Image of a creepy cove covered in a green smoke, with yellow lettering that reads "Forgotten Cove," which is the first book in the Hailing Cove Series.

Forgotten Cove: Chapters 1 – 3 (Coming Fall 2023)

Book 1 of the Hailing Cove Series

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Forgotten Cove: Chapter 3

At 8:00 p.m. sharp John pulled into the driveway in an old, red Jeep Wrangler. It was the perfect summer ride. Too bad “Hot John,” the name Elle had given him in her head, a fitting replacement for “Johnny Booger Nose,” had a girlfriend.

Maybe she won’t be that bad, Elle told herself. It would be really nice to have a female friend to hang out with this summer.

Elle looked herself over one last time before heading out the door. She thought she looked cute for a beach bonfire: pale blue jean shorts with a loose-fitting grey hoodie over a white tank top. She’d pulled her long dark hair into a low ponytail, and her sheer berry lip gloss served as a nice complimented to her bronze skin. Okay, she exhaled, nodding at her reflection in the mirror.

“Bye Grandma Rose! I’ll be home by midnight.” Elle called back as she pulled the door shut behind her and jogged toward the Jeep.

“Hey!” John called from the driver’s seat. Elle’s breath caught. Somehow, he looked even better tonight than he did this afternoon. He managed to walk a fine line between looking like a laid-back surfer dude and an uptight jock. It was the hair, Elle thought. Thick, dark blonde, and falling just past his ears.

“Hi,” she said, climbing into the back.

“Elle, this is my girlfriend, Tara.”

Elle noticed the petite blonde with long, straight hair, looking back at her from the front seat. Her big blue eyes fit well with her otherwise tiny features. She wore a casual white summer dress, accented with dainty gold earrings and a matching necklace. Tara looked like a work of art, everything perfectly coordinated and not a hair out of place. Maybe I should have dressed a little nicer, Elle thought trying to hide her discomfort. But then Tara smiled, a big, genuine smile that could light up a room. “Hi Elle! It’s really nice to meet you.”

Whew, John’s girlfriend is alright, she thought feeling instantly relieved, before returning the greeting.

“Hey Elle, tell Tara what you used to call me.”

Elle laughed, rolling her eyes. “It’s so embarrassing.”

“Oh, this I’ve got to hear.”

“Uh fine,” Elle giggled again and quietly repeated the nickname, almost under her breath, realizing how ridiculous it sounded.

“Johnny Booger Nose?” Tara yelled as the three broke out into raucous laughter. When they all calmed down, she said, “so, Elle, what brings you to Hailing Cove for the summer?”

“My mom sent me to stay with my grandma since she’ll be traveling a lot for work this summer.”

“What does she do?”

“She works in HR for a big company back home in Vegas.”

From the back seat, Elle could hear the skeptical note in Tara’s voice and almost picture the look on her face. “She works in HR, and she has to travel?”

Elle paused for a moment. Tara made a good point. Why would her mom be traveling this summer? But she just shrugged her shoulders and said, “I just know what she tells me.”

“I get that,” John said. “I pretty much zone out whenever John Sr. talks about his job. I don’t know if you remember Elle, but he has a way of making everything sound really boring.”

Elle did, in fact, not remember, but she just laughed politely, and said, “whose house is this?” as they neared a large home set back off the road, a mass of trees obscuring the full view.

“Oh, this is Scooters house,” John answered.

“Scooter?”

Tara turned around to feign an eye roll at Elle over the nickname. “That’s what I said, too,” she giggled.

“Yeah, his name’s Scott Caaden. His parents call him ‘Scooter.’ We thought this was hilarious when we were kids, and he’s been stuck with Scooter ever since.”

“So you guys grew up together?” Elle asked.

“We sure did.”

“And how did you two meet?” Elle said pointing between John and Tara and feeling slightly jealous as she saw the way John looked at her. Elle pushed those feeling aside. Both John and Tara had been so nice to her so far, taking her out on a Friday. Knock it off, she thought to herself. “Did you grow up together too?”

“Us?” Tara laughed, “Oh, no. We actually just met last summer. My family started spending summers here a few years ago, and John and I ran into each other at the Midsummer Festival last summer.”

“Midsummer?”

“Yeah,” John chimed in, “It’s held on the summer solstice.”

“Ooookay, Elle said making a face, “what is the summer solstice?”

“It’s the longest day of the year.” John laughed and shook his head, “I don’t know. This town has some … different … traditions. It’s a little witchy.”

Elle opened her mouth and then promptly shut it, not sure what to ask next. “Uh…”

“Hey Scooter!” John yelled. Elle looked up to see a tall, good looking preppy kid walking up to the Jeep. He wore a red and white varsity jacket—their school colors Elle presumed—over a loose-fitting grey t-shirt that looked incredibly soft and contrasted in all the right ways against his dark skin.

