By Jami Lynn Saunders


All Books by
Jami Lynn Saunders:



Raindrops ricocheted off the soft earth, tiny bullets of oppression eroding the hidden corners of my soul, while dark clouds relentlessly robbed me of my last bit of innocence. I watched through eyes wide shut, slivers of sight slipping through dripping lashes, as my father’s casket was lowered into the cold ground.

Not even eighteen years old, forced to become a woman, I knew that during the next few days, I would make decisions that would forever change the course of my life. No child should have to make such decisions; no child should be parentless. Self-pity welled up inside me, and my stomach wrenched. I swayed, unsteady on my feet, trying to hold back the pain and the tears, keeping my face impassive, even hard, a face to confront the world and its grim indifference. I crouched down, wrapped my fingers around a handful of earth, and tossed my memories onto my father’s casket before walking away from the only life I’ve ever known.

“Brine,” John Sarvella called. “Brine.”

Brine Roberts ignored John as she fled from the tent covering her father’s funeral proceedings and tried to melt into the rainstorm and away from the crowd of mourners. Seeking the consolation of solitude, she headed toward a small tree line a dozen yards away.

John saw her and raced across the rain-soaked cemetery lawn, splashing heedlessly into puddles and spattering his pant legs with mud. “Brine,” he called out as he ran after her. “Brine, please stop.”

He caught up to her as she came to the trees and put a hand on her shoulder, pulling her close. He opened the umbrella he was carrying and held it over them.

“Brine, you’re soaking wet,” John said. “You’ll catch a cold.”

“Maybe I’ll get pneumonia and die,” Brine said.

“Brine, don’t say that.”

“What do I have to live for?”

“To help keep your dad’s memory alive. Your mom’s, too. You and me and Emma. It’s up to all of us—together.”

“It’s all talk, John,” Brine muttered.

“It’s Uncle John, Brine. Please.”

“Yeah, whatever.”

“There’s nothing wrong with showing your emotions, Brine. I’m as crushed by your dad’s death as you. Emma’s devastated too. No one expects you to hold your feelings in.”

“It’s what I do best,” Brine said. “What I’ve always done best. Hide the pain away.”

“It’s not healthy.”

“Allowing yourself to feel pain shows weakness.”

“No. It shows you’re human. Don’t ever be afraid to wear your heart on your sleeve. Holding in the hurt will only make you numb inside.”

“I’ve been numb most my life. I couldn’t stand it when Daddy would leave me to go on his expeditions, so I had to shut it all out.”

“He loved you very much, you know that, don’t you? That’s why he always made sure to keep his trips as short as possible.”

“Months? That’s short?”

John touched Brine’s face. “Your father hated being gone as much as you hated him leaving. It’s the reason he moved to Utah, so you could be with Emma and me when he was away.”

“But I had my grandparents, here, in Atlantic Bay.”

“That could almost hurt my feelings, you know,” John replied with a soft smile.

I … I didn’t mean—”

John’s eyes softened as he wiped a tear from her face. “I know you didn’t mean anything by it. We love you, Brine, and we’d never try to replace your grandparents. But they weren’t well enough to watch over you. Moving to Utah was for the best, considering the circumstances, and it was one of the happiest days of our lives. Remember that first night, when you two stayed with us?”

Brine smiled. “You told me I could have whatever I wanted for dinner. I wanted pizza and grape soda.”

“And you spilled your soda all over a slice of pizza,” John said with a laugh.

“And Emma tried to get me to throw it away. I was too nervous and said I liked grape pizza, and ate it anyway.”

John and Brine laughed.

“And I really did like it.”

“That was one of Emma’s favorite nights. You know she always wanted a little girl. That was the night she got her wish.”

“Emma is like a mother to me,” Brine said.

“And she loves you like her own daughter. We both do.”

“I know. But it’s not the same as having your father around, or your grandparents, or having my real mother for that matter. Please don’t tell Emma I said that.”

“I won’t. But she would understand. Her mother died when she was young as well, and it nearly crushed her when she found out she couldn’t bear children. But you filled that void, Brine. You’re Emma’s life. You’re my life.”

Brine put her head against John’s shoulder. “I’ve always loved you and Emma very much,” she whispered. “But it was still so hard for me to watch him leave each time, always wondering if something would happen to him on the water. And now my worries have come true. He should’ve taken me with him.”

John shook his head. “After losing your mother to the ocean when you were a child, do you really think he’d put you in harm’s way? When we lost your mother that day, we all vowed not to repeat that tragedy.”

“I know, but I miss him so much. I don’t know how I’ll make it.”

“We don’t have the answers, Brine, but you do have us, no matter what,” John said. “People are starting to leave. They’ll be meeting back at your grandparents’ house. Are you ready for some food and friends?”

“I’m not hungry, and I have no friends, except for you, Emma, and my grandparents, who I feel like I barely know anymore, especially my grandfather.”

“He’ll remember you, Brine, just spend a little time with him.”

“I plan to spend a lot of time with him,” she said. “They are coming back to the house for the gathering, aren’t they?”

“They’re coming to the house,” John replied. “They should be with family. They should be with their granddaughter. I grew up in that house, and I feel like a second son to them. So tomorrow, we’ll sit down and discuss the legalities of this mess so you can decide what you want to do. Though Emma and I are hoping you’ll live with us in Utah.”

“I’ve already told you, I’m staying here, and I’m bringing my grandparents back home where they belong. They’re the only family I have left.”

John sighed. “We’ll always be your family, too, Brine. But Emma and I understand your decision. We’ll have a lot of papers to sign this week. Everything has been willed to you, but if you want to bring them back home, it’s going to be a nightmare convincing the courts to give a seventeen-year-old girl custody of an elderly couple.”

Brine stared hard into John’s eyes. “You promised you’d stand by me no matter what. You said you’d make it happen. Don’t break your promise. Please, do whatever you have to do to bring my grandparents home.”

“I will.”

Brine hugged him. “I’m glad I have you and Emma. Please don’t think I don’t love or appreciate you two. I just wish you were going to be living here in Atlantic Bay with me.”

John smiled. “Be careful what you wish for.”

Brine attempted a smile before burying her face inside John’s jacket. Moments later, John’s wife, Emma, was beside them, her arms wrapped around them both.

John could feel Brine sobbing against his chest, and it broke his heart. “Come on,” he said after a few moments. “It’s time to go.”