurched left, a game we nightly played, and I tightened my grip on the marker, waiting for her to settle. She perpetually lost. Her body was inked with the evidence.
A smudge, a smear, a shaky line of
black letters stands erect, marches
around my fingers, encouraging,
Back on the island of Tobago, 7,040 kilometers—no, make that 4,375 miles—off the coast of my heartbeat, Dad and Granna had an old Albin Vega in the resort fleet, the Atlantica, a twenty-seven footer like this, one of three boats reserved for our guest charters. They’d taken the fourth out of commission in March, part of a long string of before-and-after afters that ended with me leaving for the States, but as far as I knew, the Atlantica was still going strong. It was the ship my twin sister Natalie had been born on. The one I’d been born next to.
The last thing my mother saw.
It was a dark and stormy night, our birth story. So they say.
Now, out here on these chilly summer nights, the pale scar of the moon cutting the Oregon haze, I wondered if Dad was out on the Vega too. Lying in the V-berth, staring at the same moon, thinking of me as I thought of him. Of my sisters and Granna. The cocoa pods, red-orange-yellow, stacked in pyramids after first harvest, spicing the air with their intoxicating plums-and-tobacco scent.
Do you miss me?
“Keep your skirt on! Let me check it out, make sure she won’t sink.” A male voice accompanied shadows through the companionway and into the saloon. The boat bobbed under new weight, and I yanked out my earbud and bolted upright, narrowly avoiding a head injury.
His image flickered in the candlelight. When he spotted me, he put one hand on his head, as if he’d anticipated the crash that never came, and said in a tone much softer than what he’d used on his friend, “Well. Hello there.”
Unlike me, he was unalarmed, the ghost of a smile hovering on his lips. Something softened him around the edges—alcohol, probably—but his gaze was sharp and clear.
Toes to curls, a shiver shook me. This boy wore the ocean in his eyes, green-gray-blue, ever shifting, and I recognized him immediately. Knew before he said another word that he was as dangerous as he was beautiful.
Christian Kane. Official summer scoundrel of Atargatis Cove, fresh off his first year at Stanford. Aside from the upcoming Mermaid Festival and Pirate Regatta, the Kane family’s annual return was the talk of the town. And this son, the eldest? Kirby had him to thank for the cake tonight.
Christian Kane had his own mythology, his own devoted following, much like Lemon’s Sun God. Fitting that they shared a birthday.
I was frozen on the blanketed cushions as he scanned the scene: writing on the fiberglass walls and ceiling, damning black marker still clutched in my fingers. Somewhere beneath my elbow, two battered novels about the sea, ancient legends retold. A half-empty can of Coke on the shelf behind my head. A postcard from home, blank, tacked up on the wall. The yawning jar of sea glass, there next to the soda. Nautical charts and manuals once scattered throughout the saloon, now stacked neatly on the table beside the candle, held in place with a large rock carried in first by the tide, second by me.
This ship had belonged to no one. I’d been so certain. And rickety and neglected as she was, I’d called her my home away from my home away from home, my sacred space. Now Christian’s gaze swept back to me and skimmed the unfamiliar legs stretched across the V-berth, brown skin made lavender by the moonlight.
When he finally looked at me full on, his stormy eyes changed course.
The last was the most worrisome.
I tugged the hood up over my head, tied the strings across my seashell necklace and the scar gouged into the hollow of my throat.
Breathe. . . .
“Christian?” someone said, flirty and singsong. The breeze shifted, carrying a whiff of spicy vanilla perfume, and a girl crashed into him from behind. Her silver-tipped talons curled over his shoulders.“What’s the deal? I’m freezin’ my ass off.”
Christian didn’t take his eyes off me, just raised a curious eyebrow that lit a spark in my chest.
The girlfriend noticed me then, and around a faint smile, still watching me, Christian spoke plainly.
“There’s a girl writing on my boat.”
I basically ran.
Oh man, such a tease, right?? Don’t worry…it’s out June 2 from Simon Pulse so not too much longer of a wait!! And for one of you lucky readers…you are going to win the copy I’m giving away, thanks to Simon & Schuster.
One lucky winner will win a finished copy of The Summer of Chasing Mermaids.
* Open to use US addresses only
* You must be 13 years or older to enter.
* Winner will be contacted via email and has 72 hours to respond or I will draw another winner.