Corrine La Mer dove through the waves. Streaks of light illuminated the golden sand beneath her and shone on a large, pink shell half-buried on the seafloor, just out of reach. She kicked her feet and pushed harder toward it. Just as she was about to make a grab, a huge wave crashed down and a zillion salty bubbles and grains of sand blocked the shell from view. Corinne’s lungs were bursting. She turned and swam to the surface.
As soon as she came up, she spotted Bouki and Malik, closer to the shore. The grinning brothers had seawater dripping from their tightly curled hair. They bounced up, and Corinne realized too late that they were preparing to dive beneath a wave. The water came down, rolling her onto the gritty sand. The boys had timed their dives perfectly to avoid being tumbled by the force of the wave. By the time Corinne surfaced again, they were gone. She took a deep breath and went under, fighting the urge to close her eyes against the stinging saltwater so that she wouldn’t miss the prize. And there it was, the shining pink seashell.
She kicked her feet and reached toward it, but just as she got close enough to take it, a pair of dark hands snatched the shell out of reach. Bouki—the older boy—grinned. A few bubbles escaped from between his teeth, and he pushed up toward the sun.
“Eh heh!” he said when Corinne joined him over the waves.
“Fine, Bouki. You win,” Corinne said.
“Say it,” he said. “Say it!”
Corinne rolled her eyes. “You’re . . .”
But before she could finish, his little brother swam up behind and yanked the shell out of his hand.
“. . . not king of the sea!” Corinne finished. “Looks like Malik is.”
Bouki dove after his brother. Corinne swam for shore. They had been in the water for hours. Her fingers were wrinkly and her eyes burned. She dragged herself over to a coconut tree and sat against its curved trunk, sticking her legs straight out in the warm sand. Striped shadows from the coconut leaves danced on her skin and the ground in front of her. To her left, a group of little girls held hands around a lopsided sand castle, danced in a circle, and sang.
In a fine castle, do you hear my sissy-o,
In a fine castle, do you hear my sissy-o.
Ours is the prettiest, do you hear my sissy-o.
Ours is the prettiest . . .
The sand shivered. Corinne felt a tremor go straight through her body. The girls stopped dancing, and the people on the beach stopped midaction. But her papa and the other fishermen in their boats were still far out on the water, their nets dragging in the sea. None of them seemed to notice. She looked up at the sky. It was clear and quiet. Where are the seagulls? she wondered. The ground shook again. This time, she got up. The group of girls ran to their parents and the adults looked around with wide eyes.
“Earthquake!” one of the women shouted.
Corinne looked into the water again. There was no sign of the boys.
“Get out of the water!” another voice yelled.
Mothers with small children gathered them up and ran from shore. Laurent, one of Corinne’s friends from the fishing village, rounded up his siblings while his mother came behind with the baby. The second youngest, Abner, stumbled. Corinne reached for him, but his mother pushed Corinne’s hand away, and in one swoop, tucked Abner under her free arm.
“Mrs. Duval, I was only trying to help.”
Laurent’s mother cut a fearful glance at Corinne, and Corinne’s face burned with embarrassment.
Maybe it’s just the earthquake, Corinne thought. But it wasn’t. She had been getting looks like that for months.
“It’s okay,” Laurent said. “We have them.” He smiled at Corinne, which made her feel better, but only a little. She had barely seen Laurent in weeks. His mother always found some chore for him to do any time they were about to play.
Corinne ran toward the waves. “Bouki! Malik!” she shouted.
The boys’ heads bobbed up out of the water. They were still fighting over the shell.
“Get out!” Corinne yelled. “Get out of the water!”
At the water’s edge, the waves pulled back as if the ocean were being drained. She ran to the boys with wet sand sticking under her feet. The edge of the water went farther and farther out, taking Bouki and Malik with it.
“Swim!” she yelled at them, waving her arms toward herself.
Finally, Bouki and Malik seemed to understand. They beat a path toward Corinne, but the sea was still pulling them away from shore. Corinne ran forward, toeing the froth at the edge of the waves. She was much farther out than she had been when they were playing. But where there had been water deep enough to swim in, there was now only wet sand.
Water splashed on Corinne’s toes. The tide was turning. The boys got closer, but so did the sea. Corinne stayed where she was with the water licking at her feet, her ankles, and then surging up to her knees until the brothers were close enough to grab and pull along.
“Run!” Corinne commanded. All three of them took off toward the hill where she lived. But the waves crashed down around them, sucking at the sand and pulling at their feet. One wave had barely turned back when another one overtook it and came at them again. It was the strongest tide Corinne had ever experienced.
There was another rumble. Corinne and the boys scrambled over rocky steps. Loose stones shook away beneath their feet, tripping them until they reached the dirt road. They stopped a moment with their hands on their knees to steady themselves and catch their breath. The ground stopped moving, but the waves kept coming, and they were bringing the fishing boats in fast—right to where they stood. Corinne’s papa’s yellow boat crashed into other vessels as it rushed toward shore. Her father’s eyes found her. He pointed frantically at their house at the top of the hill.
Corinne nodded once and pulled the boys behind her. Malik stumbled and Bouki helped him to his feet.
“Come on, brother,” Bouki said.
Malik patted his back pockets and looked around. His slingshot spun on the surface of the water. He reached for it, but it was drawn down a muddy whirlpool.
“I’ll make you another,” Bouki said as he made sure he still had his own.
They continued up the hill and paused near the house to look over the beach, which was now covered in brackish water, tree limbs, and splintered wood. A small brown object, round like a bare head, bobbed by, and for a moment, Corinne’s heart stopped. But there were others, green ones, yellow ones—coconuts, Corinne realized with relief—all drifting in the water. As they floated, Corinne saw a couple of them get sucked under like Malik’s slingshot, and disappear.
She looked to the pileup of boats that had run aground, but her papa’s was not among them.