It was time for the end-of-summer beach bonfire. The past two months had been perfect. Della was sharing more and more of her past with me and her dreams were starting to completely go away. She’d woken me up in the middle of the night the week before last to tell me she’d had a dream about us. That we’d been having sex on the kitchen table. She’d been so excited to have a dream that didn’t contain the horrors of her past that she’d been ready to play it out in real life.
It was a pretty damn good way to wake up.
I watched as she held Nate and danced around with him as the music pumped through the speakers. Blaire was in Rush’s lap and they were watching Della with their son. She was beautiful. I wanted to see her dance around and laugh with our baby. I wanted her to have a child to love the way she was never loved. I wanted to know we had created something from the love that bound us so tightly together.
“She’s happy,” Jace said.
“She’s perfect,” I replied.
Jace laughed and slapped me on the back. “Just go ahead and do it. You know you want to. Put that little ring on her finger.”
“I’m planning it. Has to be special.”
Jace sighed. “Yeah, I’m planning it, too. Bethy and I’ve had a hard summer but things are looking better. She’s stopped running off to bars. I think she just had a dark time there for a while. She’s been spending time with Blaire and Della again. That helps.”
Jace hadn’t shown up on my doorstep upset about Bethy in two months. I was hoping things were better. “Good. Glad you two are working it out.”
“Oh, shit. Is that Nan?” Jace said, pointing her out to me. “I thought she left and went to Paris for the summer. Seeing Nan is gonna send Grant into a tailspin again.” Grant wasn’t at the party; he was out of town. That was happening a lot lately. He would show up for a couple of days then leave again. I was just glad he wasn’t wasting time with Nan.
“Grant has moved on. If Nan’s back, then he’ll be fine. She was a bad mistake. He knows that now.”
Jace let out a low whistle. “She’s with August Schweep. What, did she bring him back from Paris with her?”
“No. August is our new golf pro. We needed more than just Marco. When August hurt his rotator cuff his pro career was over. He wants to retire here, so he bought the Spencer house. He’s working for me now.”
“Looks like Nan is all over that.”
“Good. At least it’s not Grant.”
Jace snorted. “Ain’t that the truth.”
I was going to get Della and take her for a walk. The dark beach was a great place to get her alone. Turning, I glanced out over the water and saw Bethy staggering out to the waves. She knew better than that. There was a red flag up. Had been all week. The riptides were intense and it was dark. You don’t swim in the gulf in the dark.
“Jace, man, what’s Bethy doing?” I asked, afraid to take my eyes off her.
“What is she doing now? She was drinking tequila shots earlier and I cut her off. She’d had enough . . . shit!”
“She’s getting too deep,” I said, taking a step toward the water. Jace took off running toward the water. I followed behind him. I heard someone scream from the crowd as Bethy’s head went under the water. No. This couldn’t be happening.
Jace dove into the waves and took off toward her. I pulled my shirt off, afraid it would slow me down, before I dove in after him. I wasn’t letting my best friend go into this alone.
Bethy’s gurgling scream filled the air.
“Relax, baby! Relax. Don’t fight it. Please don’t fight it. You’ll go under and won’t have the strength to rise back up,” Jace was yelling as he swam toward her.
I saw him grab her just as the deathly pull of a rip current grabbed him. This wasn’t happening. No.
“I need you to take her, Woods!” Jace yelled over the water’s roar.
“Give me both your hands!” I shouted.
“No! Take her. I got this. Take her, dammit! It’s strong!” Jace yelled.
How was I supposed to take her and leave him out there? “Come with me, Jace!” I demanded.
“Woods, listen to me—” His head went under and he came back up as he held a panicking Bethy in his arms. “You have to take her or we’ll all die. I’m not gonna let her drown. Help me!”
I nodded. I had to do this. He could get out of the current. He was strong and he was smart. We had grown up knowing how to fight rip currents. I reached for Bethy as she screamed Jace’s name.
“I love you,” he told her as he let her go. She cried as she clung to my arms.
“Don’t say that!” I yelled at him. “You’re getting out of this. Don’t fucking say that.”
“Just get her out of here!” he yelled, pushing her away from him and toward me as he held on to her arm.
I could feel the pull getting closer. If I stayed here much longer I was going to get pulled into it, too. I wrapped my hand around Bethy’s arm and pulled her out of the current, then tucked her under my arm and I started swimming back to shore.
Rush came swimming up to us and relief surged through me. I was going to be able to help Jace.
“Give her to me,” Rush said as he reached for Bethy.
“Go get him,” she cried as Rush pulled her from my arms.
I didn’t wait for them to leave before I turned back around to get Jace.
But Jace wasn’t there.
I glanced back at the shore to see if he’d made his way back up there and I’d missed it, but all I saw was Rush carrying Bethy out of the water.
I turned back to the dark waves. I was met with silence. Nothing.
He was just here. I just saw him. He isn’t gone. It didn’t happen that fast.
I went under and forced my eyes open in the salty water, but all I could see was the darkness. I needed light. I reached around me, feeling for anything. My lungs started to burn. Kicking up, I broke the surface and took a deep breath. I heard my name from the shore. They were yelling for me. I also heard Jace’s name. I couldn’t go back without him.
I went back under. I had to find Jace. I couldn’t lose Jace. Not like this. Not now. We were supposed to be grumpy old men together. I fought back the panic starting to set in with each second that I couldn’t find him. I swam underwater and fought the pull of the current as I reached out for some sign of him. Anything I could get my hands on.
When my lungs couldn’t take it anymore, I swam back to the top, only to be taken back under by a wave before I could breathe. I wasn’t going down like this. I had to find Jace.
Two arms grabbed ahold of me and jerked me to the surface as I started gasping for air and coughing.
“Dammit, Woods. Come on. You’re gonna drown in this. He’s gone, man. He’s gone. I’m not letting you drown, too.” Rush’s words sent a shock through my system. He’s gone? No. No! He isn’t gone. I fought against Rush’s hold on me.
“Stop it! Della is up there in a crumpled mess, crying. Do you want to leave her? Is that what you want? To leave her like this?”
Della. Oh God. Della. I couldn’t leave her. But I’d lost Jace. I had lost Jace.
Rush pulled us out of the waves and when my feet hit the sand he let me go. We stood there staring at each other and breathing hard. We knew what had happened and what we were going to face. I would have been gone, too, if Rush hadn’t come after me. I would have left Della behind.
I turned to see her getting up from the sand where she had been on her knees. Her face was red and soaked with tears. All she said was, “Woods,” before she threw herself into my arms.
I watched in a daze as Blaire stood holding a hysterical Bethy. Sirens wailed in the distance. Sobs and cries filled the beach. And I stood there. Della clung to me. Her sobs eased but her hold never did.
Rush walked over to take his crying son from Nan’s arms. He held him to his chest, and although he wasn’t crying the loss and pain were in his eyes.
Me . . . I just felt empty.