Read The deepest blue Online

Authors: Kim Williams Justesen

The deepest blue

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Published by Tanglewood Publishing, Inc., 2013

Text © Kim Williams Justesen 2013

All rights reserved. Neither this book nor any part may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopying, microfilming, and recording, or by any information storage and retrieval system, without permission in writing from the publisher.

Cover by Andrew Arnold

Design by Amy Alick Perich

Tanglewood Publishing, Inc.

4400 Hulman Street

Terre Haute, IN 47803

www.tanglewoodbooks.com

10 9 8 7 6 5 4 3 2 1

ISBN-13: 978-1-933718-95-8

Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data

Justesen, Kim Williams.

   The deepest blue / Kim Williams Justesen.

pages cm

[1. Custody of children--Fiction. 2. Families--Fiction.] I. Title.

  PZ7.J985De 2013

  [Fic]--dc23

2013022122                   

To Morgan and Ryan.

Your strength and courage in standing up for

what was best for you has proven to be

an invaluable inspiration to me.

contents

chapter 1

chapter 2

chapter 3

chapter 4

chapter 5

chapter 6

chapter 7

chapter 8

chapter 9

chapter 10

chapter 11

chapter 12

chapter 13

chapter 14

chapter 15

chapter 16

chapter 17

chapter 18

chapter 19

chapter 20

chapter 21

chapter 22

chapter 23

chapter 24

acknowledgments

about the author

chapter 1

We have been stocking and cleaning our fishing charter boat for hours and finally give in to tired muscles and hunger. Dad steers the truck out of the parking lot and waves to Jack Sutton, who's sitting in front of his boat, theLolly Gag,bobbing side to side in the slip where it's docked next to our boat. The sky is clearing from an earlier storm, and the air smells like damp asphalt and pine. I roll my window down, letting the fresh breeze blow in.

“You did a great job getting the boat cleaned up and ready for tomorrow.”

“Thanks,” I say. My arms ache, and I stretch them up and press my fingers against the roof of the truck. “Maybe I can practice driving.” My words are hopeful, but Dad shakes his head.

“We're running late as it is.” He shifts gears, and the truck lurches a bit. “We'll go soon. I promise.”

“Should we call Maggie and let her know we're on the way?”

“That would probably be nice of us.” Dad pulls his cell phone from the holder attached to his belt and hands it to me. “Tell her we'll be about twenty minutes.”

I punch in the number and listen. It rings a few times till I hear the familiar, “It's your nickel.”

“Hey, Maggie.” I can hear Rocket barking in the background.

“Hey, Mike. Hush, dog,” Maggie says. “So are you boys on your way? I've got a chicken in the oven that's just about finished.”

At the mention of chicken, my stomach growls loudly enough that I bet she can hear it over the phone. “Yeah,” I say, “we just left the marina, and we're about twenty minutes from helping you out with that.”

“Would you ask your dad if he'd mind stopping real quick for a loaf of bread and some lemons? I just realized I'm out.”

“Maggie needs some lemons and a loaf of bread.”

“No problem,” Dad yells toward the phone.

“Okay, so I'll see you two in about thirty minutes then.”

I push theOFFbutton and hand the phone to Dad. “She's making chicken,” I say. Not that it matters much. I'm so hungry I could eat my own tennis shoes. My stomach rolls over itself again in anticipation. It's so noisy even Dad can hear, and he pats my belly and laughs.

“Worked up an appetite, did you?”

It's quiet for a few minutes, and then Dad clears his throat and adjusts the cap on his head that says MIGHTYMIKE—the name of our charter boat. He smiles, and Iwonder if he's thinking about Maggie or the chicken in the oven. I imagine it's a little of both.

I smile, too. Maggie is a great cook. Dad's smile makes me wonder, and I decide to ask something that I've been thinking about for months. “You ever gonna marry Maggie?”

Dad steers the truck along the road in silence, and I am almost sorry I said anything. Then he sucks in a deep breath. “Funny you should mention that, Mikey.”

“Dad, I'm almost sixteen. Don't call me Mikey.”

“Right. Sorry, Mike.” He shifts in his seat and clears his throat again. “So as I was saying, it's funny you should mention that.”

