t was nearly dark when Taryn got back to the houseboat, breathless, a six-pack of George’s favorite pale ale on the front seat beside her to make up for being so late. George hadn’t answered her last couple of texts so he was undoubtedly pissed. It had just felt so good, to not only have a day to herself, but to have a day when she was sober, and awake, and able to enjoy those simple things that other people claimed to enjoy: Having her hair washed, getting a massage, shopping for new white underwear, even buying George the beer that made him feel like a man of sophisticated taste and experience.
When people talked about how much they liked doing things like this, she’d always thought, Yeah, right. I so believe the natural high you get from gardening is as good as a hit of meth.
But today, she had felt that.
Driving home, taking the curves in the mountain road a little too fast, playing her favorite Duffy CD a little too loud, she was so lost in singing along to Warwick Avenue that she thought at first that she’d missed the right turnoff.
She doubled back around twice until she fully understood that no, this was the right parking area, this was the right dock. What was different was that the houseboat was not there.
Heart hammering, she paced frantically back and forth, trying to think of what might have happened. The ropes were lying there, not cut, just loose. It was windy, had been all day, the water choppy in the glow of the setting sun.
Flipping open her phone, she tried again to reach George, and again got no answer. This wasn’t like him. If only for the sake of his damn horses, he never let his phone go dead, never let himself be out of reach.
Could George and Beth have gone somewhere and the boat gotten loose while they were away? Could someone have untied it, for fun or out of malice? There were people who had it in for George, for not giving them drugs or for just being an all-around goody two shoes. And there were more people, a lot more people, Taryn realized with a sinking heart, who had it in for her.
An image of Tiffany, poor Tiffany, her body hacked to pieces and thrown in that alley, flashed across Taryn’s mind. She’d been trying to keep it at bay all day, had been so proud of herself for managing to resist drugs in the face of what had happened to her friend.
But now the reality of Tiffany’s murder, and Taryn’s own fears, came rushing back in. Taryn knew all of the same people Tiffany did, had at least as much potential for pissing them off. Whoever did that to Tiffany could do it to Taryn too. To Taryn’s family.
Without thinking, she dove into the frigid spring water. The lake was so shallow off the end of the dock she scraped her chin on a rock, felt the weeds around her arms as she swam. She’d always refused to swim here, no matter how hot it was, for fear of the muddy bottom and the snakes and the snapping turtles, but now she felt none of that. She thought she could see the houseboat, bobbing by itself out in the lake. The more she swam, the more convinced she became that George and Beth were out there.
She’d been such a fool all these years, to walk away from them. George had always been so wonderful to her, saving her from the streets, weaning her off drugs that first, worst time, when she thought she was going to die. And then loving her despite it all.
She remembered their wedding, under the trees right near the dock that she’d just jumped off. It had been such a hot day, the minister’s neck bright red, sweat beading on his forehead. She’d worn the white lace dress that George’s dead mother Elizabeth had gotten married in, and clutched a bouquet of daisies George had picked for her up in the hills. He grasped her other hand as if to steady her, but he was the one who was nervous.
It was freezing in the water. Taryn knew her arms were moving, saw the foam they churned up, but she couldn’t feel them anymore. The waves made it hard to breath, and the sun was down now, the water inky and deeper than she wanted to imagine.
She’d sneaked a few tokes on a joint the day they were married, but through her whole pregnancy with Beth she’d been religiously clean, even refusing pain medication for the birth, weeping with frustration when she’d needed an emergency C-section and they’d numbed her from the chest down. She’d wanted to feel it all.
Nursing her baby daughter, George had brewed her protein shakes for breakfast, heated up milk and honey for soothing toddies, had even said it was all right for her to have a beer once in a while. That had probably been a mistake.
The houseboat was ahead, in reach now. She half-expected to see George and Beth on its deck, calling to her, but that didn’t happen. It was dark, floating there like some prehistoric creature, hulking and empty-seeming.
A wave splashed directly into Taryn’s mouth and she felt herself sputter, and falter. She just needed to rest for a minute. Flipping over, she floated and kicked lightly, but felt herself begin to drift off. All she needed to do was sleep, just for a minute. It would be so easy to let herself go, borne by the water, only until she gathered her energy.
She heard the wind in the trees and they sounded like Beth. That voice, that cry: Mommy, Mommy, Mommy. She’d thought for a time that she couldn’t bear to hear that ever again, that she could never meet her daughter’s demands and that the child would be better off if Taryn went far away from her. If Beth were allowed to forget that Taryn ever existed.
But that wasn’t true, she knew now. Beth needed her forever, and she needed Beth. The boat was so close, so close, she was almost there. One more stroke and she felt her fingers touch wood.
She was strong, she was strong, she could do whatever she needed to do. She wrapped her fingers around the post of the railing, and pulled herself on board.