The rows of shops downtown were quaint and colorful, with a variety of displays in the windows. A silver Ford Escort drew to a stop against the sidewalk in front of a maroon store with a wooden sign that read, "An Siopa Bláthanna." Roses and daffodils sprouted from glass vases on wooden desks as the window display.
"Welcome to our little store," Máire appeared at the door with a lovely smile and arms open for her family. As she enveloped her nieces into her arms, she added, "I see you have already been acquainted with my husband Patrick."
"Yes, ma'am," Ethan answered and reached to accept her handshake. "Good to meet you all."
"Perfect. Come in, and we will show you about," Máire returned through the door with a broom in one hand, sweeping the debris across the oak floors as they entered. "Peter is asleep upstairs."
The store was the color of green apples with black swirled paint, and almost cramped with antique white tables, upon which were arranged an array of wild and domestic flowers that perfumed the air. A summer melody by violins streamed through speakers beside the wood counter to the left.
"Aunt Máire is the personnel side of things, and Uncle Patrick does the finances," Ciara said.
"We keep a decent and honest living," Máire tucked a rich auburn tendril behind her ear and set the broom against the wall again. She smiled toward Patrick, who blushed in return. "The store closes at five. After we all settle down and have a good meal at around six, we will drive you to me sister's. Astin, show him the upstairs where we live."
Astin swiftly escorted his friend past the cage that held a Scarlet-Chested Parakeet to a door in the back. He opened it to reveal a steep and narrow stairwell.
"Up this way is where we stay," he stepped aside and Ethan moved up the stairs. They emerged into a small powder blue area with white trim. A wrought iron coat rack stood in the corner beside a wooden table, upon which sat a porcelain terrier. Astin stopped at the top of the stairs and pointed to the right. "There is the bathroom, and straight ahead is the room the girls sleep. Directly behind us is the room where Uncle Patrick and Aunt Máire sleep."
He continued through the open doorway to the left and halted so suddenly that Ethan almost careened into him. "There is a hall to the left that leads to a utilities room as well as the room my cousin Peter and I share. I'll show it to you after we eat. Peter is asleep in there right now, and he gets right vexed when I disturb him. May not be the best arrangement, but we get a street side window, and we are right beside the kitchen."
The kitchen area was a sink in the middle of a smooth black counter beneath a street side window with the stove and refrigerator against the wall Ethan assumed was shared by the boys' room. Behind this sat a wooden table surrounded by matching chairs. To the right was an area with a television and several leather recliners. A grand metal birdcage was set up in the back corner.
"And this is Eilís," Astin kneeled down beside one of the recliners to caress a scruffy Jack Russell terrier curled up on a suede bed. The family has had her longer than they've had any of us Jay children."
Ethan dropped down beside him and stroked the tiny muzzle. "Good evening, girl."
Eilís peeled open her eyes and gave him a yawn that unfurled her pink tongue. She then slapped her tail against the cushion. Astin laughed. "Looks like you've won her heart."
Ethan could not resist a smile. Astin reached for the television remote and switched it on, leaning his back against the recliner.
"So, what do you like to watch?"
The pair debated whether to watch comedies or an adventure movie that neither had seen. After switching back and forth a while, and eventually settling on the movie, Máire announced that dinner was nearly ready and that the boys should alert Peter.
Astin rapped softly against the door of the room he and his cousin shared. "Peter, dinner is almost ready."
The sounds of stirring were accompanied by the moan "I'm asleep."
"Not anymore, you're not," Astin pushed the door open to reveal a cramped room with a window to the right and ahead, and a bunk bed covered in plaid sheets across from it. He seated himself on the edge of the bottom bunk beside a covered mound. "I know that you arrived home at two in the morning, but you got sleep when you came home. So get up and come eat with us."
"Shut up and get out," came the muffled groan as Peter turned onto his other side. Astin rolled his eyes.
"No, Peter. We have someone eating with us tonight, and Aunt Máire wants you to meet him."
"Where is Peter?" Ciara asked as she appeared in the doorway with the parakeet on her shoulder. She rolled her eyes before anyone answered and reached to lift the bird into her hand. "Here, Astin, get Tango into his cage and I'll get him up."