“Really?” I turn to look at him. He likes to tease me all the time, so I don't want to get my hopes up just in case he's messing with me.

“Well . . .” he says, dragging the word out like he's letting out a trolling line.

“Seriously, Dad, are you thinking about it at least?”

Dad gives me a quick glance and then shifts the truck into a lower gear as we turn onto the Atlantic Beach Bridge that leads from Moorehead to Atlantic Beach, then to North Carolina Highway 58.

There's still a lot of water on the road from the earlier storm, and I can hear the tires splash as we turn. I roll up the window so I can better hear whatever Dad might say.

“I always said I'd never get married again because I'd never get divorced again.”

I sit at full attention.

“But I never thought,” he says, and then he pauses and his voice gets softer. “I never thought I'd meet someone like Maggie. And I sure never thought she'd be interested in a guy like me.”

There is something in his voice that almost makes me sad. Why wouldn't a girl, well, a woman like Maggie be interested in him? My dad is a great guy: strong, capable, able to fix anything.

He takes off the blue cap and runs a hand through his black hair. I can see flecks of white speckling around his temples, but I've heard more than one of the local ladies describe him as a handsome man. I hope women think he's good looking, 'cause I look just like him—without the white speckles, of course.

“So,” I say, impatient for a real answer, “is that a ‘yes I am' or an ‘I don't know but I'm thinking about it' or what?”

“It's an ‘I'm giving it some serious consideration, but I thought you and I should talk about it first.'”

“What's there to talk about?” I practically jump out of my seat. “She's a great cook, she likes you a lot, she likes your kid, she puts up with the two of us sticking our stinky feet on her furniture, and did I mention she's a great cook?” I catch my breath and then go on. “What more could you want?”

Dad lets out a big laugh. Then he grips the steering wheel tight in both hands as the truck fishtails. “Whoa,” he says, the laughter gone from his voice. We drift dangerously close to the bridge wall, and I can see the white-capped waters of the channel below.

I grab for the arm of the door. My fingers wrap tight around the plastic handle. I take a deep breath to control the shaking I'm scared will show in my voice. “Slick?” I ask as Dad gets the wheels straightened out and maneuvers into the far right lane.

“Going a little too fast. A lot of water still on the road. We hydroplaned for a second, but I've got it under control.”

I turn around in my seat and look at the road behind us. Water stands in big puddles on the bridge, and passing cars shoot up rooster tails in the air as they pass. Then I let out the air in my lungs. Dad has it under control. He's always got it under control.

We pull into the Food Lion parking lot, and I wait in the truck. I flip on the radio and scan through the stations. I settle on a classic rock station Dad and Maggie like. Okay, I like it, too. My heart is sort of thumping in my chest, partly from sliding in the truck, partly over Dad's hinting about Maggie.

For ten years, it's been just me and Dad. He runs fishing boat charters for tourists during the spring and summer and works a handyman business in the fall and winter. A few years ago, he let me start coming along on the boat as his first mate. I cut bait, get lines ready, clean up after tourists, and help Dad with whatever he needs. Some of the clients have been coming to Dad for almost ten years. He doesn't spend a lot on advertising—word of mouth is all he's ever needed really. Then about five years ago, we met Maggie. I thought she was the prettiest and nicest lady I'd ever met. I still think so.

After a few minutes, Dad saunters across the grocery store parking lot. He pulls on the door handle and slides back into the truck. “Now listen,” he says, “don't say anything to Maggie just yet. If I'm going to do this again, I'm going to do everything the right way. No mistakes this time. No rushing in and going too fast.”

“You've been dating for five years,” I say. “I don't think anyone could accuse you of rushing anything.”

“Okay, smart guy, but listen.” Dad puts a hand on my knee, firm enough for me to know he's serious. “On Tuesday, since we don't have anything chartered, I'm driving up to Raleigh. I know a guy who's a jeweler up there. He's done a couple trips with me. He makes custom stuff, real nice, and that's what Maggie deserves. So the story is, I'm going to Raleigh to get some supplies for the boat. Cheaper for me to drive up and get them than to have them shipped. I'll be gone overnight, so is it okay if you stay with Maggie?”

