Authors: Nicole Williams
Up In Flames
Copyright © 2012 by Nicole Williams
Without limiting the rights under copyright reserved above, no part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in or introduced into a retrieval system, or transmitted, in any form, or by any means (electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording, or otherwise) without the prior written permission of the above author of this book.
This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, brands, media, and incidents are either the product of the author's imagination or are used fictitiously. The author acknowledges the trademarked status and trademark owners of various products referenced in this work of fiction, which have been used without permission. The publication/use of these trademarks is not authorized, associated with, or sponsored by the trademark owners.
Table of Contents
IT WAS UNSEASONABLY hot for early June. The swimming hole I’d grown up jumping off of tire swings into was already receding from the shoreline. High temperatures and low rainfall this early into fire season could only mean one thing—it was going to be a dangerous summer in the Methow Valley of Washington State.
If I hadn’t been raised in the same house as two generations of Montgomerys before me, attended the same school where I’d just graduated with the exact same handful of kids I’d started kindergarten with, and worked as the night manager at the diner my parents had opened fifteen years back, I would have bailed the same day I woke up in Winthrop and realized I was going to die here. In fact, my plot at the cemetery just outside of town had already been picked out and paid for to ensure all of us Montgomerys could stick together. Even in death.
Morbid, I know.
Don’t get me wrong, Winthrop, Washington was a beautiful little town: quaint, clean, virtually crime free, and abounding with more natural beauty than you could shake a stick at, but it was boring. And suffocating.
Every time I drove down State Route 20 this past year on my way to school, I reminded myself why this was a good place to live. Why it would be an ideal place to put down permanent roots and raise a family. The mental pictures of friends, hiking, swimming, baseball games, holiday dinners, so on and so forth, convinced me for a couple miles.
Every day though, by the time I pulled into the high school’s parking lot, I couldn’t breathe quite right. Like my lungs were only up to half capacity in Winthrop.
Speaking of putting down roots . . . Logan started talking about marriage again, not even two days after we’d graduated high school. Logan Matthews had been my friend as a child and my boyfriend since I was allowed to go on my first official date at sixteen. The Matthews were almost as dug in deep in Winthrop as the Montgomerys, and I’d be willing to bet my life savings our families would consider forcing an arranged marriage if we didn’t go about it the other way. Logan was a good boyfriend and an even better guy, but he was the companion equivalent to this town: safe, comfortable, and a tad boring.
However, this afternoon on my Grandma M’s porch had been anything but boring. The big M word had come up before, and lord knew it wouldn’t be the last time I’d hear it. You see, Logan loved four things in this world: his family, God, baseball, and me. As far as he was concerned, he had three of those four in the bag. The fourth, that being yours truly, was being a bit evasive.
As soon as he’d dropped the M bomb, my stomach twisted and I broke out in a cold sweat in the middle of an eighty-five degree day. Some part of me knew it was the right thing to do, we’d grown up together and he was the only boy I’d ever kissed, but I couldn’t understand why it felt so wrong.
After basically leaping out of the porch swing and appeasing him with some story that I had something important to do, I hopped into my Jeep and bounced down a familiar dirt road until I could go no further.
I needed to let myself go. Feel wild and free for a few minutes, and since I lived in a small town where everyone was in everyone’s business, I had to be careful when one of my free spirited bouts hit me. I couldn’t go to one of the late night keggers in the woods because I wasn’t that kind of girl. I couldn’t make out with some random stranger because I had a promise ring on my finger from the town pastor’s son. I couldn’t get in my dad’s old Mustang and play chicken with another car because my uncle was the town sheriff. I couldn’t deface public property because my family was practically the unelected government in the Methow Valley. I couldn’t do any of the things other teens did when the wild hair to rebel struck them. But I had that hair no matter how many times I tried to pluck it away.
So what did I do?
I went down to the swimming hole that was smack in the middle of my Grandma M’s hundred and twenty acres her and Grandpa had purchased and built a log cabin on after handing over the family house to my mom and dad before I’d been born. It had been over a decade since Grandpa had died, but Grandma M refused to move back in town. You would have thought she’d get lonely all by herself in the middle of nowhere, but she made it a point to stay active. If she was ever lonely, it was due to choice.
I parked my Jeep and hoofed it in about a quarter of a mile until the swimming hole came in view. Like the good rebel I wasn’t, I surveyed the surrounding area to make sure today wasn’t the day some random hiker had stopped to take an afternoon swim.
No one, nothing, and nada.
