All Hannah needs is a nice and quiet vacation after her first year of teaching French at a high school. She joins her brother Ben for the summer in their mom’s log cabin in Arizona. There, she meets Josh again, Ben’s childhood friend from the Navajo reservation. The little boy from the rez has grown up fast, and Hannah can’t help but feeling more for him than just friendship.
But fate apparently has something else in store for her. And it’s not peace and quiet. Night after night, Hannah is plagued by strange nightmares about the past of Navajo Nation and terrifying shadows chasing her. They seem to come closer – and why is Josh always present in her dreams?
“Come on, car. Just a few more miles.”
Hannah Darson sighed so hard she blew the strands of dark-blonde hair from her face that had slipped out of her ponytail. She tightly gripped the steering wheel of the old, gray Datsun, trying to relax her tense shoulders. Not to mention the rest of her body – she could almost feel the frown on her lightly tanned face settle in on her forehead permanently.
Hmm. She was probably just too tired to unwind, having been on the road since early morning, driving from Las Cruces to her mother’s log cabin close to Lake Powell. All this driving was beginning to get the better of her – she was completely drained. And hungry. Even more importantly, she was anxious – she was practically out of fuel. And out of options. She hadn’t passed any gas stations for a while.
Hannah shot a nervous glance at the fuel gauge on her dashboard. It had been in the red for some time now. The route through Navajo Nation hadn’t exactly taken her through densely populated areas. And still the empty road stretched out ahead. Come on. Local people had to get gas somewhere too, right? Had she missed something?
The road curved to the left, and suddenly Hannah spotted a small gas station next to the exit to Glen Canyon Dam. Hallelujah! Danger of getting stranded without fuel averted.
“Whoohoo!” she shouted at the top of her voice, gunning her Datsun to the entrance of the station. Nothing would rain on her parade now. Summer had started, her first year of teaching – which she’d survived without lethal damage – was over, and she was going to spend July and August here, in Arizona. Ben, her younger brother, was already waiting for her at the log cabin in St. Mary’s Port. She’d missed the place. The last time she’d stayed in their cozy little cabin was four years ago, when she’d still been together with Greg.
Her ex-boyfriend liked the buzz of the big city, and he had never really warmed up to this place. Well, in the end, she hadn’t liked him enough to stay with him either. She was a girl with a feel for village life, about to enjoy the peace and quiet of St. Mary’s Port once more. Endless days on the beach and sipping drinks in the shade of umbrellas lined up on the deck of the local restaurant were awaiting her. Plus, there would be countless trips to the Navajo reservation. Lake Powell was bordering on Navajo Nation, so it was a given to explore the reservation again. She and Ben even had childhood friends there.
Humming happily to herself, Hannah parked her car next to gas pump number two. “It’s raining men!” she sang-shouted, blaring along to the song on her car stereo.
The guy standing next to pump number three was just done getting gas for his motorbike. He looked sideways and his mouth curled up in a smile. The Datsun’s roof was down, so he’d caught her shouting her lungs out.
Hannah bit her lip. Damn. Her neighbor turned out to be a total hottie. She shot him a look that lasted a tad too long, then blushed, rummaging through her bag to find her money and pretend she’d already forgotten about him. As if.
Furtively, she looked him over again as he was strolling off to pay, helmet in one hand and sunglasses on. Yup, this was typically her – scaring off the local hunk by being a total retard. She rolled her eyes at herself.
The motorcycle driver was clearly a Navajo from the reservation. His red-brown skin was dark and offset by the white of his sleeveless shirt. He had a small hair braid on one side, a turquoise bead and a red feather decorating the bottom. That feather had to be the symbol for one of the local clans. Her once-best-friend on the reservation, Emily Begay, also belonged to the Feather Clan. Emily should be about twenty-one by now, just like Ben. Hopefully she’d run into Em this summer.
Or into him, perhaps. She kept staring at the Navajo motorbike owner as he entered the small building of the gas station. He had an absolutely divine body.
