Fins 4 Ur Sins is the first book in the Fins Series
TRANSFORMATION ISN’T EASY . . .
When fifteen-year-old, Eloise Mitchell, moves into Wynnum, Queensland, she doesn’t expect to wind up in hospital feeling like she had a lucky escape from death. Freaking out and asking everyone what happened, she pieces together a tale of how she unknowingly leaped off a cliff and into the sea.
New boy at school, Lakyn Ambrose, saves Eloise’s life. But danger, seductive and irresistible, lurks beneath the ocean—and the two of them must decide how far they will go to protect each other and all of humanity.
NAUSEA SQUEEZES MY belly, and I moan in pain. My chest hurts, probably from lying on my stomach. I try to roll onto my back and frown, disorientated for a second. I’m not on my stomach. I’d slept on my back the night before? I never do that. I’ve been a stomach sleeper like . . . forever. My sticky, gritty eyes open with difficulty.
Halogen lights glare back from a strange white ceiling. Wait—my bedroom ceiling is dark blue with glow-in-the-dark stars—the last birthday present from my dad.
Where am I?
“Eloise?” It’s my mum’s voice. Frantic. “Baby?”
“Sore,” I whisper, though I realise I can’t move my body. “What,” a breath, “happened?”
“Oh, wake up, honey. Come on; open your eyes all the way for me.” Mum’s voice drums through the fog and my right ear pounds. “You can do it.”
I moan again and try to struggle into a semi-sitting position, but I gasp at the pain. Breathe in and out. I can’t get up. A needle protrudes from my left hand. I wiggle my fingers and the sharp metal digs in deeper.
She rests her hand on my shoulder in a soft, soothing restraint. “Shh . . . just open your eyes for me. You fell and you’re in the hospital.”
My eyelids slit open further, and I take in the white shelves, large window, blinds and the strong scent of disinfectant. “I hurt,” I croak between lips that feel paper thin. “The pain—” My voice breaks, and sweat beads my forehead. “My chest.”
She nods and leans down to stare into my eyes. Her face is a mess of tears. Sections of her features have forgotten their place and smeared mascara dribbles from the corner of her eyes to her trembling lips. A tic pulsates above her right eyebrow. She rubs her red nose, wiping tears from her cheeks. The whiteness of her skin is ghastly. I’ve never seen her look so frightened, not even when Dad died. “You fell from the cliff at the back of the house.”
My eyelids are heavy—eyes itchy and burning. A shadow moves beside me, something solid. Person? Nurse? Then a cold wash fills the vein in my left arm and a drugging lethargy means I’m about to fall back asleep. Thank heavens.
“From the cliff? Our cliff?”
“How?” I gasp and cry out, slowing my breaths to control the pain.
Mum’s mouth presses in a slippery, grim line. “Never mind. Rest now. The doctor will be here soon to check you over.” She grabs my other hand and squeezes my fingers. By the soft murmurs, it sounds like she’s praying. “I’m so grateful you’re alive, baby.”
Her palm is soft and warm. My eyelids lower. “‘Kay, Mum. Sleep . . .” I slur.
“. . . NEED TO FIGURE out what is going on in her life.”
A murky film opens before my eyes and a man in a white coat speaks to my mother at the foot of the bed. A stationary light shines into my eyes. I cringe, closing them again. I try to talk, but agony squeezes my chest and all I can do is let out a puff of hot air. The drugs must be wearing off.
“Has she shown any signs of depression? Does she have a boyfriend? She’s incredibly lucky to be with us. Her heart stopped for a minute or two there. We had to resuscitate and then revive her.”
Huh, I don’t even remember a white light. I force my eyelids open again and will the doctor to tell me more.
Mum’s forehead tightens and her mouth trembles. She pushes the heels of her hands into her eyes and the sapphire ring on her finger glints in the light, reminding me of Dad. “No, no boyfriend that I know of. I never thought . . . I just can’t believe it. She wouldn’t do it. Not Eloise. It just isn’t her,” Mum mutters.
The need to believe threads her voice. I can tell she’s sticking up for me, whatever I’ve done this time, but I can’t comfort her, hug her, or say anything, because my lungs won’t let me. What wouldn’t I do?
Ice picks stab at my brain, but I can’t tell anyone. The drag and gurgle of water blocks my chest so words will not form. My body lies floppy and spent—a flattened blow-up doll the dog has chewed to bits. Every nerve and fibre feels caught in a vice-like grip.
Mum reaches back and rubs my foot. “What can I do?” she asks, choking back tears.
I moan. Yay me! I made a sound. But no, it’s because Mum’s fingers are like nooses on my toes. All the cells have detonated in my foot. Mum, I shout in my head, if you can hear me, please, please let me go.
“Her lungs will heal, although there may be some scarring. You need to talk to her, urge her do things that make her happy. Does she have a lot of friends?”
“Not really,” Mum answers.