Feeling that wild streak about to explode if I didn’t loosen the stopper, I pulled my shift dress up and over my head before tossing it over a tree limb. On most days, this would appease the wild inside me enough, but not today.
Taking another scan of the area, I unfastened my bra and hung it next to my dress before I slid my panties down. They joined the clothing decorated tree branch.
There it was. I could breathe deeply again.
The wild I liked to pretend wasn’t there was happy. My stripping down to my birthday suit in preparation for a cool dip had satiated its appetite for rebellion.
As soon as I stepped into the water, my skin bubbled with goose bumps. Another down side to the warm temperatures so early in the season? The lakes, rivers, and private little swimming holes hadn’t had a chance to warm up yet.
By the time I was at knee level and my skin hadn’t gone numb, I decided it was time to abandon the whole ease-into-it-slowly idea and just dove straight in. The cold water assaulted my body. Just when I was sure I couldn’t bear the cold anymore, it got better. My body adjusted to it just enough to make me comfortable enough to stay under, but it still knew this chilly world wasn’t quite right either.
Once I kicked to the surface, I rolled onto my back and floated for a couple minutes. I felt better. Not earth shatteringly better, but enough to make it count. Enough so I knew that when I got out and back to reality, I’d be able to resume smiling at all the right times and saying the right things.
The swimming hole was surrounded by a circle of giant oak, maple, and willow trees, which was part of the reason the water always stayed so cool. Hardly any direct sun could make it through the canopy of trees, but as I floated around the hole, I found a hand-sized patch of blue sky shining through the glossy green leaves. After staring at that ray of light for a while, I moved into deeper water.
Since the summer I turned twelve, I’d developed something of a swimming hole tradition. It was part competition with myself, part therapy, but it was all sacred.
Once I’d paddled over the deepest part of the hole, I exhaled, forcing all of the air out of my lungs.
And then I started to sink. I always started with a couple warm-ups where I’d only sink a few feet beneath the water before resurfacing. But today wasn’t just about warming up; today was about breaking the record I’d set two summers ago when Logan and I first starting dating. I sunk for a total of thirty-five seconds that year, far surpassing my previous record of twenty-seven seconds. Last summer I’d come within one second of breaking that record, but I was determined that this summer, I’d annihilate that record.
After the day I’d had, I could really use that record breaker. I filled my lungs to capacity before slowly letting that breath out through my nose. As soon as I was below the surface, I started to count. The longer I counted, the blacker the water around me got. The farther my body fell below the surface, the colder the water got. Deeper and deeper I sunk until my lungs started to burn. The last of the oxygen was gone after ten seconds.
I pushed past the burn and ignored the fear that clawed at me when the black got opaque around me. I was three seconds away from tying the record. Four seconds away from breaking the record.
Two more seconds down, two more to go. My lungs had gone from that burning feeling to feeling like raw open wounds. I felt myself go a little light headed when something grabbed a hold of me.
I jolted in surprise as a strong arm wound around my middle before I was towed to the surface. The instant my head broke through the water, I gulped in a mouthful of air. The arm wound around me didn’t let me go, and as I took a second gulp of air, I felt a few emotions trickle into my veins: I’d been so close.
So close to breaking my record and this arm and its owner had ruined it.
“What do you think you’re doing?” I gasped, shoving out of the arm’s hold and swimming a few strokes away.
“You’re welcome. Happy I could be of assistance and I’m even happier to have you show your utmost appreciation for saving your life,” a male’s voice replied with a strong dose of sarcasm. It wasn’t a familiar one.
When I’d put some distance between us, I twisted around. His face wasn’t familiar either, but a girl wouldn’t mind getting familiar with that kind of face.
That was, if a girl wasn’t with another guy who was the town’s unofficial crown prince.
“I wasn’t drowning,” I said, biting back the
part. “I was swimming.”
“You were under the surface for over thirty seconds,” he said, swimming closer. I backed away until my feet hit the sandy loam. “I thought you were drowning. What was I supposed to do? Just let you go down without a fight?”
Sinking my feet into the sand, I stood up. “No. You’re supposed to ask a person if they want saving before you go all hero on them.”
Hero boy’s mouth curved up when his eyes drifted south. “Thank God.”
“No, not ‘thank God’ for you interrupting my efforts to break a sinking record,” I snapped back.
“I’m thanking God for something else right now.” The look on his face was one I’m sure God wouldn’t approve of and, if it wasn’t for the way it was making me breathe a little short, I wouldn’t have approved either.