Water lapped gently at her chest as if embracing and welcoming her. She smiled, parting the waves with strong and sure strokes. Only an hour back on the island and she wasn’t able to resist the call of the ocean. Five years of college and a double major in recreation and finance later, she was here. Marielle Drake was finally home.

She changed course and struck out for the sandbar farther out, her mind on those years. Her uncle’s marriage was the spark she needed to get out of her comfort zone. Raoul was her guardian, the only father she knew and when he married Allison she realized just how much she structured her life around him. As much as he had raised her, she had taken care of her mother’s brother as well. Her life had been consumed with their tour guide business and looking after her uncle. The sudden desire for college, to get away was birthed.

She wasn’t even halfway finished when she realized school wasn’t a true desire for her. She yearned for the turbulent waves, wild jungles, and even the most obnoxious of clients. Still, she stuck to her commitments and returned to Sakina two degrees richer. Not that the degrees mattered. She’d been knee deep in tours and trips since she was old enough to walk. No professor could teach the art of guiding.

Her thoughts drifted from college as she flipped onto her back for a short rest, floating near the very spot she nearly drowned at ten years old. Her face burned at the memory. Carlos Paulson, island bully at the time, had teased all the girls about their inability to reach the sandbar and she’d been consumed with making him eat his words. Halfway to the bar her arms grew tired and breath burned in her chest. Keon Greco had seen her struggle and swam out to her rescue. The mortification was still as strong now as it was all those years ago even though most referred to her as a fish in the water these days.

She shaded her eyes from the sweltering sun when she heard a whistle and spotted a lone figuring coming down the beach. A slow smile curved her lips and she gave up on the sandbar, turning back toward the shore. In a few short minutes, she was nearing the sand again.

“I knew I’d find you here,” the tall brown skinned man greeted, holding a towel out as she rose from the water. His slenderness was deceptive, fine muscles hidden beneath the loose shirt. She could remember the weight of the packs they carried up through the trails for camping trips. The gray spotting his rich brown hair reminded her of just how much time had passed. The perpetual smile and wrinkles at corner of his eyes told her it had passed well for him.

“Everyone knows to find me here.” She laughed and let Raoul wrap her in the towel as he had when she was child. “The water feels great today. It’s been way too long.”

“There’s a party for you in less than an hour and you’re roaming the waters like a mermaid.”

“I haven’t forgotten the party. I’ll be ready in time. It is just a small casual thing, right?”

“The guest list may have grown since the last time you looked at it.”

She shook her head, but the smile never faded. “I’m sure it has.”

He dropped an arm around her as they started up the beach. “It is good to have you home, Mari. Very good.”

“It’s good to be home. I missed this. All of it.” Why she ever thought she would be happy away from the island was something she would never understand. Sometimes she thought she didn’t know who she was but she learned that whoever that person was, she was firmly tied to Sakina.

“Did you find what you were looking for? Away in town?” Raoul asked as if sensing her thoughts.

She sighed and rested her head against his shoulder. She’d imagined some grand experience away at school when she would realize exactly who she wanted to be and what she wanted to do in life. She’d had fun but ultimately the time away had only shown her just how much Sakina was home.

“No, but I remembered where home is.”

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