A Scandal to Remember

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Dance awoke to the terrifying feeling that he was alone. Empty and depleted. 

Jane was gone.

The clawing pressure building in his chest might have felt like panic, if he allowed it to be. He lurched to his feet, only to find himself unsteady. He raised his hand to shield his eyes from the glare of the watery gray sunlight. 

The yellowish cast to the western sky that had obscured the sun for days still made him feel uneasy. He’d been at sea for more years than he liked to count, and sailed the Pacific twice before, and he’d never seen the like.

But the truth of the matter was that his unease was not due to the strange weather, but from the fact that Jane Burke, who had clung to him as tenaciously as one of her precious barnacles for uncounted nights, was gone.

She was nowhere nearby. She was not within his sight.

“Jane.” He staggered toward the boat, hoping that she had taken shelter within its familiar confines. But the pinnace was empty. More than empty-items were missing. The line that had been the main sheet, controlling the sail, was gone, as were many of the tightly packed supplies. “Jane!” he bellowed.

That was panic, cracking his voice wide open like a boarding ax. 

“Dance!”

Dance turned a full circle to see her running-tearing up the beach at him as if a tribe of spinster-scientist-eating cannibals were after her. 

No. There were no cannibals. And she was smiling.

She was running as if she hadn’t just spent however many days it had been in a small boat in the middle of the Pacific Ocean. Her feet were bare in the sand. He could see her small toes, and her white, white ankles and shins where she had tied her skirts up to keep them out of the water. Her hair was streaming loose on the breeze.

Everything that had heretofore seemed so buttoned up and battened down was coming gloriously undone. The drawn, coughing girl of the boat was gone, and left this glowing creature in her place. 

When she reached him she held out her hand and offered him a handful of shells, as if she were giving him rubies and pearls, or manna from heaven. Or better yet, carpentry tools with which he might fix the broken boat.

He looked again at the contents of her outstretched palm. Shells. But she was beaming at him as if she were ecstatically happy. 

Happy. Shipwrecked only God knew where in the middle of the ocean.

“It’s unbelievable.” She was breathless with her joy. “You won’t believe what I found. Tridacna gigas. Giant bivalves. Clams as big as a breadbasket.” She spread her arms to indicate the monstrous size. “And more than that. A Venus comb murex, Murex pecten, and another murex, I think, but that I’ve never seen before but it’s definitely a gastropod mollusk with a very wide operculum. And this whelk of the Triton type that I’ve never seen anywhere but is definitely some sort of Cabestana. Oh, Dance. It’s-“

Dance thought her face would split in two with the width of her smile.

And then she hurtled herself into his arms, wrapping her arms around his back, and sighing into his chest. “Oh, Dance. It’s heaven.”

Heaven. 

Impossible.