She raised the parakeet to her brother, who winced to anticipation as he reached to accept the creature. Tango parted his beak and latched it onto the offered index finger, provoking a yelp from the boy that caused Étaoin to appear at the doorway with saucer eyes. "Maybe if you could take Tango," he gasped as he passed the bird onto her hand. "I have a better idea."
He positioned himself beside the head of the bed and nodded toward Ciara, who joined him. She threw back the covers to reveal a disheveled brown head as they each snatched one of his hands and hauled him onto the floor with the sort of aggravated cry one might here from a water-doused cat.
"There," Ciara stifled her laughter as she dropped her cousin's arm to the floor and stepped over him to leave. "I'll go let Aunt Máire know that he's out of bed."
Ethan chuckled with amusement as the children made their way to the kitchen area, leaving Peter to peel himself up from the floor. Étaoin gently settled Tango on his perch in the kitchen cage while Astin rinsed the droplets of blood from his index finger.
"We will be having soup and beef with soda bread," Máire announced as she moved the flame of a lighter against the wick of the candle on the table. "Be seated, and we will say grace."
The children gathered at the table as Peter emerged from his room and Patrick seated himself at the middle of the round table. They laced their fingers and bowed their heads as he said "Lord, please bless this meal we are about to eat and the guest we have at our table. We thank you that we have the means to eat this meal. In Jesus' name, amen."
Máire smiled to herself as the children delved into their meal with a ravenous air. Ethan savored the salty broth, reached for the glass of water beside him.
"What did you do at school today, Peter?" Astin asked across the table with a deep swallow.
"School," he answered dryly as he raised the spoon to his mouth. Astin silently returned to his soup.
"What did you enjoy in school today, Peter?" Ciara challenged with a sly edge. Ethan studied the way her long curls in the candlelight resembled glittering gold. Peter snorted at her with amusement.
"Peter," Máire admonished with a stare. "Be particularly polite when we have a guest."
"This is particularly polite, Aunt Máire," Ciara grinned impishly and a spark lit her sky blue eyes. "He bothered to answer us this time."
"Do not give him any cheek," Patrick murmured to the girl. "We wish to have a pleasant meal."
"How was business today, Uncle?" Étaoin asked softly as she passed him a plate of bread. He gave her a small smile and an approving nod.
"It seems we did well."
A smile creased her freckled face. "I'm glad."
Tango released a shrill sound that resembled something like a finch. Máire swallowed her mouthful of soup and smiled at the bird. "Hello, my boy. I promise we haven't forgotten about you."
The parakeet twittered cheerfully and ruffled his rainbow feathers.
"Are you well, Peter?" Máire squinted as she studied her son. "You're pale and you can't seem to keep your eyes open."
"I'm all right," he smeared a hand across his eyes and shook his head. "Don't worry, Ma."
"Didn't you sleep?"
"I should think not," Ciara settled against the back of her chair, "since you weren't home all night."
Patrick and Máire threw their gaze toward Peter, who glared at his cousin. "You shut up."
"I will not have that talk at this table," Patrick snapped as he threw his napkin down on the table. "Is this true, Peter?"
The young man dropped his eyes to the table and slurped the remainder of his soup from the spoon. Astin watched him, then met the eyes of his uncle. "Yes, it is."
Peter rose abruptly with his plate and strode toward the hall that led to his room. Máire switched her attention to Ethan. "I apologize on behalf of all of us for my son's behavior. Let me assure you that he will not see anything but that room for several weeks to come."
As she rose and pursued her son, Astin leaned in closer to Ethan and said, "He is only a little older than Ciara, but he fancies himself too grown-up for us. To him, staying out late and drinking with mates is more 'age appropriate.'"
"But his behavior is not appropriate for any age," Patrick said as he smeared his napkin across his lips. "When you finish your meal, we'll drive down to Waterford."
. . .
Ethan eased out of the backseat of the silver Ford Escort and breathed in the crisp, salty air. Ahead stood the ashen lighthouse tower on a rocky ledge, beneath which the ocean waves could be heard crashing against the shore. A squat white house sat to the left with a yard adorned with an array of primroses. The soft gray sky was misting by this time, and droplets gathered on his eyelashes.
"Beautiful, right?" Astin smiled beside him.
