A young woman is threatened on a deserted beach by a man she's only just met. With no one else around, how could she escape unharmed?
- Posted on Mar 16, 2018
I saw him among the sea of partyers on the beach at Hilton Head Island, South Carolina. Blond hair. Athletic build. Total jock. Not my type at all. I usually went for the quiet, geeky types, like me. But this guy kept glancing my way, and I had no one else to talk to. I was standing awkwardly by the bonfire. My older sister, Elizabeth, and I had snuck out of the bungalow our family rented every summer. She’d disappeared the second we got to the party. Maybe she didn’t want to be seen with her lame 16-year-old sister. I wasn’t exactly the life of the party, though sometimes I fantasized that I was.
The guy walked right up to me as if he knew I wouldn’t walk away, then handed me a beer. “How’s it going?” he said. “I’m Jason.” I sipped the beer while we made mindless chitchat. His family owned a time-share on the beach. He was in college. I couldn’t help but wonder why he was interested in me. Then again, I needed a distraction. Anything to take my mind off my father.
Dad had always loved our vacations in Hilton Head. Maybe that’s why Mom made us come here so soon after his death. He’d died of a heart attack ten months earlier. Now everything on the island reminded me of him. The boardwalk. The old ice cream shop. Even the potted plants in our bungalow, which Dad had tended with such care. Dad wasn’t particularly affectionate. But he loved his plants. Even on vacation, he’d talk about his garden back in Massachusetts. Japanese maples, tulips, dusty millers. He’d won prizes for his roses. I wondered if Dad was as happy now as he’d been in his garden. Somewhere in heaven watching over all of us, like Mom kept saying. Whatever that meant.
I looked up at Jason, who was going on about his post-college plans, then scanned the crowd for Elizabeth. She was nowhere to be found.
“Hey, what do you say we take a walk on the beach?” Jason said. I shrugged. Why not? Jason handed me another beer, and we headed down the beach, away from the party.
We strolled by the hotels and rentals near the water. It was pitch black except for the moon and the distant bonfire. Dad would always point out the constellations in the night sky. I took another sip of beer and tried to put thoughts of Dad out of my head. You’re with a cute college guy who’s actually interested, Kathryn. Don’t mess this up. Maybe Jason would kiss me. Maybe we’d have a summer romance. Maybe I’d have one good memory from this year.
Jason stopped. He pulled me toward the thick row of flower bushes that formed a wall between a hotel pool and the entrance to the beach. Lifting his hand, he brushed a strand of hair away from my face. “You know, you’re a great girl,” he said. “Thanks,” I said. “You’re great too.”
He kissed me softly. There was no one else in sight. Just the two of us in the moonlight. Pretty romantic. Jason wrapped his arms around me. I forgot about Dad, about the world for a moment. I forgot about the beer I shouldn’t be drinking. And then I remembered Elizabeth. It was getting late. I pulled away. But Jason brought me closer. “All right, all right,” I said, laughing. “That’s enough.” Jason held me tighter. “Come on,” I said. “That’s enough!”
He stopped kissing me, but his grip only tightened. I tried to wriggle from him, but he was too strong.
“Jason, please, this isn’t funny anymore,” I said. “You’re scaring me!”
Pushing me toward the bushes, he wrestled me to the ground. I struggled, but it was like trying to break through a wall. I screamed. Or tried to. No sound came out. All I could do was turn my face. If there really was a heaven and Dad could see me, he’d be so ashamed. So disappointed. Oh God! Please help me! What was I going to do?
“Are you okay?” a deep voice said.
At the sound of it, Jason flew off me. I sat up and scrambled to my feet. In the darkness, I could make out a tall, older man in a wide-brim hat. Staring straight at me. Who was he? Where had he come from? He’d appeared out of nowhere.
“She’s fine, man,” Jason said. He grabbed my arm and jerked me toward him. “Leave us alone.”
I tried to speak, but the words still wouldn’t come. The man’s eyes were locked on mine. Please! Help me!
“Leave her alone,” the man said.
“I said we’re fine,” Jason said. “What’s your problem?”
The man stepped closer. I felt Jason shaking next to me. He wasn’t just afraid. He was freaked out. There was something about the man. His presence. It was powerful. Eerie but not menacing. He spoke quietly but with incredible authority.
“I said let her go,” the man said. This time Jason dropped my arm. I saw my chance and ran, stopping only when I reached the edge of the beach party. It took me a minute to catch my breath. When I did, I heard footsteps behind me. The man in the wide-brim hat. He’d been following me from a distance.
“Thank you for what you did back there,” I said. The man said nothing.
“What’s your name?” I said.
He hesitated, adjusted his hat. “Just call me the gardener.”
“What?” I said. “How did you know I needed help? What were you doing out on the beach so late?”
“I was gardening,” he said. As if it were the most natural thing to be gardening at night. “I could tell you needed help. So I came.”
Before I could say anything more, he tipped his hat and headed down the beach. I made my way back to the party and found Elizabeth in the crowd. The next day, I asked around. No one knew of a nighttime gardener. It wasn’t until many years later that I got any kind of answer. I was looking up gardening online and came across a Bible verse.
“I am the true vine,” it said, “and my Father is the gardener....”
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