Since I’m not writing a serious novel for my 2014 NaNoWriMo project, I don’t mind sharing a little bit of what I have written so far. So, without further adieu, here is my first chapter, completely unedited:
“Violet, are you sure you want to do this?” her sister Veronica asked. Veronica balanced a tow-headed toddler on one hip while fending off the toddler’s sticky-fingered older brother with the other.
“Joey, stop!” she said. “You’re getting your sucker all over my pants. Now, go wipe your hands like I told you to!”
“Come here, you little rug rat,” Violet said. She chased Joey around his mother twice before catching him and sweeping him up in a bear hug. “You are making your mother crazy!”
Joey giggled uncontrollably and tried to wriggle away from his aunt as she applied a wet wipe to his filthy hands.
“Of course I don’t want to, Ronnie,” Violet said over her nephew’s giggles. “But I’m tired of being afraid of everything. I need to do this.”
Veronica sighed. “Well,” she said. “You’d better keep it together. I can’t manage two kids under the age of five on a boat in the middle of the ocean and also take care of you in the midst of one of your panic attacks at the same time.”
“I’ll be fine, I promise,” Violet said. “I think the kids will be a good distraction for me. And besides, we won’t be ‘in the middle of the ocean.’ It’s only a three-hour tour.”
“I think we’re all set now, ladies.” The boat’s captain loped down the dock with an armload of life vests. “It took some scrounging, but I managed to get the smallest jackets I have ever seen for your little ones there. Hope they fit, ‘cause I got a schedule to keep, and we’re already behind.”
Violet and Ronnie took the proffered lifejackets. “Here, I think this one will be perfect for you.” Violet held a pink life jacket out to Joey, sizing it up in front of him.
“Ah, mom,” he whined. “Do I have to?”
“Yup,” Ronnie answered as she struggled to untangle the straps on little Jenny’s vest while Jenny simultaneously attempted to crawl off the edge of the dock.
“But it’s pink!” Joey said.
The captain laughed. “Ah, a big strapping boy like him,” he said. “He’ll be fine without it.”
Ronnie and Violet both stopped what they were doing and glared.
“Really?” Ronnie said, disgusted.
“He’s wearing the life vest,” Violet said.
“But mom,” Joey said. “The captain doesn’t have to wear one!”
“That’s the captain’s business,” Ronnie said. “You are mine.”
“Besides,” Violet said. “You have to set a good example for your little sister, remember? What do you think would happen to Jenny if she fell off the boat without a life jacket on?”
Joey scrunched up his face. He held out an arm for Violet to put his life vest on.
“Oh, what a wonderful big brother you are,” Ronnie said. She handed Jenny to Violet so she could strap on her own life jacket. “See, Mommy and Auntie are going to wear them too.”
“But I thought we were going to be brave and go on a big adventure,” Joey said. He stuck his lower lip out in a pout.
“We are,” Violet said. “But you can be brave and still be safe.”
“You’re safe enough with me,” the captain told her. He took off his cap and gestured toward the boat. “Now, let’s be on our way before you run over your time and into my next tour group.”
Violet handed Jenny off to her sister and took up her own life jacket. She pulled it on and eyed the frayed straps, wondering what the chances were they might snap in an emergency. She clipped the front closures and gave them a tug, making sure they were secure. Then she looked behind her at a final strap that hung down from the bottom of the vest. She picked up the end of the strap and gave it a puzzled glance.
“That one goes between your legs.” The captain leered at Violet and snickered. “But you don’t need to bother with that. Come on, let’s get a move on.”
“I’ll just be one more second,” Violet said. She bent over and lifted one leg to try to pull the end of the strap toward her front side. As she gave the strap a final tug, she lost her balance. Her eyes opened wide as she skip-hopped in an attempt to avoid falling off the dock and into the ocean.
The captain swooped in just in time and scooped Violet away from the edge. “Whoa, there little lady,” he said. “Don’t want you to get soaked already. You ain’t even made it on the boat yet.” He stooped down to grab the strap that was now swinging between Violet’s legs. He pulled it up in front of her, gave it a little tug, and attached it to its fastener on the front of her vest. “If you’re all set now, maybe we can go?”