All at once, a man and a woman sprang out the lighthouse door and leapt down the stairs with outstretched arms to receive their three children as they rushed up the path. The man swept each of his girls into an embrace as the woman caressed Astin's hair. They reached also to welcome the McPhees into their arms. Then, their attention shifted to Ethan.
"Welcome, lad," Mr. Jay extended his hand with a smile. "Me name is Aaron Jay."
"We're grateful to have you," Lara Jay added as the boy shook the man's hand. "Astin has shared many stories of your adventures at school."
"Appreciate it," Ethan smiled in return, curious in the back of his mind what adventures Astin could possibly have shared with them.
"Well, we'd best return to Peter," Patrick reached out to shake the hand of his brother-in-law and kissed the cheek of his sister-in-law. "Have a wonderful visit, and we'll see you soon."
"We love you," Lara said as she gave Máire a squeeze. "See you on Sunday."
"Let's show you the house!" Astin rushed up the narrow metal stairs that led to the open door. "We say it has a draft, but you get used to it after a while. And this here is Muffin."
As he spoke, a small tabby brushed against his legs and squeezed through the door before them. He breathed in deeply and smiled as he stepped into the lighthouse with a curious Ethan behind him.
The inside was the color of melted butter with rich violet curtains adorning the windows. A stove and refrigerator stood beside a small table to the left. A small television was perched on a stack of novels across the room, and an indigo rug lay before the sofa and a recliner.
"We sleep in the spare room downstairs," Lara explained as the children emerged through the door. "We must bring our laundry to the keepers in that cottage next to us, and the bathroom is in the small building on the other side of us. We apologize for that."
"I'm sure camping was more than enough preparation," Ethan assured them with another small smile as he evaluated his surroundings. A staircase with a black metal rail spiraled from the right of the room to what seemed to be the infinite height of the tower.
"We should bring our things upstairs," Astin said. "When we come home, Ma and Da let the girls sleep in the work room and me sleep in the watch room!"
With that, he bolted up the stairs with Ethan chasing as fast as he could. After they reached about halfway up, Ethan stopped to catch his breath. "I don't know how you manage to live in a tower."
Astin shrugged. "You get used to it. Come on, it'll be easier to go back down."
Ethan breathed and released the air again. Then he continued up the spiral until they reached a landing near the top.
"This the watch room?" he managed between breaths as he moved across the creaking wooden planks. A sort of stove was in the corner, and a broom stood beside it. A small cabinet sat beneath the window on the near side, a vase of silk daffodils standing placed on it in a stream of sunlight.
"No, the work room," Astin made his way to sort of ladder and climbed up to another room. It was similar in shape, but it was empty aside from the large mattress pushed up to a window with a view of the ocean. "Generally, the work and the watch room are one in the same. Whoever built this place wanted to separate them. I imagine one spouse wanted to sleep while the other one worked, but who knows anymore?"
Ethan settled his pack beside the mattress and peered through the window. Tangerine sunlight streaked across a rich ocean as it crashed against the rocks in a spray of foam. "My cousin Case would love it up here. This should be an awesome view of the storm they're predicting this weekend."
"You have no idea," Astin chuckled and shook his head. "Da promised me we could make a little fire in that pit down there when it gets dark. Don't expect something really big, because we can't cause that much smoke over here."
"Any fire sounds like a good fire."
. . .
Stars glittered all across the open sky, but the gentle wind that stroked his cheeks implied the prelude of a storm would arrive on shore by that night. Sparks spiraled through the air, but the Jays seemed unconcerned as they piled wood into the middle. Stones encircled the pit, where flames remained a stable moderate size.
"We must be sure this fire stays small enough to not send enough smoke in the air to deter the lighthouse beam," Aaron Jay said as he pitched another bushel of sticks into the flames. He dropped into a chair beside Ethan and smiled. "Keep yourself warm by the fire, lad."
"Yes, sir," Ethan rested his elbows against his knees and absorbed the heat into his hands.
"I never want to hear you call me 'sir' again," Aaron smiled and nudged the boy's shoulder. "Aaron."
"Yes s—er, Aaron."
The wind had cleared the smoke into the night. The fire crackled and released the occasional satisfied spark by the time Lara seated herself between her girls and smiled.
"Please, let me hear some of the stories from your farm, Ethan."
Ethan shifted in his seat and stared down at the fire. "I can't say there's much to tell."