“That’s Scooter?” Elle leaned forward, whispering to Tara.

“Yeah, kind of like Johnny Booger Nose, huh?”

The two girls laughed.

“What’s so funny?” Scooter said, sidling up next to Elle. “I’m Scott, but these bozos call me Scooter,” he continued, reaching forward and rapping John in the back of the head.

“Boys.” Tara rolled her eyes, and the two girls burst into laughter again.

“Hey, where are Mia and Ava?” Scooter asked.

“They are meeting us down there. Let’s go.”

***

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Elle couldn’t believe her eyes when her small group pulled into the parking lot that accessed Hailing Cove Beach. “Unbelievable,” she said under her breath, watching the flames from the distant fire leap into the sky. From the parking lot she could hear upbeat music and noises from the lively party.

Feeling excited and a little nervous, Elle followed Tara down to the dusty path that led to the beach. “Just through these trees,” Tara motioned toward a thin line of trees that separated the sparsely vegetated path from the waterfront.

            “Wow,” Elle said, as the group emerged from the trees. She’d never seen so many young people in one place before. The beach was full of excited partiers.

            “I take it they don’t party like this where you are from? That kind of surprises me with you being from Vegas, and all.” Tara said.

            Elle nodded, scanning the beach and the masses of people. “I actually live in Henderson, which is right outside of Vegas. And no. I’ve been to parties, but this is unlike anything I’ve ever seen.”

            “Well, there’s a lot of tourists and old money around here. The more you have, the more you can get away with.” Tara stopped Elle in her tracks, gently grasping both of her arms and giving her a serious look, “Listen Elle. Be careful here. Most of these people are good people, but don’t trust anyone. Don’t take a drink from someone you don’t know, and don’t go off with anybody.”

            Elle’s stomach did a flip, and Tara’s response let her know she’d done a terrible job hiding her concern. “Don’t worry,” Tara said with a smile, wrapping her arm around her shoulder, “I’m not letting you leave my sight. And John would never let anything happen to either of us. He was so excited when he heard you were coming to visit for the summer.”

            “He was?” Elle said taken aback, but before Tara could answer the two were interrupted.

            “Tara!” A tiny girl yelped, animatedly pulling Tara into a warm embrace.

            “Hey Mia! You have to meet Elle, John’s childhood friend.”

            Childhood friend? Sure, John’s parents lived next to her grandma, and the two played together a couple times, but she certainly wouldn’t have called John her “friend.” This was all too weird, but Elle didn’t think now was the time or place to get to the bottom of it. She didn’t want to embarrass John in front of his girlfriend, so she decided to let it go—make the best of the night and try to enjoy herself.

            “Hi Elle,” Mia said. “I’m Mia, and this is my girlfriend, Ava.” Elle watched as the tiny girl wrapped her arm around the approaching brunet who waved to Elle with a smile. Mia and Ava were complete opposites, but both were equally beautiful. Mia stood about 5’2 with black, bone straight hair that tumbled down her back. Her wide set dark eyes looked adoringly into Ava’s green cat eyes. Ava towered over Mia and wore her light brown hair in a short pixie cut.

            Their styles also clashed. Ava had a bohemian air going on. She wore a knitted midriff—its long fringe falling casually over her bare stomach and unintentionally complimenting her carefree vibe—along with wide legged pants that were decorated with an almost microscopic and somewhat chaotic floral print. The material looked loose and airy. Mia, on the other hand, was a bit more conservative in her attire—almost twee, if that was still a thing, but in a beachy way—donning a short-sleeved summer dress with a white lacey collar. But they seemed crazy about each other, Elle thought, watching Ava whisper something into Mia’s ear, which was apparently hilarious judging by the amused expression on Mia’s face.

            “Let’s get some drinks,” Ava said, taking note of the red disposable cups and mumbling something about the environment.

            “Good idea,” Scott chimed in, draping his arm over Elle’s shoulder. “Come on, Elle. Let me show you around.”

            “Jeez Scooter. Leave the new girl alone.” Ava yelled.

            Elle felt a mix of uncertainty and excitement, feeling Scott’s warm body next to hers and watching as he navigated his friend group with a sexy confidence that was enough to drive anyone wild.

            But she wasn’t about to let some guy she didn’t know drag her around a party. He was going to have to work a little harder than that to earn her trust.

            “I’m going to get a drink with Ava,” she said, extricating herself from his arm. “But you should come with us.

***

John shut his headlights off as he pulled into the driveway of Tara’s parent’s summer home. The white colonial was massive, standing two stories high, with rows of closely spaced windows. It’s tidy landscaping consisted of box woods and a variety of other woody shrubs that peaked up from the ground and crowned just under the first-floor windows. Thoughtfully placed lanterns flooded the property with bright white light, and tasteful maritime garden ornaments gave the home an overall seaside feel.

