Sailing out of Darkness (Carolina Coast Book 4)(9)

By: Normandie Fischer

Now, guilt and regret were the culprits that stole Sam’s peace, the things that devoured both belly and breasts. Her legs and arms would be next. Anorexia of the soul.

She slumped over the sink. It was a long time before her shaking fingers found the shower spigot and longer still before the sound of splashing water became the only noise that echoed off the tile walls.

Morning dawned and, with it, a profound melancholy. The ties to Beaufort, once so exhilarating, had become shackles. No more tears. No more weeping. It was time.

She said her house good-byes while she sipped a strong latte. With her palm pressed against the back-door screen, she stared out over the river. A gull dipped and cawed. A fish jumped. She bit her lip and turned, closing the door, locking it. For a moment, she stood there, her forehead touching the glass panel, one hand clutching her mug, the other still on the lock.

Greg’s demands had forced her departure from Raleigh and from the marriage he’d discarded. This time? This time it was her own gotta-haves.

That thought brought on the shakes, her too frequent companion these days. She leaned her forehead against the door frame and repeated the litany she’d memorized: You can, you must, you can, you must.

Jack kept calling with messages that said the same thing: “Sam, where are you? I miss you.” Next, “Sam, it’s looking good for my return on Sunday. Why don’t we sail?” And this morning, “Remember, I love you.”

Love? Hah!

Well, she wouldn’t be here to open the door when Jack knocked. Never again would she open her door to him.

You can, you must.

A knock at the front startled her. “Back here,” she called as Tootie waltzed in, flashing her bright hair and her wild-child clothes, her dangly earrings and lavishly painted mouth, today a burnt orange.

What a fortunate day it had been when Tootie’s Aunt Ruth had recommended her to Sam as an assistant for the Beaufort Samantha’s. “Child’s real name is Mathilde,” Ruth had said while showing Sam the space that would become her new shop. “Maybe it was my son—or one of his friends—who first called her by that ridiculous nickname, but there you go. It stuck.” Ruth, the realtor, had also found Sam’s cottage. And reintroduced Sam to the contractor who would make it livable. Sam’s old childhood buddy, Jack Waters.

Sam batted away that last thought. Enough.

Tootie was an elf on steroids: hair that changed color on a whim, earrings that dangled past her chin, clothes in hues that popped, all in a package that included a love of literature, an ability to set up shop windows and shop shelves that invited customers to browse and buy, and a personality that won converts to friendship in this otherwise staid town.

“All ready?” Tootie’s grins lighted her whole body, reminding Sam of a mongrel the twins had owned, who’d wiggled, loose-jointed from head to tail, at Daniel’s call or Stefi’s laugh. Not that Tootie wiggled, of course.

Sam sighed. Jack said that people who were always happy must have a few screws loose.

That showed what he knew. Tootie had her screws set perfectly.

Sam pasted on a smile as she rolled her big suitcase toward the door. “Here I come.”

“Let me get that,” Tootie said, reaching to help.

Sam waved her away. “You can practice setting the alarm and locking up.”

Her gaze swept over her small acre with one final, lingering look at the cliff steps. Then she climbed in the passenger side and concentrated on arranging her purse at her feet, on fastening her seat belt. She wasn’t sure she’d have the courage to leave if she had to see her little sailboat again.

“Don’t worry. I’ll take care of it.” Tootie started the car, nodding toward the house. “All of it. You just concentrate on having fun.”

Fun? If only.

“I know you’ll do fine,” Sam said. And she’d be free. Or, at least, on her way toward freedom.

Gravel crunched under the car’s tires. Sam angled toward the window, ignoring tears that slipped down her cheeks and dripped off her jaw.

Neither spoke until Highway 101 met 70-West in Havelock. Then Tootie said, “It’ll be fine. Everything, Alice, the shop, your house. You’ve taught me so much. And, yes, I remember all you showed me yesterday, the electrical panel, the hot water heater, the furnace.”