Violet’s legs wobbled underneath her. Now that the kids were on the boat and not an immediate distraction, it occurred to her that she was about to get on a tiny, rickety boat and go out on the ocean with a captain who didn’t seem to believe in hygiene or life jackets either one. What other safety precautions might he have overlooked? How could she bring her family out on this lunatic voyage?
For the first time, Violet noticed that the dock swayed beneath her feet from the waves beneath. Bile rose up in her throat. Before she could stop herself, she was bent over the edge of the dock, regurgitating her lunch.
“Ew, Aunt Violet!” Joey called to her from the boat. “That’s nasty!”
“Nasty!” Jenny echoed, clapping her hands in joy at the excitement.
“Are you okay?” Ronnie asked. “We don’t have to do this, you know.”
“Oh yes, we do,” the captain said. He strode over to Violet and grabbed her, throwing her up over his shoulder and carrying her onto the boat. He then dropped her unceremoniously into a lounge chair at the center of the deck and trotted off toward the helm.
“Who in the hell do you think you are?” Ronnie said. She hiked Jenny up onto her hip and started across the deck after him.
“Ronnie, wait!” Violet said. “Let him go.”
“What? Are you sure? I can not believe that man just threw you over his shoulder like some sort of cave man hauling you off to his cave.” Ronnie seemed torn between staying by her sister and chasing after the captain to give him a piece of her mind.
Violet stretched out a shaky hand to her sister. Ronnie sat next to her and held her hand. Violet’s fingers immediately held on with a vice grip, and her voice came out shaky. “Honestly, I don’t think I was going to be able to make it on the boat on my own two feet anyway.” She forced a tiny laugh. “Look at me, sis. I’m on a boat!”
Ronnie put an arm around her shaky sister and laughed. “You did it,” she said. “I’m so proud of you!”
“Look mom, no hands!” Joey called. He stood on the railing, hanging dangerously over the edge. True to his words, he was not holding on.
“Joey!” Violet and Ronnie screamed.
Ronnie plopped Jenny onto Violet’s lap and ran to Joey. She pulled him down off the railing and dragged him to the lounge chair next to Violet’s. “Now, you just sit right here,” she said. “Do you want to fall off the boat on purpose?”
“Listen to your mother,” Violet snapped. She gripped her seat with one hand while wrapping her other arm tightly around Jenny.
Jenny began to cry.
“Hand her here,” Ronnie said.
Violet let loose of Jenny and allowed Ronnie to take her. She immediately grabbed onto the seat of her chair with her free hand.
“Let’s all just calm down, now, okay?” Ronnie said. She bounced Jenny, shushing her. “Everything is going to be just fine.”
“Can you please sit down?” Violet asked through clenched teeth. “You are making me dizzy.”
Ronnie plopped down next to her sister. “Well. Isn’t this fun?”
“I’m sorry,” Violet said. “I just need for everyone to sit down here, away from the railing, for just a few minutes while I get hold of myself.”
“Understood,” Ronnie said.
Violet stared down at her lap in an attempt to keep her attention away from the vast ocean that spread out ahead of them. She tried not to think about the solid earth that retreated behind them as the captain skipped the boat across the waves and out to sea.
“I don’t see what the big deal is,” Joey said after a few minutes. “This isn’t scary at all. It’s fun.”
Violet tore her attention away from her lap and looked over at Joey. He was up on his knees, balancing gracefully as the boat navigated the ocean waves. A soft breeze ruffled his curly hair. His cheeks glowed under the hot Florida sun.
“You’re going to get a sunburn, kid,” Violet said.
“No I’m not,” he said.
“Aunt Violet is right,” Ronnie said. “Let’s get another layer of sunscreen on you.”
“Ah, you guys are no fun,” Joey said.
