Chapter One

Karym Witherson sighed with relief as she unlocked the door to the small beach house that was to be her home for the next two months. Her father's friend had been wonderful to offer her the use of it-Karym desperately needed time away from her life and it's confusions before beginning her senior year of college. Two months at the beach would provide just that.
The cabin was small and a bit stale, but clean and well-kept. To Karym's eager eyes it seemed perfect. Her weariness seemed to melt away as she unpacked and explored the few rooms and cubbyholes. It really was perfect for her.
Tired as she was, Karym decided to change into her suit and go for a quick dip before she fell into the large, soft bed. The evening air was warm and golden, the sun's last farewell to the day. The ocean waves that lapped her feet were cool and inviting, and Karym couldn't suppress a grin as she leapt and splashed into the waves like a child. When at last she left the pounding surf behind her and claimed her towel, the sun was disappearing over the horizon, sending a glorious display of color playing across the sky. Karym watched it sink out of sight, and remained on the beach, standing motionless until the last traces of sunset's glory had faded into the dark expanse of star specked space above her. Then she turned and walked to her little cabin to settle in for the night.

The next day Karym feasted from the cabin's well-stocked shelves and planned a trip to the nearby city. The library should be able to supply her with some summer reading material, and the local grocery store with her comfort food; carrot sticks. Karym's siblings and friends had always teased her about her weakness for the vegatables, but whenever she had felt stressed or lonely or just plain hungry, carrots were the first food she reached for, no matter how ridiculous.
Before she could go anywhere, she had to find her keys. And her phone. "I haven't even been living here a full day and already I've lost things," she grumbled. "What a terrific way to start my summer."
The keys she eventually found lodged between the refridgerator and the counter, where they had fallen the night before, but her phone was nowhere to be seen. Karym was on the verge of giving up and leaving it when it started ringing. She followed the sound to the bathroom and found it in the medicine cabinet. Rolling her eyes, she answered it with a tired, "Hello?"
"Karym, honey! How are you? Is the cabin nice? Did you go shopping for groceries yet? Does the AC work?" her mother resonded with a barrage of questions.
Karym couldn't hold back a smile. "Yes, mom, I'm fine-the cabin's great, the AC works wonderfully, and I was just on my way to the store for more groceries."
"Oh, good. Can your errands wait a few minutes?"
"Sure, Mom."
When the phone call ended nearly an hour later, Karym placed it on the charger and left for town.
The library was a large, imposing building, but it's interior was quite inviting and would have seemed almost cozy, had it not been for the high ceilings and sheer size of the main room.
Karym obtained a visitor's card and soon had as tall a stack of books as she could carry. Moving carefully to the wall of self-check out machines, she collided with a young man hurrying past her, paying no attention to his surroundings. They landed in an undignified tangle of arms, legs, and book bindings, causing a loud disturbance in the otherwise peaceful room and earning the full attention of the other patrons.
"I'm so sorry miss! Are you alright?" the young man asked anxiously. Karym groaned and clutched her wrist, which had been brutally smashed against the floor in their fall.
"I guess so," she replied, gathering up her scattered books. She lifted one and set it on her stack, startled when the young man snatched it from her.
"That one is mine," he said quietly, but Karym thought his calm voice sounded strained. She sneaked a furtive glance at the book's cover, but saw only a picture of a mermaid, her torso lifted out of the water, her fish tail beneath it, surrounded by clouds and seaweed. It was a beautiful illustration, and had she been able to read the title of the book Karym would have checked it out herself. But the young man stuffed it into a backpack and offered his hand.
"I'm Nick Talen-pleased to meet you. I really am sorry about knocking you over."
"Karym Witherson. Don't worry about it-nothing broken. Nothing but my dignity anyway, and that heals much faster than bones. Pleased to meet you as well." They shook hands, and Nick walked her to the checkout machine, giving Karym the opportunity to assess him. He stood at what Karym judged to be just under six feet tall, with sun kissed brown hair and grey-blue eyes the color of the ocean. He gave an very good overall impression.
"So, Karen, any big plans for the summer?"
"Actually, it's Karym, not Karen. My parents like weird names- 'unique' is how they like to think of it. I call it a thorn in my side," she finished with a smile.
"Karym. Sorry about that."
She shrugged. "Don't worry about it. And no, my only plans this summer are reading, swimming, and relaxing. How about you?"
Nick shrugged and placed his book under the scanner. "Not really."
Karym laughed. "That's what summer is for," she said. "At least while you're young-and I plan to make the most of it. I'm staying in a beach house-bumming it for 2 months."
Nick returned her smile, but it seemed guarded. Karym nodded and said, "Well, I need to be going, but it was nice to meet you. See you around." He nodded also and watched her leave, carrying her stack of books more carefully now.