Oh well. She’d better stop drooling and daydreaming about meeting him again. In all likelihood, Mister Local Hunk was going to stay far away from her, her incompetent vocal chords and her desperate stares.
Just to make sure, Hannah completely filled up her Datsun so she wouldn’t be short on fuel anytime soon. When she was done, she went into the building and got in line for the pay desk.
There. The Navajo guy had just paid for his gas. He stuffed the receipt into the pocket of his jeans and sauntered to the exit, passing the shelves with chewing gum and candy bars. And then, out of nowhere, he looked her right in the eye.
“Hi.” His voice was deep and beautiful and just as impressive as his looks. He stared at her through his tinted sunglasses, a hint of a smile on his face, like he was amused by some private joke.
Hannah looked up at him dumbfounded. Wow. He wasn’t blanking her. He was still talking to her. So maybe she should talk back.
“Um – hey,” she stammered feebly and stared at him all owl-faced. For a moment, it seemed he wanted to say something more, but he didn’t. He just gave her another sunny smile before leaving the building. Navajo Hunk started his motorbike and put his helmet on before tearing off at break-neck speed.
She groaned inwardly. Way to go with the conversational skills. Where was her language? A comatose patient could have come up with more syllables than that.
Hannah paid for the fuel, her face like thunder. She sped the last couple of miles to St. Mary’s Port, praying there were no speed cameras installed anywhere. If she didn’t get there soon, she would starve to death in her car or eat herself up out of frustration.
It would be nice to cook a big meal together with Ben. Or maybe they should go to the local restaurant. Ben wasn’t famous for his culinary talents, and the last thing she needed now was slaving away in the kitchen herself. Hannah fumbled around in her bag to find her phone. One missed call, from her brother. She phoned him back.
“Heya sis!” Ben picked up on the second ring. “Where the heck are you?”
“I’ll be there in ten minutes. Where the heck are you?”
“On the beach. Where else? I’ll come home and help you unpack.”
“Okay, cool. See you soon!” She clicked off.
When Hannah turned into the driveway next to the log cabin, Ben was sitting on the stairs leading up to the porch, smoking a cigarette. His dark-blonde hair had already turned a lighter shade in the sunlight. He was wearing a big, showy pair of sunglasses that were hiding eyes just as bright-green as hers.
“You’re here!” he boomed enthusiastically, jumping up and giving her a bear hug.
“Hi bro. How’ve you been the past few days?”
“Incredibly hot. I’ve been on the beach a lot.” Ben dragged Hannah’s suitcase up the stairs, while she carried two heavy bags with food and toiletries. She put the food in the kitchen and walked to the door of her old bedroom.
Opening the door, she fell silent for a moment. Everything was just as she remembered it. The big, comfortable bed in the corner, the sturdy table against the wall, the flowery curtains in front of the window looking out on the lake – it was like no time had passed at all.
“I’ve already made your bed,” Ben pointed out, coming in after her and putting the suitcase down.
“Thank you so much. That really helps. My back hurts from all the driving.”
“Let’s go out for dinner tonight, then. We don’t need to cook. There’s a nice new place at the beach with grilled fish on the menu. We could try that.”
“Sounds great!” Hannah went out to get the rest of her stuff from the car. In the meantime, Ben grabbed two beer cans from the fridge. He and Hannah toasted when they sat down on the porch.
“To a long and carefree summer,” Hannah said.
Ben grinned. “A good thing Greg’s out of your life. He never wanted to visit this place. St. Mary’s Port has missed you.”
“How’s Emily, by the way? I was thinking about her at the gas station. There was a Navajo guy walking around there from the same clan.” She felt herself blush and quickly took a swig of beer from her can.
“She’s fine! She was asking about you.”
“Does she still live in Naabi’aani?”
Ben nodded. “Yeah, she just finished her studies. She’s a certified naturopath now. Her practice is on the rez, in Naabi’aani, but she also works at the homeopathic pharmacy in town.”
“Wow! Good for her. And what about Josh – have you seen him yet?”
“Sure. We meet every summer. He still lives there with his parents. He just finished high school.”