“A sunburn is no fun,” Ronnie said. She rummaged around in her bag until she got her hands on the sunscreen. She handed it to Violet. “My hands are full. Do Joey first, and then I’ll do Jenny.”
Violet loosened one hand enough to take the bottle of sunscreen from her sister, but she couldn’t seem to let go with the other hand.
“Come on.” Ronnie massaged Violet’s hand with her own. “You can do it. You’ve come this far.”
Violet took a deep breath and then let go. She immediately grabbed Joey and pulled him to her, just so she would have something to hold onto.
“You’re so weird,” Joey said. He struggled to escape.
“She’s not weird, she’s just scared,” Ronnie said. “Do I call you weird when you’re afraid to go to bed alone at night?”
“That’s different,” Joey said.
Violet let her nephew loose and uncapped the sunscreen with trembling fingers. She squirted some out on her hand and began to apply it to Joey’s face.
“Can we go fishing after this?” he asked. “There’s fishing poles. The captain said so.”
“We’ll see,” Ronnie said. “Why don’t we just sit back and relax for a while.”
“That’s no fun.”
“It’s fun for mom,” Violet said.
Joey belched. Jenny laughed. Violet handed the sunscreen over to her sister. She sat back in her lounge chair and tried to do as her sister said.
“You’re the one who’s going to get a sunburn.”
Violet opened her eyes and blinked at the sun.
“Did you fall asleep?” Ronnie asked.
“It would appear to be so.”
“I think someone is getting over her fear of the water,” Ronnie said.
“Where are the kids?”
“Jenny’s napping down below, and Joey is talking the captain’s head off while he untangles a fishing line. I have a feeling I’m going to have to take Joey fishing someplace when we get back to Illinois. That man doesn’t have a single pole that isn’t a complete mess. I don’t know how he stays in business.”
Violet tensed up. She tried to fight off thoughts of oil changes missed, or whatever kind of routine maintenance a boat might need. What if the bottom of the boat was riddled with unseen holes that the captain never bothered to check for?
“Reel it in, sunshine,” Ronnie said. She took Violet’s hand and gave it a reassuring squeeze.
“What?” Violet said.
“I know that look you get when you’re letting your imagination run off with you. Everything is going to be just fine. People do this sort of thing every day.”
“You’re probably right.” Violet drew a deep breath and tried to relax again.
“You’re doing great.”
Suddenly the air was filled with silence. The silence was just as suddenly replaced with curses as the captain scuttled down below.
“What’s going on?” Violet began to panic. “Oh my— I knew it! I knew something bad was going to happen!”
“Now, just hold on,” Ronnie said. “Don’t go jumping to conclusions. It sounds like the engine cut off or something. It probably just stalled, and he’ll have us going again in a few minutes.”
Violet squeezed her eyes tight against the tears that threatened to overwhelm her.
“You need to take a deep breath and hold it together,” Ronnie said. “Or you’ll scare Joey.”
Violet nodded her head. “Please, go find out what’s going on.”
“That’s what I’m going to do.”
Violet grabbed Ronnie by the vest as she started to get up.“Wait, don’t leave me.”
“I can do one or the other, but I can’t do both,” Ronnie said.
Violet let her go.
“Joey, come sit by Aunt Vi,” Ronnie called to him.
The boat seemed to slide to a stop and bobbed up and down on the waves.
Joey bounced across the deck to his aunt and jumped into her lap. “Isn’t this the best?” he asked.
“Oh yeah, it’s great.” Violet said. “Come sit by me for a minute, please?”
“Violet!” Ronnie called. “Can you come here a minute?”
“Coming!” Violet turned to Joey. “Can you do me a favor and just sit right here until I get back?”
“But I want to fish some more.”
“It’ll only be a minute, and I don’t want you to fall over the side of the boat. Can you do that for me?”
Violet stood on unsteady legs and tried to take a step. She found that her legs wouldn’t cooperate. She slid one foot forward across the deck. Then the other. And then again with the first foot.
“Violet, now!” Ronnie shouted.
