Uncharted An On the Island Novella, page 1
Also by Tracey Garvis Graves
On the Island
An On the Island Novella
Tracey Garvis Graves
Published by the Penguin Group
Penguin Group (USA), 375 Hudson Street,
New York, New York 10014, USA
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Copyright © 2013 by Tracey Garvis Graves
Excerpt from Covet copyright © 2013 by Tracey Garvis Graves
All rights reserved. No part of this e-book may be reproduced, scanned, or distributed in any printed or electronic form without permission. Please do not participate in or encourage piracy of copyrighted materials in violation of the author’s rights. Purchase only authorized editions.
REGISTERED TRADEMARK—MARCA REGISTRADA
This book is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously, and any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, business establishments, events, or locales is entirely coincidental.
Also by Tracey Garvis Graves
About the Author
Excerpt From COVET
For Stacy Elliott Alvarez and Stefani Blubaugh. Thank you for believing in me from the beginning.
The house is isolated, surrounded by trees and a well-kept lawn. There’s a children’s play set in one corner of the yard, and an abandoned tricycle on the front sidewalk. Spring has only just arrived in the Midwest, but someone has already drawn a hopscotch pattern with pastel-colored chalk. A sign stuck in the landscaping by the front door announces that the home is protected by ADT, and when I ring the doorbell a dog starts barking, followed by the sound of thundering paws.
The woman that answers the door has a baby in her arms and two toddlers clinging to her skirt. The dog, a large golden retriever, snarls and waits for her to let it out. I hope she doesn’t. Her blue eyes narrow as she peers at me behind the safety of a storm door that I’m certain is locked. The glass muffles her voice, but I can still understand her when she says, “Can I help you?” Her guarded tone makes sense, the way it would if you lived out in the country and the world knew your story and had a ballpark idea of your net worth.
“Is your husband around?” I ask.
“He’s upstairs. On the phone,” she says.
“I’d like to talk to you both. Mind if I wait?”
She doesn’t like this. I can tell by the way she pushes the kids behind her and squares her shoulders, lifting her chin slightly.
Ah, she’s a fighter. This doesn’t surprise me at all.
“You’ll have to come back some other time,” she says, and starts to close the door. But before she can swing it shut all the way, a dusty pickup truck pulls into the driveway and the relief washes over her face.
The man driving slams on the brakes and gets out of the truck almost before it stops moving. He strides up to me with a suspicious expression on his face. Suspicious and pissed off. I’m older than he is, but he looks enough like me that people could mistake us for brothers; we have the same light brown hair and build.
He glances at the woman in the doorway. “Stay inside.” Turning back toward me he says, “Who are you and what do you want?”
“Just wanted to talk to you and your wife.”
“Do we know you?”
“No.” I put my hands in my pockets and remind myself of the reason for my visit. “My name is Owen Sparks.”
The man looks at me, brow furrowed as he filters through his memory for the significance of my name. But the woman, the woman knows immediately, and we both turn toward her when she gasps.
“T.J.,” the woman says. She opens the door wide so we can really hear her and the dog shoots out like a bullet from a gun, sniffing me aggressively but thankfully deciding that I’m no threat. “The missing person. The man whose trail went cold in the Maldives. Do you remember? His name was Owen Sparks.”
Recognition dawns on his face and they look at me as if I’m a ghost. “Are you the guy who built the shack?” he asks.
“But you’re not Bones.”
I shake my head. “No.” There’s no need for me to ask them what they mean. To ask them who Bones is.
Because I know.
• • •
They invite me into their home, curiosity overriding their mistrust. I understand their hesitation, but I look harmless enough. I’m wearing jeans and a long-sleeve button-down shirt, purchased a few days ago. My hair is a little long, but it’s clean. I even shaved, and that doesn’t happen all that often.
Anna holds the door open, shifting the baby to her other hip. When T.J. makes his way across the threshold the two older kids shout, “Daddy!” and jump into his arms, squealing and trying to climb him while he gives each of them a hug. He sets the kids down, leans over, and kisses Anna.
“You okay?” he asks.
She nods and smiles and then he drops another kiss on the baby’s head.
I follow behind. “How old are your kids?” I ask.
“The twins will turn two in June,” Anna says. “Josie, Mick. Can you say hello?”
My smile falters when she says Mick, but thankfully neither of them notices the change in my expression. The kids act shy and don’t want to say hello, but they mumble a greeting and then hide behind their parents.
“And this is Piper,” Anna adds, ruffling what little hair the baby has. “She’s seven months old and crawling everywhere. She’ll be walking soon enough and then I’ll really have my work cut out for me.”
