Friday, 20 February 2009 - 2:42 pm

Ten in a boat

Matt almost didn’t come with us. We were clambering carefully into the boat, pushing and pulling each other up onto the prow so that we didn’t have to step into the water. There was just him, Ben and Thorpe left on the sand, and it was Matt’s turn to be handed up. He stood back, though, and just looked at us. I was kneeling on the boat’s deck, holding out a hand to help him up.

My heart shifted uncomfortably in my chest when he met my eyes. He wasn’t going to come. He flicked glances between the rest of us and looked like a puppy that was expecting to be kicked.

“You guys don’t need me any more,” he said. As if we had only let him stay with us because he had been useful. And he had been useful – more so than any of us would have asked. More so than most of us in the group, actually.

“If we only kept the people we needed, Thorpe wouldn’t keep trying to leave the doctor behind,” I told him. I was trying not to sound desperate, even while I was eyeing the ground in case I had to jump down again.

“And we wouldn’t keep that damn cat with us,” Ben put in. I was so grateful that I sent him a smile. “Speaking of which, where–”

Jones chose that moment to appear and wind around Thorpe’s ankles, making the big fella sigh. “Better hand him up before he tries to climb you again,” I pointed out.

To my surprise, he scooped the cat up and did just that. “Got enough scratches for one week, thanks.”

I handed the cat off to Nugget and looked to Matt again. He was still uncertain, an expression that slid into something else when there was noise from up the street. We had been spotted and the sharks were coming to see us off.

“Matt, c’mon. We have to go.” I didn’t want him down there when the sharks arrived. I didn’t want anyone still on the shore when that happened.

There was helplessness in the look he gave me and it felt like I was losing him. “They won’t let me go, Mac.” Experience weighed heavy in his voice, and now he’d given up trying. But that wasn’t good enough.

I glanced towards Ben and Thorpe for help, feeling the seconds trickling away as the noise up the street resolved into footsteps pounding towards us.

“Time’s running out, kid,” Thorpe pointed out. It didn’t help; Matt only looked more uncomfortable, like he was ready to bolt.

“It’s not up to them!” I wanted to jump down, but I had to be on the boat to help him up. All I could do was stretch my hand out towards him and try to give him the will to take it. “Come with us, Matt, please.”

Ben stepped up to Matt’s side, and I could barely hear what he said. “Now’s your chance to get away from them. Take it, while you can.”

Matt looked between us and I could see him slip into the decision. He hesitated, but he stepped up to grab my hand, just as the sharks were coming into sight on the edge of the sand. The boys boosted him up, and he got a quick hug once he was on deck. He even smiled a little bit.

The sharks shouted and pelted across towards us. Ben and Thorpe were already pushing the boat out into the water and hauling themselves on board. Rocks followed them, pinging against the boat’s deck, as the sharks yelled and rained their frustration on us.

It didn’t matter; they were too late. Matt’s one of us now.