“What is this?” Brand pressed, stepping into the kitchen one morning after Miriam left to drop the kids off at school. Aveny’s eyes widened and her heart plummeted. The seal skin was clutched in his outstretched hand. His exhausted eyes were rimmed with red.
Aveny caught herself, barely subduing the urge to lunge for it in time. She couldn’t overreact. She had to be careful and measured. “It’s a seal skin,” she said. “It was my grandma’s.”
She paused. “Remember?”
Brand knew about the skin. She’d told him about it after she’d brought it home. They’d laughed over it – the idea that they were now the proud owners of a seal skin – the thought of her barbaric seal-clubbing ancestors. That had been the end of it, until now.
Aveny knew that wasn’t why he was asking.
Brand peeled a thin dark substance off the skin and held it before her. “Why is there seaweed on this? And why does it smell like the ocean? Is this – was this – the seal from the marine rescue center? No more lies, Aveny.”
Aveny’s mind shifted into high gear, but no ideas presented themselves. And just like that, it was too late. She had taken too long and there was no answer that wouldn’t sound like a lie – even the truth.
“I can’t explain it,” she said. “But I can show you.”
He stared at her expectantly.
“At the sound – it’s at the sound.”
“No.” His voice was icy and cold. “We’re not going back there.” He paused, “Please answer me. Is this the skin your grandma gave you …” he winced, “or is it the seal you stole from the marine rescue center?”
Aveny cringed. How could she explain that technically, yes, it was both.
“Listen, Brand,” she said. “I didn’t steal anything. I wouldn’t do that. Please just let me show you. It’s the only way this is going to make any sense.”
“I don’t know what you think but there’s nothing to show, Aveny. This whole thing is in your head. You’re…” Brand paused, choking on the word, “sick. You’re sick. You can’t believe what your mind is telling you.”
His eyes softened for a moment. Then they iced over and he took a step back. “No more of this. No going to the sound. Just the truth. Now.”
Aveny felt rage spark inside her. She wanted to scream at him – to tell him he didn’t get to tell her what to do – and that he shouldn’t have been digging around under the mattress in the first place. She wanted to yell at him that she wasn’t crazy and she wasn’t sick. But she held her tongue … because, finally, she knew what she wanted more than anything.
She just wanted to tell the truth.
“I haven’t been completely honest with you – or with anyone – because I didn’t know how,” she explained. “I want to show you what’s up there – and why I kept going. Because I do remember. I remember it all. I never forgot. I just couldn’t tell anyone. But I want to tell you. I want you to know everything.” She was practically breathless.
“Then you can decide if I’m crazy or not. Then, at least you’ll know. Because aside from swimming in the sound and getting hurt – I think you know I’m still me. And this is the only way to get you the truth. Please, just let me try to show you. If it doesn’t work, I’ll never speak of it again.”
Brand looked older and more weary than she’d ever seen him.
“Please,” she whispered. “I don’t believe I’m crazy. This is the only way either of us will ever know for sure.”
Brand breathed in and then slowly pressed the skin into Aveny’s stomach. She grabbed it a little too eagerly, but he didn’t seem to notice. Then he turned, walked to the door, slid his key ring off the hook and stepped outside.
A moment later, Aveny heard the engine roar to life. She held her breath, waiting for the sound of his departure but it didn’t come. She hesitated for only a fraction of a moment, then pulled the eggs off the burner and followed.