"You know there is," Astin persisted. "You can tell her about your mother."
Ethan shot him a glare. "My mother is a U.S. senator as of last year."
"What a busy woman she must be," Lara remarked and leaned toward the fire with her hands outstretched. "And a brave one as well."
"As brave as they come," Ethan straightened with a smile. "She was in the military before we were born. And when she was a kid, she battled cancer."
"My. She is an admirable woman."
"Yes," Ethan agreed and edged closer to the fire. The silence made him a little awkward, but the idea of presenting one of these stories amplified his unsettled mind.
"Astin tells us you have horses," Ciara spoke up eagerly. "Do you ever ride them?"
"Sometimes," Ethan said.
"Have you ever come off of one?" asked Étaoin. Ethan eased onto his back pockets and explained the story of how he had been thrown from Diarmuid, which made the entire family laugh. At one point, he realized he himself was smiling at the memory.
In the heat of the fire, Aaron peeled away his flannel shirt. Etched in navy ink on his bicep was the image of an anchor, beneath which were the words "Anchored in Christ." He straightened his white tee shirt and tossed the flannel shirt aside.
"Well, lad, we appreciate your rescuing Astin. I can't say anyone else has confronted Rónán – much less punched him – no matter what he has done to Astin or anyone else."
Ethan shrugged. "Rónán is a moron and needed to be set straight."
"Well," Aaron scratched his ringleted russet beard, "I believe you succeeded. But do be careful when you return to school and see him and his mother."
"That I will," Ethan agreed and smiled at the man. A raindrop splashed against his wrist, and he raised his eyes to see the sky was a more solid sapphire. As the family asked more about his life, his answers came more readily and rain peppered them more steadily.
Eventually, Lara rose and kissed each of the heads around the fire with a final wave toward her guest.
"Well, I'm knackered, and the storm is coming in. I'll see all of you in the morning."
"I suppose we should go, too," Aston rose and dropped the stick he was holding into the fire. "It's close to midnight. Come up, Ethan, and we'll exchange more stories."
. . .
After two hours, Ethan released his breath in a silent watch room. His cheeks were chilled by the window. He stared down at the beam illuminating the blackened waters as they crashed against the rocky shore with a steady rhythm. He planted his hand down beside the glass, narrowly missing the delicate wings of a crushed moth, and heaved himself into a sitting position.
"Are you all right?" Astin stirred and squinted at his friend through the darkness. Ethan nodded.
Satisfied, Astin rolled away from him. "Perhaps we can ask Ma and Da about another fire tomorrow."
Ethan smiled to himself and stared up at the sky. All was as black as ink and rain began to shower into the ocean. A rumble sounded against the horizon, where light flashed. "Probably we'll get rained out."
"We'll manage to have a craic with something," Astin murmured. "Since you're me best mate."
The smile slipped from Ethan's lips as he stared down at his companion, but a fresh and warm one emerged as he crawled back into the sleeping bag and closed his eyes. A crack of thunder rattled the windows as well as the heart within his chest. Exhilaration shot through his body, but one glance at Astin proved him unfazed. In the back of his mind, Ethan realized he could use the bathroom. But somehow, venturing down the spiral staircase and into a storm in the middle of the night did not seem worth it.
Eventually, both boys were enraptured by a sound and dreamless sleep until light spilled into the room.
. . .
Ethan squinted through the window at a plum sky and the sun as it blushed rosily. Astin scooted up beside him and rubbed the cold from his hands. "'Red sky at night, sailors delight. Red sky in the morning, sailors take warning.'"
The sea was crested with white in every wave, exploding into a spray of foam as it smashed upon the rocks. Ethan eased himself upright and stared down at the shore without a boat in sight. Astin pointed at the spray and the direction of the waves.
"And 'When the wind is blowing in the East, 'tis not fit for man nor beast.'"
"So what does that mean for all the men on boats?"
"That they'd better not set sail, or pray as they do. But the sun has barely risen. I say we sleep another hour or two and see what it's like when we wake up."
"Come on, you two, wake up."
Ethan peeled open one eye to see that Ciara poked her head up from the steps. Astin stirred beside him and propped himself up on one elbow. "Good morning, Ciara."
"Come down to eat. Da stayed home this morning because of the storm, and Ma has made quite a meal! And believe me, it actually smells right delicious."
