He was trying to kill her, too…
Malory Shoemaker would prefer just about any place over the beat-up trailer she’s had to call home since her mom died, so even her tiny dorm room feels like an upgrade. And though she sometimes still hears her father’s whispers in her mind, she’s excelling at school, making new friends, and has even attracted an enigmatic admirer.
But when her new love interest begins to reveal his more unsavory appetites, Malory finds herself a hapless participant in sick games that force her to confront her nasty inner demons. As the game intensifies, so do the whispers in Malory’s head. Now she must decide: accept the fate she’s always believed inevitable, or risk losing the only person who ever made her feel like she was worth fighting for. But how do you let love in when the only thing that feels right is pain?
Erotic and disturbing, Red Water slithers under your skin with its dark, unflinching examination of the psychology of self-loathing and the secret, unspeakable lust for depravity that lies dormant within us all.
The manatee is within arm’s reach now. “Go ahead,” Garrett says. “They say you’re not supposed to touch them, but how could we not?”
“How could we not?” I reach out my hand and sink it into the cool water, lower and lower until my fingers brush against the skin of the majestic beast. It feels the way I imagine an elephant’s skin must feel—coarse and hard and unyielding. My toes have sunk into the slushy mud and the hems of my shorts are wet, but I don’t care; I can’t think of anything but the beautiful creature before me.
“There are others.” Garrett points to the center again, and for the first time I notice more shapes beneath the water, shapes I haven’t yet seen because I’ve been so focused on the one at my fingertips.
“Oh my god, and they all come right up to you like this?”
“Not all, but most. I’m sure some have learned to fear humans. Not everyone is nice to them.”
“They’re so…regal.” But that’s not a strong enough word. There are no words to describe this beauty.
“I had a feeling you would like this.”
“I don’t like it. I love it.”
We stand for a while longer, petting the manatees who come up to sniff around our legs with their round, whiskery snouts. My shorts are soaked now, and my feet are so buried in the muck below that Garrett has to give me a tug to help me out.
He’s packed food and water in his backpack, healthy snacks like granola and almonds and dried peaches, all divided into neat servings—as if he thought of everything in advance, as if he wanted to please and impress me. He even has mints to eat afterward, which doesn’t surprise me in the least. He packs our trash neatly into the backpack, and for a few minutes longer, we sit together in the grass at the water’s edge, watching the manatees move in slow circles beneath the surface.
Out of nowhere, I have the thought: Mom would have loved this. And then: If she hadn’t give up on us. And before I know it, silent tears are dribbling down my cheeks and I’m clenching my teeth, trying to make them stop, trying not to let this turn into a sobfest in front of Garrett. I wipe my face on my shoulder but the tears keep leaking out of me.
I feel him shift beside me. “Would you like to talk about it?”
I shake my head hard, squeezing my eyes shut. I can’t make myself talk around the tightness in my throat, and besides, I don’t want him to know how much I’m hurting. I’m working on being better; I promised myself I’d rise above, and I will. I will be worthy of a better life than the one I’ve been given.
Suddenly he’s touching me. Only with his fingertips, still so light and respectful, feathers at my waist, reaching for the hem of my tank top and lifting it, peeling it over my torso and head until I am bare-breasted in the stippled sunlight. But I am not afraid of Garrett’s eyes. My naked shoulder blades, poking out behind me like beacons to the predators of the forest, feel much more exposed than my breasts.
“Here,” Garrett says. He stands up, taking my hand to pull me to standing. He removes his clothing, except his underwear—black athletic briefs I try hard not to stare at. The rest of him is angular and hard, contoured with muscle, as flawless as the crisp button-down and unwrinkled khakis he was wearing the day I met him. I bet if I kept peeling back his layers, he’d continue on being nothing but perfection.
His hands go to my waist again, unbuttoning my shorts and sliding them down over my underwear, down my thighs, never actually touching me. It’s the absence of touch that I feel the most. Doesn’t he want to fuck me? I’m pulsing between my legs; I want him to touch me. I want him to make me forget my grief.
He takes my hand with that same fingertip touch and leads me back down into the cool water, pulling me in with him until the water comes up over my waist, and then still further until we’re up to our necks, the mud and murk of the creek kicking up around us and the manatees circling in their gentle, curious way. We are facing each other now, his ice-blue eyes full of empathy and mine full of tears, but now the tears aren’t just for how desperately I miss my mother. In a matter of hours, Garrett has torn into me and made me believe in simple, easy beauty again, when I had convinced myself that nothing would ever be good or easy. I’ve been striving for a sensible life, the best I can make for myself, earning good grades, practicing my fingers raw, blindly achieving, knowing that while there may be good things in the world, those things are simply not meant for someone like me.
But now, here with Garrett in the water, my heart is doing the opposite of breaking: it’s realigning its pieces, suturing itself at all the torn and ragged edges. It’s painful what he’s doing to me, sewing me up like this, but it is a purposeful, euphoric kind of pain—it is the pain of restoration.
“Will you go under with me?” he says.
I will follow him anywhere. I will sink right down into the murky sediment with him. I will drown myself in it if he asks me to.
And so we lower ourselves, all the way down, with the manatees still circling, until the water closes over our heads.
Kristen Mae is a novelist, freelancer, and blogger who lives on the Atlantic coast of Florida with her husband, two children, and a fuzzy, giant-eared little dog named Gizmo. She is a classically trained violist, an avid runner and yogi, an artist, and a sexual abuse survivor. She drinks coffee like it’s water and isn’t sorry about it.