On a secluded beach in North Carolina, three lonely people find hope in each other.
Trish Evers is an artist and single mother, who has inherited her grandmother’s Bed and Breakfast in a North Carolina coastal town. Though she must sell the house, she decides to bring her daughter to the beach for one last summer vacation in her childhood town.
Bella is a six-year-old girl who has Down syndrome. Rejected by her father, Trish, is the only parent she’s ever known. Bella likes to explore the beach and has a tendency to wander off. One day, Bella goes exploring on her own, and Trish finds her in the company of an intriguing stranger.
Dan Conway is a U.S. Marine, who had been born into a family of Marines. Now blind as a result of combat injuries and unable to “suit up,” he feels he no longer has a purpose in life. He’s come home to the beach, where he spends his days in solitude. Dan must learn to believe in himself and to love life again, which he begins to do through his interactions with Bella and Trish. When a hurricane strikes, and Bella wanders off again, her only hope for rescue is Dan.
Working within the confines of his blindness, he must overcome his fear of failure and recall his training in order to search for the little girl and bring her to safety.
Using the sound of the surf and the sun’s warmth for orientation, Dan sat on a large rock facing east and enjoyed the sunrise. The kiss of waves on sandy shoreline became louder, more insistent, as the gentle predawn breeze turned into an early morning wind. The air around him warmed rapidly, and the beach life started to awaken as well.
The cries of gulls in the distance held an eerie, human-like quality, which could as easily have been the delighted squeals of children playing or the terror-filled shrieks of children dying.
Dan breathed slowly in then out, and re-oriented himself to his surroundings. The sand beneath his feet was the foot-sucking grain-like consistency found on the beach, not the diamond-hard dust he’d grown used to in the desert. The air surrounding him was humid, not arid.
Beach grasses whispered, stroked by the onshore ocean breeze. Nearby, scuttling ghost crabs bulldozed the sand, each tumbling grain sounding like a rockslide to Dan’s sensitive ears. The air smelled a bit of midsummer rain, hinting of possible relief from the early summer swelter by mid-afternoon.
His hand rested on the old guitar, unmoving, the instrument silent, as he considered a future in the dark. He had few options and limited time to make a decision that would affect the rest of his life. Did he try to maintain a semblance of the life he’d once planned for himself? Or leave all that and carve a new niche elsewhere?
Who was he kidding? No one wanted a wounded warrior, let alone one who could no longer see.
He caressed the low E string with his thumb, frowning at the dull, not-quite-in-tune sound. Automatically, he adjusted the string until he was pleased with the pitch, repeating the process for the rest of the strings.
Leaning over her, Dan hugged the guitar to him in the manner a man should embrace such a lady. She’d been his best friend since he was a kid, had never failed to bring him comfort and healing through the secret language they shared.
Dan played a few soft chords, walking his fingers up and down the fretboard, not playing anything specific, the tones coming more easily than he’d expected them to. He stopped to adjust the G string, then played a few more chords, falling into a slow rhythm, one good for thinking.
Without conscious thought, he inserted a simple, impromptu melody, making love to his lady in earnest now, expressing the deepest, most vulnerable aspects of himself through the movements of his fingers. The lonely sound drifted across the beach to join the cries of the gulls, as he laid bare the layers of pain for the audience of his solitude.
As he lost himself in the haunting music, Dan felt the first stirring of a curious sense of freedom. Recent memories were pushed to the rear in lieu of less troublesome ones from his boyhood, when scuttling crabs had held him enthralled, and thoughts of where driftwood came from had fascinated him. The music swelled under his hands as he revisited that time of innocence.
At his feet, Jack stirred and whined. Dan stopped playing, abruptly pulled back into the present. Barely a second later, he heard something shuffling through the beach grass behind him and the scents of caramel and cotton candy wafted into his awareness.
His private beach had been discovered.
The air next to him stirred softly as whoever it was took a seat on his rock. Dan was about to ask if the intruder had noticed the private property sign at the entrance to the beach, when sticky fingers were thrust against his palm. Startled by the sudden invasive touch, Dan nonetheless instinctively closed his fingers about the delicate hand that had placed itself into his.
“Well, hello.” Dan listened for the sound of someone else approaching but heard nothing. “Is your mom or dad around?”
The only answer he received was a tiny contented sigh. He could feel the rhythmic movement of the child’s feet swinging over the edge of the rock on which they sat.
This is the story of the Heartsight wedding and is one of six short stories. The anthology is a 100% charitable donation – all proceeds are dedicated to the victims of the 2011 tornadoes in Alabama.
Becoming a wife is an amazing experience, both nerve-wracking and exhilarating. But becoming a military wife carries extra requirements, even as it offers extra joys and terrors. Kay Springsteen continues the story she so richly began in Heartsight, as Dan returns to active duty with the U.S. Marine Corps, Trish becomes his military wife, and Bella remains her adorable self.
“Well, I’m about to take off the wedding gown, so you all can rest easy.”
Dan’s grin remained in place and he settled more comfortably against the doorjamb.
Trish chuckled. “What are you doing?”
“Waiting for you.” Dan crossed his arms over his chest. “Did you forget our meeting with Chaplain Higgins this afternoon?”
“No,” said Trish, making a face. “I didn’t forget.”
Dan merely stood against the doorframe, a knowing smile playing around the corners of his lips. Trish allowed her gaze to linger on those lips for a moment, wishing they were alone so she could kiss that smug smile away.
“Okay, it may have slipped my mind,” she admitted with a laugh. “But I had a wedding dress crisis.”
“Oh, well, of course a dress crisis has to be resolved before we meet with the chaplain who’s going to marry us.”
“Okay, I get it. I’m being impractical trying to get everything just right.” Trish struggled to reach her zipper, giving up and presenting her back to Ashley instead. “I know everything can’t be perfect but I at least want to look nice.”
“You always look nice to me.”
Trish whipped her head up to glare at her fiancé.
Dan struggled to control a grin. “She’s giving me the death stare right now, isn’t she?”
Ashley leaned around Trish to check her face. “Umm-hmm.”
Dan sighed. He pushed off the door but made no move to enter the room. “Trish, I really do think you’re the most beautiful woman in the world. And I’m talking about so much more than how you look. I see who you are inside.”
Bella looked up from her bucket of shells. “Daddy doesn’t see with—his eyes, Mama. He uses—his heartsight.”
In an instant, Trish’s worries about her dress, about the venue, the preparations, and meeting Dan’s family all fell away. She looked from the daughter she loved to the man she loved and smiled. “And aren’t we lucky he does, baby?”