Prodded into action by the fear in her sister’s voice, Violet started to run. “What’s wrong?” she asked.
Ronnie pulled Violet in close and looked over her shoulder at Joey. “I don’t want you to panic,” she said.
“Oh my God, what’s wrong?” Violet asked.
Ronnie looked Violet in the eyes and lowered her voice. “Honey, the boat is taking on water,” she said.
Violet’s legs turned to liquid beneath her. Ronnie held her up.
“I need you to hold it together,” Ronnie said. “We have to get these kids off this boat before it sinks.”
“Is it that bad?” Violet whispered.
“I’m afraid so. The captain sent me to find the inflatable life boat. I need you to gather the children.”
“What’s the captain doing?”
“He’s on the radio, calling the Coast Guard, no doubt. I’m sure they’ll be here in no time.”
“Oh. Okay.” Violet said. She stood, frozen. She heard her sister’s words, understood that she was supposed to do something. But her body refused to do as it was told.
Ronnie dug her fingernails into Violet’s arm. “We need to move fast,” she said. “I don’t have time for your shenanigans. These are my kids at stake here. Now, move!” She gave Violet a shove toward the stairs that led below decks.
Violet stumbled blindly down the stairs. It took her eyes a moment to adjust to the dim lighting after being out in the bright sun. She quickly found Jenny, who slept soundly on a cot. Violet was about to wake her when a slew of curse words filled the air.
“Dammit,” the captain yelled into the radio. “You have to come get me, you bastard! You owe me!”
Another voice crackled over the radio, but Violet couldn’t make out the words. Terror filled her at the idea that the Coast Guard might not come for them.
“You know I can’t call the Coast Guard, you idiot!” the captain said. “I have half a ton of cocaine in the hold of my boat. But if you get here fast, maybe we can save it.”
Cold fear was replaced by a fire that burned up Violet’s chest and radiated out to her extremities. “You have what in the hold of this boat?” she screamed. She ran to the captain and grabbed the radio microphone from his hand. “Get out of my way! If you won’t call the Coast Guard, I will!”
“Give me that!” The captain tried to wrestle the radio away from Violet. “You’re not calling anyone! I am not going back to prison!” He shoved Violet into the wall before jerking the radio off its base and severing its lines with a jerk.
Jenny, awakened by the commotion, began to scream. The captain stepped around Violet and ran up the stairs to the deck.
“Get back here!” Violet cried. “You need to fix this radio!”
Jenny screamed louder.
Violet dashed the tears from her eyes and ran to her niece. “It’s okay, baby.” She tried to soothe her. “Let’s go find your mommy, and then everything will be okay.” Ronnie would know what to do. Ronnie always knew what to do.
Violet picked Jenny up and headed upstairs with her. She reached the boat’s deck just in time to see the captain jerk the now-inflated life raft out of her sister’s hands and toss it over the side.
“Hey, what are you doing?” Ronnie cried. “The raft is going to blow away before we can get everyone into it.”
“Sorry, lady,” the captain said. He jumped over the side of the boat and into the life raft. “But your sister needs to learn to mind her own business. It’s every man for himself, now.” He grabbed an oar that was attached to the side of the sinking boat and pushed the life raft away. “It was a pleasure doing business with you.” He laughed as he turned his back on them and began to paddle away.
“My babies are on this boat!” Ronnie screamed. She turned to her sister. “Violet, what did you do?”
Violet ran to Ronnie and threw her arms around her. “It’s not what I did,” she said. “It’s what I overheard. He was never going to call the Coast Guard because he has a load of cocaine on board the ship.”
Ronnie sat down on the deck, hard. It was her turn to fall apart now. “Oh my God,” she cried. “What have we done? My babies!”
Joey ran to his mother. “Mommy, what’s happening?” he said. “I’m scared.”
Suddenly the boat listed to one side. Violet lost her footing and dropped down next to her sister, holding Jenny tight. “We have to get off of this boat,” she said.
“And go where?” Ronnie said. “You’re terrified of the water, and not one of you can swim.”
