Grace was trapped in the dinghy, bleeding all over the floor. The Little River Market was in full swing around her. Supplies were loaded onto boats. Vendors shouted out prices, waving their hands to anyone passing too closely. Grace scoured the docks for help. She had to duck her head to wipe a stray tear. Her fish nets were empty, and her father was gone.
Both were caused by the Huxley brothers.
They cut her nets early that morning. Grace had pulled up unraveled rope, marked with an ‘H’. To them, it was a practical joke. To her, it was her last lifeline being cut.
Two months ago, her father had taken the fishing boat and left. A drunkard with a dream. Grace watched him sail away, barely staying on his feet. He was shouting about ‘the lost treasure’ the Huxley brothers told him about. “We’ll never go hungry again!” he yelled across the bay. She found comfort in the thought that he fell over the side of the boat; no longer suffering fictional delusions.
Grace kicked her ruined nets further away, scowling at the puddle of blood below. Fish hooks had embedded themselves deep into her legs. A result of her ropes dragging across the riverbed. She didn’t think about it as she hauled them into her boat. It wasn’t until sharp points pierced her skin that Grace realized her mistake.
She dropped her head into her hands, contemplating her next move. Bleed to death was always an option. Beg for food sounded good. Go home, bandage her legs, and cry sounded the most reasonable. She gathered the oars in her hands and started to paddle when she heard a voice to her right.
“Gracey!” he called out. The smug grin could be heard in his voice. She didn’t need to look up.
She did reach for the ropes, pulling them over her legs. Then, she wiped her eyes. The last thing she needed was for Levi Huxley to see her bleeding and crying. He got enough joy torturing her.
Grace had kept her dad a secret. She kept the windows in her houseboat sealed tight, moving in front of them a few times every hour to make people think two were inside. Avoiding had become the best practice. She avoided everyone in town. Which was hard, considering how small the town was. Little River was just as it sounded; a little river.
“Grace,” Levi called out as he jumped from one dock to the next. He weaved between the market carts, balancing on stilted posts. Grace paddled hard, but her boat came to a stop as she passed the next dock. A hand clamped onto the side, keeping it in place. “Gracey? Did you hear me?” Levi questioned.
She turned to find intense eyes trained on her. Levi let his dark hair fall over his brows as he leaned into her boat.
“Remember me?” he prodded. When she didn’t respond, he let out a breath. “We’re still doing that? I didn’t know Carter was going to cut your nets. Believe me; he won’t do it again. Not after I-” His voice faded, replaced by the blood pounding in her ears. She reached for the oars, but Levi caught her hand. He brought the other up to her forehead. “Do you want me to call your dad? You don’t look good.”
Grace shook her head and let out a strangled cry. You can try, she thought. A tear slipped down her cheek and broke apart on Levi’s hand. She didn’t want to explain herself, so she pushed his hand off and reached for the oars again.
Levi pulled her hand away. She waited for him to say something or check her temperature again, but he never did. Instead, he went very still next to her.
She looked up at him, but his focus was redirected. The ropes had turned shades of pink over her leg. He lifted them off gently, looking down at the shallow cuts. His eyes fell to the puddle of blood and widened. Behind him, four other voices started a harmony of taunts. The other Huxley brothers were making their way down the docks.
As Levi turned to call to them, Grace grabbed the oars. She used her remaining strength to push herself away from the dock. The hand that reached out to stop her was an inch short of grabbing her boat.
She paid no attention to the shouts or the heavy footsteps that raced from dock to dock after her. She paddled until her arms gave out. Then, she laid back against the wood and let the tears take over.
Grace was almost unconscious in the dinghy when a large boat cast a shadow over hers. She closed her red-rimmed eyes, not bothering to wipe the tears on her cheeks. Strong winds had pushed Grace’s boat into the bay. Her little river was far behind her when she admitted she was lost.
Bits of floating paper now covered her legs. Her makeshift bandages stopped the blood, but they weren’t exactly sterile. She stared up at the sky, gray and unmoving. “Dad?” she called out. “Did you find the treasure?” A smile tugged at her lips as she imagined her dad heaped in gold and silver. He’d never go hungry again. He’d never be stuck in a motorless dinghy, at complete mercy of the Huxley brothers.
Grace was staring at the sky when their boat slammed into hers. She managed one quick breath before cold water engulfed her.
The strength of it pulled her feet over her head. She reached out, but there was nothing to grab. Her hand fell limp as her eyes refocused. It took her a second to make sense of what she saw. Grace stared at the bottom of the bay, reading the familiar letters in horror.
FROM GRACE TO GLORY.
She scanned the wreck for any sign of her dad. Jagged boards stuck out at odd angles. Familiar items were stuck in the rocks. A picture of her, waterlogged and ripped. Fishing lures. Coins. Grace swiped her hands through the water, desperate to reach the boat.
The glass was smooth against her fingers. She was careful to avoid the broken edge as she crossed the threshold. The inside was just as she remembered it, besides the coins that littered the floor. Grace picked up a handful and inspected the golden hue. Their reflection did little to light up the helm. She pocketed them and scanned the place for something more important: her father. Grace turned to enter the dark cabin when she beheld-
A predator, exposed in its hiding spot.
Grace froze. Slowly, she pulled herself back through the broken window and bumped into a hard surface. A surface that rose and fell. She turned to find sad eyes looking down at her. Levi’s hand wound around her waist. The other grabbed the top of the boat, unaware of what lay inside.
