An award-winning journalist and nutritionist who admits to being a Type A personality, Deborah Blumenthal writes children's books and adult novels. She has been a regular contributor to The New York Times (including four years as the Sunday New York Times Magazine beauty columnist), and a home design columnist for Long Island Newsday. In addition, she has written health, fitness, beauty, travel, and feature stories in many other newspapers and national magazines including New York’s Daily News, The Washington Post, The Los Angeles Times, Bazaar, Cosmopolitan, Woman's Day, Family Circle, Self, and Vogue. Deborah lives in New York City.
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Back Cover Blurb...
"A gorgeously written, richly atmospheric novel about a sixteen-year-old girl's life-changing summer on the beach, where lonely ghosts, an unexpected job, and a mysterious lifeguard challenge everything she knows - in the best of ways." -- Melissa Senate, author of The Mosts
"A sweet and soulful read."
-- Jennifer Jabaley, author of Crush Control
DANGEROUS RIP CURRENTS:STAY OUT OF THE WATER.
It was close to one hundred degrees, but swimmers were heeding the signs all along the beach. As far as the eye could see, no one was in the water.
Sirena wiped the sweat off her forehead with the back of her hand and stared out at the waves. For three days straight there was no relief from the steamy weather and the ocean stretched before her cool, inviting, and off-limits. It was like someone putting a tall, icy glass of lemonade in your hand when you were thirsty, and then warning you not to drink it.
She waited until the lifeguard turned and walked to the far end of the beach. Slowly she got to her feet and made her way over the burning sand to the surf outside the swimming area in the direction of the jetty, carefully sidestepping blankets shaded with umbrellas and people pressing cold soda cans against their pink, flushed faces.
She wouldn’t go more than a few yards from shore. No deeper than her knees. She’d splash around and come right back. It would be safe. Anyway, when your skin was wet it was easier to tan and her pale skin needed color.
She edged in, immediately aware of the drawing sensation around her feet as her red polished toenails sank beneath the gritty sand. The tingling pull of the water felt strange and exciting. She took a few baby steps further until she was just above her ankles, aware of the water pulling as if it was trying to draw her out deeper. She smiled to herself -- superwoman battling the brute force of nature -- like the latest video game.
Only now there were no buttons to push.
No play. No pause. No stop.
One more step forward and she dipped down to wet herself before getting out. But the water level deepened sharply as if she had stepped into a crater. She was thrown off balance as the water smacked against her with surprising ferocity. She tried to recover, to steady herself, but she toppled forward, thrown to her knees as the hard, pebbly sand abraded her skin. She tried to stand up again, but the current was like a powerful rope that lassoed her waist, tightening its chokehold, momentarily letting go then tightening again, intent on dragging her out further and further, deeper and deeper into the sea where no one could possibly find her or hear her calling, the wooden planks of the jetty now blocking out the light and striping her with shade.
She tried to grab hold to push herself out, searching frantically to see if anyone saw her or was running to help, but she saw nothing but the blank faces of people stretched out on beach towels, eyes closed, iPods blocking outside sound, oblivious to what was happening just a few hundred yards from their safe havens in the sand.
Her head bobbed to the surface momentarily and she pushed herself out from under the jetty, gasping for air, sheer terror spreading through her as she tried to lift an arm to signal for help. As if a strong, sadistic hand was above her, she was shoved roughly underwater. She panicked, running out of air, trying to hold her breath so she didn’t swallow water. She surfaced again gasping to fill her lungs, arms and legs flailing wildly, despite the leadenness and exhaustion overtaking her body, setting in like paralysis.
“HELP,” she managed to shout before another wave crashed over her head, the pull of the riptide dragging her down again like a bouncing ball being roughhoused by the currents.
HELP! HELP! She cried over and over as her foot stomped on a hard mound in the sand. Without warning the thing came alive, rearing up and viciously lashing her leg, sending a shock of searing pain through every nerve of her slackened body. As she sank to the silent, green world of the ocean floor, she opened her eyes and watched in horror as a swirling veil of blood surrounded her, darkening the water.
She remembered dreaming.
A voice was whispering to her. “Breathe, breathe, breathe,” it kept urging. A warm body was over hers, pressed against her. Someone bigger than she was, stronger, a powerful life force. A mouth on hers, warm lips, lips she didn’t want to leave hers.
Then the dream ended.
She was left, abandoned.
Everything turned cold.
A deep, penetrating quiet filled the universe like a silent scream, just before the darkness.
The summer my parents were getting divorced in Texas, I was exiled. Like a child playing pin-the-tail-on-the-donkey, I felt blindfolded, turned in circles, then pushed to stumble off on my own.
