Reckless Girls by Rachel Hawkins: New Excerpt

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We only go a few more yards before we find the place Jake must have been talking about. It’s like the lagoon where the boats are anchored, but much smaller, a cove surrounded on three sides by sand, and we don’t even pause before diving into the water.

When I break back through the surface, Amma laughs, splashing me with one hand.

“You just went full Little Mermaid,” she teases, miming throwing back her hair. I smile and let myself float on my back. The sky is as blue as it was yesterday, with only a few fat, puffy clouds lazily moving across it.

Peace begins settling over me in a way I haven’t experienced since Mom died. For the first time in years, I’m not worried about . . . anything. Not money or cancer, school or Nico. I can just float right here, literally, in the perfect present. I know it can’t last—this sort of tranquility is meant to be temporary, and I’ve learned the hard way that it’s smarter to always think about that next bend in the road, always be prepared for whatever is coming next. It’s when you stop doing that that the worst seems to happen, after all.

But I promise myself that I’ll try to savor it. I feel Amma’s hand brush mine, and when I look to my right, she’s also floating next to me.

I wonder how long we can stay out here before Nico will begin to wonder about us. We didn’t bring anything—no phones, no towels, and while I lathered up before heading out, I know I’ll burn if we stay out too long.

“Oh, fuck!”

There’s splashing, a hand grasping for my leg.

I lift my head, and there it is.

The fin is small, black one minute, gray the next, all depending on how the light hits it. And while it’s nothing like the monster that loomed in my dreams after I saw Jaws for the first time, it’s enough to send my heart into my throat, my stomach plummeting to somewhere near my knees.

There is something so sinister about that fin, slicing through the water like a blade, disrupting the tranquility of this perfect place. I feel like I’m in a dream as I flip over and swim back to the beach, like the water has suddenly become glue, thick and viscous, slowing my movements even though I know I’m swimming as fast as I can, that the shore is so close. Still, my entire body is tense with fear, bracing for a sudden spike of pain, the numbing terror of knowing you’re about to become food.

Amma is right next to me, and I’m struck by a sudden, dark thought.

I don’t have to beat the shark, I just have to beat her.

Even as I reach the shallow water myself, scrambling to my feet in an awkward crawl, I can picture it in my mind: Amma and the shark both gaining on me, my foot connecting with Amma’s jaw, her teeth clocking together, her blood ribboning out bright red in the clear water as the shark turns for her while I’m safe, I’m out, I’m alive . . .

The vision is fleeting, fading as Amma and I both stumble onto the beach, but when I look at her, I’m filled with the same weird thrill of horror and amazement as when you peer over the edge of a cliff and think, What if I jumped right now?

The relief that you didn’t do it mixed with the giddy awfulness of knowing that you could.

We’re both on shore now, and looking out at the water, the fin is no closer than it was. The shark is just turning lazy circles out at the mouth of the lagoon. It was never chasing us at all.

We collapse onto the sand, laughing in the way you do when you’ve just been scared shitless, but somehow come out of it okay.

“Oh my god,” Amma gasps, wrapping an arm around her middle. “We were almost those girls!”

I raise a shaking hand to push my wet hair back from my face. “Which girls?”

She sits and wraps an arm around her knees. “You know,” she says. “The stupid ones in horror movies. The ones who are flitting about and joking around despite it being really obvious they’re going to die in the opening scene.”

“Okay, but that couldn’t be us because we didn’t have our tits hanging out,” I remind her, and she laughs again.

“Solid point,” Amma says, nodding at me with approval. “It would’ve been Eliza, then.”

That makes both of us crack up, and out in the lagoon, I see the shark turn toward the open water. “Guess he got tired of our shit,” I observe, and Amma stands up, picking up a handful of sand.

“Fuck off, shark!” she yells, throwing it into the water, and for whatever reason, that’s the funniest thing I have ever heard, because I laugh so hard that tears stream down my cheeks, and Amma laughs, too, the two of us giggling in a way I haven’t done in nearly three years. Ever since Mom died.

“I like you, Lux,” Amma says once we settle down. “I mean, I knew when we met you that you were obviously cool, but now I really like you.”

It’s pathetic the way those words warm me, pathetic how much I’ve missed being accepted by other women, having this kind of easy camaraderie. It makes me think about how I felt just a few minutes ago, floating in all that clear water. Like I could just exist as someone in the present, no past, no worries about the future.

Fuck, that would be nice.

Amma smiles at me from behind her sunglasses. “And as we’ve discussed, I don’t like people that easily,” she says, “so it’s a very high bar.”

She’s teasing, but I’m remembering what I felt in the water, that urge to kick her to save myself.

You’re a survivor, Brittany had said after the storm. Maybe that’s all it was, some deep human instinct of self-preservation. But something about that image—Amma in the water, blood in her mouth—stays with me for the rest of the day.

Copyright © 2022 by Rachel Hawkins. All rights reserved.

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