“How did you find us?” T.J. asks, shrugging out of his jacket.
“Internet.” It took some searching to come up with their home address, but I’m pretty good at locating people when I put my mind to it. I don’t tell them how long I’ve been offline or that their names popped up immediately when I typed Maldives into the Google search box. I was looking for something else entirely, and what I found instead affected me so greatly that it took a week before I was able to read through it all.
And a little longer than that before I could work up the courage to come here.
“Come on in,” T.J. says. I follow him from the entryway into the kitchen. “Can I get you something to drink?” he asks.
“Are you sure?” Anna asks. “We’ve got Coke, juice, iced tea, beer, bottled water.”
“No, really. I’m okay.”
“Let me know if you change your mind,” she says. The smile she gives me lights up her whole face. She’s beaut
T.J. drops into a chair at the kitchen table and Anna hands him the baby. The kitchen smells good, like garlic bread, and when a timer goes off Anna pulls a pan of it out of the oven. The older kids run in and out of the room, but Anna sidesteps them, and the toys that are scattered around the floor, with ease.
“Slow down, Mick,” T.J. says when the little boy crashes into the table. “Are you all right?”
Mick nods, seemingly unfazed.
“Go play with Josie in the living room, okay? Dinner will be ready soon.”
“’Kay,” he says.
There’s a lot of noise and chaos, not unlike the way it is in my village. The place I call home is overrun with kids, most of them barefoot. All of them vying for attention.
T.J. straps the baby into a high chair and drains the pasta while Anna tosses a salad and pulls plates out of the cupboard. They call for the kids to get washed up and T.J. sets the table. They work well together, efficiently and without complaint. My own sister and her husband used to argue about whose turn it was to pick up the phone and order pizza, and I once watched them flip a coin to see who had to change their son’s dirty diaper. I haven’t seen my sister in years, and while I hate not being a part of my nephew’s life, I’m ashamed to admit that I don’t really miss her.
“You’ll stay for dinner?” Anna asks. I look down and see that they’ve set an extra place at the table.
“Sure,” I say. “That would be great.”
• • •
During dinner they ask a few basic questions: How did I get to the island? I tell them I found a pilot willing to fly me there. They ask me how long I was there, and I tell them about fifteen months. They want to know how old I am. Thirty-four, I say. I can see by the way they both lean forward in their chairs that they’re eager to hear more.
“We’ll save the rest of our questions until after the kids go to bed,” T.J. says, glancing over at Anna.
“Okay,” I say. They’re so damn nice that it makes me feel even shittier for what I’m going to tell them. I lose my appetite when I think about how they might react, but I keep eating anyway. It’s the least I can do.
After dinner, I watch them work together to clear the table and load the dishwasher. I offer to help, so Anna hands me a wet washcloth and points to the kids. I smile and speak to them in low tones as I wipe faces and hands, and the kids don’t seem to mind; the baby smiles back and laughs, turning her face away like it’s a game.
“You’re good with kids,” T.J. says. “Do you have any?”
“Not yet.” Technically I have a village-full, but none of them are mine, at least not biologically. When I first moved to my village I didn’t know anything about kids. And it freaked me out a little, the way they looked at me like I’d come to save them. It felt daunting. Now I know that they love anything I do for them, no matter how inconsequential it seems to me. When you have nothing, everything feels like something.
“What’s it going to be? Caillou or Dragon Tales?” T.J. asks the twins.
“Dragon Tales,” they shout.
“One episode and then it’s bedtime, okay?”
“Okay,” they say, and then run out of the room.
“I’ll turn on the DVR for them,” Anna says. She stops in front of T.J. on her way out of the kitchen. “I’m going to lay this one down in her crib. She’s about to fall asleep.”
The baby smiles, eyes heavy, and T.J. kisses her. “Night night, baby. Sleep tight.”
He turns back to me when they leave. “Can I get you a beer? Because I think I could definitely use one.”
He doesn’t know how true that statement is. I should just tell him to skip the beer and grab a bottle of whatever they keep in their liquor cabinet that’s the strongest. “A beer sounds good, actually. Thanks.”
“I’ll go grab them,” he says. “Why don’t you sit down in the living room.”
I walk down a short hallway and the dog follows me. The twins are lying on the floor in front of the TV, on a big pile of pillows. On the screen a boy and a girl are talking to a pink dragon.