The boys thundered down the stairs with Ciara ahead of them and Muffin hopping down each step behind them.
Lara smiled to herself at the sounds of her children and their companion descending down toward the base of the lighthouse. She used a fork and a butter knife to drop a crisp banger onto each of the plates set before her. A slice of scorched brown bread was placed beside each of these, and a ladle of beans completed each plate.
"I appreciate the hot breakfast, love," Aaron kissed her cheek as he drew a jug of orange juice from their refrigerator and set it beside the several glasses on the small dining table.
"Juice as well as tea?" Lara asked with her hands perched on her hips.
"'Tis a special occasion to have a guest," Aaron shrugged and seated himself at the head of the table while Lara poured his tea from a pearly porcelain teapot. As the children arrived, they seated themselves around the table and left a place for Lara at the opposite end of her husband.
"Here we are," Lara smiled as she settled a plate before each loved one and placed a small container of milk and a bowl of sugar in the center. Ethan raised the brown bread and crunched into it, eyes meeting each of those around him as Lara said, "Aaron will now say grace."
Ethan dropped the bread to his plate and smeared his hands against his pants with scarlet cheeks. He then accepted the hands of Astin and Lara and, swallowing the remainder of his bite, bowed his head.
"Heavenly Father, we are so grateful to have this guest in our home this weekend. I pray that You will bless him and protect him in all he does. I also want to ask that You bless this meal. Thank You that we are blessed enough to eat whenever we like. We pray each of these things in Jesus' name. Amen."
"Amen," came the reply in unison.
Ethan stabbed his fork into the banger and ripped away the end with his teeth. As soon as he started to chew, he curled his elbow around his mouth and began to cough. After several seconds, Astin gave his back a strong slap.
"Do you suppose there is a mite too much ginger in the bangers?" Lara asked anxiously around the table. Ethan instantly shook his head and reached for the juice to clear his throat, mentally attempting to stifle the guilt that arose in his heart the moment he lied.
"Muffin seems to be enjoying your bangers as well," Aaron smiled down at the tabby as she accepted a chunk out of his hand and chewed eagerly.
"She's a dote," Astin added. "We couldn't possibly be the same family without that cat."
A crack of thunder split the air and rattled the windows. Aaron gave an interested hum as he sipped his tea and set it aside. "I am glad I chose to spend the day at home today. Should be a grand storm."
. . .
By late afternoon, ocean sprayed over the rocks almost like fireworks. Rain splashed against the lighthouse windows.
"What song is this?"
"'Digital Sea' by Thrice," Ethan answered over the music erupting from the headphones around his neck. He reached down and disconnected the wire from the player so that Astin could listen to the music as well. After setting the player down, he bounced a handball against the wood floor in a way that it deflected against the wall and into his hand. "Want to play handball?"
"All right. Just show me how."
"I throw the ball. You hit it with your hand."
He threw it against the floor again so that if would deflect off the wall. Astin slapped it back against the wall and shook away the sting. "Simple enough."
"Good. You get the hang of it pretty quick."
After a couple more rounds, Astin said "Ma wants to take us to a tavern tonight."
"Sounds good. I haven't been to one since we got to Ireland."
Astin snatched the ball out of the air just long enough to stop and stare at him. "You're serious?"
"Sure am," Ethan said as Astin threw the ball and he slapped it. "Dad cooks everything himself."
"Well, Da and Ma have been saving to go out to eat for a long time. We're all excited about it."
This time, when Astin slapped the rubber ball, it soared over his shoulder and disappeared down the opening in the floor. As the boys climbed down the ladder, the ball rolled across the work room and dropped down the opening of that floor. They watched as it grew smaller and smaller and eventually hit the bottom with a distant plop.
"I'm not going to chase after that," Ethan said.
Astin abruptly turned to him. "Do you like Iron Man?"
Ethan met his eyes. "I love Iron Man."
Astin broke into a smile. "We have it downstairs."
. . .
A fresh breeze met Ethan and each of the Jays when they climbed out of the bronze station wagon late that evening with the tastes of roast beef and minestrone soup still detectible on their lips.
"Look at that sunset," Ethan breathed as the sky dimmed and orange spilt into the fleecy clouds.