            “This is me,” Tara said, hopping out of the car and running over to the driver’s side, gently pressing a kiss on John’s cheek. Backing away, she called out to Elle, “I’ll call you tomorrow.”

            Elle smile and waved. Maybe Hailing Cove wasn’t that bad after all. John and his friends were easy going, and they actually seemed like people she could call friends. She’d felt comfortable with them—and much to her surprise—Tara was the one she ended up feeling closest with. The two had made plans to go shopping later this week, and Elle was excited to have a girl her age to hang out with. Grandma Rose was great, but they didn’t have a lot in common other than their shared lineage. Looking back, Elle felt a little bad for giving her mom such a hard time about spending the summer here.

            John backed onto the tree-lined street heading back toward their neighborhood, “So what did you think of your first night out in Hailing Cove?”

            “Your friends are great,” Elle began, tucking her hair behind her ear and thinking about where to start. The warm breeze felt good against her skin as she relaxed back into her seat, letting the languorous late spring heat wash over her. “Tara is really nice, and she’s gorgeous. I totally get what you see in her. She’s amazing.”

            “Yeah, she really is, isn’t she?” John responded, holding the steering wheel with one hand and looking out onto the street with a distant look in his eyes.

            “Come to think of it, all your friends are really good looking.” Elle laughed, feeling slightly self-conscious. She wasn’t hung up on looks or anything. She’d just never seen so many beautiful people in one place.

            “Who? Scooter.” John gave her a knowing look.

            “No!” Elle laughed again. “Every single one of you.”

            “Well, what can I say? We come from good stock,” John said, feigning pride. Then turning serious—pointedly looking in Elle’s eyes with an expression she couldn’t quite make out—he said, “but you know you fit right in, right?” 

            “Ummm…” she began, feeling a little uncomfortable. Was hot John coming onto her? Or was he trying to tell her something? Elle wasn’t sure how to respond.

            After a tense moment of silence, John sighed picking up on her discomfort, “Look,” he began, “I’m really sorry, Elle. I didn’t… I didn’t mean that the way it came out. It’s just you and I were so close when we were younger. You were my best friend. I want you to know that you are just as amazing as Ava and Mia and, well, Tara, too.”

            Best friends?

            John took a deep breath, pausing for a moment before he continued. “I was devastated when your parents took you away after the accident. I didn’t want you to go, which is why I was so excited when my parents told me you were spending the summer here. I know it’s been a while, but your friendship means a lot to me. I hope you know that.”

            Accident? Elle’s thoughts were racing. What was John talking about? What accident? And best friend? John Foster had lost his mind. Elle felt her skin getting hot as she gazed out the window trying to gauge how far they were from home. She wanted out of this car now.

            “Elle, are you okay? I can tell you are upset. What’s going on?”

            Feeling confused and scared, she didn’t know where to begin. She took a deep breath trying to calm her racing thoughts and decided brutal honesty was the best way to address this. “John, I don’t know what you’re talking about. What accident? And best friends? I remember you chasing me around Grandma Rose’s front yard with a frog, but I certainly don’t remember us being particularly close.”

            John looked hurt, “My parents said you might not remember everything, which is why they discouraged me from contacting you. But I’m really surprised, Elle. Don’t you remember the treehouse? Behind my backyard? You’d just read Bridge to Terabithia.” He laughed, “and you made me read it too, so we could play “Terabithia” together in the woods.”

            Elle squinted her eyes, trying to make sense of anything he was saying. Of course she remembered the book; it was one of her favorites, but she had no memories of playing in the woods with John. No memories of this great friendship they supposedly had.

            “John, tell me about the accident.”

            “Oh, that’s probably not the best way to describe it. That’s just what I called it when I was a kid. It wasn’t that big of a deal. You and I were playing in the treehouse one day, and you fell. You were fine, though. You got right up, didn’t have a scratch on you. But you and your parents had to leave the next day. It felt very sudden, and I remember thinking I had done something wrong.”

            Elle felt more confused. Falling out of the treehouse seemed like a big deal, something that she would remember. But she didn’t, so it couldn’t have happened, right? But why would John make this up? She could easily ask her mom about it and catch him in a lie. Plus, he seemed so sincere.

            She took a little bit of a gamble, still not sure if this was a good idea, but she could always back out later. “John, would you take me to see the tree house sometime this week?”

***

“Grandma, I’m home,” Elle called, turning around to hang her hoodie on the coat rack. No reply. It was strangely quiet. “Grandma?” she said, as she quickly drafted a text to Sadie.

            “Party was great. I think I might have a crush on John’s friend Scott.” She hit send, before returning her phone to the pocket of her hoodie. She decided not to tell Sadie about John’s weird behavior. It was late, and she didn’t feel like getting into it.

