Tabitha is a simple country girl in a simple country town—or so she tries to make everyone believe. But when a boy with a quiet confidence and appealing edge shows up in town looking to collect beautiful images, it's Tabitha he ends up most drawn to.
Life is never simple, and the complications aren't only on her side. There are mysteries to be solved, and Tabitha fears all of her questions will lead only to bad news.
Tabitha’s body lay curled up at the bottom of the lake for most of the night.
It didn’t settle her the way it usually did.
The water was blind. It had no eyes to gawk at her, the way the rest of the world sometimes could. That was usually a comfort. She usually needed the escape. But—and this went against everything she’d ever known about survival—lately, Tabitha had just wanted to be seen.
She got no shortage of attention in Sunflower, when it came down to it. She was considered something of a character in the small, country college town. But that character, that was an act. That was a façade to cover up who she was down here in the dark.
She’d left the sunfish of the shallows behind at this depth, and the bigger fish stayed away. They could taste her, smell her, tell that she was predatory. Perhaps they’d adapted to her kind a long time ago. If they’d been curious, it would have been so easy to consume them and make the lake truly empty.
There was nothing to see at the bottom of the lake. Little to feel but the steady pressure of water. Little to hear but the faint, rhythmic shifts in the lake’s surface. The sensory deprivation left Tabitha alone with herself. Alone, she could be anything and anyone she wished.
Tonight, it only brought home the differences between wish and reality and made her miss all the things she denied herself by the light of day. She wished that she could be truly herself for once, out in the open, in the light.
When she’d had enough of that cradling nothingness, she got up and walked across the lake bottom, up its uneven slope and through the surface, to the little patch of beach by the lake where she’d set her things on a rock. Her internal time sense told her it was around 3:30 A.M.
She dried and dressed quickly in her plain work clothes. She was careful to brush away her footprints in the sand before leaving.
The gravel drive was rough under her bare feet, but it didn’t bother her—in fact, it was friendly, familiar, like the lack of breath under the surface of the water. Like her ability to see in crystalline detail in the darkness of the night. But it was another thing separating her from everyone else.
She pushed that thought aside in favor of the practicalities of the day. Milking was next, she reminded herself, and then she’d bake fresh bread. She always sold a lot of bread and sandwiches on days when the local college had a term just beginning and the new students were figuring out how to feed themselves.
Tabitha dried her short hair as she walked home in the darkness then quickly settled one of her older wigs onto her head, clipping it fast. She didn’t like to be without one for too long, even when she was by herself. It was one thing to not be presentable. It was another thing to know she looked so entirely unlike herself as she did without her wigs.
With her wig on, Tabitha was herself again, though she certainly wasn’t presentable. She still smelled of the lake, for one thing, but the sheep and goats wouldn’t care—they smelled of sheep and goats, after all. She’d shower properly once bread was in the oven.
In the middle of the night, at the bottom of the lake, with her sheep and goats, these were the parts of her life no one saw. No one ever could. It could compromise everything: her business, her place here, and her very life.
Silent on her bare feet, Tabitha slipped into the barn, put on her heavy leather milking apron, and greeted the first sleepy animal of the day with a scratch behind the ears.
She’d be lost without these creatures. They gave her what she needed to live. She had so much to be grateful for.
But some mornings, that just wasn’t enough.
Nights and mornings, those were the worst times. When everyone else was sleeping. When everyone else could be vulnerable beside their lovers and families. Unguarded.