I remember the airport. The roar of jet engines. The smell of diesel fuel. I headed for the plane with my beat-up carry-on bag that said Travel Pro -- even though I wasn’t one -- my sketch books, art supplies, Ollie, my worn brown teddy bear, and a turkey sandwich on a roll, in case I didn’t like plane food.
Before I boarded I stared up at the wide blue sky.
“Goodbye,” I whispered. Then I waited. Would a cloud move or the sun shift? All I wanted was a sign, the smallest change, invisible to everyone but me. Something I could hold onto.
But there was nothing.
I fastened my seat belt and pulled it tight. We took off and I pressed my head back against the seat feeling the rush as the plane went faster and faster and faster until it rose up into the air, as if it turned weightless. I reached up to the chain around my neck and closed my hand around the gold charm from Louisiana that my best friend, Marissa, gave me before I left.
“Arrive the same, leave different,” it said.
Would it turn out that way?
Six hours later with a one-stop layover, I arrived on another planet.
Aunt Ellie was waiting for me at the small airport.
“Sirena,” she said, hugging me.
I gave her a half smile and heaved my bag into the trunk of her Volvo wagon. She rolled down the windows, and we took off to her giant old gingerbread house near the water. She took my hand and I followed her up a flight of stairs to a dark attic bedroom. Dark until she flung open the blue wooden shutters.
“Voila,” she sang.
Sunlight lit the room like a flash fire.
I stepped to the window. Ocean everywhere with no beginning and no end. A view like that shrinks your head. It puts your life into perspective.
“Surreal,” I said.
For hours at a time that summer, I would sit on my window seat hypnotized by the waves, imagining the world hidden below the surface and wondering how I, a miniscule flicker of life, fit into the Imax-sized universe before me.
My whole world would change after that summer. My parents were living together when I left. When I went back, they’d be apart.
“You’ll come back to two homes instead of one,” my mom tried. Only a positive spin couldn’t convince me I’d be gaining something, instead of losing everything. I have friends whose parents are divorced. They need calendars to tell them where to sleep and checklists to track down their stuff.
And then there were the holidays. Where would I go for Thanksgiving and Christmas? How could I celebrate? Who wanted to go back and forth between new homes, no homes? Who wanted to live with sad, single parents looking to start over?
What I wanted was for everything to stop and rewind. I wanted to live in before, not after.
But no one asked me what I wanted.
I try not to think of that now. Everything is different in Rhode Island. I guess that was the point of sending me.
Aunt Ellie’s wooden house was built about a hundred years ago, and when the wind blew it groaned like an old person getting out of a rickety chair. One night when it was stormy and it sounded like an atomic battlefield in the sky, I heard strange whispering coming from upstairs. Was I imagining things?
In Texas we have tropical storms and hurricanes that turn cars into boats. We have surprise tornadoes and roaches big as baby mice. But the one thing we never had, in our house at least, was ghosts.
“Is your house haunted?” I ask Aunt Ellie, pretending to joke.
She takes off her glasses and looks up momentarily from the National Geographic on her desk. “Oh sure,” she says.
My bedroom has blue and white wallpaper with old clipper ships with billowy sails and a double bed with a curvy white iron headboard and sheets as soft and white as magnolia blossoms. Fish x-rays in gossamer shades of inky blue hang on the walls like aquatic Warhols. But the best thing about the room is the pillow-covered window seat in front of the large bay window where I like to sit and watch the ocean.
I don’t mind being away from home, I decide right then. I don’t mind missing camp and being all alone. In some ways I like it better, because no one will ask me questions I don’t want to answer.
Aunt Ellie has a curly-haired dog named Will who’s very curious about the new person in his house. He’s part wheaten terrier, part something else. Like a dog detective, Will sniffs at my pants, and then at my hair when I bend down to pet him.
“Am I okay?”
His answer is to sniff and keep sniffing, instantly putting together a scent impression of me, the doggy equivalent of a police profile.
Will is five or so, Aunt Ellie thinks. She found him walking near the ocean one day like a drifter who lost his way. He wasn’t wearing a collar and when she took him to the vet, he didn’t have a microchip to tell them where home was. Even though he was a stray, he looked well-fed and he must have been well-cared for because he wasn’t skittish in any way.
“It just seemed like the natural thing to bring him home and start the next chapter of his life and mine together,” Aunt Ellie said. She already had three stray cats – Nina, Pinta, and Santa Maria - a gerbil, two turtles and a canary, so one more animal wouldn’t make all that much of a difference.
Aunt Ellie is like that. Nothing is a big deal to her. Not stray dogs or cats, not ghosts, not divorces, and especially not kids who are homeless. And that’s good because I honestly don’t think I could survive five minutes in her house if I felt that she pitied me or anything.
Purchase The Lifeguard at Barnes & Noble and Amazon as well as other bookstores.
Don't forget to leave Deborah a comment.
Don't forget to leave Deborah a comment.