Baptism: Art & Excerpt from Signal Cove
He made no drama of it—didn’t beeline through the crowd, parting it like the Red Sea. Rather he went around, and all the more surprised was Ashley to see his face. A stretch of questioning silence passed with no questions asked. After making sure she wouldn’t bite or berate him, Richie approached, kneeled in the pool, and grit-toothed his way through an involuntary shudder. His gray sweatpants turned black in the water. Familiar faces gaped. Camille, confused. Sanaa, winking. Wynne, nodding. And Pepper, of course, entertaining a hysterical laugh Camille muffled with her hands.
He wondered what Murphy would have done. Scoff? Shake his head? Roll his eyes and walk away? He probably wouldn’t be there in the first place; he’d probably be at the check-out desk in the library, headphones on full blast to block out the offending piety.
Or maybe he would have stayed. Just to see what would happen.
Ashley made her statement to her would-be congregation. She posed her questions and Richie gave his I do’s, not sure what he was agreeing to, not sure if he should care.
“Do you renounce the Devil and all of his works?” asked Pastor Ashley.
Richie thought aloud, “Is he working on a new romance novel?”
Ashley scowled. A timid chuckle rose from those close enough to hear. “In the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit…”
She grabbed his head and dunked him backwards into the arctic water with a smidge more force than necessary, and before he could feel anything—
Gone. Quiet. Cold. The world vanished. All of it, even Ashley’s hands. Richie floated in a frigid emptiness, vast and peaceful, where he saw, heard, and felt nothing but pleasant numbness blooming slowly in his chest. And then the world returned.
He raked his drenched hair back, swept brine from his lashes, and shook like a dog, splashing the frontlines. The chuckle became a laugh. As he rose from his knees and stepped out of the pool, Ashley brushed his arm lightly and muttered, “Thank you.”
Energized and more than a little frozen, he shuffled back to the house where Tessa leaned against the porch beam, smiling with popped brows.
“The theatrics are on point this morning,” she said, miming an impressed clap. “Positively inspired. What have you done with Richard Lorne?”
“It’s a good substitute for sleep. You should give it a try.”
“Yeah, right. Not even if you offered me a winning lotto ticket and a mansion on the Riviera.” Tessa shivered from the thought of the dip. “What was that about?”
He shrugged. “Better than Mark’s coffee.”
She looked at him. Into him. Searching, as always, for something hidden—and today he was translucent. “There’s another reason.”
Richie blustered softly. Tessa followed his gaze to the crowd. A line had formed and a buzz picked up as Covers and tourists followed in his footsteps, hungry for the same light-heartedness they’d seen. When she looked back at him with newfound lucidity, heat rose in his cheeks. A lock escaped from his otherwise slaked-back hair. It dripped on her nose. She grinned, reaching up to smooth it back into place.
Her hand stopped in mid-air, suspended for a moment made all the stranger by their mutual bewilderment. It passed as quick as it lasted. Her hand fell. Her smile fell with it by the smallest degree—but to Richie, it was a mile. The mind behind her crestfallen eyes was plain enough to read.
Do not touch the bomb. You might set it off. That was more or less what he’d told her yesterday.
“Do you think I should change clothes? I think I should change clothes.” He backed away from Tessa’s regret. She rubbed her nose dry. “Catching a bug would really make me useless. Not that I’m too much use. I think you and the others would do a finer job of juggling the excitement than I have lately. Still, the flu is the flu. Haven’t been vaccinated. It’s the last thing anyone needs.” Richie went for the door before she could get a word in, because it sounded like the start of an apology. “You should give it a try,” he repeated. “Happy Halloween.”
She waited until he was inside to say it, but he heard it anyway. “Happy Halloween, Richie.”