A police officer saunters in from the corner of the room, his blue uniform a blur in my straining vision. “Mrs. Mitchell, your daughter wasn’t pushed and her injuries indicate she didn’t fall. The signs show she jumped. The tracks from her window led straight to the cliff.”
“Her father died last summer. Cancer.” Mum’s voice crumbles, and then her hand slips on the sterile white bench, her body shaking. “Eloise left all her friends behind with the move here. It’s been a rough couple of years for both of us.”
Rough, as in turning my life into a topsy-turvy nightmare. My eyes tear up.
“I’m recommending counselling for you both, starting next week.” The doctor’s pager beeps and he checks the device. “You’ll have to excuse me. I’m needed in the ER. I’ll be in touch about your daughter. If you’d like to come with me, Officer?”
Mum shifts closer to the bed in a soft rustle. Her heels tap the floor. She smells of lavender and dried down, sweet perfume. Her hand rests in my hair, skin against skin, caressing the strands from my forehead.
Warm tears seep from my eyes, trailing into my ears. “I love you, Mum,” sticks in my throat.
I’M AT MY regular appointment at the Mental Health facility in Redlands Hospital. The chairs are upholstered in an awful, brown, fake leather, and squeak when I fidget. The carpet is a low pile grey, offset with white walls and calming black-and-white prints. A vase of red flowers brightens an otherwise dark corner.
Low lighting delineates the psychiatrist’s face. Dr. Farrow begins the session by looking at me with the ability to peer right through my skin. She asks me to put my pain in the palm of her hand. Truth be told, I’m happy to share it for a while.
“How are you feeling today, Eloise? Do you have anything you want to share? Nightmares still troubling you?”
A tear drips down my cheek and I rub it away with my sleeve, careful not to dislodge my bandages. I stare at the white gauze on my hands, wondering what to say. Considering tourists found me face down on the sand, water lapping my body and seaweed wrapped around my feet, I’m peachy. I’m alive, at least. Back then, a fishing knife made short work of the weed.
I was blue. Deathly cold. But one of the tourists wrapped me in her woollen jacket in a last ditch effort to save my life.
No pulse, so the police officers told me, when my mum and I constantly pestered them for extra information. But there are other things I want to ask Dr. Farrow, stuff the officers hint at, but never reveal. They look at my face and clam up, and I want to know why.
“I’m excited to go home today. I didn’t jump off the cliff, so why wouldn’t I be all right? I’m still sore if that’s what you mean, but I don’t know why everyone . . . likes to believe I’d deliberately do something like that.” My gaze lands on the blinds and I blow out a breath, shifting forward in the seat. A sharp sliver of pain rockets up my ribcage, all the way to my neck. I suck in a gasp and then sag against the seat, resting my neck on the top of the cushion. “You know, kill myself.”
“I don’t think that,” she says. “I want to give you a hard copy of some exercises to take home since this is your last day in hospital. I’ll be back in a minute.”
When she exits the room, I pitch the last of the tissues into the wastepaper basket. My chest and lungs scream in protest, but I’m used to the pain, so I shift on the seat again, trying to grab a new box of tissues from her shelf. Darn thing’s too far away. Typical. I reach out for the box, but slip and then accidentally knock over a white envelope.
Photos spill out onto the carpet. I wouldn’t have touched them—but my hair is a particular shade—white. A deep sickness plucks strings in my stomach. A magician says, pick a card, any card. Oh, you picked the death card. I bend over and spread them out. My chest squeezes. Those pictures. They are of me. Me. Bloated, grey puffer fish. A hollow ache throbs in my bones. I slip the photos back into the envelope, my hands shaking as I press down on the sticky flap.
Dr. Farrow strides back into her office, her eyes missing nothing, but I focus my gaze on her brown loafers. The photos are back in place and I have a new box of tissues on my lap, my arms crossed. Everything looks perfect on the outside, even if on the inside, I’m in pieces.
“I don’t feel people are telling me the whole truth. I want to know more, not just what the police want to tell me,” I say in a low, rusty tone. The photos reel through my mind and I grit my teeth. I’d looked dead. “It makes it harder for me to recover when I can’t remember much. How long did I lay on the sand? Why did the police ask me if my friends are thinking about jumping off the cliff as well? Why would they do that?”
Dr. Farrow sighs and sinks down on her soft chair, a stack of paperwork in her hands. “The police have already talked to you, haven’t they?” she hedges. “What did they say?”
That they’d discovered my bloody trail—tracked it from my bedroom window to the precipice over the bay. I’d done the old slice and dice with the partially closed bedroom window. They asked more than they answered though, only saying enough to keep me talking and in the dark. The evidence proved I’d broken through the window, but why would I do that? Or leap off a bluff? They wanted to know things I didn’t know myself.
I wouldn’t have jumped. Death came to visit me a year ago—if you could call watching death’s handiwork with my father a mere visit—and nothing would make me want to commit suicide. But I can’t answer their questions fully, because I don’t remember the cuts on my hands and feet, the walk across the lawn or the fall from the cliff.