"Let's go see it from the tower," Astin ran past him and into the house. Ethan pursued him up to the work room, where Astin gestured grandly to the small door that led to the cat walk. "Enjoy the scene."
They seemed to be eye-to-eye with the sun as it sank toward the horizon. A breeze ruffled their hair as gently as a playful father. Ethan stared around him with an open mouth. "It's beautiful."
"Yes, it is."
Astin froze. Ethan traced his gaze down to the rocks beneath them. At their height, it was difficult to distinguish the small figures being tossed around in the waves, but their raised arms gave them away.
"Aw, man," Ethan chased after Astin as his companion sprinted down the stairs shouting for his father to come see the men stranded at sea. He burst through the door outside with Ethan at his heels and Aaron calling for them to not get too close to the shore as they raced toward it.
A path of concrete stairs carved diagonally through the rocks. At the bottom of the stairs was a small railed landing, upon which clung a man with the waves crashing against his back. A second pair could be deciphered among rough waters beneath him, moments away from being throws against the rocks.
"Lara, get anyone else you can find! Girls, get all the towels and blankets from the house," Aaron started running toward the second path across the way. "And lads, stay here while I get them."
But the man was starting to slip away from the railing.
Aaron shouted for them to stop, but Ethan made his way down the steps as swiftly as he could. Astin was behind him, speaking in some tropical-sounding language Ethan had never heard before. But before his mind had time to ask, he leapt onto the landing and slipped to the concrete. He reached to grip the rail as another wave crashed over them, collapsing him to his stomach. The icy water nearly stole his breath away, and its strength stove to suck him out to sea. The rail alone bit into his side, held him back.
The moment it receded, he pulled himself upright and reached to drag the man over the rail by his shirt. Astin was beside him in an instant and the man threw an arm around his shoulder to be hauled onto the landing. He collapsed in a heap, spluttering sea water as he reached back to point to the storm, but they heaved him up by each arm and staggered up the stairs until they were clear above the water. Then they deposited the man on a step to recover.
"We were twelve of us," he managed with another series of choking sounds. "I-is there an-anyone else?"
Ethan stared down the shore a ways, where Aaron and a couple other men carted one fisherman to shore. Aaron wore a life vest with a rope tied around him and was about to rush into the waves as they receded. Ethan crossed his arms over his chest to try to smother his shivering.
"Two more are being rescued right now."
"Is there anyone else out there?"
"I'm sorry," Astin crouched beside the man and gave his shoulder a squeeze. Tears pricked at the corners of his own eyes, but he wiped them away with the back of his hand. "We'll keep looking as soon as it's safe."
The fisherman swatted his hand away at these words. "Then just leave me alone."
The Jay women appeared at the edge of the rocks above with towels, blankets, and quilts. Étaoin picked her way down the stairs while her mother and sister rushed to the aid of the other men. Astin gave Ethan a commemorative slap on the back and breathed a sigh of relief.
"Here," Étaoin peered at Ethan with soft gray eyes as she draped a towel over his shoulder. She knelt beside the fisherman and wrapped a towel around his shoulders. "My mother and father are going to bring the three of you home after you are warm and dried."
The fisherman stared out across the waves and the fiery sun as it dipped behind the horizon. "There's no hope, is there?"
"There is always hope," she said gently. "Even when the odds are small."
The man nodded with a deep swallow. "I'd like to go home now."
Étaoin swiveled around to look up at Ethan. "Ma says you need to get in the shower and put on your covers so you don't get pneumonia. Go on, there's nothing more you can do here."
. . .
Ethan was greeted by an array of stars in the night sky when he stepped out of the shower and dressed. The storm must have continued on its way. But the crisp chill remained in the atmosphere and gnawed his skin when he emerged from the bathroom with a towel over his shoulder.
He was welcomed into the lighthouse by the murmured prayers by the family, who were seated beside the sea windows. Aaron reached toward him without raising his head, and with a great pause, he trudged across the room and dropped down beside Astin.
After some time, the atmosphere of the lighthouse was stilled with silence.
When the clock proved the time to be midnight, Lara sent the children up the stairs with a cup of crisp chamomile tea to calm their nerves. As Ethan crawled beneath the dense covers, he couldn't resist staring into the ravenous sea below with the imagined shouts of ten fishermen being devoured echoing in his mind.