She furiously shook her head, but it was too late. The moment her heart stilled; the water stirred.
Slimy skin brushed against her arm. Levi’s wide eyes followed it to the line of pink above them. It created a trail right to Grace’s boat - and the men that plunged over the side of it.
Four bodies dropped into the bay, creating a surge of water that redirected the shark’s path. He swam for the youngest Huxley; Eli. A fourteen-year-old with nothing but fear in his eyes.
Grace couldn’t swim fast enough. She quickly realized she was being dragged. Levi swam with one arm still wound around her. It slowed him immensely.
She pried his fingers away, only for them to clamp onto her again. Grace grabbed his face and mouthed ‘go’. She could see the internal struggle through his clenched jaw. Finally, Levi dropped his arm and swam for his brother. He still couldn’t reach him in time. It was Carter, the oldest, that grabbed Eli’s ankle and tugged him out of the shark’s path.
It circled and searched. Grace paused in the water, fighting the urge to breathe. She didn’t think she could make it back to the top anyway. Her hand found the jagged coin in her pocket. It reopened the cuts on her legs easily. Another trail of red was bright in the water. A pinpoint the shark could easily find. It turned twice before she could make out the whites of its eyes. Grace looked up at the Huxleys.
They came to save me, she had thought. It was a good thought to end with. She looked from brother to brother, who she once considered a second family. Eli, and then Kole. The youngest ones; that taught her how to catch frogs. Carter and Liam; turning something over in their hands. They were the oldest. The ones that pushed a boy into the river for insulting her. And, of course, Levi. Levi was- she counted the brothers again. Only four floated above her. Where was-
A hand wrapped around her wrist. It yanked her from the cloud of diluted red. The shark sailed past. It turned a second later, set upon them. With only a meter between them and the shark, Levi pushed Grace out of the way. He squeezed his eyes shut and held his hands out before him. A useless shield.
“Levi!” bubbles exploded from Grace’s mouth. Water flooded her throat.
She reached out, but something shot past her fingers. A spear split the water in front of her. It pierced the shark’s skin, plunging into its jaw. Another stream of red billowed into the water.
Levi opened his eyes to find teeth frozen in front of him. He looked up at the monster, dead in the water. Then, Levi turned to Grace. Her glassy eyes were obscured by pink water. Bubbles escaped her lips and traveled to the surface. He pointed from brother to brother in silent command.
“Breathe, Grace.” Levi passed her up to his brother with little effort. He landed next to her, bracing the side of the boat as it rocked.
Grace’s legs were strewn over Carter’s knees. Her eyes remained closed and her chest barely moved. She was paler than usual. Except for her legs, which trickled blood over the deck of the Huxley’s boat.
Levi turned to his brother with narrowed eyes. “It’s all your fault,” he ground out, “You cut her nets.”
Carter ducked his head and reached for the bandages. “I didn’t- How was I supposed to know?” He plucked the towel from Liam’s tight grip.
That morning, Carter had swaggered into the house with a grin on his face. She’ll have to talk to you now, he nudged his brother. Levi had returned the gesture with fists.
“Two months,” Levi hissed. It had been two months of silence from Grace’s house. Their daily visits just ended. She stopped coming to the docks. She stopped speaking to them at all. None of them knew why. It wasn’t until they saw her dad’s boat on the rocks that they realized; Grace was alone.
Carter tossed a bloody fish hook onto the deck. “If I would’ve known, I would’ve been there.” He grabbed the bottle Liam handed him.
“She almost died.”
Carter struggled to get it open, “And where were you?”
“I-” Levi couldn’t finish the sentence. His yell died in his throat. For two long months, he was thinking of ways to get Grace’s attention. He lingered at the docks for her. Then, he’d take the long way home to get a peek of her through her windows. They were always shut. “I-” His eyes fell to Grace. She looked smaller in the boat, bleeding over his brothers. Wet hair stuck to her face and pink dotted her cheeks.
It wasn’t until Carter poured cleaning alcohol over her legs that Graced tried to scream. She coughed up water onto the deck instead. Levi dropped to his knees next to her, pushing the hair out of her face. “Grace?” he tried. “Gracey?”
Grace sucked in a few breaths of air before she started to laugh.
All five Huxley brothers turned and stared as she smiled at the sky. “You did it,” she whispered. Rain had started to fall, landing in her already wet hair. She seemed to revel in it, raising her hand to the sky.
Eli shot Levi a nervous look before he leaned over Grace. “Did what?” he questioned.
Grace pushed herself to her elbows and reached into her pockets. She took out handfuls of golden coins for Eli to see. “He found your stupid treasure,” she laughed. The coins slid through her fingers and clattered against the deck. “You did it, dad.”
Levi looked down at her with sad eyes. “Grace,” he brought a hand up to her cheek. She leaned into it, beaming.
He dropped his eyes, to the gold that littered their deck, and remembered what he told Grace’s dad two months ago. I’ve got my eyes set on treasure, Mr. Owens. Better than all that glory stuff you talk about. It’s just down the river, around two bends. After the drop-off; where the water turns dark. You know the spot? He knew the drunk man hadn’t realized he’d just given him directions to his own house, so he added: Quite a treasure, she is.
Levi dropped his forehead to Grace’s and breathed her in. “You’re right,” he closed his eyes, reveling in the moment with her, “He did it.”