Welcome to Friday Fun! Today begins a new “chapter,” so to speak, in this blog as I offer a section of my new novel, now known as The Foreign Language of Friends. I hope you enjoy!
CHAPTER ONE – OCTOBER 23
The kayaks glided in colorful formation along the shore of Costa Rica’s Nicoya Peninsula, headed from the coast’s safety toward the open water. It was a quiet morning, with only a few tourist groups exploring. The occasional fishing boat punctuated the stillness. Four women paddled and steered, their faces tense with concentration, as their guide called out instructions. For most of the women, it was their first visit to Costa Rica; for all, their first kayaking experience.
Roberto had assured them that he would keep them safe on their trip. Small and compact, with trim, muscled arms, he had soothed their nervousness. “I’ve guided many people over the years,” he said, “and I haven’t lost anyone yet.” With his warm, friendly smile and easygoing manner, they had relaxed, at least until now.
In the quiet waters of the Gulf, they had seen starfish, purple and golden, scattered serenely where land met water. Eagles flew overhead, and iguanas scampered up and down trees. At one point, even a raccoon popped up his head with a questioning look as the kayakers glided by.
So far the morning trek had been peaceful, but to get to remote Cabo Blanco at the peninsula’s southern tip, and to fulfill the promise of spectacular views of wildlife, they would need to navigate rougher waters as the briny gulf swirled and mixed with the Pacific. Roberto motioned for the women to stop. “We can take a break here where the waters are calm,” he said. “The last stretch will take some work.”
They brought their kayaks to a stop and looked around. Rocking with deeper swells, the women rested and pondered the next test of their new skills. The brochures had said they needed experience to get to this point. Roberto, however, had said “No problem.” He had fitted each of them with a safety vest and made them practice undoing the kayak’s skirt. He had them overturn their kayaks in the water, using their paddles to bring them upright again.
After a brief rest, Roberto assessed their enthusiasm. “Ready, ladies?”
“We’re ready,” Mickey called out. The others, less certain, stayed quiet.
“You don’t sound convincing,” Roberto said. “You all seem pretty capable, or I would stop, but we don’t have to go further if you don’t feel ready. You can always take a guide boat to Cabo Blanco.” His voice, with lightly accented English, comforted and soothed as he gave the women the option to stay in quiet waters.
“I’m in.” Ellen spoke in a small voice, her face twitching with apprehension.
“Julia? Claire?” Roberto asked.
They looked at each other, then nodded.
“Okay, then,” he said, “Let’s get moving.” He started to paddle, moving out slowly and just slightly ahead of the group, displaying caramel-colored, muscled arms. Mickey kept up with him, her electric blue kayak in sharp contrast with his red one. Julia in yellow and Ellen in green followed just behind them, with Claire in gleaming white bringing up the rear.
They paddled toward the open waters, wilder than those protected by the Nicoya Peninsula, feeling the kayaks pitch and rock.
“Are you all right?” Roberto called out to Julia. As Julia floated aimlessly over the waves, allowing her kayak to be jostled to and fro, Roberto called, “Keep moving your paddles, ladies. They’ll keep the kayaks stable.”
“Okay, I’m okay,” said Julia, though her voice quivered. With her skin tanned and arms strong from near-daily tennis at the club, Julia could hold her own in the water as long as she kept her nerve. She set her jaw and narrowed her eyes, then regrouped and returned to determined paddling.
Ellen followed closely behind Julia, her thick brown hair tucked under a baseball cap, her neck smeared with fresh sunblock. One can’t be too careful, she had advised her friends. “This was your brilliant idea, Jules!” She had to force herself to yell above the sound of the waves. “Next time, we lie out on the beach and have martinis, okay?”
“You had to remind me, didn’t you! When did you start drinking, anyway?”
Julia grinned then, though she continued to tremble and strain with each movement, digging in as the current grew stronger. The swells rocked and shook the kayak as increasingly deeper waters coming from the Gulf swirled and mixed with those from the sea, and she pursed her lips. Local kayakers lived for the lively action of the waters, but Julia, a tourist, shook with fear. Roberto had watched the movement of the water and decided that their journey would be easier if they moved further from shore. Julia, who had been comforted knowing that terra firma was nearby, grew more nervous with their increased distance from the beach. You’re not that far away, she assured herself, but it didn’t help.
“Are you sure you’re okay, Julia?” Roberto asked again. “You look a little green.”
“I’m a bit seasick,” Julia confessed.