"Prove me wrong, God," he murmured as he drifted into a restless sleep.
. . .
He jolted awake sometime later, striving futilely to inhale air into his lungs. Despite every effort, he was unable to move a muscle. His skin was instantly cold as no breath entered his lungs when he inhaled. Fear speared his heart. He stove to make some sort of noise, even a choking sound, to awaken his companion. He sensed an impending darkness thickening the air. And then it was sucked out of the lighthouse.
All at once, Ethan gasped in enough air to fill his lungs and he slapped the mattress beside him. "What is it?" Astin was upright in an instant, like a mousetrap in reverse. Ethan was upright as well, clutching his chest as he gasped for breath. He wasn't sure how to answer the question, truthfully. "Can I pray over you?"
"Sure," Ethan managed. Definitely beat any attempt to explain what happened. He lay back down again as Astin propped himself up on one elbow and laid a hand on his friend's shoulder.
"Father God, protect Ethan in his entire being tonight – not only his body, but his mind and soul. Whatever just happened, God, I pray that You'll keep it from happening again. We thank you, Father."
And then words similar to those he spoke earlier that day came tumbling out of his mouth. Ethan stared at him with skepticism, but the boy's closed eyes were unaware.
After five solid minutes of praying, Astin remained silent and listened. "I feel like God wants you to know He has a lot planned for you—"
But when he opened his eyes, he realized Ethan was asleep again.
. . .
"Twelve men dead," Astin stated blandly as he stared out over the water Sunday morning. A gentle breeze drifted across their heads, the only remnants of the storm that could be sensed from the catwalk. Fresh sunlight spilled across the ocean waves. Ethan clapped a hand to his shoulder and gave it a squeeze.
"They chose to go out there during the storm warning."
"That doesn't make it any better."
Ethan agreed and moved back into the work room until a question drew him back out.
"By the way, what was that language you were speaking yesterday?"
"Well, I don't know," Astin shrugged. "But we call it Tongues – when the Holy Spirit speaks through someone in a language unknown."
The skeptical scowl Ethan wore twice the day before sharpened his countenance again. He left the tower catwalk silently and made his way down the spiral staircase to dress in his Sunday best, which, in his case, meant a fresh pair of cobalt jeans and a similar plaid shirt.
. . .
The small white chapel was packed with fishermen and their families. A cobalt rug paved a path between the pews on the wooden floor. Many women wore ebony dresses, and the men seemed sullen to Ethan as he slid into one of the rear pews with the Jays.
"As many of you have heard, we lost three of our own yesterday evening," began the reverend as he approached the pulpit. "And I would appreciate if you would all bow your heads with me in prayer for their loved ones who have been left behind."
Everyone did as they were asked. Ethan listened to a woman several pews ahead start sniveling and the soft murmurs of another close beside her. A man cleared his throat rather abruptly on the opposite side of the little church.
"Father God, we praise You for the two lives spared last evening. Although neither chose to join us today, we pray that you would meet them wherever they are and confront them with Your love. We ask that you draw the loved ones of these lost men to You in comfort, and we pray that the last of the twelve bodies may be recovered safely. Thank You that the first five have been recovered safely."
Murmurs of agreement rippled across the church and dissolved into silence.
Ethan started with surprise when strange words began tumbling out of Astin's mouth again. He was speaking swiftly, and the words sounded urgent. Ethan resisted the reflex to stare at him again as though he had lost his mind and instead squeezed his eyes shut and listened intently.
As suddenly as they began, the words ceased. But another man, opposite of them, spoke up.
"The Holy Spirit prayed through Astin and asked that the two remaining fishermen, Ryan McPherson and Gerry Mahoney would seek the answer as to why they were spared, and discover the purposes God has so richly planned for them."
Ethan sneaked a look at the man who had spoken. His attire was a simple flannel shirt and jeans, with what appeared to be a penknife in his pocket. A practical man – not the foolish boy Astin was. The desire to leave was almost overpowering, but he forced his eyes back down to the pews.
"And now, if you will all accompany me in the Lord's Prayer—"
The congregation accompanied the prayer and, at the conclusion, raised their heads. The chapel brightened, and as Ethan gazed out the window to the right, the sun reached around a tuft of pearly white cloud as it coasted past and the cries of a gull erupted nearby.