Karym felt as though her day was becoming one never-ending balancing act as she bore her bags of baby carrots towards the cashier line. Grabbing a basket would have been the intelligent thing to do, she thought wryly, dumping the veggies on the conveyor belt.
"Well, we meet again," came a voice from behind her.
"And much more gracefully this time," Karym replied with a smile.
Nick rolled his eyes. "I would like to forget about that," he groaned. Then, observing her pile of orange groceries, asked, "Are you raising rabbits this summer?"
Karym blushed. "No, actually, they're all for me-I eat these the same way kids attack ice cream."
"Your total is 26.79, ma'am," the cashier told Karym in a bored voice, before flashing a smile at Nick. When he smiled back it stretched into a grin, and she could hardly be bothered with getting Karym's change, so busy was she with flirting. Karym rolled her eyes in disgust as she grabbed her bags, bid Nick a perfunctory farewell, and left.
The cabin was awaiting her, offering peace and a quiet all to herself. She put away her purchases and found a place for the library books, gaining a sense of satisfaction from the well organized house, knowing that in fewer than two days time her natural tendacy to clutter would transform the order into chaos.
The cell phone was fully charged and showing three missed calls. "When I'm home, no one calls me. As soon as I leave for a relaxing time alone I become popular," she grumbled, and noting the numbers, replaced the phone. "I'll call them later," she promised.
She spent the rest of the day swimming and reading on the beach, munching on her carrots.

"Three days," Karym grumbled as she once again made her way to the checkout line with her arms full of her comfort food. "I spend $27 on carrots, and three days later I need more." When she reached the only open cashier stand Karym nearly groaned aloud; there was the same girl, flirting with a man at least ten years her senior.
The only thing that could make this worse would be-
"I don't believe this. Did we take a time jump?"
"Either that or I have a stalker," Karym replied teasingly. "This is dejia vu." Right down to the flirty cashier and $27 carrots, she added silently, wishing that if good-looking guys like Nick were going to appear in her life, that they would do it when she was looking her best, not her most ridiculous.

Karym managed to ration her carrots into lasting seven days, by which time she had need of other groceries as well. She wondered briefly if she would again see Nick while shopping, then dismissed the idea. He had walked her out to her car the last time, and they had stood in the parking lot for 2 hours talking. Their conversation could have gone on had it not been for the meeting Nick had to attend. Karym had her doubts about the nature of that 'meeting' and felt that 'date' would have been a more appropiate, more honest word. Nick was turning out to seem quite the player.
Her trip to the grocery store passed uneventfully, with no Nick and no flirty cashier to deal with.
The next few days passed in the same manner-uneventful and without company. Her cell phone's minutes were running out at an alarming rate now that her friends had no other way to talk with her. Karym, at first delighted with the peace and solitude, now began to wish for a livelier schedule and envy her friends the social life they were living. She reminded herself daily that escaping that life for a time was one of her reasons for leaving, but it grew harder and harder not to regret her decision. Swimming became her favorite activity, for on the beach she was at least around other people.
One day, after her swim, Karym abandoned the idea of reading or watching television in favor of a walk. Throwing old shorts and a jacket on over her suit against the ocean breeze, she wandered up the beach lazily, wading in the shallows, stopping every so often to admire an unusual shell or disentangle her feet from a piece of seaweed.
Twenty minutes after leaving her cabin Karym discovered a cove-a beautiful, hidden cove where the sounds of the crowded beach were nothing more than a low murmur beneath that of the waves.
The first thing Karym noticed was the serene hush that seemed to have fallen over everything. The second thing she noticed was that she was not alone. When she recognized who it was that was sharing in the wonder of that place, Karym decided that she must begin to believe in one of two things: hallucinations or chance to the point that it passed beyond chance into fate. When Nick spoke, Karym chose the latter.