By R.W. Van Sant
Ellie was tapping her feet and pointing at her watch as they pulled into the parking lot. Jerry put on his best apologetic face and presented her books back to her. “Thanks. I think they’ll help a lot.”
As she accepted the proffered books, the annoyed expression on her face turned to amusement. Her sudden change in demeanor was confusing, as was the kiss that she planted firmly on Jerry’s cheek. That was until he felt a tug on the label of his inside-out tee shirt. Jerry could feel the blood again flowing to his face in embarrassment. At least she forgave his tardiness. “We’ll see. Got plenty of sleep?” She said. “You look as bad as Uncle Paul. He told me you got really plowed.”
“You went out drinking,” Jerry asked.
“Never said I came straight home. After Becka, I needed a drink, and Paul’s a good listener. I may have had one too many.”
“At least,” Ellie said.
“And you drove home drunk?”
“Okay, I admit that it wasn’t smart.” Ted stammered. “But I got home, and I didn’t get arrested.”
“You’re lucky,” Jerry told him.
“That I am, bro.” Ted sat down and prepared for the lesson.
They sat on the sand for a while, watching the waves roll in and out as she quizzed them. It soon became apparent that Jerry had paid more attention to the reading than Ted had. Perhaps it was just that he was more used to cramming for exams than his dropout brother. Ellie was satisfied with his answers but kept pushing Ted for better ones. He felt as though one of his professors had just given him an A on a research paper.
“You pass. “Ellie stood up after grilling Ted. “Get your gear and follow me. We’ll see how well you can apply what you learned.” She shouldered her tank harness and headed down the beach. To Jerry’s surprise, they did not stop walking when the sandy beach turned to rocky coast. They stumbled over the uneven shoreline and continued over the rocky coast for about a half a mile before she sat down on a large boulder in the center of a large patch of debris.
Odd place to rest, Jerry thought as he found a clean rock to sit on.
“People use this place to dump their junk.” Her lip curled, and her eyes rolled.
“Why are we here?” Jerry sat his harness on a boulder next to him and rubbed his arms.
“A wreck is just a massive pile of junk. Now you get some practice moving around junk. Gear up.” Ellie strapped on her tanks. Ted and Jerry followed suit. Jerry felt like a novice as he watched how deftly Ellie donned her scuba harness.
“All right.” Ted put on his mask and entered the water. Ellie followed. Jerry came a few moments later.
The ocean’s bottom looked strewn with refuse. Jerry had seen dump areas like it in New Mexico; he figured that the town’s people must have been dumping garbage from the cliff above for decades. Jerry swam among kitchen appliances, old televisions, rotting furniture, and even a few sunken cars. How could they desecrate the natural beauty of this coast? Ellie and Ted had disappeared among the rubbish.
Jerry tried to catch up, but something fell across his legs, tangling them. He kicked, but it only got worse. He turned and reached for the rope that tangled around his legs. Waving his hands for help yielded no results. Ellie and Ted were out of sight and could not see him. He was alone. Relax, panic eats up the oxygen. He took his dive knife and cut the ropes, freeing his legs. The ropes fell away. He was free to look for Ellie and Ted.
A bright light flashed in his eyes. Behind it, he could perceive Ellie’s dark form signaling they return to the surface. Jerry followed her up. Ted was waiting when he surfaced.
“Good, you survived.” She removed her mouthpiece.
“Sorry, I got tangled in some ropes,” Ted said.
“You survived too,” Ellie said. “We will swim here for a while. I’ll give you little problems to solve. You have to deal with them as best you can. From now on, you stay together. I’ll be watching.”
“Yeah,” Jerry said through his mouthpiece.
“Goo.” She put her mouthpiece back in and sunk below the waves.
“Well,” Ted said. “This is what you wanted.”
“Okay, here we go,” Jerry mumbled and went back beneath the water.
A labyrinth of debris became their proving grounds. As they swam, Ellie hid from the brothers, occasionally pushing over appliances to trap them or block their way. Twice, she tried to hit them with large falling objects. After each occasion, they returned to the surface to be rewarded with a “you lived” or condemned to an explicit, horribly detailed explanation of how gruesomely they died. Ellie eventually grew bored with the physical abuse and directed them to a bright patch on the ocean floor. She watched as they floated near the bottom practicing survival breathing.
Jerry could barely move under the weight of his dive harness as they stumbled out of the water. He fell onto a sandy patch between some boulders to rest his tired muscles. He dreaded the idea of lugging his gear back to the truck. Ellie easily slung her tanks over her tanned shoulder, and he found the strength to stagger along behind her. Even Ted quietly trudged behind and carefully placed the equipment into the truck’s bed. Then, in unison, all three slumped back onto the tailgate. It appeared that even Ellie, the superwoman, was tired.
“I’ve done all I can for you,” Ellie announced. “Are you still planning on going?”
“Yeah,” Ted replied. “Tomorrow morning.”
“Nothing I did convince you not to?”
“Afraid not,” Ted said.
“We’ll be careful,” Jerry said. “We had a magnificent teacher. It’ll be okay.”
“Yeah, sure.” Her voice and eyes dropped.
“We have to do this.” Jerry realized that he was no longer speaking of the treasure. If he was to claim his grandmother’s estate, he had to conquer the cove. If he did not face the reef, it would haunt his dreams forever.
“Will you be done by eleven?” she forced a slight smile.
Jerry looked to Ted; it was his show.
“We should be,” Ted said
“If you are still alive at twelve, you may pick me up at the diner.” She said to Jerry. “I’ve made reservations at a fancy place. Wear something nice and right side in.” She kissed Jerry and walked back to her car. Did she honestly think she could change his mind? He could make it up to her later, after the dive.
“You dog,” Ted said.
“That kiss made the whole thing worth it.”
“Not for me.” Ted rubbed his sore, scraped arms. “Let’s get these tanks to the shop for a refill. Then we can go find food.”
“Let’s find someplace else to eat, my treat.” Jerry did not want to push his luck any further; he had gotten a date with her. It was best to save some luck for the dive.
“Sure, there’s a burger place not too far away.”
“Sounds good.” They got in the truck and drove off.