I sit down in an oversize chair and reach down to pet the dog, scratching behind its ears. It flops down at my feet. When T.J. walks back into the room with the beer he says, “Looks like Bo’s latched on to you. He’s probably thrilled that you haven’t tried to ride him.”
“He’s a good watchdog. He didn’t like it when I rang your doorbell.”
“We don’t get a lot of visitors out here. It’s good to know he’s still doing his job.” T.J. sets a bottle of beer down on the end table next to my chair.
“Thanks,” I say.
He sits down on the couch across from me. “I can’t believe you’re here. We thought . . .” His voice trails off as he glances toward Mick and Josie. “We thought you were D-E-A-D.”
I’m hit with an image so visceral that I recoil.
“Hey. Are you okay?” T.J. asks.
“I’m fine.” He looks as if he wants to ask me a thousand things but then glances at the kids again and doesn’t say anything.
Anna comes back into the room and reminds the kids that it will be time for pajamas and books as soon as the show’s over. They protest, but not too loudly.
“Did Piper go down okay?” T.J. asks.
“Out like a light,” she answers.”
“I opened you a bottle of wine. It’s on the counter.”
“Ah, I knew there was a reason I married you,” she says, leaning down to give him a kiss.
“That’s not the only reason,” T.J. says, laughing as she walks away. He calls after her. “There were many others, you know.”
Anna walks back into the room holding a wineglass. She sits down next to T.J. and takes a sip. “How long will you be in town, Owen?” Anna asks.
“I’m not sure yet,” I say. “I’m staying at a hotel in the city.” My departure date may be determined by how well this conversation goes. It could be immediate for all I know.
When the credits start to roll on the TV program, Anna picks up the remote control and presses a button to turn off the show. “Bedtime,” she says.
“We’ll be back,” T.J. says. He hands me the remote. “Go ahead and watch something if you want.”
I take the remote from him, but I don’t turn the TV back on. I wouldn’t have a clue about what to watch. Instead I take another drink and look around the room. It’s filled with comfortable furniture. There are throw pillows and blankets and a large vase filled with flowers. Family pictures and individual shots of the kids in silver frames are displayed on tabletops and shelves. I can’t imagine being on that island for three and a half years, the way they were. No food and water arriving regularly via seaplane. No books or newspapers. No satellite phone. No weekend trips to Malé when they got bored or felt like being around other people. Nothing except for what was already there or what washed ashore. Their home must feel like a safe haven after what they’ve been through.
I’m still sitting there thinking about what I’m going to say when they walk back into the room fifteen minutes later.
“Can I get you another beer?” T.J. asks.
I start to say no, but then I realize that my bottle is empty. “Okay,” I say instead. “Thanks.” I haven’t had alcohol in a long time, and I can already feel the effect. I’m calmer, though, which is a good thing. T.J. takes the empty bottle into the kitchen and returns with a cold one for both of us. Anna settles on the couch, tucking her legs up under her skirt. She reaches for her wineglass and T.J. sits down next to her.
“I don’t even know where to start,” I say.
“Start at the very beginning, Owen,” Anna
I parked my BMW in the long-term parking ramp at the airport. Professor Donahue would pick it up later, using the extra set of keys I’d given him. “I’m going to drive the hell out of that car while you’re gone,” he said.
I’d looked at him and laughed. “I hope you do.”
I wrestled my large suitcase out of the trunk and pulled it behind me, carrying my duffel bag in my other hand. Trying to strike the right balance of things to bring with me hadn’t been easy. In the end I’d decided to be as practical as possible, and my suitcase held mostly clothes and toiletries. Captain Forrester was in charge of buying everything else I would need.
The attractive woman behind the Emirates ticket counter smiled at me when it was my turn to check in. She tucked her long hair behind her ears and stood up straighter. Stuck her chest out a little, too. Under different circumstances I might have been interested, but not that day. I handed her my driver’s license and passport, watching silently as she tapped on the keyboard.
“How many bags?” she asked.
“Just one,” I said.
“The Maldives is a beautiful place,” she said. “Have you ever been there?”
She looked at me and smiled. “Are you traveling for business or pleasure?”
I took the boarding passes she held out to me and my smile was enigmatic at best when I said, “Neither.”
• • •
My next stop was the locker storage facility near the ticket counters. The short, fat man behind the counter eyed me suspiciously when I pulled a large manila envelope out of my duffel bag. “That’s all you want to store?” he asked.
“Three keys and twenty CDs.” The keys were to my car, house, and safe deposit box, and the CDs held information that used to be on my hard drive.
“How long do you want it stored? I can keep it for up to sixty days.”
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