Hannah smiled, staring out over the lake spreading out at the bottom of the hill like an unfathomable, giant mirror. It was great this place hadn’t changed in her absence. Everything was still as beautiful as she remembered, and their old friends were still around too.
Hannah glanced down at her watch. “When does the pharmacy close? Do you think I’ll have time to say hello to Em?” “
She’s not working today.” Ben dug up his cell phone. “But she will be tomorrow. She asked me to tell you to call her. I have her number here.”
“I’ll send her a text. Once Emily starts talking, there’s no way to stop her.”
After Hannah tapped out a text message to her old friend, she and Ben walked down to the beach and sat down at a table on the deck of ‘The Winking Shrimp’. Hannah let her gaze wander over the calm water of Lake Powell, where people were swimming, riding paddle-boats or walking along the shoreline. She took in the red rocks of Antelope Island across the water, their almost luminescent shapes like ancient castles in the setting sun. The nameless small island just off the coast looked like a dark, blood-red stain on the water.
“We have new neighbors, by the way,” Ben told her. “The cabin to our right was bought by a couple with two daughters our age. Ivy and Amber.”
“Oh, really? That’s great! Let’s organize a barbecue and invite them sometime.”
“Good idea. I took the old barbecue from the shed yesterday and cleaned it. I was in one of those moods again.”
“A cleaning mood? What do you mean, ‘again’?”
Ben smirked. “As friendly as ever. Come on, pick something from the menu. I want to order.”
She quickly decided to get the trout before reading the text Emily had sent her back. Ben put in their orders.
Hannah put her phone down. “We’re going to have lunch at a vegetarian restaurant opposite the pharmacy tomorrow. I’m eager to find out how she’s doing! Do you think I’ll still recognize her?”
“Sure you will. I recognized her too. She hasn’t changed that much in four years.”
Hannah nodded. “You have a point. I haven’t changed much either.”
“Of course you have, Han. You look so much smarter, and prettier, and more grown-up…” Ben summed up in faux admiration.
Hannah raised her eyebrows. “You’re beginning to scare me. What do you need from me? Forgot your money?”
Ben opened his mouth to say something, then fell silent. His eyes widened. “Oh,” he mumbled, patting his pockets. “Oh, damn.”
“Yeah, right. Drop the act.”
“Look, I’m really sorry. I think I left my wallet in my car.”
She laughed. “No worries. I am used to your chaotic lifestyle by now.”
“What do you mean, chaotic? I’m getting better at planning my life all the time. Don’t tell me you didn’t notice I brought my textbooks.”
“I saw a pile of something in the living room, yes.”
“Well, that pile means I’m going to catch up on stuff from last year,” Ben said, a self-satisfied look on his face.
“Do you have exams straight after summer?”
Ben didn’t reply. He was staring at the water. “Oh, I think Josh is on the beach.” He got up from his chair. “Hold on, I’ll tell him we’re sitting over here.” He walked off the deck toward the water. Hannah tried to see where he was going, but the beach was still quite crowded and soon she’d lost sight of him.
In one corner of the deck, a band of three guitarists and one saxophone player had set up. They started playing soft music, giving the perfect backdrop to a slow and warm summer night.
Hannah put her handbag on the floor and turned in her chair to see whether Ben was coming back yet. His glass of beer had been on the table for a while, and her brother hated lukewarm beer – with a passion. She spotted him down by the jetty with the small rowing boats, enthusiastically waving his arms and telling a tall guy next to him some elaborate story.
Hannah swallowed hard and squinted against the sunlight. That guy next to Ben – but that couldn’t be. She couldn’t believe her eyes. That was the Navajo guy. The guy who’d laughed at her poor attempt at singing. The guy who’d playfully said hello and given her this intense look, while she was gaping at him like a dumbstruck idiot. So Ben knew him?
Her heart skipped a beat when she suddenly realized why the local native hunk with the divine body was walking next to her brother.
That was Josh.
Copyright© Jen Minkman. All rights reserved.