“But our life vests will hold us up, won’t they?” Violet said. “Remember, when we were kids— how stupid you thought I was because I thought I was going to drown even with a vest on?”
“Mommy, I’m scared.” Joey sniffled. “Are we going to die?”
Ronnie took a deep breath and wiped away her tears. “No,” she said. “We are not going to die. Not as long as I am still here to do something about it.”
Violet cracked a smile. “That’s my sister,” she said. “Now, let’s get off this damn boat before we all go down with it.”
Ronnie pulled herself onto her feet and looked around the boat. “We don’t know how long we might end up being in the water,” she said. “If he didn’t call the Coast Guard, it could be a while. If he wasn’t calling the Coast Guard, who was he talking to then?”
“From the sounds of it, not anyone that we would want to show up to help us,” Violet said. “I’m afraid we’re on our own.”
“That bastard just left us here to die.” A storm brewed in Ronnie’s eyes.
“Worry about that later,” Violet said. “First, let’s get away from this cursed boat. I can’t believe I got us into this.”
“What’s done is done. Now is the time for worrying about what’s left to do,” Ronnie said. “And before we go anywhere, we need water. We won’t last long out there without it.”
“Water, right,” Violet said.
“Grab that rope and tie the kids’ life vests together,” Ronnie said. “We don’t want to get separated once we get in the water.”
Ronnie ran back down the stairs to look for water while Violet looped a rope through her own lifejacket and then tied a kid to each end. She hitched Jenny up on her hip and wrapped an arm around Joey who had attached himself to her leg.
“Those look heavy,” Violet said when Ronnie showed up with two gallon jugs of water in tow. “Aren’t they going to weigh us down?”
“I don’t know,” Ronnie said. “But we will soon find out. If it’s too much, we can always let one go and take turns holding the other.”
“I’m sure they’ll float easier as we empty them.”
The two sisters stopped for a second and caught each other’s gaze. Neither of them wanted to speak out loud the thought that had obviously crossed both of their minds. The boat shifted beneath them again, sinking faster into the waves below.
“We have to go,” Violet said.
Ronnie nodded. “I’ll get in first, and then you can hand Jenny down to me.” She climbed over the railing and jumped into the water.
“Mommy, wait!” Joey screamed. “Don’t leave me!” He ran to the railing, jerking Violet and Jenny along with him.
“Joey, no!” Violet cried.
She scrambled after him, trying to grab him with one hand while holding on to Jenny with the other. But the boy was too quick. Before she could stop him, he was jumping overboard, pulling Violet and Jenny along with him. Violet hit the water with a resounding splash. She gasped for air an instant too late and inhaled warm ocean. Ronnie and Jenny’s screams were muffled under the water for only a moment before Violet’s life vest righted her. She spluttered and coughed. She kicked her feet furiously, looking for land that she knew was no longer beneath her.
“It’s going! The boat is sinking!” Ronnie cried. “Swim away!” She already had Jenny’s life vest clutched in one hand and was swimming away from the sinking boat with her.
Violet lurched into action and began to paddle her inexperienced arms, dragging Joey behind her.
“Kick your feet, Joey!” Ronnie yelled over her shoulder. “Just like in swim class!”
Violet kicked with all her might as the suction from the sinking boat tried to drag her down with it. For a moment, she was dragged under. The rope tying her to the children pulled at her life vest. She grabbed the rope and held on tight. And then there was silence.
Violet bobbed on the surface of the ocean. Her family bobbed around her, mouths open in various phases of horror. Their lips moved but made no sound. Had she lost her hearing?
“Joey! Jenny! We’re okay!” Ronnie’s voice slowly penetrated through the fog of Violet’s mind. “Violet!”
Violet turned in slow motion, surveying the emptiness around them. Tiny air bubbles gurgling up from the sinking boat were the only evidence that the vessel had ever existed.
“Violet?” Ronnie paddled toward her, pulling the kids with her. Joey and Jenny had both stopped crying. Everyone seemed to be more concerned with Violet for the moment. “Honey, are you all right?”
