“It's been a year.”
I shielded my eyes with my hand and squinted up at Jake. The last of the evening sun burned like a blinding halo behind his dark head.
“Not quite,” I responded.
He frowned and squatted down on the dock next to where I sat in the small sailboat, the water rocking it like a cradle. “Tabitha…” he began.
Jake was the only person who called me that. To everyone else, I was Tabby. And to my sister, Samara, I'd been Tabby Cat. Was, I corrected myself, tightening my fingers around the edge of the boat. I still was Tabby Cat to her, because there was no proof she was dead. No matter what my parents or Jake or anyone else said, there was a chance that she and her boyfriend, Liam, were still alive. I swallowed hard against the panic rising in my throat.
“You just got here, and it's getting late.” Jake held out his hand to me. “At least, wait until tomorrow, and I'll go out with you.”
I glanced away from his hand over the glistening expanse of the blue-green water of Lake Michigan, watching the sun sink lower on the horizon. In the distance, the shapes of both Manitou islands were dark shadows on the surface of the lake, looking more like holes in the water than land. Squinting against the setting sun, I thought I saw a third dark shape out there, but I blinked and it was gone.
Forcing my attention from the water, I reached for Jake's hand. His fingers closed warmly around mine as he tugged me to a standing position. The wake from a passing speedboat rocked the small craft as he was pulling me onto the dock, and I fell hard against his chest. His hands settled at my hips to steady me. Looking up, I met his dark gaze, and we jumped apart.
He quickly looked away, and embarrassed heat swept through my body, centering in my face. I knew he'd likely been thinking about the same thing I had been—the last time his hands had been on my hips. We'd drunk ourselves stupid with beer and grief the night the Coast Guard had changed the status of Samara and Liam's rescue operation to recovery. One thing had led to another in our desperation to feel something other than fear and loss. I'd known it had been a mistake as soon as it was over. And I guess, so did he. We'd never talked about it. We just pretended it had never happened.
I swallowed hard and pushed past Jake, heading toward the small resort cabin where I'd be staying for the next week. The same one my family had been renting when Samara had vanished. We'd been coming to the Whispering Dunes resort for the last ten or eleven years and had known Jake and Liam for almost as long. Liam's mom owned the resort, and Jake, Liam's cousin, lived there with them.
I trudged up the dune, hot sand slipping between my feet and flip-flops, ignoring Jake's long shadow next to mine as he followed me. The tiny cottage came into view, and for a moment, my breath caught in my throat. Some part of me still expected to see Samara there, rocking on the porch swing and reading one of her damn books. I pushed the ill-timed memory aside. I didn't want to start bawling in front of Jake. Not again, anyway.
“Aunt Lila wants you to come over for supper, tonight.”
My stomach dropped. I wasn't sure I wanted to face Liam's mom. Were her relationships in self-destruct mode like my parents'? Was her life falling apart around her, too?
“I don't know,” I murmured. I wasn't sure I could handle seeing her. Or anyone, really. Out here on the lake, I felt closer to Samara, but I also felt raw—like my soul was sunburned and someone was rubbing sand over it.