Sarah Rawlings gripped the cool railing of the ferryboat and sucked in a deep breath.
Salty air that she could almost taste coated her throat. Somehow it managed to be both warm and crisp. Invigorating. Alive. It was early summer in the Pacific Northwest, and God she’d forgotten how much she loved the season here.
Opening her eyes, she slid her gaze out over the blue skies that had a few fluffy white clouds strewn about almost as an afterthought.
The slight rise and fall of the ferry gliding over the waves of Puget Sound matched the churning in her stomach.
She glanced out toward the island they approached. There were more houses now scattered along the cliffs. They seemed bigger, fancier, but the south end of the island still looked familiar. Beautiful and rich with its abundance of evergreen trees.
Had it really been eleven years since she’d lived on Whidbey? It didn’t seem like that much time had passed. That for only eight years of her life had she had the privilege of calling this island home.
But that was the life of a navy brat. Don’t get attached to any place, to any one, because the rug only stayed under your feet for so long.
Leaving Whidbey, though, had been the hardest move she’d ever made over the years by far. And now, for the first time since she’d left, she was coming back.
It wasn’t the light wind that sent chills through her body and lifted the hairs on her arm, but the knowledge of what she was returning to. Or more so, who.
Her heart quickened and she tightened her fingers on the railing until her knuckles went white.
No. If all goes right, you’ll be on and off this island quickly enough without ever having to see him.
Her phone buzzed in her pocket. Grateful for the distraction from her thoughts, Sarah plucked it free and read the message from Kenzie.
I see the ferry you’re on! You should be here any minute. Just walk off the boat and I’ll be in the parking lot waiting. Holy shitballs, I am SO excited to see you!!!
Laughing softly, she typed a quick reply in acknowledgment, not having to feign excitement.
She was excited, really she was. She hadn’t seen Kenzie in over a decade and they’d been best friends while Sarah lived on the island. Even after she’d left, they’d kept in touch through email and social media.
It was the possibility of seeing other people that worried her. The fear of ripping scabs off wounds that had never healed. It was that latter possibility that made the breakfast sandwich she’d eaten ten minutes ago threaten to come right back up.
Knowing that soon they’d land at the small ferry dock, Sarah grabbed her suitcase that rested next to her and made her way downstairs.
Once she was standing at the front of the boat, securely tucked behind the safety rope, she again drank in the sight of the island they were almost upon.
As they grew closer, her pulse seemed to get a little more erratic. Her palms damp.
Maybe I shouldn’t have come. But no. She’d already made too many mistakes in her life, this wouldn’t be another one.
She turned her gaze to the dark churning waters of Puget Sound. White foam sprayed frantically into the air as the boat cut through the water.
Next to her was another group of walk-on passengers. There were a couple of bicyclists, and a family with a little girl who looked about the age of a preschooler. The little girl squealed with excitement as she pointed at the waves and flurry of bubbles around the moving boat.
A lump settled in Sarah’s throat as she watched the girl, and tears pricked at the back of her eyes. Guilt stabbed briefly in her heart but she pushed it aside.
Emily’s fine. You know she is. Skip the guilt and focus on the task ahead, missy.
She kept that mantra in her head until the ferry had docked and she was striding off it to find Kenzie.
It didn’t take long to spot the braided strawberry blonde in the Aerosmith T-shirt, waving her arms above her head like a fool.
“Holy shit,” Kenzie squealed, launching away from her car and running to hug her. “I can’t believe you’re really here.”
Sarah embraced her friend, laughing with ease now as the tension slipped away.
Oh God, she hadn’t even realized how much she missed this girl. It had been a decade, but some friendships didn’t feel time. This was one of them.
Kenzie pulled back, her eyes shiny with tears. “How are we almost thirty? You have so few pictures on Facebook, but you look exactly the same as you did back then. Wait, no, you’re even hotter than you were in high school.”
“Am I?” Sarah laughed and shrugged. “I’m a single mom now, so I suppose I need to try harder to impress the opposite sex if I ever want to meet someone.”
“Oh hell, I hear you on that.” Kenzie scowled. “Not the single mom bit, but the trying to impress guys bit.”