“Well, hang in there,” he said. “You’re doing great. Just keep going.”
Mickey, the strongest and most athletic of the group, a tangle of arms and legs, led the way. Her youthful toned arms moved the paddle easily through the water. “You’re fine, you’re safe,” she called out. “We’re almost there.”
Claire brought up the rear, silent, her steel-gray hair, normally drawn back in a chignon with nary a strand out of place, now defied her pins and sprays, with wisps undone. Still, she sat like a queen in her yellow kayak, the lean, elegant lines of her back erect, maneuvering her paddle with the same efficiency she had dispatched for years as a corporate lawyer.
They were at the end of the world where, if swept out to sea, they would find nothing but water. The Pacific roared with unrelenting intensity.
Only a few motorboats competed with them, and the group fought against their wakes, amazed at how even a smaller boat affected them, hundreds of yards away, and the rocking of the ocean. Waves crashed against them, the tourmaline waters bursting into white spray. Mickey, still in the lead, tried to point at what she saw ahead, but quickly returned her paddle to the water to steady herself. “Oh, my God! Look at that! Dolphin, I think? Roberto? Is that right?”
“Sure is,” he called out. “Plenty of them out here. Let’s try to get a little closer to them for a better view. Come on, everyone, keep paddling. It will help you stay stable in the water. It gets calmer once we’re through this part, I promise!”
Ellen and Julia struggled more than the others, Ellen from weak arm muscles and Julia, from fear and nausea.
No one ever worried about Claire, who lingered behind the other women. Though she was still within shouting distance of Roberto, she had fallen farther back. Even Roberto had learned during their short acquaintance that Claire Malone was a force of nature all her own, who could scare off even the tide if she wanted to.
When she screamed, , they all stopped in collective shock. True to Claire, her scream made a mighty sound, deep, rich, almost masculine. The group looked to see that her kayak had overturned, leaving a silent, white streak in the water. Despite the lesson, her friends and Roberto watched in disbelief, waiting for Claire to right the boat with her paddle.
“Keep paddling,” Roberto yelled to the other women. He had already turned around, paddling against the current, and would reach Claire’s kayak in a matter of seconds. “You’re fine, just get over to the shore. I’ll help her.” Julia, Ellen, and Mickey headed toward the rocky beach, their movements more tentative with less strength and experience. They didn’t have far to go, perhaps fifty feet, but in that moment, the shore seemed miles away. Each woman cast worried glances over her shoulder, seeking a glimpse of her friend, and the lack of concentration caused them to begin to drift further downstream.
“Get to the shore!” Roberto shouted again. “You’re almost there! Trust me, I’ll get Claire.”
The three women paddled even harder, not looking and not wanting to look. When they reached the shore, they aimed the fronts of their boats toward the beach as Roberto had instructed them to. No longer interested in the wildlife, they focused only on the drama behind them. Roberto had reached Claire’s capsized kayak quickly, and turned it over. No Claire. He called for help on his radio, then dived into the frigid waters over and over, looking for her.
“This can’t be happening,” Julia said. “What’s going on? I can’t look.”
Mickey, who felt more comfortable maneuvering her kayak, turned it around to see. “Nothing yet. Here comes a rescue boat. She was wearing a vest, so she should be here somewhere.”
“That won’t help her if something is holding her underwater,” Ellen said. “I’m scared. What if we killed her?”
“Don’t think that way,” Julia said. “Look at all we’ve been through together. We can’t lose her now. She’ll be okay. She has to be!”
“I want to go look for her,” Mickey said. “I feel like this is all my fault. I pushed for this. What an idiot I am. God is punishing me for being so awful.”
“Don’t say that,” Julia said. “That doesn’t help us.”
Mickey still hesitated, staring out at the rescue effort now in full swing. “I still should go. I can help.”
“We can’t have you going out there and getting yourself hurt or killed,” Julia said. “I can’t imagine losing one of us, let alone two.”
“Fine.” Mickey fiddled with her ponytail, undoing and redoing it several times, still staring off into the distance, waiting and waiting. Time froze, with each minute feeling like a lifetime. A rescue boat had arrived to assist Roberto, and they watched as two other men joined him diving into the water, their heads bobbing as they came up for air. “This can’t be happening,” Julia said again. “It’s just too much.”
“She’ll be fine,” Ellen said. “She has to.”
Only Mickey said nothing, waiting and watching, praying for her friend Claire Malone, the most unlikely ally a young woman could ever have.