“I can stay by myself, Dad.” Visions of hanging out on the computer all night and playing games or messaging Rachel begin weaving their way through my head.

“Not overnight. So can you play along? Not let on there's anything up?”

I let out a long sigh. “Yeah, supplies in Raleigh, stay overnight with Maggie. Gotcha.” There is no point fighting about staying home alone, even though I know I'm old enough.

Dad shoves the truck into gear and pulls out of the parking space. “Good. Now let's go eat.”

I'm disappointed at not being able to stay by myself, but right now, that's not my biggest worry. I'm wondering how I'm going to keep this stupid grin off my face once we get to Maggie's. I make myself frown, but that only makes me laugh, and that makes everything worse.Think bad stuff. Think English papers and chemistry tests. Think about failing your driver's license test.It doesn't matter. I just feel like a big Cheshire cat with a goofy smile. As we near Maggie's house, my heart starts racing, and I doubt I'll be able to keep from blurting out the secret the minute we arrive.

chapter 2

“Hey, guys,” Maggie says, her warm smile beaming. She tucks a curly strand of dark hair behind her ear as she pulls the door wide. Rocket, Maggie's Irish setter, bounces and barks behind her, trying to get at us to say hello. His tail winds around like a propeller and sweeps clear anything it comes in contact with.

“Hey, buddy,” I say, walking into the brightly lit room flooded with the smells of chicken and homemade biscuits. I rub behind the dog's ears and then kneel down next to him. He rubs his muzzle against my head, snuffling at my ear.

“I hope you're hungry,” Maggie says. She moves into the kitchen and slips thick padded mitts onto each hand. They look like kitchen boxing gloves. As she opens the oven, my mouth begins to water so much I'm afraid I might drool like Rocket does. Maggie slides a pan out that holds a golden-brown chicken the size of a small car. Steam floats up from the bird and circles around the lights overhead.

Dad sets the grocery bag on the kitchen counter, pulling out the lemons and the loaf of bread.

“When do we eat?” I ask.

“As soon as you go wash your grimy hands. Your dad's going to wash his and then carve the chicken while I put everything on the table.”

I look at my hands. “They're clean.”

Maggie takes an oven mitt and pops me on the head with it. “Go wash up or I'll give your plate to Rocket.”

I head down the hall to the bathroom and take a bar of soap and some water to my hands. I scrub my knuckles and around my nails. Maggie will check, so I try to get them to a passable level of clean for her. I head back to the kitchen and plunk into the nearest chair, holding my hands up for Maggie's inspection. She nods and smiles. Rocket lies by my feet.

Dad's cell phone rings. He pulls it from the holder and checks the caller ID. “It's for you,” he says, handing me the phone.

“If you'd get me my own phone . . .” I take the cell from Dad. “Hey, Rachel.”

“Any chance you can come to the arcade tonight? Trevor and Caitlyn will be there, and Mandy's dad said he could give us a ride home.”

I put my hand over the phone. “Can I go to the arcade after supper? Mandy Wilcox's dad said he'd give everyone a ride home.”

Dad looks at me for a moment. “The Robertsons, 6:30 charter in the morning, remember?”

“Yeah, but the arcade closes at nine. I'm home by nine fifteen, nine thirty max.”

He adjusts his hat and then shrugs. “Okay, home by nine thirty,” he says.

“All set,” I say to Rachel, “but I've got to be home by nine thirty. We have a charter in the morning.”

“Man, it bites that you have to work all summer.” Rachel lets out an exasperated sigh. “We're all meeting at six. Will you make it by then?”

I check the clock above the stove. It's five o'clock now. If I eat fast and run to the arcade, I should make it. “I'll be there.”

“I'll see you when you get there,” she says. “Bye, Michael.” She hangs up before I can say goodbye.

Maggie sets a plate of chicken on the table.

“Trouble in paradise?” Dad asks.

“I don't know,” I say. “I don't get what's up with her. One day she's calling me every five minutes, the next day she won't answer when I call her.”

“On behalf of all females who went through puberty, I sincerely apologize for our hormone-twisted behavior.” Maggie brings a plate of biscuits and sets them next to the steaming chicken.