Every time I try, my brain aches with the pain of a thousand burning suns.
A wink of purple flashes in Dr. Farrow’s gaze then disappears. She must wear coloured contact lenses. “What do you remember about that time?”
“Oh.” I close my eyes, trying to scrounge up a memory, but a headache thumps at my temples with the relentlessness of a pile driver. The pain grows, squeezing over and over like a cap of rose thorns. Sweat beads my forehead and my mouth goes sticky. I rest my elbows on my knees, chin on hands; all the better to get a hold of my head before it implodes. “I remember my dad’s face, thinking I’d see him again,” I whisper. God, how crazy does that sound? Will the doctor think I wanted to kill myself with that admission? I hurry on: “But I often have dreams like that. Maybe it’s a hint of the ‘why’ that’s eluding me.” A sweetly magical melody skates at the far reaches of my memory and my skin prickles before nausea stampedes across my tongue. A swirling pain churns in my head. “I probably would have seen my dad if I’d been successful. Ha!”
I wipe my mouth with another tissue, spitting out the sour taste.
“You’re sure there isn’t anything else?”
I stop rubbing my temple and look at Dr. Farrow, silently questioning the trepidation in her voice instead of her usual empathy.
“Perhaps you could write in a journal if the memory returns? We can delve through them at your next session. Although, if you told me more now, perhaps I could work with you. Tell you more of what I know.”
I straighten in my seat, too excited by the idea she will tell me what the police have been keeping from me. I know they have something that will help me remember. My teeth worry at my bottom lip. “I recall music,” I blurt, “a song. This weird, fantastic melody. But that’s it other than my dad’s face.”
“Aha.” Dr. Farrow unwraps a wad of gum and then pops it into her mouth. Her teeth snap at the sweet, and a waft of synthetic grape tickles my nose. It’s almost a ritual for her, and in some way, it soothes me. Pop, chew, direct question, and then her hands shake as if she would kill to have a cigarette, but that makes me like her more. She stops chewing, her eyes widen and then her tongue pokes against the inside of her cheek. “The package said grape flavoured.” She frowns. “Very strange, but nice. Sweet.”
Yesterday, it was strawberry. Before that was cola. I’m amazed she hasn’t pulled out the chocolate bars. She’s like a kid in an adult’s body. “Well, they add sugar to lollies, which makes them sweeter. I like the real flame seedless grapes best, but if the gum is so strange, why buy it?”
She stares as if I’ve asked the most insane question ever and then scratches her head. “Oh,” she clears her throat, “I like trying new things. I wasn’t expecting that taste however.” She catches my confused look and drops her gaze to her fingers. “Right. The music. The song. And your dad.” She sighs as though I’ve asked a question she doesn’t want to answer. “What else do you remember?”
“Waking up. Bright lights. A hard hospital bed. Cold room.” I shake my head. “My mum at my side. The song is there, at the edges of my memory—but, oh, it hurts. It sounded so beautiful, you know? Like a breath of something I thought I can recall, but it’s impossible, because it was a dream. Everything is so confusing, as if it’s all a blur.”
“Mmm.” She smiles, but her eyes look wary. “That’s all right for now. You can write more in your journal when it comes to you.” She rises from her seat and pats me on the shoulder, but when I peer up into her eyes, the sight of her face makes my heart stop.
The doctors and everyone I usually meet in hospital wear similar expressions. It drives me mad, adult superiority. They believe I wanted to kill myself, for whatever reason, but none of them say it to my face. I silently beg them to admit they’re wrong, even if they haven’t made the direct accusation. They look down at me with that face.
But Dr. Farrow’s expression isn’t like that at all: she’s ashen, and her lips stretch, while her eyebrows draw tightly together. The skin strains around her eyes, and even though they’re wide, I can tell she’s not seeing much.
“Aren’t you going . . . to tell me more?” I raise my eyebrows at her and lick my lips. “You know how you promised we would work together on—”
“Your state of mind,” she begins, inching back toward her seat, taking the scent of grape with her. “You might not be able to cope, and I wouldn’t want to disturb you further. The police told you—”
“The bare facts,” I state flatly and shake my head. “Please. I don’t want to beg, but you can’t bail out on me now. I know there’s more.” The bandages are smooth enough to make my arms slip on the rests. I can’t get comfortable no matter how hard I try. “Little bits are worse than nothing. I will find out anyway. I go home today, back out into the real world.”
Dr. Farrow flicks her gaze over my face, as if assessing my determination. “Yes, you do.” She presses her lips together, and a silence stretches. “It’s against procedure, but . . .” she puffs out a huge breath, “in your case, it’s worth it. There have been similar deaths to yours. The police are investigating all of them. Three teenagers were found like you were on the beach, two before and one after your admittance to hospital. All of them are from the same neighbourhood and school, but none of them survived.”