“Quite a place,” Atticus told Carson with awe.
“Sea Breeze has that effect on people,” she replied in the breezy manner of someone who had heard that comment many times before. “Come on, Rev, we’re wasting daylight.”
Her movements were smooth with the skill of experience. Soon she had both boards in the water by the dock, SUP leash attached, and paddle in hand. The water was calm this morning, and sticking her foot in, she shivered. “Damn. The ocean is icy.”
“I’m used to cold water.”
“Then you’ll love this.”
She stepped onto the board, finding her balance readily. Using her paddle she easily pushed off from the dock. She turned her head, making sure Atticus was behind her. “You coming, slowpoke?”
“Nag, nag.” He stepped onto the board and bent his knees, finding his balance. He was doing well, though not quite as adroitly as Carson. He hadn’t been paddleboarding in a few years, and it took him a few minutes to feel comfortable. Carson, however, was a natural. She was already out in the current, getting farther ahead by the second. He inserted his paddle into the water, grateful for his long arms, and dug deep. He took a few strokes on one side, then switched to the other, making a beeline for Carson.
Carson made it all look effortless, as though the board were an extension of her body. She was long, lean, and strong. Her paddle sliced through the water like a hot knife through butter. He had the advantage of strong back muscles, however, and before long he caught up with her.
Once in the current it was easier. Coasting, he took the time to look around and appreciate the tranquillity of the early hours of the morning when the earth was awakening. The paddle made pleasing, soft splashing noises in the quiet morning. White egrets stood in the tall grasses that bordered the water, while overhead, pelicans flew in formation over the creek toward the open sea. The air had a dreamy quality, a purity. Each stroke in the water felt like a prayer.
As they made their way slowly toward the harbor, Atticus knew full well what Carson was praying for. Her strokes were too determined. She had a goal in mind. Delphine. He couldn’t blame her. With each pant he, too, uttered a silent prayer that the dolphin would appear.
Carson suddenly raised her paddle and paused, scanning the water. Atticus followed suit, standing motionless, his eyes searching. They were the only ones on the water, and for as far as he could see, it appeared quiet and shimmered in its reflection of the pink sky.
“There!” Carson called out, pointing. “Three o’clock.”
Atticus abruptly shifted his gaze to three o’clock but saw nothing.
“There’s another one. One o’clock.”
He looked but again saw nothing. Too slow. The water was still but he kept his gaze as steady as one of Beau’s coon dogs out on a hunt. Suddenly, off in the distance, he spied a pair of dorsal fins of similar size. His excitement shot skyward. “I see them!”
Carson turned to grin over her shoulder, delight lighting up her face. “Come on, city boy, put your back to it.” She lowered her paddle and dug deeply, moving forward at a rapid clip.
Atticus laughed, loving the thrill of the moment. The water, the strokes, the hunt—he felt so alive. He kept his eyes peeled. The two fins rose and fell in different spots but remained in the same general area. Carson seemed to know exactly where to go.
“They must be fishing in the inlet,” she called back. “If they were traveling, there’d be no possible way we could keep up with a dolphin’s speed.”
He thought she was doing a pretty good imitation. He kept digging his paddle in the water, breathing hard, trying to keep abreast.
As they drew nearer the inlet, both dorsal fins disappeared. Once again Carson lifted her paddle, watching, listening, coasting with the current. They waited for several minutes. Atticus figured the dolphins had moved on, then a noise caught his attention. From behind them, soft and muffled. Carson heard it, too. She raised her hand over her eyes and peered toward the sound.
There it was again—the unmistakable sound of air through a blowhole!
Carson anxiously scanned the water.
Atticus could feel his excitement bubbling. Then he saw the dolphin break through the water twenty feet behind them. His heart was beating hard. “There!” he called out.
Carson held up her hand to indicate they should remain still. Suddenly a dolphin emerged again, closer. Atticus swung around and teetered on his board. Arms out, he just managed to keep his balance and not fall into the water. Taking a breath, he lowered to his knees.
One dolphin had swum off. Only one was here now. It swam toward his paddleboard, close enough for him to get a good look at its glossy and sleek gray skin in the sunlight. It dove again, but not before he saw the crisscrossing of pale scars across the glistening body.
His heart raced. He paddled closer to Carson. “It’s her! “Delphine. I saw the scars.”
Carson wiped tears from her face and nodded. She wasn’t able to speak.
A moment later the dolphin emerged close to Carson’s paddleboard. Atticus watched in silent awe as the dolphin leaned to its side parallel to the board, her beautiful almond-shaped eyes studying the woman on the board.
“Delphine!” Carson exclaimed, looking back into the dolphin’s eyes. “It’s me.”
Suddenly the dolphin made a high-pitched whistle and dove. A second later she emerged, leaping high into the air and splashing noisily back into the sea.
Carson laughed loudly and raised both arms into the air. “Woohoo!” she shouted, and turned to Atticus, her eyes shining. “She recognized me!”
Atticus’s fist pumped the air, as though he’d leaped with the dolphin. Something about this creature forged a feeling of kinship. He didn’t remember the last time he’d felt such joy.
Delphine swam rapidly back to Carson’s paddleboard, then made two tight circles around it, eyeing her. Atticus tried not to interfere, staying low on his board. He felt privileged to witness this extraordinary bond between wild dolphin and human.
Delphine emerged beside Carson’s board, her dark eyes eager. Expectant.
Carson lowered on the board to bring her face close to Delphine’s. She was careful to keep her hands on the board. For several minutes she sat quietly as she rocked, then slowly she stretched out on the board onto her belly. She gazed eye to eye with Delphine. It seemed to Atticus that the dolphin was studying her, as well.