Sailing out of Darkness (Carolina Coast Book 4)(7)

By: Normandie Fischer

A pleasant dream to make him forget the nightmare? His mind playing tricks?

He kicked the sand, then scored a trench with his cane. The effect seemed too real for a dream. Besides, a dreamscape normally stopped and rewound before either repeating the sequence or adding some new element.

Why did his sleep-deprived brain conjure this woman, whose image he didn’t recognize? He’d left his bed, full of the need to walk. He should return and hope for rest.

Right. As long as this haunting didn’t follow him into sleep.

Someone laughed from around a corner. A second hushed the first. These two may have been the only others yet abroad this night, their voices echoing in streets silent except for Teo’s tap-tap-shuffle as he headed home. He leaned heavily on his cane. The damp had crept in, knife-like to his bones.

Unlocking and pushing open the heavy outside door took energy, but the elevator to the penthouse floor chugged on its own, gears squeaking, to drop him in the small foyer. He used a second key, and he was home, wishing his eyelids felt as heavy as his body did.

His computer beckoned from across the room. Perhaps writing a line or two would make him drowsy enough for bed. He eased onto his desk chair, flipped the switch, and waited as the system booted up. His fingers dashed across the keyboard, trying to capture and keep the image. He ignored the grit in his eyes and the fatigue that hunched his shoulders as letters grew into words.

He saw her long before he met her.

Gag. He hit the backspace key, tried again.

He dreamt her into being years before he saw her smile.

Jab, jab, jab. His index finger shot the words off the screen. She had seemed so real. Why couldn’t he find the words to begin?

Surely, she’d shown herself so he could create her. Fit her into a story.

He rolled his chair away from the keyboard, flicked up on the three-way switch, and squinted at the screen. With a sigh, he backed the brilliance down again. It wasn’t the light.

Just because he made a career of recording Sophrina’s antics, did that mean he couldn’t branch out? Add a new heroine? Or a hero this time? What was wrong with having a hero?

Fine, he couldn’t sell his first hero-laden story, but that was years ago.

He closed his eyes and waited. And there she was, again showing herself, this new her with dark hair windblown and stabbing out behind her head from one of those silly things women wore to make a stubby ponytail. Why was she even out in the wind? Was she running? From whom?

Her eyes hid behind dark glasses until she doffed the tortoise-shell frames and smiled. They were deep brown eyes, reflecting hints of yellow. She was more striking than pretty, but that may have been her age. She was older than he, of course.

Why of course?

He longed for a drink. A tumbler of lovely amber liquid that would slide down the throat and spread its warmth, its relaxing warmth, through his limbs.

Right. And straight to his brain, making it soggy and useless.

No. He wouldn’t touch anything more potent than a few sips of wine. A humorless laugh was all he could manage as he imagined life in Reggio without at least that half-full glass of red near his plate, obviating the need to explain his past when someone tried to offer him more. The Italians either didn’t have an alcohol problem, or it didn’t worry them. His sigh as he remembered how the liquor had dulled more than his physical pain sounded loud in the room, because quitting didn’t automatically erase the memories or the occasional—all right, sometimes more than occasional—longing for oblivion.

Hunger and the need to escape again assailed him, making him restless, fidgety. Shutting down his computer, he wandered to the window. The sky had brightened perceptibly. He slid his bare feet into shoes, grabbed his windbreaker and cane, and lumbered down the stairs and out the front door. The neighboring tabaccaio remained shuttered, but he heard noises from the bakery, smelled yeasty bread from the forno as he limped past. His cane clacked along the sidewalk. He picked up his pace, wanting to get to the sea before the sun slid up over the horizon.

A Vespa scooted to a halt as he reached the corner.

“Buongiorno, Teo! Cosa fai stamattina?” A grin revealed Nicco’s gleaming new teeth.

Teo smiled back. What exactly was he doing? “Heading to the beach,” he said, because at least that was a destination. “You off to work?”