Violet blinked her eyes as though waking from a deep, dark sleep. Laughter bubbled up from some unknown place deep inside her. “So much for facing my fears,” she said, her voice cracking.
“Oh, honey,” Ronnie said. She pulled the entire family together in a tight bear hug.
“That was fun,” Joey said, his voice muffled against his mother’s life jacket. “Can we do it again?”
Violet and Ronnie laughed.
“Only you,” Violet said, hugging her nephew closer. She had come so close to losing him. To losing all of them. But they weren’t out of the water yet. She pulled away. “The water,” she said.
Ronnie shook her head. They both sobered. There would be no water for them to drink as they waited for help to arrive.
“What are we going to do now?” Joey asked.
“Maybe the captain will grow a conscience and come back for us,” Violet said hopefully.
Ronnie shook her head again. “The man thought nothing of bringing a vacationing Midwestern family – with two small children, no less – along on a drug drop. He doesn’t have a seed of conscience to grow from.”
“Well.” Violet made up her mind. “I guess we swim then.”
Joey looked all around him at the wide ocean that appeared to stretch out forever. “How do we know which way to go?”
“Oh, that’s easy,” Violet said. “We left just after lunch, so the sun is heading west now. The shore is west of us, so we just follow the sun’s lead.”
“The important thing is to keep moving,” Ronnie said.
“And to stick together,” Violet added. “No matter what happens, we’re all in this together.”
“I’m tired,” Joey whined. “I don’t wanna swim anymore.”
“That’s okay,” Ronnie said. “You’ve been doing a great job. Why don’t you give your arms and legs a rest and let us pull you for a bit.”
“How long do you think we’ve been at this?” Violet asked. It seemed as though hours had passed, but there was no telling if they’d made any progress at all or if they were only being dragged further out to sea despite their efforts.
“It’s hard to tell,” Ronnie said. “Maybe an hour or so?”
“Boat!” Jenny said.
“The boat went bye-bye, remember?” Ronnie said. She sighed.
“Boat!” Jenny said again, this time pointing toward the horizon.
Violet sighed. What were the chances a boat would happen upon them already?
“Do you hear that?” Joey asked.
“Hear what?” Ronnie said.
“Boat!” Jenny said.
Everyone went silent. And there it was, barely loud enough for them to hear it over the sound of the ocean waves. The distinct roar of an engine coming their way. Could it be?
“It’s a boat!” Joey said. He clapped his hands.
“Oh, thank God,” Ronnie said.
Violet began to tremble at the idea of getting back on a boat. The ocean seemed oddly comforting now that they were about to be rescued. The distant noise formed into a noticeable speck on the horizon. The noise grew louder as the speck drew closer. It was definitely a boat.
“We’re saved!” Joey said.
The family clutched each other as they waited for the boat to reach them. Before long, it slid alongside them and came to a smooth stop, bobbing on the waves. The boat was at least twice the size as the one they had just lost, but was every bit as run-down. Violet’s hopes slid.
A handful of scruffy men gaped down at them. They could all have been brothers of the escaped captain. All except one of them. One man stood out from the rest. Violet couldn’t help staring at his meaty biceps that bulged from under a tight, white tank top. When she did manage to tear her eyes away, she found herself gazing up into eyes that matched the color of the ocean around her. For a moment, she thought she was drowning for real. Maybe the boat was just a delusion of her sun-addled brain. A mirage. That was it.
The man looked down at Violet. He grinned at her, flashing a row of straight, white teeth. “Well, well,” he said. “What have we here?”
I realize this was probably difficult to read in blog format. It’s hard to translate dialog from a Word document to a WordPress blog editor. But if you made it this far, thanks for your patience! I welcome you to leave feedback in the comments below. Just be aware that I do not plan to read any of it until I have completed the first draft, simply because part of my “process” is to not get outside input until after the first (preferably the second) draft is complete. I would also love to hear any title ideas you might have for me, as writing titles is one of my least favorite parts of writing a novel!