“Look, girl. If you’re gonna jump, then jump.”
That’s what Arly’s cousin Lisa had said to her that afternoon years before when the two of them and Lisa’s friends had gone swimming out at the rock quarry. There’d been this spot (Arly figured it was still there) where you could climb up till you were a good forty feet or so above the water, where the kids loved to high dive. Arly, eleven or twelve at the time, had at last worked up the courage to give it a try, but when she’d gotten to the precipice she’d frozen, stood there with her bare feet glued to the warm rock, toes on the edge, like a statue. After several minutes of the others shouting encouragement from where they treaded water below, Lisa had tossed the gauntlet.
“You climbed up there. Now either jump or climb back down.”
Arly had jumped.
And now she had jumped again.
The day before, when she’d realized, and Saint had realized, just where they were after they’d climbed through that hole in the cave, she’d known it was time. Jump or climb down.
“We don’t have what we need,” Saint had announced. “We’ve got ta’ go back, pick up some more supplies.”
“Why?” Pete had wanted to know.
“Goin’ explorin’ in another world, you’ve got ta’ be like the Boy Scouts. You’ve got ta’ be prepared.”
“I’m going with you,” Arly had announced.
Pete had given her hell about it, all the way back and again in the hotel over dinner. “So much for that promise, huh? Something about keeping a safe distance?”
“Pete, this is a literal once-in-a-lifetime thing. A whole bunch of lifetimes.”
“If you don’t believe it anyway, what are you so worked up about?” Arly had asked him. The two of them had gone to the hotel lounge for dinner while Saint had gone shopping and Roth had gone with him to oversee.
“Because you’re talking about going down into some cave, and God knows how deep it is, even, with a convicted murderer. You’re crazy if you think you’re going without me.”
“Pete, you can’t go. You’ve got a wife and two kids who need you. I’ve got a father in prison who doesn’t even care that I exist.”
“You’re got plenty of people who love you.”
“I know that. My point is…”
“The point is, you’re not going.”
“I feel like I have to, Pete. There’s something drawing me to it. I have to see where that tunnel leads.”
“Then I’m coming with you.”
“Pete, what if, and I don’t believe this is going to happen, but that hole in the wall in that cave, it wasn’t there a few years ago when I went there and it is there now, so that means that sometimes it’s there and sometimes it’s not. So what if we go through tomorrow and the hole, the door, isn’t there when we get ready to come back? We’d be trapped in the other world.”
“Other world, my ass.”
“I know you don’t believe it.”
“Why don’t you try your closet back in your room? That worked for those kids, getting into Narnia.”
“I don’t care if you make fun of me. I know it’s real. And I have to go. I have to. But you don’t.”
“I’m supposed to let you go off into some parallel dimension or something with a convicted murderer.”
“Saint won’t hurt me.”
“That’s another thing.”
“Pete, I can’t explain to you how I know it. I just do. I know he won’t hurt me the same way I feel, I know, that I have to go with him.”
“You’ve cracked,” Pete had dismissed her by saying. “I’m not kidding. I think you have.”
Pete would have raised hell for real had he known that, a couple of hours later, Arly had slipped from her hotel room and gone to Saint’s.
Why am I doing this? she’d asked herself.
He’d opened the door as if he’d been expecting her, wearing silk pajama pants, no shirt—
(Offering her a display of his toned physique, yes, but also the numerous scars on his body and the strange tattoo covering his left pectoral, over his heart.)—with a glass of wine in his hand and Muddy Waters playing low on the stereo.
“Come in, chere.”
“Why am I not afraid of you?” she’d asked him later, after they’d made love. Lying in bed next to Saint, snuggled up beside him, uncovered, with the air-conditioning chilly on her naked skin, she kept thinking maybe Pete had been right. Maybe I have cracked. “I’m not some brainless ditz. I graduated law school with a 3.9 GPA.”
“I know you’re plenty smart, chere.”
“I’m not some slut, either. I don’t just up and go to bed with men.”
“You’re a lady, sure ‘nough.”
“And this isn’t just lust. I mean, sure, I’m attracted to you. But I’ve been attracted to plenty of men and didn’t sleep with them. Pete would say it’s because of my father.”
“He’s been to prison a half-dozen times. That’s where he is now. I used to have a real problem with picking men who were just like him. Not just, but, you know, damaged like him. I had this subconscious desire to try and save them.”
“You gon’ save me, chere?”
“I always had limits,” she’d continued. “All the ‘bad boys’ I tried to ‘rehabilitate’ with, um, with myself, I guess. I dated some real losers. Quite a few of them had been to jail. But none of them had ever killed anybody. I mean, I know what you are. I should be repulsed by you. I should be terrified.”
With her head resting on his chest, her cheek against that weird tattoo, she’d been able to hear his heart beating. It sounded deep and strong.
Hearing him use her name—he never had before, she’d realized—had surprised her, and sent a surge of warmth through her, too.
“I’m not terrified, though,” she’d said, sliding in closer to kiss him. “Damned if I know why.”
The next morning, she felt so certain that Pete would be able to tell what she’d done, just by looking at her, she had a hard time meeting his gaze.
“I haven’t changed my mind, Arly,” Pete said. “If I can’t talk you out of going, then I’m coming with you.”
“I will be accompanying you all as well,” Garrett Roth announced, where they all stood in the Heorot lobby.
“Good,” Saint said. “More people ta’ carry supplies.”
(As he’d walked past Arly, getting off the elevator, he’d patted her on the bottom. Thank God Pete hadn’t seen it.)
“I got everything we’re gon’ need,” Saint said, leading them out into the parking lot and the morning’s potent mix of heat and humidity. Arly’s glasses fogged up from the condensation.
“Water?” Roth asked.
“Some. An’ plenty a’ water purification tablets. We’ve got ta’ expect ta’ find some water at some point, otherwise we’ll have ta’ turn back.”
“Same deal, boss. Got some beef jerky an’ hard tack. We’re gon’ have ta’ find food once we get where we’re goin’.”
Pete snorted. “Down in a cave.”
“If we’re jus’ goin’ down in a cave, boss, we’re not gon’ need all this stuff.”
“Right, I keep forgetting, we’re going to visit another world.”
“What else are we taking?” Arly asked, careful not to be walking too close to Saint. “First aid?”
“An’ sleepin’ bags.” He cut his eyes at her. “One double-size.”
“And that big rifle, no doubt,” Pete said.
“If I’m goin’ huntin’ for a monster, boss, I want somethin’ that’s gon’ do the job right. That 300 Win-Mag would knock down King Kong.”
“And you’ll be the only one packing,” Pete said.
“You want a gun, boss, you should’a bought yourself one.”
When they got back to the cave, Saint took the time to affix the rappelling rope in the proper way, not just looping it around the stalagmite. As they had a lot more equipment to carry, it took longer. Saint lowered their packs down to Pete and Roth after sending them down the shaft first. He’d worn blue coveralls, as had Roth; Arly had on a black T-shirt and khaki shorts (the coveralls Saint had bought for her were way too hot) with hiking boots; Pete wore jeans and sneakers. They each had their hardhats with the built-in lights (they looked like the helmets coalminers wore) and in addition a Mag-Lite flashlight apiece. They each had to carry a backpack and wore utility belts. It took a while for the four of them to squeeze through the hole in the cavern wall. Once they were all through the opening and had put back on their backpacks, Saint took off down the tunnel without bothering to ask if they were ready.
Look, girl. If you’re gonna jump, then jump, Arly said to herself as she started off behind him.