Elle looked around as she stepped into her grandmother’s eclectic living room. Grandma Rose had left a candle burning on the mantle, and a cup of tea sat on the table in front of her normal spot on the couch. She couldn’t have gone to bed.

            “Grandma Rose?” she called again, as she turned the corner into her grandmother’s midcentury modern kitchen. To her right stood a large, solid wood dining table framed by four velvet chairs, the color of matcha powder. Its thin legs protruded out from the center at an angle, and a colorful glazed vase filled with pale orange peonies sat in the middle. Accented by a bamboo green backsplash, grainy wood cupboards lined all three walls on Elle’s other side.

            Elle started to call her grandma’s name again, but she stopped short, instead gasping and reflexively sputtering, “Oh my god,” as she saw Grandma Rose lying face down like a pile of crumpled laundry on the kitchen floor, her black cat, Grim, curled up beside her.

            Panic rising in her chest, Elle ran to her grandmother’s side, kneeling down on the cold wood floor, gently shaking her. “Grandma Rose. Grandma Rose. Please wake up.” Her voice became more and more emotional with each word, and Elle felt hot tears running down her face before she even realized she was crying.

            “Please Grandma,” she sobbed, shaking her again. Time stood still as Elle frantically thought about what to do. Where is my phone, she thought, fumbling through the pockets of her jean shorts. It’s in my hoodie. Elle shot up and ran back to the living room to get it, her shaking fingers pressing the numbers for 911.

She walked back into the kitchen, preparing to hit the call button, when Grandma Rose called out, slowly sitting up. Her face was pale, and her eyes had lost their standard twinkle, instead taking on a look of utter exhaustion, which was accentuated by the blue circles that framed the bottom of her eyes. But she was awake and breathing!

Elle exhaled a sigh of relief, wrapping her arms around the old woman. She felt so tiny and fragile, as Elle rubbed her hand across her grandmother’s back—partially to comfort her, but also to assure herself she could believe her own eyes that her grandmother was indeed alive and well—and feeling her grey hair, which was uncharacteristically disheveled, falling out of her bun and cascading past the nape of her neck. “Oh Grandma. Are you okay?”

Grandma Rose took a minute to get her bearings, scanning the room with a bewildered look on her face. Or was that worry? “Yes. I’m okay, child.”

“Okay, Grandma, I’m going to call an ambulance.” Elle said, glancing back down at her phone, prepared to hit the call button.

Almost on cue, like the two were somehow psychically connected, Grim began batting at Elle’s arm with his furry black paw, as Grandma Rose said, “no, no, that won’t be necessary.” She slowly stood up, and Elle noticed that the color had returned to her cheeks. She looked like she was gaining strength by the second.

“But Grandma, I’m really worried up about. You were just passed out of the fl—.”

Grandma Rose put her hand up, cutting Elle off midsentence. “I’ll hear no more of this. I’m fine, Elle. I promise you.”

Elle opened her mouth, but before she could get a word out, Grandma Rose shot back, “drop it. I mean it.” And after a brief pause, she continued with resolve, “Tomorrow we will prepare.”

“Prepare? For what? Grandma Rose what happened?” Elle said, feeling like her world was coming undone. What on earth was Grandma Rose talking about? What could they possibly need to prepare for? It wasn’t like her grandma had plans to run a marathon or compete in some sort of senior citizen athletic event. In fact, given the events of tonight, she probably shouldn’t.

But Elle saw the spooked look in her eyes and couldn’t help to think that she’d meant they’d prepare for something a bit more serious. Yet she couldn’t fathom what that could possibly be. All she knew was that her grandma was acting like a typical adult and treating Elle like a child. She’d come home to find her grandma on—at least what she thought was—death’s door, and now her grandma was downplaying it, like she’d simply taken a nap on the couch after dinner.

But all her grandma would say was, “tomorrow.”

“No, Grandma Rose. You need to tell me what is going on now!” Elle insisted as she gazed at her grandma with disbelief, and not wanting to take no for an answer. This was serious business, and Elle’s thoughts were running a mile a minute, looping through different scenarios.

Elle was determined to get to the bottom of this, but she was cowed by her grandma’s sharp tone, which cut into her thoughts and undermined her determination. “I said tomorrow,” she said, raising her voice in a stern retort that startled Elle.

It was the kind of tone that could instantly bring tears to your eyes—the kind of tone that she’s never heard her grandmother use before and certainly not toward her. She seemed angry, and Elle felt the intense sensation of embarrassment and hurt roll over her. Turning on her heel, she stomped out of the kitchen and up the stairs, taking a defensive posture to hide her humiliation and the hot tears that were running down her face. She knew it was going to be a long, sleepless night.