Dad is already shoveling slabs of white meat onto his plate. I look down at my hands in my lap, still holding the cell phone. I set it on the table next to my plate. My stomach growls and lurches like an alien might suddenly bust through and steal some food off the table.

Maggie laughs out loud. She hands me the biscuits,and I take two. Dad slides the plate of chicken to me, and I stab a few large, juicy pieces. I hand the plate to Maggie and begin stuffing my mouth. I wolf down the chicken, then rip open a biscuit and slather it with butter. I don't even bother putting jam on it. I stop long enough to gulp down some iced tea, and then I tear into the other biscuit.

Maggie slides an ear of corn onto my plate. “Maybe this will slow you down a little.”

I realize I'm eating like a wild animal, so I take another drink, swallow, and look up at Dad. He is working his way across an ear of corn dripping butter down his chin. He looks at me and smiles. “Sorry,” I say to Maggie, “I was really hungry.”

“Apparently,” she says. “There's plenty here, so just take your time and try to actually taste your food.”

“I'm sort of in a hurry, too. I told Rachel I'd meet her at the arcade at six, and I figure I'm going to have to run to get there.”

Maggie spoons a pile of green beans onto her plate and then adds a scoop to mine. “Rich?”

Dad looks up from his corn. “No, thanks.”

“I meant, can't you drive him?”

Dad looks at Maggie, then at me. “Well, I've had kind of a long day.” He sets down the corncob and wipes his face with a napkin. “He's young. He can walk.”

Maggie wrinkles her nose. “It's starting to rain,” she says. Then she looks at me. “I'll take you when we've finished.”

I pick up my fork again, skewer a few beans, and then pause before I take a bite. They are sweet and fresh, rightout of Maggie's garden.

“Before I forget,” Dad says, “I need to go to Raleigh on Tuesday to pick up some equipment for the boat. Cheaper if I go get it than if it's shipped. Do you mind keeping Mike overnight for me?” He picks up a biscuit and slices it through the middle.

Very smooth,I think as I watch him spoon raspberry jam first on one half of the biscuit and then the other.Got it under control.

“Normally I wouldn't mind, but I'm working late on Tuesday night. We have a board meeting, and I won't be done until later.” Maggie looks at Dad, and disappointment paints a dark cloud in his eyes.

“Well, I guess maybe he's old enough to stay alone,” Dad says, though his tone suggests he doesn't really believe that.

My heart begins racing. Maybe at last, I'll get to have the house to myself for a night.

Maggie pats her mouth with a napkin and looks at me. “You're okay to hang out till I get finished, right? I could pick you up around nine?”

I shrug. A few hours alone are better than none, and then I think about why Dad is really going to Raleigh, and I have to fight to keep the dumb grin off my face.

Maggie looks at Dad. “More storms are headed this way on Wednesday according to the weather man on channel nine. Just go slow and be careful.”

“We rode out that storm a few years ago, and that was supposed to be a hurricane. A little thunderstorm isn't going to bother me.”

“Okay then,” she says. She looks at me. “Plan on me picking you up around nine.”

We finish supper, and I help Dad clear the table. Rocket gets a few scraps before he curls up on the sofa for a quick nap.

“Take the cell phone,” Dad says as he rolls up his sleeves to start washing dishes. “If there's a problem with Mandy's father getting you home, give me a call here.”

“You know, if you'd get me my own phone, we wouldn't have to swap this one around so much.”

“You know,” Dad replies, though I know what's coming next, “when you're old enough to have your name on the bill, I'll consider it.”

“You know,” I say, still pushing the issue, but Dad interrupts.

“You know—”

Maggie claps a hand over his mouth. “Boys, that's enough. We'll resolve this issue later. Right now, Michael has a date, and I don't want her angry at him because you two were bickering over a cell phone.”

“Is Mandy's dad dropping me off here, or should I have him take me home?” I ask.

Dad removes Maggie's hand from his mouth. “Just head for home, and I'll be there after I spend some quality time with Rocket.”

On hearing his name, Rocket lifts his head for a moment and then lays it back on the sofa cushion when he realizes no one is offering him food.

We climb into Maggie's green Subaru. Her hair is extracurly. I figure it's because of the humidity. It hangs in little twists around her face. “Let me pull back this mop,” she says all the time. But it doesn't really look like a mop. The guy at the health food store in Jacksonville who has dreadlocks, he's got a mop.

“So what's Rich headed to Raleigh for?” Maggie asks.

My stomach tightens, and I try to keep my voice steady as I answer. “Uh, some part for the boat. Maybe for the fish finder. I don't remember.”

“Got other things on your mind,” Maggie says.

“Yeah, I guess so.”

“Listen,” she says, “I'm sure Rachel is a nice girl and all, even though I've spent maybe twenty minutes around her. But a girl who won't treat you with respect is a girl who doesn't deserve your time and energy. Do you know what I'm saying?”

I'm glad Maggie thinks I'm worried about something other than Dad buying her a ring. “Yeah, but it's not like this is a big place with a lot of girls to choose from. And it's not like a lot of girls are gonna be interested in me.” Maggie is a little unclear on the realities of living in a small beach town.

“Why not? You're handsome, you're intelligent, you're gainfully employed.” She chuckles. “Those are all the things I love about your dad. Well, the employed thing is just a bonus.”

“But you didn't grow up here.”

“So?”

“I mean, I guess girls around here are looking forsomething else.”

“Like what?”

“I don't know, that's the problem. If I did, maybe I'd have an answer. But that still wouldn't solve the problem that this is a small town. When the tourists all go home, my choice in women gets dramatically smaller.”

I watch the trees go past the window, occasionally backlit by the flashes of lightning from the approaching storm. The rain has started falling with authority now.

Maggie pulls up to the arcade. “The thing is,” she says as I reach for the door handle, “fifteen-year-old girls don't know what they want. They're checking things out just like you are. They're confused, they're self-conscious, and they just want a guy who makes them feel comfortable.” She brushes her hair from her eyes.

“I don't think that's Rachel's problem.” I know it's not. I have an idea what some of it is, but I'm not completely sure.

“Then maybe you need a girl with fewer problems.” Maggie beams another smile at me. Her smile is beautiful, and I smile without thinking about it. I totally love Maggie. She's like my mom. Not like myrealmom, but like what a mom is supposed to be. Like what you'd design a mom to be if you could pick all the things you wanted.

“Maybe so,” I say as I climb out of the car. “Thanks for the ride.” I shut the door and dash through the rain to the arcade. As I reach the entrance, my stomach knots, and I wonder what kind of mood Rachel will be in. I take a deep breath as I open the door.

chapter 3

I shake my head like a wet dog, flipping rainwater everywhere. The Jungleland Arcade is crowded with little kids, mostly tourists, probably trying to find a way to kill some time and wait out the storm. Bright, colorful lights flash, and the machines make electronic noises and music that compete with each other for the tourists' attention. A little girl, maybe two years old, wanders around with a ball from the Skee-Ball machine, threatening to throw the heavy, wooden sphere at anyone who tries to take it away from her.

I scan the crowd, looking for people I recognize. Over by the REDEMPTIONCENTERsign, I can see Caitlyn Parker leaning on the glass case filled with plastic toys and cheap junk. Trevor Boone has his hand stuffed in the back pocket of her shorts, trying to grope her butt. She doesn't seem to mind. She is clutching a mess of red tickets spit out by the different machines, and I wonder how much that's cost Trevor already.

Trevor's dad runs one of the restaurants down in Indian Beach on the south end of the island. It's one of the oldest businesses, and it has a huge gift shop. Trevor busses tables or cashiers in the gift shop, and his dad overpays him. Trevor and I were best friends until eighth grade. I don't know what happened, but two years later, we're just acquaintances. My best friend is Jayden Stokes, only he's in Asheville enjoying the North Carolina mountains for the summer with his grandparents.

I head toward Trevor and Caitlyn. She and Rachel are best friends, which should mean Rachel would be close by. “Hey,” I say. Trevor and Caitlyn turn at the same time.

“S'up,” Trevor says.

“Seen Rachel?” I ask. I turn and lean against the glass case.

“She was outside on the bumper boats a few minutes ago,” Caitlyn says. “She said she didn't think you'd make it until later.”

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